Saturday, January 24, 2015

Encouragement or Nagging?

My son's interest in Scouting began in elementary school, when we lived in Longmont, CO.  Chad joined the Cub Scouts and really enjoyed the experience.  His best friend was also a Cub Scout, not coincidentally.  When we moved to Oklahoma, it took us a while to get him into a Boy Scout troop, for no particular reason, but he was insistent enough that he made it happen.  It turns out that his interest in Scouting was a big influence on my life, and definitely for the better.

Chad was among the first members of a new troop forming in Norman - at first, I had no interest in doing anything more than giving him a ride to and from troop meetings.  After Chad's first summer camp, a conspiracy was hatched:  at the next troop meeting, I found I had become a Patrol Dad, partnering with a person who was a relative stranger.  Suddenly, I was in Scouting, and up to my neck!  As it has turned out, this was more than a great opportunity for Chad.  It was an important life-changing experience for me as a parent and as a person.  We had joined a troop with wise leadership, where the focus was totally on the boys, not the parents.  Our job as adult leaders was to help the boys grow up into good young men.  I had not enjoyed my own Boy Scouting experience, so I wasn't very enthused at first.  But like the boys, I loved the outdoors.  I didn't know much about hiking and camping then, but I was willing to learn.  And I certainly didn't know much about Scouting, but my Patrol Dad partner was an Eagle Scout and our Scoutmaster was a wonderful man, so they patiently waited for me to find my bearings and begin to know how to help the boys.  With time, I learned ... a lot ... about Scouting, about hiking and camping, and about helping boys grow into men.  Our troop involved whole families, including wives and daughters.  They became a second family to me.  Many wonderful experiences were to follow. Chad's participation resulted in one of my life's most rewarding experiences.

I could go on at great length about all my personal Scouting history, but not here.  The point is that one of the most important lessons I learned, by seeing the mistakes being made by others (as well as then seeing what I was doing as a mistake), was to not help the boys very much.  A huge problem for Scouts is parents who live vicariously through their children.  If their children fail, that's seen by the parents as a reflection on them, so they'll do anything to force their child to succeed.  Such parents want their boys to advance as fast as possible, not at a pace determined by the boys' personal growth.  They impose wholly unrealistic expectations on their boys:  that their boys be perfect in every way, all the time.  Therefore, they're constantly griping and nagging their boys about every little thing they might be doing.  I could see most kids not much caring for the constant nagging.  They 'tuned out' most of that harassment and did whatever they wanted, instead.  Sound familiar to you? 

And such parents get so involved in their boys' projects, they wind up doing most of the work for the Scouts.  When camping and hiking, some parents don't want their boys to make any mistakes that might inconvenience the parents, so they get involved in everything the boys are doing and never let the boys make any mistakes.  And of course, the parents make mistakes that inconvenience everyone!

It was easy to see others doing this.  Not so easy to recognize when I came to realize that I was doing it.  Through Scouting, I came to know many good parents whose primary concern was supporting the growth of the boys.  If parents had to do some growing, too (as I did), then the leaders patiently explained what they were doing and why I had to stop doing certain things and provide support in other ways than nagging and interfering.  I found I could see the rightness of this 'philosophy' of letting the boys make mistakes and overcome them.  Nagging and doing things for the boys was actually a demotivator, not helping them.  I watched my son grow into a real leader right before my very eyes.  If he needed discipline, I let other parents (who wouldn't take his transgressions personally) help him see his mistakes.  That was the way the troop worked:  parents helping boys other than their own grow into men.  I found I enjoyed working with boys not my own, and I had deep reservoirs of patience with them, whereas I was prone to be impatient with Chad.

Support what your children choose to do, of course.  But if you have to nag at them all the time to succeed at what they're doing, then perhaps they really want to do something else.  I told my son if I had to drag him to Scout meetings and events, then we just weren't going to do Scouting.  As it turned out, I never found myself having to nag at all.  His participation was always enthusiastic and frequently successful.  He formulated and carried out his own Eagle Scout project - when I was bragging to my boss at the time about my son's success with his Eagle project, he asked me (facetiously) if he could get his managers into Scouting! 

With teenagers, I think parents need to back off and give their kids room to grow as they themselves see fit, not just what the parents want!  Let your children define success in their own terms.  Let them make mistakes and fail, and then learn how to overcome those setbacks on their own, as much as possible.  And not just in Scouting, either!!  Kids need to learn how to make life choices and deal with the consequences on their own. If you can show them how to do that, they'll likely be just fine.