image by LOU BROOKS
How to Land Your Kid in Therapy is quite an interesting read for college-prep parents. Author Lori Gottlieb, a mother and therapist, must be lurking amidst our hallways given her familiar illustrations. I like much of what she says. Especially, I appreciate James Bennet's brief yet poignant editor's note, The Trophy Generation. He knows a thing or two about growing up in our culture.
One sociological reality that emerges during the Lower School years here (known as "Middle School" for most American kids) is the onset of divergent paths for each student with regard to individual ability (academic and athletic), maturity, and resilience. Grade-level subject mastery gets exposed. Puberty hits each boy at different times. Set-backs will happen, and some boys will be more able than others to roll with the steeper challenges and inevitable disappointments when compared to life in elementary school.
It's called "growing up." We all did it, and now our kids have to do it. Generally speaking, our guys handle the upheaval pretty well. Generally speaking, a good number of their parents do not.
Here is where we go from preachin' to meddlin'. The times have changed since we adults were kids. That's evident. Could we imagine $1000 of electronics on our person back in the day when we were limited to land-line phones, 5 T.V. channels, and a midnight test pattern? Could we have foreseen the competitive nature of college admissions, even among state schools? Did we as third graders play organized sports to the present time and financial expectation under the constant presence of parental chaperons, some of whom wanting the coach's head on a platter? These changes are a national phenomena, and we are not immune from the effects.
For our purpose, it is not as much that people are any different. The argument is that the relationship between parents and kids has changed from a generation ago, maybe even as much as "the times." For a day school of accelerated expectations, the healthy parent-child relationship is very important for student health and well-being, not to mention student achievement. If that relationship is in any way antagonistic toward the ultimate best interest of a young person, arrested development can result, thus the cartoon image at top.
Without argument, today sure 'nuff is different for both parents and students. Raising children, teaching and coaching them, has always been challenging, and even with modern advances, child rearing remains stressful. On the bright side, we know a lot more about the human brain today, about learning differences among students and how to address them, and we are experiencing a digital shift with the Internet from which education and society will not return. Still, all this progres does not explain the increased anxiety among many parents and the narcissistic entitlement among many of our children.
If the end goal of our MUS education is to produce in the students "academic excellence and well-rounded, strong moral character," then an atmosphere of health and safety in support of personal ability and resiliency must be employed both at school and at home. Not all boys will achieve the same results. Some boys are bigger, faster, better at math, at reading, at writing. With the girls. Who is and how to define "success," given all the variety of abilities and expectations (from self, other kids, teachers, coaches, media, and parents), it takes the love and wisdom only God can rightly manifest to make it through.
While tempting, comparisons among contemporaries, be they students or parents, in order to see who is "winning the game" is a fool's errand to say the least. You can't win at parenting. While a competitive atmosphere will inevitably produce wins and losses, scholarships and accolades, immeasurable and weightier human development is the real goal for each boy. Historically, the essential relationship for any student to experience that development comes through a loving, wise adult, maybe even a parent.
In turn, the nurturing, the mentoring, results (ultimately) in a kid who emerges from this potential teenage wasteland into a loving, wise, healthy, able, and resilient student. That student becomes a healthy, resilient young man. That sure looks a lot like success, regardless of GPA or trophies. In contrast, the world's fickle definitions of success and failure change with the shifting breeze. We pray that our boys grow to learn the difference.
If this subject interests you, Gottlieb may have an answer that we all need strongly to consider.