We work hard and are actually pretty good at protecting them from all sorts of trouble. We have airbags, cameras on every corner and safety alarms on almost everything. We have helmets to protect their heads, immunizations that allow them to grow free from many diseases, and medication to help much of what afflicts the mind and body. Yet, today more than ever we may be leaving them vulnerable to unnecessary anxiety and despair.
We have a great opportunity to raise children with the resilience to face life with peace and confidence.
The world can be dangerous and things can change rapidly. Despite our best efforts, our world will remain imperfect and everyone at some point will face failure, difficulty and disappointment. The question is not how do we keep our kids safe from the unexpected, but how do we prepare them to live through it? Think through this with me. When was the last time you said something embarrassing, got a scratch on your arm, or dropped your bowl of ice-cream? Was it an overwhelming experience that spiraled into tears, turmoil and the need to have someone rescue you from despair? No! However, the earliest memory you have of embarrassment, simple injury or dropping your dessert may very well have included tears and turmoil. The difference between the two instances is an ability to deal with the pain and disappointment of the unexpected. Granted there are much more serious injuries than a scratch and much greater loss than ice-cream, however, the ability to handle the unexpected boils down to resilience.
Think of resilience as your natural ability to handle difficult and even dangerous “intrusions” into your otherwise stable life. Consider how a body has resistance to the flu after it has built immunity. With exposure to the flu the body builds natural resistance to the virus and is eventually able to fight a full exposure to the flu with no effect. However, the very same virus will wreak havoc on someone with a less resilient immune system. It seems we are missing opportunities to encourage resilience early in the lives of our children, leaving them vulnerable not to the flu, but to overwhelming anxiety and despair. In a recent article psychologist Peter Gray warned,
“We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have: Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.”
As parents, we see the potential God has given our children and we are all well aware of the capacity of young people to rise up through difficulty and to solve complex problems. At the same time we can struggle to help them find the motivation to succeed. We are given the opportunity and responsibility to help train them for independence, which is to fully utilize and enjoy their God-given gifts and talents. I think what Dr. Gray is suggesting is that children may need to struggle a bit on their own to recognize what we already know…in Christ they are able. As a dad of four young children, it is my responsibility to do everything in my power to protect them from the woes of this broken world. I am the first to admit that it is difficult for me to watch my kids experience pain and disappointment. However, I must remember the benefits of immunization and the value of resilience. My goal is to launch them into independence and at that point they must have their own immune system, not just the protection of their father. I am challenged to protect them from catastrophe while finding age appropriate ways for them to build strength to handle the unexpected.
Whether sports, academics or generally living life, training programs require resistance to build strength. A good trainer protects an athlete from injury, but at the same time must push his limits to increase his capacity. In the end it is the athlete who will experience the success or failure that results from a game or competition. I like what Dr. Tim Elmore advises. “When a [child] faces a problem, don’t immediately solve it for them or prescribe the steps to take. Instead, meet and come up with the objective they want to reach, then empower them to figure those steps out. Encourage them, coach them, support and believe in them, but compel them to solve the problem in their style, with steps they’ve created.” So, maybe our kids aren’t safe today from every potential failure, difficulty, or disappointment, but we do have a great opportunity to help them build immunity to the unexpected so they have the resilience to face life with peace and confidence.