[OPINION] Just let children be

I find it disheartening that so many parents live vicariously through their children. This disallows the child an opportunity to develop at their own pace and into their own self. I heard an interview where a fiction writer was being hired by parents who wanted her to assist their children with school writing projects, speeches to be made at school and English orals. This all seems new to many people. I have had four children in the schooling system for the last twenty-five years. What I have seen has been astounding!

I highly regard schools where all projects are completed at school. Some are done independently, others in assigned groups. Scholars can do research at home if they choose, or there is time during school to do that. This allows the scholar to explore their own methods of presentation and gives them the background they need to meet the requirements of the project.

I have always had an awareness of the culpability of parents who do 90-100% of their children’s projects for them. Now, I am not without sin. At primary school my mom used to enjoy knitting for me on my needlework projects. I did 80% and she knitted while watching her favourite program on telly. The difference between our knitting tensions were night and day, so the teacher was clear what was mine and what was hers. Even though she was not knitting to ensure I got the highest grade in the class, I didn’t have a good feeling about that with hindsight.

My involvement in my own children’s school assignments and projects has been between zero and if I am asked to, I explain what they are expected to do. Mostly though, they have been clear and then only ask for assistance where materials have to be bought. No assignment has ever been sent home to be reworked and neither have they not met or exceeded the original requirement. Most of the time I have no knowledge of when and what must be presented.

Some of the WhatsApp groups I have agonised through include a parent taking other parents or au pairs through what ‘they’ need to do, step by step. One parent posted a picture of a project 'they' did one month before the deadline and it looked like a professional exhibition piece from an art gallery. Do parents not realise that most teachers are aware of their children’s capabilities in school and are also clear where parents have taken over a project and the child is hardly able to explain the workings, research, actions taken to complete said project?

We need to give our children support of course. We also need to trust them to do what is necessary to complete their school projects timeously, effectively and appropriately. The motivation should surely be to secure themselves independence at university and the world or work? Handing over the responsibility of managing homework, projects and schedules must be in the hands of the children as soon as they are old enough to manage themselves.

School projects should be times of innovation, problem solving, research, learning, self–development and fun. It is usually a creative process as well. Most children, when left to their own devices, will surprise us with how they can solve problems with solutions they create themselves. Certainly, the kids who do their own work take for granted that they are responsible, their parents trust them and believe in them.

We have to raise children for a world where they have to have their own back. They must be empowered to understand, ask questions about what they don’t understand or what they need clarity on, be able to make suggestions or spot barriers and definitely, they must be provided with plenty of opportunities to fail. The lessons are in the experimentation, the exploration and the non-successes. The learning, not losing in itself, is a lesson. It is not always going to work the first or even sometimes the second time.

Why would we want to deprive our children of being the best they can be and not minimise their efforts, as if they are not enough. The children can take three messages from these interferences from parents. Firstly, I have no say and must do as I am told. Secondly, there will be somebody else to do it, it is not my responsibility and lastly, what I have to offer will never make the grade.

Nurturing a can-do approach to life in young children allows them to take risks, to feel confident in themselves, to appreciate the rewards of a job well done and to take criticism and feedback in a way that they use it to be better next time.

We come across too many people in our lives who do not know how to be accountable for 100%, rather they find excuses, they procrastinate or they allocate blame. We must set our children up for a world where it is each one for themselves and to value the benefits of sharing ideas, testing opinions and carving a new and better way of doing things than the way we used to.

Mostly, children just need the encouragement, belief and support of parents to show up and do their best. Parents need to back off. They are actually setting their own children up for failure. There is no spoon-feeding out there, you have to show up, alone. Let us allow our children to enjoy school while knowing the trials and tribulations in the world are not impossible for them to deal with.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn