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Post No.: 0735independence


Furrywisepuppy says:


Fostering independence is vitally important for a child’s development. However, parents are increasingly protective and reluctant to let their children explore on their own. This is somewhat understandable, yet some of the perceived risks, like child abductions, don’t match the statistical risks.


There are some cultural differences, like young children being entrusted to use knives and cook, or travel alone to schools that are miles away, in some countries – while in other places it’s nowadays considered too risky for children to climb trees or play conkers (supposedly in case they get hurt and experience EMOTIONAL DAMAGE!)


Letting children free to play unstructured, improvised and imaginative play, and giving them responsibilities, are valuable learning experiences. They can develop crucial physical, mental, social and problem-solving skills. They help them to conquer or get comfortable with sources of fears that’d otherwise become reinforced or irrationally overblown if perpetually avoided. And they improve their perseverance without immediately seeking an adult for help. Children are actually decent judges of their own limits so they should be as safe as they need to be but not as safe as possible.


So let them out to play. Don’t over-protect them otherwise they’ll be less prepared to cope with the outside world when they fly the nest. Facing challenges, letting them learn from, deal with and pick themselves up from their mistakes (rather than not letting them make any mistakes at all), and affording some trust in their own judgements, will build their streetwise confidence and social skills.


Don’t treat older children like babies. Allow them to dress themselves as soon as they’re able to. Trust them to be able to take the bus unaccompanied once they’re legally allowed to. Let them make their own decisions otherwise they won’t gain the confidence of the experience. If a child can do something then let them do it. They’ll feel more capable afterwards. (The same with the elderly who are still able to do things for themselves.) Assist them if they need it rather than because you presume they cannot do something for themselves at their age. Woof!


Give responsibility and they might take responsibility and become responsible. Don’t constantly do everything for them, even when it might seem easier and faster for you to just do something and it can be frustrating trying to teach them how to do it because they’ll be initially slow and unsure. Let them learn how to do something. This doesn’t mean leaving them alone but remaining by their side, and only intervening if you have to for their safety. Hints to help them are given first, not taking over the task and completing it for them. Give just enough clues to help them think about what the next step to solving a problem could be, instead of telling them the answer directly. If they’re feeling frustrated then praise their efforts and encourage them to persist with positive phrases, which will also model a calm approach that they’ll copy.


Protecting your children from ‘complicated’ or ‘scary’ things will only shield them from learning opportunities. An example is with the household finances – if the family is in unmanageable debt then it’s not good to pretend that everything’s okay by telling them that they can still have whatever they want because ‘they’re just kids’. It’s better to be honest and go through the household finances together if they need convincing. This exercise will also benefit their financial education too, which will be important once they achieve financial independence. They’ll learn that stuff doesn’t just magically appear and that they can’t always be bailed out.


…Well while we’re on this subject – if a child is in bad debt him/herself (presuming this was caused by poor judgements or profligacy rather than misfortunes that couldn’t reasonably have been foreseen or prevented), then should his/her parents bail him/her out? On the one paw, the child should learn from his/her own mistakes. But on another, perhaps his/her parents should pay for their own mistakes for failing to raise their child to be responsible with money?


The parents may argue that they didn’t raise him/her to be irresponsible with money. But they (evidently) didn’t raise him/her to be responsible enough. We could also go on about whose genes the child inherited when the parents freely decided to conceive them (or adopt them). Telling mutations can occur, but it’s again the biological parents who decided to roll the dice. And arguing that ‘it was the wolves outside these walls who raised him/her like that’ is like saying one deferred the responsibility of parenting onto others; which isn’t great parenting. Shouldn’t parents take responsibility for raising their children well before they even conceive them?


Then again, what can we reasonably expect from parents because they shouldn’t keep their children locked up at home to protect them from all potentially negative outside influences. Or is it the parents’ own parents’ fault? And so on!


It’s impossible to perfectly disentangle what your child does and what you did because you made some choices for them that affected their personality and education. The same with your parents and you, and so forth i.e. on this subject of independence from a human-level viewpoint – independence from the perspective of life on Earth as a whole is illusory. That’s why biodiversity loss is problematic for us.


Also, parents do give a child the gift of life. But from the child’s experience it could be the gift of a life of suffering? Parents may choose to raise their child to be free. But would this be the child’s choice?! These considerations aren’t exhaustive. The primary point of these thought experiments is that most, if not all, moral judgements aren’t clear-cut.


