2019 was surely the year when the term snowflake really did start to melt away – the activism of Greta and young climate campaigners across the globe ensured that young people reclaimed their voice, their right to be taken seriously and not dismissed as, well, flaky, overly sensitive without cause.
And yet. As parents we could all probably still learn a thing or two about backing off from micromanaging our children’s lives, from smoothing their paths and fighting their battles. We know how tempting it is – but what is that teaching our children? That they can’t manage their own lives? That problems can only be solved by grown-ups? We’re not talking about reverting to the time of the stiff upper lip here, but there are some simple ideas as we start the new year for helping build resilience in your son or daughter.
1. Think twice before diving in – so your child got told off at school / got a detention / got dropped from the A team. Your teen might think it’s ‘so unfair’ but before protesting along with them, are you sure it might not be justified? Listen to your teen’s complaint. Give a hug and sympathetic noises. But trust the school and the teacher. Present the other side of the argument. And then leave them to think and work things out on their own. Similarly, if they are struggling with a friendship issue, listen but try and get them to see the bigger picture. What can they do to solve the problem themselves? “Three before me” is a helpful mantra. What three things has your child tried to resolve the issue, before bringing it to you?
2. Don’t confuse loving your child with idealising them. Yes we all have blind spots as to our own children, we indulge. Refrain from calling your daughter ‘princess’, with all the laden passivity that suggests. (And if you do call her that, don’t be surprised to find she starts behaving like Verruca Salt).
3. Lead by example: don’t overly curate your own online life. Encourage a healthy scepticism of social media feeds – schools are brilliant about giving advice on this, but as parents we’re often guilty of posting a perfect family photo (when behind the scenes everyone was bickering) or the carefully choosing and filtering holiday photos (and not the one where you were all hunkering out of the rain). Social media can offer great support for young people, but the negatives are well documented. Have honest conversations that empower your teen to ‘unfollow’, to stick to their principles and avoid getting swept up in someone else’s supposedly perfect life.
4. Be open about failure – share stories of things that have not always gone smoothly in your own life. One bad mark is not a disaster. Don’t catastrophise.
5. Speak to them frankly about the real risks – the lure of experimenting in other (for parents and teens) scarier areas – parties, drink, drugs.
6. BUT give them opportunities to break away and make their own choices. Allow them to get to and from secondary school independently where possible – who wants to be stuck in traffic with your parent and their choice of music? Let them try (and possibly fail) at cooking a meal, inventing a recipe. Retreat from view and forget about the mess in the kitchen that will ensue.
7. Encourage them to BLOW THEIR OWN TRUMPET: to be really proud when they have put a load of time and effort into something and that’s paid off in success. Celebrating success appropriately is something that teens – and girls in particular find hard. But DON’T praise things they have no control over (‘cleverness’)…
8. Encourage them to be proud of belonging to something bigger than themselves – pride in their school, their team, of their friends or community. Help them find their place in the world and a voice in that world without you.
9. ARGUE, DEBATE, DISCUSS. Hold the robust conversations over the dinner table. Let them fight for their views and opinions, encourage them to take a different view from you and listen to their opinions. Developing their own voices, their own views and their own approach to life – is part of the great fun of growing up – and it’s exciting to witness it as a parent.
10. ABOVE ALL, stay off the parents’ WhatsApp chat! When your children are in secondary school, it’s time for them to take control of homework and other logistics. Don’t join the group. Embrace FOMO (fear of missing out) and let everyone else work themselves into a frenzy. What’s the worst that could happen? A homework detention? We’re back to point 1…
Head, Wimbledon High School GDST