Are We Helping or Hurting Our Kids?

By: Heather O’Neill

How will our kids ever become capable young adults if we don’t give them the opportunity to be?

I work with high school students and see how important it is for them to be able to manage their lives independently.

Ideally, parents are involved in their children’s education – helping them with homework, attending school conferences and events, working with school staff to ensure students are taking classes that will hopefully assist them for college or career placement. The line between being an involved parent and being an enabler can be blurry at times.

Accountability Matters

I was working with a high school senior recently who just turned 18. She told me that she felt extremely unprepared for college because her mother had always taken care of things for her. And she was right. Her mother contacted every teacher relentlessly for years.


She demanded to know why assignments were missing, insisted her child receive extra time to turn in assignments, and then constantly made excuses for her child’s attendance, work completion, and grades. She never held her child accountable. This girl is in no way ready to graduate. And there’s nothing I can do about it. By allowing this mom to manage every aspect of her child’s life, we have failed this student.

I want my kids to be independent. That means, I have to let them fail.

As a parent, it seems contradictory to even type that.

As an educator, I know that’s what we must do.

We’re supposed to teach our kids how to walk, eat, dress, bathe, manners, etc. We want our kids to be happy, successful, healthy. If we don’t teach them how to fail, cope, try again, will they ever truly be happy, successful, or healthy? My 18 year old senior student was not any of those, despite her mother trying for years to make her so.

I want to be clear, I don’t blame this mother. She is trying to do what she thinks is best for her daughter. I think we need to take a closer look at what we expect of our kids. How can we expect them to deal with adversity if we’ve never shown them how.

Challenges of My Own

My oldest son started middle school this year. 5th grade. 10 years old. I’m terrified. He has to manage changing classes, having more than one teacher, homework, sports, music lessons, and all the emotions that come along with middle school. My husband and I are trying to stay on top of him – thanks to the student information system (ASPEN) our town uses, we can see his grades, assignments and comments from the teachers. But so can he. We have had lengthy discussions about how the classwork grade of 30 on the paper he “just didn’t feel like doing” brought his grade down from an A to a C. Would I like to contact the teacher to see if he can redo the assignment, or if there is another way he can bring the grade up? Absolutely! Will I? No. He needs to learn now that his actions and decisions will determine his success. It hurts to help him navigate through this. But I’d rather have the conversations now at 10, then it be too late when he’s 18.

My youngest son takes Taekwondo lessons locally. While preparing the class for their upcoming belt test, the instructor went over the requirements with the kids. They must be on time, wear their full uniform, and have their current belts on.


He asked them who was responsible for making sure that they were dressed correctly?

One student proudly answered, “My mom!”

Another piped up “Ours!”

It was refreshing to see this instructor have the conversation with 7, 8, and 9 year olds about taking responsibility for their uniforms.

Teaching our kids accountability and responsibility so they can be independent are some of the greatest gifts we can give them.

How are you managing this with your kids?


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