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Teach Your Kids To Make Their Beds, They Are The Ones Who Will Lie In Them

30/10/2015 5:42 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST
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Mother and daughter making bed

With two small boys I'm partially responsible for helping grow into good men, resilience and judgement have been on my mind a lot lately.

The instinct to smooth the path, shield from darkness and give them only our best is so strong in parents.

That's love, isn't it?

Paul Keating has spoken about the "asbestos suit" stitched together by the deep love of his grandmother and mother which has protected him emotionally throughout his life. This is a man who last week told a packed Opera House he could only recall one moment of real self-doubt from his entire time as Treasurer and Prime Minister.

Who wouldn't want to build an emotional asbestos suit for their children. But shielding them from the realities of life -- that's both unrealistic and unhelpful in ways that are becoming more evident.

We're no longer just treating children like children, increasingly we're treating grown adults with pay cheques and responsibilities like children, too. We are expecting them not to display judgement and finding them unable to display resilience.

Just take the AFL.

This week the Australian Football League released a new policy on illicit drug use -- softening the consequences for first and second strikes.

These policies relate to adults, admittedly some of them young adults, who get paid many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to live up to the commitments they've made in their contracts.

And yet this is how the AFL's Mark Evans described to ABC Radio the thinking behind the changes:

If you think this is an AFL alone issue, you're wrong. This is an issue that every parent of teenagers and university aged children would have to deal with and what we've tried to do is almost act as the parent here.

If you had a child who needed some medical assistance, you would want to provide that. If you had a child who made a poor decision, you would want to give them the tools to avoid that decision. If you had a child who continued to make poor decisions you would expect bigger consequences for that, and that's what this policy tries to do.

Pastoral care by sporting codes should be praised -- and the recent huge steps in prioritising the mental health of players should be praised -- but let's be clear, we're not talking about children here.

Adults are required in life to exercise judgement -- and the only way they know how to do that is if we teach them when they're children.

In a brilliant interview in the LA Times this week, the former first dean of freshmen at Stanford University, Julie Lythcott-Haims, said 'helicopter parenting' now extends beyond the playground, past the university campus and into the workplace.

Her list of observations about the current generation of educated young Americans makes for dire reading -- from their inability to communicate in person to their unwillingness to even be exposed to ideas which make them uncomfortable.

Parents are [even] intervening in the workplace: "I don't agree with the performance evaluation you gave my child." They use the word "child" to refer to twenty-somethings, and that's an indicator of how we're pushing adolescence out into the late 20s.

Lythcott-Haims had her own light-bulb moment when she caught herself cutting up her 10-year-old son's dinner.

Our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job, period. We're not meant to parent them for the duration of their lives, or ours. Our job is to ensure they have the skills, the confidence to fend for themselves. We will always love them, but the most loving thing is to prepare them for adulthood rather than pretend that we will always be there to resolve things for them.

My 4-year-old made his own bed this morning. It took all my self-control not to straighten the bedspread for him, but I couldn't help telling him he was "clever".

Note to self -- bed making is a life skill, not "clever". And when he's a grown man, however he makes his bed, he'll be the one who has to lie in it.

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