If you follow college basketball and got caught up in March Madness recently, you’ve probably heard (or seen a meme noting) a quote from South Carolina’s coach, Frank Martin:

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“You know what makes me sick to my stomach?  When I hear grown people say that kids have changed.  Kids haven’t changed.  Kids don’t know anything about anything.  We’ve changed as adults.  We demand less of kids.  We expect less of kids.  We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about.  We’re the ones that have changed.”

Many people loved these words.  Some warned against their connotation.  Which one is right?

I was a college student many, many years ago.  I work with college students now.  We are different.  Doesn’t every generation feel this way though?  The old, “Back in my day…” bit is as prevalent and meaningful now as it was, well, back in my day.  Don’t all generations work to make the lives of their children better, and, therefore, easier?

Parenting has changed over the years, just like all aspects of life have changed over the years.  Today, we’ve moved past helicopter parenting and into snowplow parenting, out in front of our kids, removing the obstacles before they cause our children to stumble.  While our hearts are in the right place, does making our children’s live easier in the short term have the end result being one big obstacle—that they don’t know how to persist through even the smallest of difficulties?

My goal in writing these posts is not to come across as some parenting expert, telling you what you should do.  My goal is to relay my family’s stories based on how my wife and I observe some of today’s college students and work backward to raise our daughter.  If we see something we want our daughter to emulate when she’s 20, we try to figure out ways to teach her how to develop those skills now.  If we see something we want our daughter to avoid when she’s 20, we try to find the underlying culprit and teach her to steer away from that path.

Along those lines, my goal is to try to leave some obstacles in front of her.  Let her stumble.  Praise her when she gets back up.  Point out to her that is was a choice to get back up.  It’s always a choice.  We try not to solve too many her problems.  Instead, we encourage her to talk us through what she’s thinking—how is she going to tackle this particular obstacle?

When the next hurdle is bigger, we remind her of her past successes.  Hopefully, those memories encourage her to keep fighting to find a way over, around, or through whatever is in front of her now.  If we can establish that pattern of behavior now, the hope is that she will rely on her own memories for inspiration.

What are some of the things we’ve done?

We can be selfish too.  If you read my previous post about doing things you don’t want to do for the sake of your children, I meant every word of it.   Doing those things may make it easier for her in many aspects.  However, we also make her do things for the sake of her parents.  The weekend prior to that post, I wanted to go mountain bike riding with our dear friends.  Our daughter made it very clear that she did not want us to do that.  She was adamant about not liking to ride—no doubt due to the scary crash she had about 9 months prior.

Part of my insistence on her riding with us was wanting to get back on the horse that bucked her off.  If I’m being honest though, it was more about me just wanting to ride.  I wanted to be selfish for a bit (while I’m being honest, I’m always selfish—this time, however, I wasn’t going to suppress it). “I’m sorry you don’t want to go riding tomorrow.  But you’re just going to have to get over it, because your mother and I love it, and it’s going to be a part of your life for a while.  So, you can keep complaining, or you can try to find some aspect of riding that you enjoy.  Either way, you’re going.”

We make her speak up.  Our daughter is a rules follower—I’m going to say she gets that from me, but I don’t know if her mother will agree.  When she has a question about a homework assignment, she wants us to email her teacher to get direction.  Keep in mind, the assignment isn’t due for 2 weeks!  It’s imperative that she knows now, so she can get this done!!  We explain to her that we are very proud that she wants to get her work done well before the due date, and because of that, she has time to talk to the teacher in school tomorrow to get clarification.  After two or three times of that, she seems to get less frustrated with that answer now than she was originally.  Oh, she’ll still ask us to email, but she realizes it’s her responsibility.  Think this is a small thing we make her do?  It is, but with great future ramifications.  If you ever have the chance, ask some college professors how many times parents have contacted them to get more information (or worse) for their students.  You’ll be shocked.

She keeps her commitments.  Months ago, we found a site that would give kids two free karate lessons to drum up interest; after that, the kids and parents could decide if they wanted to continue.  Well, she loved it, so we committed to 6 months of twice-weekly lessons—after explaining that if we pay for 6 months, she can’t quit.  As she has progressed, we noticed her interest waning, and finally she asked when the 6 months will be up.  When she found out that it’s over at the end of this month, she’s been looking forward to it.  Asking to skip a lesson has increased, but she knows the answer before she asks—can’t blame a girl for trying though!

We forget participation trophies.  For our daughter’s second season of youth soccer, it was a repeating lesson in how to lose gracefully.  One of my favorite stories about her is when she got in the car after the first game that season.  She slumped down and said dejectedly, “I know in my heart, in my mind, and in my soul that we will never win a game.”  Poor girl was right, too.  For the end of the season get together, we were out of town.  When we got back, we had an email reminder to go pick up her trophy for the season.  Oooops—I guess that email got deleted by accident!

We all have to pick our spots.  Is this a time to make our children’s lives easier, or is this a time for them to overcome?  It’s not always an easy answer.  But if you had to get through some tough times in your own past, I’m sure they helped you hone the skills required for you to make the best decision for your children now.

About author


Lori Smith and Scott Smith are higher education professionals with a combined 30 years experience working with college students. We also happen to be married to one another and are raising our own potential future college student.

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