This week, I had a meeting with a new parent whose 16-year-old son attends a private, college preparatory school for students with learning differences. The population of the school includes many students with an ADHD diagnosis as well as students with an Asperger’s profile.
This 16-year-old and his mother have spent many years working very hard to help him develop independence, independent problem solving skills and social cognitive skills. In addition to ADHD, he has difficulty with his language processing skills which has made socializing particularly challenging at times. He has made excellent progress and has become very independent thanks to both he and his mother’s hard work.
This boys has expressed to his mother that he no longer wants to attend his school because he is tired of the immature and negative behavior of his classmates. He describes many of them as lacking internal motivation to succeed, being negative and lacking independence. He also described that many of his classmates do not do normal teenage things that he does such as social experiences without adult supervision, taking public transportation, etc.
Because of his tremendous growth over the years and his classmates lack of growth he finds most of them to be unrelatable.
As the mother described this I knew exactly what she was talking about from my experience working at a school with a similar population. The culture of the high school where I worked included many students who had little demands or expectations placed on them aside from their academics. Many were helicoptered by their parents, the most severe had parents who attempted to make sure that their children were comfortable at all times, which sometimes included confronting teachers who tried to hold their child accountable.
Many of these students were consistently negative in their attitudes and treatment towards their classmates as well as faculty. Many lacked internal motivation for anything aside from their narrow range of interests.
I saw a pattern in which their classmates who were more independent did not have parents who overprotected or micromanaged them. The students, often complained how much they disliked being around their classmates at school because they found them to be negative, immature and unrelatable, just like this boy does
My discussion with this parent reminded me of a few important observations I wanted to share with you, many of which are supported in Dr. Michael Gurrian’s latest book, Saving our Sons.
-Helicoptering,micromanaging (whatever you want to call it) inhibits the development of internal motivation, self-advocacy skills, executive functioning, independent problem solving skills and resiliency.
-A fear based approach to parenting In which kids are overprotected and not provided with a level of age-appropriate independence denies them the opportunity to develop these critical life skills mentioned above.
-Learning to solve problems independently, be held accountable by others, and spend unstructured time with peers (in which adults are not hovering) helps kids develop confidence and a sense of pride in their abilities.
Is it any surprise that this boy does not want to be around his classmates who lack the skills he’s acquired?
Here’s what this mom did differently then a lot of this boys classmates-she looked ahead to the long term goal of her son being completely independent. She bases her parenting decisionswith the long-term goal in mind. While she may have fear or anxiety, she doesn’t let it control her decision making process.
Here is a great example of a boy who, despite his challenges strives to better himself. He’s been pushed to do so. Many of his classmates are kept in a perpetual state of childhood, they are prohibited from moving into the developmental stages of adolescence because of their parent’s fear or anxieties. The product of that is (understandably) off-putting to him.