Rescuing our children prematurely can cripple them just as surely as neglect or overprotection. We need to provide them the opportunity—the benediction—to learn how to solve their own problems. In the long run, this gift will be the most valuable skill we can teach them.
Living life to the fullest requires taking risks. On one level, this is completely obvious: just identifying a need raises the distinct possibility that we won’t be able to satisfy it. Ask a favor and risk being turned down. Ask for a date and risk rejection. Start a new business and risk financial ruin. Everything, from the most inconsequential to the most important things in life, requires us to put ourselves, our money, our egos, our hearts, and our physical well-being at risk. Yet we live in a society that has become so focused on avoiding risks that it can be easy to forget how important it is to help our children develop the skill and courage to take them. Teach risk-taking.
Sometimes it scares me how obsessed we have become with “security.” I’m terrified that my children will be too afraid to do the things they need to do to be happy and successful in their lives. I’ve tried, largely by example, to let them see that you just can’t compromise, you can’t play it safe when it comes to what you really want and believe.
Traditionally, in almost every culture, the role of teaching risk-taking behavior has fallen to fathers. From the earliest memories of our species, we have had to be prepared to risk everything to protect our children. Fathers taught children how to make their way in the wild, how to recognize dangers without letting those dangers hinder them from accomplishing their tasks. So it is today as well. The specific dangers may have changed from wild animals and enemy tribes to bullies and busy streets, but the most debilitating danger remains the same: pervasive, overwhelming, self-defeating fear. It is our job to teach our children to be fearless.
We need to expand their worlds. Some parents are so worried about protecting their children that they end up with children who are seriously handicapped. Inadvertently, we accomplish what the ancient Chinese did purposefully in the practice of binding girls’ feet—we wrap them in such tight protection that they end up hobbling through life, afraid to take any risks whatsoever.
The process of learning—growing and stretching the bounds of who we are—has a built-in positive feedback loop. With each new discovery, each lesson learned, we become larger and more complete than we were before, and we gain confidence that we can continue to grow and learn. The process itself is like a self-esteem escalator, moving higher and faster all the time. The more we can do, the better we feel about ourselves; the better we feel, the more we can do.
Published in: Family