OK, we know it’s practically ingrained into just about every parent’s DNA: Children. Must. Learn. All. The. Time.
For some, the thought of not using those few precious weeks during the summer to get a leg up in the academic arena is practically blasphemy.
That said, it’s important to remember that sometimes kids can learn just as much from hitting the mall or the soccer field as they do from hitting the books. “Kids aren’t left to their own devices enough,” says Glenbrook South High School assistant principal of student services Mark O’Brien.
O’Brien encourages parents to constantly ask themselves if their child’s activities are moving them toward the ultimate goal of becoming independent adults.
The current generation of parents of school-aged children is “far less comfortable with our kids operating independent of our supervision. We’re worried about their safety at a very heightened level,” O’Brien says. Blame September 11, or what-have-you. As a result, children aren’t “learning things the way we did,” he says.
Overbooking our kids with playdates and activities can actually hinder a child’s development, O’Brien points out, because kids who are fully booked don’t learn to take responsibility for themselves, and their time. This lack of responsibility can cause real problems later on: Employers often report issues with new, young hires who “”have a hard time accepting responsibility for what they do,” O’Brien says.
Summer, he says, is a perfect opportunity to let learning take its natural course. Even something simple such as getting benched at a soccer game can teach a kid about how to cope with rejection, O’Brien says.
Is there a magic age when parents can ramp up incidental learning? Let the kids on their bikes and out of our sight? Unfortunately, there isn’t a set of guidelines handed out at birth. Attea Middle School principal Jim Woell says that decision is usually based on the parents’ intuition.
“It’s very child-dependent,” says Woell, “in terms of how well you know your child and what you can trust them to do. It’s not necessarily a function of age.”
When deciding how much your children can do or how far they can go on their own, establish reasonable expectations, given your level of trust.
Maybe it’s riding bikes to the pool. Or a lunch date with friends at the local mall. Or lunch and a movie. Parents, both O’Brien and Woell say, can limit the number of choices, as well as provide kids with the ultimate “out” should they face undue pressure to make an unwise decision—they can always play the “My parents would kill me/never let me go out with you again!” card.