- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

Several weeks ago in this column, I encouraged parents to not ask principals for teacher reassignments, as in “I think my child, who has a learning problem, will do better with Mrs. Whimsy because from what I hear she’s more patient.” As one might imagine, I am now the Certified Hero of Principals Everywhere. On the other hand, some parents who previously enjoyed reading my column have decided I am Parenting Satan.

Parents have asked whether I deny that a certain child might do “better” with one teacher as opposed to another. Better in what sense? If grades are the issue, and they usually are, then that perspective is near-sighted. What about the inestimable benefit of learning at age, say 9, that life isn’t fair, to keep on truckin’ under less-than-desirable circumstances, and that adversity isn’t apocalyptic? (Which is what parents inadvertently teach when they intervene in every adversity.) In my life, the greatest gains have been produced under the most unpleasant conditions. I’ll bet you will say the same.

An elementary school principal in New Mexico was one of many who thanked me for the column. She writes: “I have had parents come in, without even meeting the teacher in question, and want their child moved because they have heard that the teacher is strict or demanding. Quite often, the real reason for the request is that the child’s friends are with another teacher and he/she wants to be with them. I remember, as a child, not getting the teacher I wanted. My parents simply told me to cowboy up and get over it.”

Yep, that’s pretty much what my parents told me. And I dared not ever complain about the teacher to whom I’d been assigned because I knew my parents would assume, and usually rightly, that I was being a troublemaker in her class.

The New Mexico principal then nailed the real problem: “Many of our parents want everything to be easy for their children and for their children to be happy all the time. Real life is not always easy or happy, and children need to learn how to cope with people and situations that they don’t like or agree with. Parents need to be parents and stop trying to be ‘friends’ with their children.”

The parents this principal and I grew up with tried to help us accept full responsibility for our own happiness, whereas all-too-many of today’s parents try to guarantee their children’s happiness. Our parents felt that in most cases, adversity was an unavoidable aspect of life, and that the earlier one learned to accept it and deal with it, the better. Today’s parents apparently feel adversity is a bad thing, something children need to be protected from.

And so, today’s kids learn to complain. Oh, we also complained about teachers we “hated,” but rarely to our parents. And the subtext of such complaining was the resignation that this was the way it was going to be, period. Looking back, nearly everyone in my generation will attest that we were better off in the long run because our parents stayed out of such things.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the freedom to pursue happiness is a God-given right. He was obviously aware that no one can guarantee another person’s happiness; furthermore, that the attempt is going to backfire on the recipient of this misplaced largess. In this case, I think the attempt eventually is going to backfire on us all.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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