Why Parents Need to Teach Their Children Bravery
In the second week at her new school Haley auditioned for a part in the school play–The Lion King.
This was a big move for her.
Bravery and toughness are not her things.
Haley is blue-eyed, blonde-hair, warm-hearted, quiet, and lacks confidence in herself. Which makes me worry for her. She is the new kid at school. And we know how school can be especially cruel to the new kids.
Sure her quietness is cute now. Every parent wants a quiet kid. Other parents nod at Haley and say they wish their kid was that reserved. They have asked me where they could get her model.
But in a few years, Haley will tiptoe into the hierarchy of high school.
As I high school teacher I see what happens to kids like my daughter. Their shyness is perceived as strangeness and scare others away. And for four years they haunt the fringes of high school like ghosts who wish nothing more than to go unseen, unheard.
When you’re a vulnerable teenage one insult, one eye roll, one crooked smile is the end of the world. Recovery is hard. And over four years, embarrassment and humiliation accrue like academic credits printed and housed in your permanent file.
I realize what I’m telling you could simply be seen as dad-worry. By choice, I’ve been stuck in high school for 14 years. I know the hierarchy, the terrain. In fact, it hasn’t changed since I was in high school. The same cliches have tramped down the high school halls since the American Department of Education sentenced teenagers to four years of hard labor.
In 2019, the clothes and music may be different but the hierarchy is still the same. We still have the popular kids, jocks, brains, thespians, musicians, loners, stoners, unpopular kids, and bullies.
I know the bullies and seen their work. It’s not pretty. Kids are cruel. Kids are fragile. And the modern teenager is more prone to self-destruction than ever before.
It’s summer and Haley sits on the couch and cries.
“What’s wrong, Haley? “
I sit next to her.
“I’m just scared to go to a new school. That’s all.”
My heart broke for her. I could only imagine her fear. I didn’t know what to say, so I just sat next to her for awhile. The TV was off but we stared like it was on.
Then I started talking.
I told her about my brain. I told her that I’m scared one day it’s going to get worse. That I’ll go blind or won’t be able to walk. I tell her I’m always scared. I then tell her that sometimes a little bravery goes a long way.
It’s now October and Haley is dancing in the musicless kitchen.
She is wearing her school uniform, minus the shoes that were kicked sideways in the living room, and her socks are like ice skates on the kitchen floor. She is doing what looks like a combination of the Chicken Dance and the Running Man.
She catches me watching her.
“Dad, what are you looking at?”
“Haven’t you ever seen someone dance before?”
She didn’t get the role she auditioned for in the school play. But she has a role in the singing and dancing ensemble…even though I question her dancing skills.
She stays after school every Thursday for a two hour practice. She says she really likes it. She has made some friends.
Not that I care about my daughter’s popularity. I don’t. But I do care about her well being. Her sanctity. Her bravery.
The heaviest burden a parent carries is the welfare of their child.
In the quiet moments of life– commuting on the train, waiting in the checkout line–parents think about their kids. We can’t help it. Above all else–we just want them to be okay. I felt it six years ago when I was diagnosed with a brain degeneration and my parents called me every night just to make sure I was okay. I was 33.
What children define as overbearing, parents consider natural.
But parents need to be reminded that their children have their own destiny. Even though our paternal instinct is to protect them from all harm, if we want to do our kids justice we must provide them with opportunities to be brave.
Haley transferred schools because Cindy and I felt the new school provided her with better opportunities.
She resisted at first but, somehow (and fortunately for us), she was mature enough to know we want what is best for her, even though the best requires her to do the unnatural– be brave.
Protecting your children is sometimes absolutely necessary. But protecting them all the time is dangerous. Like it or not, children have to learn about the meanness the world is eager to offer. Sometimes parents need to step back, assume the bystander role, and let their child struggle.
Please understand, I love my children. I hate to see them struggle. I know more struggle is coming. And I can’t do anything about it.
If I’ve learned anything about parenting it’s this– though you can’t be your children, you can teach them about bravery and provide them opportunities to be brave.
Bravery is what they’ll need to learn and grow– let alone get through high school.
Bravery is what they’ll need to believe in themselves.
Tim O’Brien finished signing my copy of “Dad’s Maybe Book”, thoughtfully looked at me with a pair of tired eyes. His face weathered and crisscrossed with deep lines. Still staring at me, he ran his hand across his chin while footsteps clicked across the marble atrium floor.
“Gosh, That’s a big question,” Tim said. “I guess I would tell them to be a donkey. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Be passionate. Don’t let tell you that you can’ t do something. Yeah, I would tell them to be a stubborn, passionate, persistent donkey.”
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