We’re just days away from our San Dieguito Book Club meeting on April 25th, when we’ll be discussing Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book How to Raise an Adult. Over the past few couple of weeks I’ve had more than a few teachers tell me that they’ve been reading the book and I’ve spotted copies being passed around at my last two or three parent coffees. Our parent foundation even purchased a few books that our students could check out from the school library, and all have been off the shelves since the day they arrived.
I’m really looking forward to standing at the confluence of all three of these points of view, as teachers, parents, and students each bring different perspectives to the ideas in How to Raise an Adult.
I know I’ve got my own opinions, formed over twenty two years of being an educator and almost twenty years of being a parent. I’ve tipped my hand on some of these thoughts in recent posts, and since I hope to do more listening than speaking on Monday night, I offer this mini-retrospective as my initial contribution to a big discussion.
I also know that these thoughts are only my own, and that they aren’t more right than many other of the perspectives we’ll hear at our book club.
I love that Lythcott-Haims tells her readers: “We’ve been given the awesome, humbling task of helping a young human unfold.” As a person who has dedicated his professional life to the service of helping students do just this, her words ring true. As a dad, I see the challenge from a slightly different (and perhaps more emotional) perspective. Reflecting on my own growing up, I know that I viewed that unfolding differently when I was a teenager.
It may be in the definition of “helping” that our discussion on Monday night will be at its richest, and as a preview, I offered Lythcott-Haims’ line to some parents and teachers. Thoughtful and real, they told me:
I’d define “helping” as guiding and supporting, while also modeling the process.
I interpret both a parent and a teacher’s role of ‘helping’ as thinking through to ‘set the context’ where teens can experiment and learn to ‘succeed’ or ‘fail’ based on their choices, ideally without having too far to fall, if they do fail in their initial attempts. For example, Aeries can be a great way for parents to see how student’s efforts at SDA progress over time, before grades are finalized. If used appropriately/judiciously, this tool can help parents and teachers, identify opportunities to help set/change the context for a student/students to be as successful as he/she/they want to be. For some students, this may be as simple as asking the right questions at the right time to help them explore options and consider new opportunities.
-Parent of a high school student
I think “helping” really means to be able to stand back and watch her do things for herself. When she says “I can do it” it means letting her do it-and waiting until she asks for help before stepping in. I want her to learn to ask for help (I think many people struggle with that) but I also want her to know that I trust her. If my child says they can do something then I should have complete faith that they can. I think “helping” should also mean truly letting kids tackle things on their own. If they say they will talk to a teacher about something, let them do it, no need to follow up with an email to see if they did. And more importantly don’t jump in to get them the response that they (or you) want. If the answer is no then let the child sit with that answer. It’s ok to teach our kids that their are limits to what they can accomplish. Helping children does not mean allowing them to have completely unrealistic expectations. If they exceed what we think they are capable of that’s great, but I don’t think it’s fair to allow kids to think the world is always entirely their oyster…when it’s not.
-Teacher/Parent (age 3)
My husband thinks the story, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, is a book about an enabling parent. I suppose most of us, including Shel Silverstein himself, have read it this way. However, upon reflecting on the word “help” as presented in the book, How to Raise an Adult and upon Bjorn Paige’s suggestion, the image of the tree has come to mind but in a different light. The tree is rooted, strong, and capable of providing the human with the nourishment, materials, and support he needs. Never does the tree “help” him by holding his hand, carrying him, protecting him, traveling with him, telling him what to do, or doing his work for him. The tree is always there when the human needs him and helps him when he can. True, the tree is seemingly stripped to nothing by the end, but perhaps this bare symbol can also represent the limits one human faces when attempting to “help” another. For me, a helpful yet humble parent is well-rooted, loves their child unconditionally, and will provide the child with the nourishment (apples), supplies (wood/materials), and support (stump) that child needs to “unfold”. Although this task is not an easy one, as a parent and a teacher, I believe we should strive to “unfold” the human and “help” by providing access to some basic needs and information. I want to be a strong, fearless tree for my humans. They will always know where to find me, I will provide them with some of the basics, and the rest of the “unfolding” will be up to them.
Then I asked the kids.
They kicked around the idea of what they think it means for adults to “help” them and came up with this list:
Teach life skills and morals
Aid in making the right choices
Give enough freedom, yet still have an impact on our lives.
Encourage us to try new things.
Not telling us who we have to be.
Share wisdom and past experience
Let me be my own person and discover passions by myself.
Share mistakes and experiences so we don’t repeat them, but also give us a chance to make mistakes on our own and learn from them.
Expose us to diverse ideas and opinions
Teach how to think and make decisions for ourselves.
Push us out of our comfort zone.
I can hardly wait to start talking about the ideas in the book, and hearing what our school community has to say.
If you’re interested in joining us, we’ll meet from 6:00-7:30 pm in our Media Center on Monday, April 25th.