This ventures into philosophy. This is about critical thinking rather than getting defensive when we hear alternative perspectives we find uneasy. We often only believe that certain things are clear-cut and easy decisions because we lack the insight to consider what alternative perspectives or information we may be missing. Science cannot objectively answer every question either. Still, we cannot always sit on the fence or split the differences – but whatever conclusions we settle on, they’d better be deeply-reasoned ones rather than ‘but this isn’t how we’ve been raised to think’ or ‘but this isn’t how society says we should think’.


…Anyway, being a controlling, micromanaging type of parent – who tells their children exactly what to do and when to do it – won’t develop their self-motivation. The problem isn’t regarding being ‘too kind’, for kindness is never a problem – it’s being too short-sighted. It’s better to take a supporting rather than commanding role. You don’t want children who’ll only do things because they’re pushed into doing them; or even worse, if they don’t then you’ll get exasperated and end up doing it for them. So be involved without being bossy; encouraging without nagging.


Self-disciplined individuals who believe that their own efforts correlate with furry achievement feel a stronger sense of control over their lives, which is a key factor for success, health and happiness. They’re also more persistent in the face of challenges, and resourceful and creative.


Adolescents especially need to start managing their own lives. Let them risk failure on their own while they’re still living at home because that’s a relatively safer time. We learn more through our stumbles. Let them pick themselves up to try again if you know they ought to be able to from the falls they take. Let them succeed without having to give you most of the credit. Help them to feel autonomous and competent. This doesn’t mean disengaging, lowering your expectations, making them think they must do everything alone or not keep you in the loop in their lives because they don’t need you – it means redirecting your energies onto fostering and supporting their path towards autonomy and a sense of competence.


Let them learn how to ask for help if they need it. If they need a little prod then instead of telling them what to do – ask them, “What’s your plan?” If they feel a little lost then encourage them to think about the times they did well under their own efforts – the times they most felt competent and confident will be the times they achieved something under their own initiative and endeavours.


Support them by enabling opportunities for them to learn new skills and competencies. And celebrate their successes! It’s ultimately about achieving that balance between independence when you know they should be independent, and interdependence when this makes better sense. It’s about balancing autonomy and self-efficacy with connection and belonging.


Now some parents believe in forcing their children out of the home as soon as they reach a certain age. Yet wealthy family dynasties remain powerful because of nepotistic parents who help their children in any way they can and as much as possible! They keep the money and connections in the family. Whether we agree with this strategy or not – nepotism is ‘selfish gene’-serving behaviour, whereas forcing one’s own children to have complete economic independence (no help with either money or employment) is irrational from a kin-selection standpoint. However, hardly all rationally self-interested behaviours are morally agreeable. It’s natural to want your own biological child to do better than another child, even when you’re supposed to be an impartial employer for them both. You’ll likely subconsciously or consciously give your own progeny first refusal at opportunities, give them the most time, patience, help and other resources, and won’t like it if another kid does better (unless you think little of your own child!)


Children should indeed eventually grow up into adults who can look after themselves. Yet this shouldn’t mean growing into being self-centred, isolated, aloof or unable to work in teams. Teamwork is a key real-world skill, and team members need to recognise their dependence upon, rather than independence from, each other.


An attitude of ‘I’ve been raised to look after myself’ can sometimes translate to ‘I don’t need anybody else and therefore nobody should rely on me either even if they need help’ or ‘I look after myself and only myself’ or ‘I put myself first’, when we need to look after each other. Independence shouldn’t mean forgetting that we all live in social communities. Children should also grow up into people who aim to add value to society. (Or is this pressured expectation against the exercise of individual liberty i.e. children should actually grow up to do whatever they individually like, whether they’ll contribute towards the collective good or not? Wait, I’m venturing into philosophy again!)


An attitude of ‘even though I need help, I won’t ask for it because I’m all about demonstrating my independence’ is also undesirable.


Independence and self-reliance are important, yet dependence and interdependence is how the world works; otherwise we should all stay friendless and single for the rest of our lives!


Woof. If you under-protect your children then something bad happens, you’ll regret it. If you over-protect them and they don’t grow to socially thrive, you’ll regret it. The right balance will appear clear but sometimes only with the benefit of hindsight. So it’s tough, like a gamble you wish you didn’t have to make. Judgement calls regarding risk are difficult, especially when it’s about the safety of one’s child. What’s clearer though is, if the methods used to protect your child are themselves harmful then it’s not worth it. Apart from that, it’s tricky to give broad advice because it can be highly dependent on each individual child and situation. Too many parenting tips are oversimplistic when we overall need balance, sensitivity and flexibility. Parents need to somehow tread that equipoise between helping too much and not helping enough. They’ll ultimately be judged by their results by virtue of how their children turn out. Yet virtually all parents are simply trying their best to do what’s best when raising their own children.


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