Recently I overheard someone say they think that obedience and bullying are necessary because “kids need to be prepared for the real world”. When they were asked to elaborate, they explained that they believed that taking orders and dealing with teasing and humiliation is necessary for the adult world and the workforce.
What a sad view of life, right?
The idea that anyone thinks childhood needs to include these factors is so alarming to me. And this isn’t the first time I’ve heard it.
Following routines and instructions are necessities of some occupations, yes. Still, there are respectful and useful ways to learn these skills and obedience needn’t be a primary goal for childhood. Children are just learning to navigate the world around them; I don’t think they need to be made to believe that they can’t think for themselves.
The fact that anyone could believe that bullying is somehow required is concerning. Surely people don’t think that being teased or humiliated is necessary for kids to grow into competent adults?
Bullying as preparation?
If you’re bullied as an adult, you have a different skill set to cope. You have procedures to follow to report harassment if it happens in the workforce. Conflict resolution is not limited to dealing with bullying, either.
As someone who was bullied as a child and teen, I can safely say that I didn’t learn how to deal with that as a child. I would have been better off without it and it only inhibited me and my growth as a person.
What can a child learn from bullying that they cannot learn from something else that is less traumatic and detrimental to their well-being? What can they possibly take from it which is positive and necessary? Any even remotely viable ideas that I can think of like conflict resolution, resilience, morals, character, etc are obviously traits you can learn in other more helpful and meaningful ways.
Why would we as parents want to make our children feel terrible or experience pain or shame just because they might have the misfortune of experiencing it in the future?
Would you crack a new phone screen ‘just in case’? Would you pre-emptively argue with a partner to prepare for future conflict? Would you hurt your friends feelings so that they would feel more ready for someone else doing so?
Would any of this kind of pre-emptive pain really lessen future pain? No. That’s ridiculous. Trauma and hurt feelings and pain don’t strengthen us. What builds strength, emotional intelligence, resilience, problem solving and self-worth are positive experiences. Shame isn’t a positive motivator. It’s a motivator, but an extremely toxic one.
What is the real world?
What is the ‘real world’ exactly? I think the definition of what the ‘real world’ is can be vastly different for many people. It depends on their goals, where they live, what their socioeconomic status is amongst other factors.
Most significantly, your child’s ‘real world’ is entirely dependent on their individual hopes and goals. My reality is entirely different to yours. So too are our children’s. We can’t fathom what that will mean for them. So why are children expected to experience and prepare for the real world – the shape of which is yet to be determined?
“The ‘real world’ that parents worry unschooling kids won’t be able to cope with is not the ‘real world’ of the future; it’s one designed to churn out obedient workers and consumers. But times – and the economy – are changing.” – Wendy Priesnitz.
Why does the ‘real world’ seemingly mean a harsh, unsatisfying, unhappy, cruel reality? Why do so many people project these expectations onto children? Why do some people believe that they are unavoidable realities of life? If it’s their reality, why do they feel it must also be for their child?
I think it is time to challenge this idea that kids have to suffer and conform in order to be functional adults. What if we didn’t just accept this? What if we decided it wasn’t OK?
Why is suffering seen as unavoidable? I know many adults who love their life, their jobs, and how they spend their time. Sure we all have hard times but children don’t need to suffer in order to be ready to deal with them.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”- L.R. Knost.
Life already throws us challenges. We don’t have to artificially create them. I sure don’t need to force my kids into uncomfortable situations in order for them to learn that life isn’t always going to be easy. Life already shows us that.
No one can ever be truly prepared for ‘the real world’ – just as no one can be truly prepared to be a parent. We have to help our children gain the skills and sense of self that means that they’re ready for whatever the future holds for them.
How to really prepare your child for their future:
- nurture their passions and talents,
- help them learn how to deal with conflict and conflicting needs,
- problem solve with them,
- let them make choices,
- be a safe base for them,
- model values,
- let them know that what they think matters, matters to you,
- be honest with them,
- give them opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the running of the home,
- give them the space when they want to grow their independence,
- respect them,
- protect their rights,
- show them unconditional love!
Respectfully parented children have some of the most important tools for dealing with conflict – they have their self-worth intact, they are problem solvers and they have emotional intelligence.
Children learn what they live and live what they learn. If you are empathetic, value them, hear them, respect them, and problem solve with them they grow up to be empathetic, value others, hear others, respect others and problem solve.
Ultimately, we guide them. We help them to be the responsible, capable, awesome people that they already are and chose to do so with LOVE rather than obedience or punishment. Parenting needn’t be about obedience or preparing children for some cold, harsh world. I’m hoping to mindfully parent with connection as my primary goal. I want my children to be their fullest selves with my love as a light to lead their way. Join me?
Thank you for reading!