Let Kids Sweat

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Corny joke: young man is carried into a restaurant. Passerby says: "Such a handsome boy and he can't walk." Mother replies "Oh, he can walk, but fortunately he doesn't need to."

I've been thinking about that joke, with another school year ending. As a teacher, I see a lot of parenting styles, from hands-off to helicopter.

Being a parent is a huge job, with no one way to do it all perfectly. Not being a parent myself, I'm hardly in a position to judge.

But every year I notice more parents who view parenting as cushioning their child from every bump on that long road to adulthood. Every grade less than A plus disputed, any conflict the other kid's fault, any stress instantly removed from their child's world. Not first place for spelling? These parents decide everyone needs a ribbon, because their child might feel sad.

I understand parents' instinct to protect their children. But these parents aren't doing the kid any favors. Shielding children from every disappointment also means preventing them from gaining skills to cope with life's inevitable obstacles.


Fighting every battle and completing every hard homework assignment for your kids is not going to keep the realities of the world at bay forever. Instead of frantically fending off problems, I wish parents realized some are opportunities to learn one of life's important lessons: that things are not always easy. What kids need to know is trouble won't invariably be solved by someone else.

Some situations do require parental intervention. But for those that don't, here's advice from a teacher: allow kids to tackle tough stuff. Lately educators have been buzzing about "grit" - resilience found in successful students who don't crumble, but push through, however grueling.

The irony of doing a great job as a parent is you work yourself out of a job. That means preparing your kids for that day when you won't be there to fix everything. So, parents, just like you did when they took that first step on their own - teach your children well that life can get challenging, but when you fall down, you get up and keep going.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.