This is a generation of parenting that allows for A LOT of “supervision” – we have video baby monitors that hook up to your wifi so that you can see your baby from anywhere in the world; we have family share plans that allow you to view everything your teen does on his cell phone; from infancy through teenage years “supervision” is at your fingertips.
Why do I have quotation marks around supervision? I would argue that there is a difference between appropriate/necessary supervision and overbearing/interfering parenting. Just because you can see every text that your daughter receives doesn’t mean you should actually read every conversation. Just because you can email your son’s teachers at night to talk to them about his stress level in their classes, doesn’t mean that you should. A very big part of parenting is teaching our kids how to deal with situations, and then actually letting them practice those skills. Kids are being robbed of the opportunity to handle things on their own, to make mistakes, and to learn from them.
● Johnny, a 7th grader, is having trouble completing the science project that is due in 3 days.
○ Parent A emails Johnny’s teacher that night to ask for more information on the
assignment, and for feedback on what “they” have done so far.
○ Parent B talks to Johnny about the assignment and helps him figure out what questions he has for the teacher. Parent B talks to Johnny about how to have this conversation (e.g., “When is a good time to talk to the teacher?” If Johnny doesn’t know, Parent B offers suggestions – “Usually you can speak to a teacher before or after class, or go during your lunch period or after school to see if she is available. Let’s talk about what you want to ask her. Do you want to write down your questions so that you don’t forget when you go to see her? I can help you with that.”)
● In both of these situations the parents are being helpful. In the first, Parent A is helping to complete the assignment. In the second, Parent B is helping Johnny 1) learn how to approach an adult and ask for help; 2) Use his time in school to prepare for assignments done at home; 3) take responsibility for his own school work; and 4) complete the assignment.
● Lucy sometimes misreads texts or misunderstands the connotation of posts on her social media, so she responds in ways that get her into trouble socially.
○ Parent A has heard about some of the drama, so she sets up her phone to receive all of Lucy’s texts. She tells Lucy not to reply to anyone until Mom texts her what to say.
○ Parent B has heard about the drama. She explains where the misunderstandings might have come from, and helps Lucy to see the other kids’ points of view. They practice hypothetical situations so that Lucy can come up with better ways to handle situations. Parent B tells Lucy that next time she’s unsure about a text, she can come ask her first to get some feedback and practice what she wants to say.
● Again, both parents are trying to be helpful. Parent A is taking over Lucy’s texts, and therefore her relationships, to try to avoid any conflict with her friends. This removes social drama in the short term but undermines Lucy’s ability to understand social dynamics and relationships in the long term. Parent B is helping Lucy to understand
other people’s perspectives; she’s allowing her opportunity to practice complicated social dynamics through role play; and she’s offering support in real situations if Lucy identifies a situation as too problematic to handle on her own.
● Kevin, a 7 year old, sleeps well most nights and is age-appropriate with his development thus far.
○ Parents A continues to leave a video monitor in his bedroom for “safety” and sleeps with it next to their bed.
○ Parents B removed the baby monitor years ago. They taught Kevin what to do if he needs to use the bathroom during the night. They also taught him what to do if he needs one of his parents during the night (e.g., get out of bed and come get one of us, or call from your room). They’ve also reviewed basic safety rules of the house and Kevin understands his boundaries.
● Parents A are protecting their child from “danger” but they’re not teaching their son how to handle situations, how to think and problem solve, and how to feel competent and capable handling age appropriate tasks. Parents B are still aware of what goes on in their home and they keep an eye on things, but they’re demonstrating trust in their son’s capabilities, teaching him that he can make decisions, he can handle choices, and that he can earn certain levels of privacy as he gets older.
● Mary is a middle school student. She is well-liked by her peers and makes friends easily
○ Parent A arranges “play dates” with other parents when their weekends are not too busy. On these occasions, Parent A texts one of the other parents and arranges the social get together.
○ Parent B encourages her daughter to reach out and communicate with her friends. She offers suggestions such as, “we have no plans for Saturday if you would like to invite a friend over,” but she leaves the actual plan-making and communication up to her daughter, who is more than capable of handling her own friendships and social plans.
● Play dates are necessary when children are very young (preschool and early elementary) but children should be encouraged to develop the skill of communicating with others. Teach your child how to call or text a friend, how to invite someone over, and let them have some say in who their friends are. Just because you like Jane’s parents the best, doesn’t mean that your daughter likes playing with Jane every weekend. Kids need to learn how to choose friends, to decide what makes a good friend, how to get out of a friendship that is toxic, and how to maintain relationships with other people. These are all skills that we learn through experience, so don’t rob your child of those experiences by micromanaging their social life.
In sum.. Try to find a balance between protecting your child and stealing away all of their learning experiences. Kids fall, they get hurt, but then they learn how to make changes and do things differently so that they don’t get hurt again. They need opportunities for success and for failure. Be there to guide, be there to reflect, but don’t be there to do everything for them.
“The job of a parent is to work him or herself out of a job.”
– Jonathan Haidt, Social Psychologist