We live in an era where there is very little that we have to wait for. With the advent of the smartphone we can summon any knowledge almost instantaneously. Lately, we don’t even need to pick up the phone we can just say “Hey Siri, what is 276 divided by 3?” or “Google, what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?, or “Alexa, order me some more paper towels.” I can have almost anything I could ever think of needing or wanting delivered to my door in 2 days. Patience is becoming an increasingly untested and under-practiced virtue. More and more we are able to quickly eliminate the feeling of discomfort that comes from not knowing, not having, or not doing. As a culture, we are increasingly unable to tolerate uncertainty and the unsettled moment.
I wonder what the impact of this is on children. I wonder how our culture’s relatively new discomfort-avoidant habits, ones we are largely still unaware of, are subconsciously governing the way we design educational experiences and make decisions.
I am growing more confident each year that, as parents and teachers, we are inflicting unnecessary discomfort on our children because WE are feeling uncomfortable. We are demanding that children master skills sooner and faster when research shows that children’s brains are not developing any more quickly than they were twenty years ago. The lie we are telling ourselves? If we require them to show mastery sooner, then it is good for them. When we approach sticky and complex developmental milestones (walking, speaking, reading, numeracy, etc.) by trying to get it out of the way more quickly we run the risk of limiting the development of a growth-mindset and we rush childhood, at potentially great loss to the child.
We are afraid of the discomfort that comes with setting a boundary that a child is unhappy with…so we agree to let them keep their iPad in their bedroom or get them their own phone – giving them unmonitored access to images and words they might not have the skills to process. We are afraid of the discomfort that comes with choosing to slow down when the world around us is speeding up…so we sign them up for another activity – increasing exhaustion and the inability to enjoy and sit with “down time”. We are afraid of the discomfort we feel when a neighbor’s son or brother’s daughter is reading more advanced books than our same-age child…so we send them to a tutor after school even though they are still well within the developmental norms for progress and growth – increasing anxiety and a fixed mindset around learning.
There is nothing inherently wrong with screens, after-school activities, or tutoring. There are many wise, thoughtful reasons to include them in our lives and our children’s lives. I am urging us to examine our motives. We want to do right by our child, but many times we falsely equate that with ourselves feeling comfortable and confident. In doing so, in many instances, the discomfort of the child is increased as their brain and body are overloaded in our increasingly fast-paced and achievement driven world. And the additional truth is: we are not any more comfortable as parents or teachers.
What if we did things differently?
Parenting, and teaching – but more-so parenting, is incredibly vulnerable. Being a parent is public, and with that comes a fear of judgment and the desire to “parent” correctly so that your child will never needlessly struggle or suffer or hurt. This is an impossible standard. Life will always show up, and what shows up at some point will always include some measure of struggle and hurt. We can all agree on this, because we have all experienced it in our own lives. Not one of us has had a bump free road.
What if, instead of rushing to act and make the uncomfortable thing go away (whatever it is)….we paused…to breath and to wait? What if we, as adults, took on the hand-wringingly difficult and uncomfortable task of being patient as a child reveals to us who they are and how their brain works? What if, instead of giving lip-service to the belief that we “prepare the child for the path and not the path for the child” we actually let the child experience the path…and walked it with them (instead of trying to do it FOR them) when it gets hard and uncomfortable? What if we collectively acknowledge that patience is painful….and agreed to try and practice it so that someday our kids will have models of patience to look up to?
I think we would be giving our children the incredible gift of an un-rushed childhood. Patience might be painful….but I think it could also be culturally transformative.