Capricious children will rule over them, the people will be oppressed; each one by another, and each one by his neighbor. The youth will storm against the elder and the inferior against the honorable~ Isaiah 3:4b-5 NASB
It’s difficult to quibble with the notion that our society has become progressively more child-centered over the course of the last few decades.
Overall concern for the health and welfare of children has brought about much-needed change in our culture. Research has raised awareness concerning the educational, medical and emotional needs of growing children. Parents readily invest more of their time, energy and treasure in raising kids than at any other time in history; and educators are much more in tune with the developmental needs of each individual child. As a result, school is far more interesting than it was “back in the day”.
The societal focus on children has also brought with it a greater awareness of child abuse and neglect. Physical discipline of any kind is now frowned upon and has been replaced with more “enlightened” forms of discipline.
I am all for anything that brings awareness to the horrors of child abuse. However, I fear we have exchanged physical abuse and emotional neglect with a different kind of child abuse. A form of abuse that is much more socially acceptable but every bit as crippling to the long-term health and well being of children.
I call this new form of child abuse “insulation.” Insulation happens when well-intentioned parents go beyond protecting their children from harmful influences or danger. Parents who insulate attempt to shield their kids from every kind of distress, pain, sadness, discomfort, discouragement or discontent. Some of the more common methods of insulation are:
Demanding teachers give kids grades they have not earned
Refusing to expose kids to unfamiliar foods for fear they won’t like them
Insisting swings and other “dangerous” equipment be removed from playgrounds
Piling on undeserved praise
Allowing laziness and irresponsibility
Failing to tell children “no” when appropriate
Delaying the teaching of necessary life skills (cooking, cleaning, driving, money management)
Neglecting to correct disrespect or rudeness
Anxiety over offending your child
Operating as a mediator with teachers and other authority figures
There is nothing inherently wrong with attempting to make childhood pleasant for kids. Nor is it wrong to want to protect children from danger. The world we live in is full of evil people and genuine threats. One of the primary obligations of parents and guardians is to shelter innocent children from unsafe people and risky situations.
Trouble comes when parents endeavor to shield their children from unpleasant or painful situations that teach kids truth about life. A scraped knee is painful, but the pain effectively communicates to a child the truth concerning their physical limitations. A bad grade won’t kill a student, but the embarrassment that comes with a bad grade may instill in them the importance of working hard to avoid the embarrassment of failure. If a child is never encouraged to try new foods they are robbed of the joy of discovering foods they do like.
Childhood is far too brief to fritter away time puffing kids up with unjustified praise or setting them up for disappointment by creating a fictitious reality where kids get things without taking responsibility or working hard. Childhood is the only time parents get to teach kids all they will need to know to navigate the rigors of the adult world. One aspect of preparing kids for adulthood is guiding them through unpleasant or challenging experiences, not eliminating them entirely.
Parents should train kids to negotiate with teachers or coaches, rather than doing it for them. This gives kids the confidence and skills needed to deal with supervisors and managers in the future. Parents need to demand respect and teach etiquette because respect for others, civility and good manners make children and grown-ups more likable and more marketable in the professional world. Refusing to correct disrespect sets a child up to be disliked and passed over for opportunities.
Insulation is born out of a faulty view of love. Love is more than just squishy, squashy, sloppy sentimentality. Love is more than a urge to bless and shelter. Authentic love is multifaceted and complex. It is patient and kind, but it is also honest, tough and future focused. Love wants what is best long-term. Love looks beyond childhood and prepares for adulthood. Love pushes kids to try new things, to be courageous, protects when appropriate and corrects when necessary. Authentic love, provides kids a start that will serve them well over the course their lifetime.