As a mom of two teenagers, I can’t tell if I am protecting them or if I’m polluting their own valuable life experiences. Am I emphasizing caution and teaching them discerning skills or am I just too cynical? I think most parents instinctively guard their children against obvious dangers, but when are we using our own experiences to color our kids’ view of the world? I think parents have a tendency to size up a situation because they’ve seen too many things go wrong. Is there a way that we can steer our kids around the same mistakes we made without infringing on their own observations?
A Typical Conversation – Do You See a Cynic or Someone Using Caution?
My daughter bounded down the stairs, ran across our worn out hardwoods and slid into the kitchen where I was making dinner. She was bursting with excitement and it was obvious the 15-year old wanted to tell me something *very* exciting.
“Mom! Guess what?”
“What?” I smiled my biggest, over-exaggerated smile as I tried to match her enthusiasm.
“You know how I’ve been stressing over the Honors History Test that I’ve got coming up?”
“WELL all of my friends have agreed to share their study guides with each other!! Isn’t that so amazing? We’re basically combining all of our studying by sharing all of our quizlets!* We’re going to do so awesome on this beast of a history test. I’m so excited!!!”
*Quizlet is a mobile and web-based study application that allows students to study information via learning tools and games. It is currently used by 2-in-3 high school students and 1-in-3 college students in the United States. Source: Wikipedia
My daughter blinked like an animated character waiting for me to react. I think I almost heard the “tink tink” sound cartoons use to indicate eye movement. I’m certain she wanted me to either jump up and down or do handstands before I put the spaghetti noodles in the boiling water. I did neither.
Instead, I sighed deeply and said, “How do you know your friends’ answers are right? You could be studying wrong answers.”
Her face fell.
I saw it — the exact moment I popped her positive energy bubble and the imaginary confetti fell to the floor without so much as a whoop-whoop. I doused her excitement with my typical mom wet blanket. I knew that I should have led with a positive response, maybe something other than the drenched blanket I just heaved onto her young shoulders. Something more encouraging like, ‘How great your friends want to help each other!’ But I wasn’t cheering her study habits because I’ve circled the sun a few decades and I know how studying friends’ wrong answers affects your grade.
My daughter recovered from the disappointing reaction she received from me. Her annoyed chin jutted out and her eyes turned moody blue as her body weight shifted to one hip.
“Mom!? Why did you say that? My friends are smart!”
“I didn’t say they weren’t, but you’re smart and sometimes you make mistakes, right?”
How will she deal with the seed of doubt I planted?
Alternate Universe mindset: But what if the study guides were perfect and they would be a great resource?
I took another deep breath and set the wooden spoon on the stove. “Are you going to check the answers you receive from everyone’s quizlet OR were you just going to memorize their answers to the questions they created?”
Without flinching or moving her head, she slid her eyes to the stove then back at me.
She wanted to stand her ground, but I saw her hesitation and that’s all I needed to be sure I was right. She had zero plans to check the answers before studying them. She would “trust” that her friends’ answers were accurate and then memorize the Q & A. She potentially could be memorizing wrong answers.
“And for that matter, are you sure that your questions and answers are 100% right? What if you typed a wrong date, or didn’t spell check an important name or location? You could be giving your friends the wrong information too.”
Alternate Universe mindset: But what if she offers great information and helpful Q & A for her friends?
Her weight shifted again.
“Well, I’m pretty sure,” as her chin dropped to her chest, “and I was going to check them before I sent it out to everybody.”
I don’t know whether I was cautioning her against a valid concern or being a cynic against her beautiful, trusting soul.
This entire exchange between us has been on my mind for weeks. Did I do the right thing by warning her, or should I have let her figure out whether or not sharing study guides would work? I killed her enthusiasm and made her doubt herself and her friends. That can’t possibly be good parenting, right? Our conversation wasn’t an isolated event since I have similar conversations with my son. I catch myself being skeptical of things he’s initially enthusiastic about and he’s bravely choosing to share his ideas with me, but for how long before it stops because he’s tired of downer-mom?
What’s the Parenting Style: Cautious or Cynical?
Am I cautioning my children or am I a cynic? Am I teaching them how to be discerning? Am I polluting their experience based on my past? Are my biased opinions coloring their own circumstances? Is my doubt preventing them from learning life on their own — the good and bad? At what point am I crossing a line? Where does gentle guidance end, and full-on distorted view of the world begin? Am I shutting down their ability to trust? Am I really shielding them from unnecessary hurt and disappointment?
My memories, history and years of experience have taught me a lot, probably just like you. The one thing we want to do is help our kids avoid pain and frustration, especially when it’s easily avoided. However, in an effort to impart that wisdom onto my children, I think I’m taking away the important lesson of learning life on their own. Sometimes my skepticism is damaging their positive outlook instead of actually helping my kids be more discerning. My intervention of something I foresee as damaging may instead lock down their open-mindedness.