Experience tells us that as students get older, parents and teachers let go of them and expect them to fend for themselves. While this is necessary to prepare students for independent thinking and living when they reach early adulthood, I am inclined to think that this sort of psychological weaning has to be done with extreme caution.
Like many other child-rearing practices, this too is passed down. Our parents/teachers were expected to fend for themselves by the time they were 13 or so. They did this to us when we were growing up and now we do the same with our own children/students. However, we need to examine the appropriateness of doing so from a psychological point of view, with the aim to significantly improve the quality of life.
A typical child’s life starts with close support and involvement from parents. At kindergarten and lower primary level, parents are more than eager to visit the child at school – sometimes more than once in a single day. They willingly attend parent-teacher conferences, academic meetings, workshops and social gatherings. However, as their children move up to upper primary, middle and high school, parents tend to reduce their level of involvement.
There is a psychological explanation for why this happens. Younger children deal with easier subjects and academic tasks. Hence parents find it very easy to handle children’s academic tasks at kindergarten and lower primary level. In fact many parents take pride in doing (under the guise of helping) kindergarten and lower primary level homework and projects for their children. They have no problem in doing this because their level of efficacy to handle simple academic tasks is high.
As children grow older, the subjects they learn at school get tougher. Parents, not wanting to look bad (because of their inability to help their children with higher level math, science, language, etc.), expect them to take responsibility for their own learning. This coincides with the fact that children at this age are supposed to take care of themselves in other areas such as personal hygiene, play, and time management. Most parents, if not all, possess low efficacy level when it comes to helping their children with more demanding academic tasks at school.
Hence the process of psychological weaning does not necessarily happen because parents/teachers want their children/students to become independent, functional member of the school and society. Rather, it is a way for parents/teachers to save their image as someone who is supposed to know more than the child. As a result, children suffer the consequence of the lack of support and involvement from parents/teachers at a time when they are needed the most.
Setting a balance
From a psychological point of view, lessons on independence are not taught by letting someone go completely. Effective parenting and teaching is knowing how to set a balance between letting go and sincerely supporting the youngster at the same time. It is a huge misunderstanding that as children grow older, they do not need the involvement of parents and teachers in their growth and development, be it academic, or otherwise.
In fact, the same amount of attention, support and involvement are required throughout schooling – this may even extend to college or university. While the form of support and involvement may change over time, they are in great demand throughout an individual’s life.
What parents and teachers need to understand and accept is the fact that showing support and involvement are not merely reflected in helping their children/students with academic tasks. Contrary to this belief, and from a child/student’s perspective, the most important thing is for parents/teachers to simply be there for them – physically and emotionally!