My son attended a small, private high school. It was a wonderful school, that had a rule for everything, and many of their favorite rules had to do with uniforms. Students were required to wear their uniforms, and nothing but their uniforms, whenever they were on campus. As parents, we liked the uniform rule because it made shopping for school clothes simple. Once we knew how many inches our son had grown in the last year we could buy enough ugly polo shirts and steel-belted pants to last a year. Our son, however, wasn’t as fond of the uniforms.
The other thing our son wasn’t fond of was arriving on time for school in the morning. His senior year these two minor challenges collided when he arrived before school one morning to serve an “attention” for too many tardies in a semester. Since the school was deserted that early, and it was cold outside, he decided to wear his jacket to his locker. Before he could get the offending garment stored, however, he ran into a teacher who lived by the letter of the law. She informed him that he had violated Paragraph 5, Subparagraph C of the Sacred Code of School Uniforms, “Thou shalt never cover the blessed logo of our beloved school with a common coat, jacket or hoodie.” Because of this horrendous infraction she gave him a detention to serve after completing the attention for being tardy.
To sum up, he’d have to stay after school for wearing a coat before school on his way to being punished for being late to school.
That night as he explained the situation, asking me to sign the Detention slip, I tried to hold back laughter. I failed. I told him that was the dumbest rule I’d ever heard, and if wearing a coat from his car to his locker is the biggest crime he committed, life would likely turn out well. Though I didn’t agree with the crime or the punishment, however, I signed the slip. I told my son he would face many people like the teacher who doled out this ridiculous punishment. I said, “One of the keys to succeeding in life is learning to deal with irrational bosses, irate customers and irritating leaders. Often the best course is to take your lumps and move on.” He didn’t like the lesson, but he served the detention, graduated Valedictorian of his class, and moved on with his life. And he still wears a coat when it’s cold.
Sometimes as parents we need to stand up for our kids. We need to have a conference with a difficult teacher, confront an angry coach or speak to the parents of a bully. We are called to protect our kids and to give them a fighting chance to succeed.
But sometimes the best thing we can do for our children is let them work out a difficult or unfair situation on their own. In the real world no one will swoop in and fix things for them. In the world I live in, life is often difficult and other people are sometimes unreasonable. I believe that adolescence is as more about learning to deal with difficult situations as it is to solve equations and memorize dates. Successful adults know that while life isn’t fair, that’s not an excuse. The sooner we can help our kids understand this basic fact the better chance they have to excel.
So the next time your child faces a difficult or unfair situation ask yourself, “Should I fix this for them, or should I help them learn to work through it?”