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A Parenting Lesson from Last Week’s Student Walkouts

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Last Wednesday, thousands of students got up and walked out of their classrooms. They spent 17 minutes outside, one minute for each of the 17 students killed in the tragic Parkland shooting.

Watching our youth stand up for what they instinctively see as a terrible consequence of the current gun control situation has many of us parents aflutter. As an experienced educator who works with kids and parents to develop social and emotional skills, I see this action as a necessity and a true inspiration.

“This is their Vietnam,” a friend of mine said to me with a twinkle in her eye.

And it is. On the heels of such a bold movement by our children, we can smell the hope and change in the air. We need this. Our kids need this.

The student walkout is the latest in a trend of political activism sparked by the Parkland school shooting. Large numbers of teenagers are preregistering to vote in states where it’s allowed, like California. This means they can sign up to vote so long as they’ll be 18 during the next general election.

It’s a refreshing change to see a group of people who believe they can make a difference in their nation, and it may be becoming the norm.

Interestingly, this generation isn’t playing by our long-accepted rules. More of them are selecting “Independent” as their voter affiliation rather than the Democratic or Republican Party. Teens are realizing how decisions by elected officials are affecting their lives and they want to get rid of those who they don’t believe have their best interests at heart.

They’re warming up and getting ready to flex their political muscles.

Whether you agree with their stance or not, this type of assertive action shows that our kids are doing all right. It also shows that we should get out of their way.

I have 16-year-old twins who took part in the walkout.

When I asked if I could come stand in solidarity with them at school, my daughter’s reply taught me a valuable lesson in parenting. It’s one that I think many of us in today’s modern world of parenting need to learn.

“No, mom,” she responded. “There are no adults or parents allowed except for administrators. This is about the students. We’re taking a stand. Not you. Go find some of your friends and have your own demonstration. This is our thing.”

There it was. Through her impassioned words, my daughter showed me yet again that helicopter hovering has no place in parenting. Constantly fussing over our kids and watching too closely, whether in concern or awe, does us no good. Interfering doesn’t help them grow.

In fact, studies on helicopter parenting reveal its detrimental effects on both parent and child. Kids of helicopter parents are more likely to experience depression and anxiety once they get to college. University deans and advisors report witnessing the academic troubles and mental health issues of students with overbearing parents.

Statistics show that parents today are spending more time than ever with their kids, but that is not always a good thing. Driving them everywhere, supervising them, helping them with their homework.

Constantly being around deprives our kids of the opportunity to learn to do things for themselves. Spending time away from them, allows kids to become more independent – to be able to do things without mom or dad. Taking on an authoritative role as a parent, rather than acting as their constant companion or supervisor, helps children become competent.

It builds resilience.

I am not my daughter’s colleague. I am not her best friend. I am her parent. And as a parent, I am a warm and safe place for her to land after she trods out into the world. I’m the support system to which she can return after taking risks and making mistakes.

By hovering, I rob her of the exact traits and skills I want most for her: independence, passion, resilience, and the strength to stand up for her beliefs. I want her to exude and experience all of these things as she grows up. But she’s meant to experience them herself, alongside her generation. Not with me.

As a parent, I can’t rely on her for a “do over” of my own childhood or a chance to relive my impassioned youth without the bumps and bruises. She gets to make her own decisions.

Looking into her wide, almond-shaped eyes filled with endless optimism and the belief that change is possible, I realized that this moment was hers.

I need to find that spark within myself and follow it. My job as a parent is to role model those traits and behaviors that I value and want to pass on. I’ve got to show her how to speak up, how to ask for the things she needs, and how to stand up for what she holds sacred. Of course, the best way to do all of this is to do these things myself.

I’m supposed to be a few steps ahead of her, demonstrating and guiding her through my actions as an authoritative role model. Not hovering beside her. That serves nobody.

She has friends. She needs role models. As parents, that’s our job… and we’ve got work to do.

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