We want kids to enter the real world as prepared and self-sufficient as possible. The road to this goal has one major rule: make sure you let them drive sometimes.
Last spring, when my high schooler drove to a friend’s house for a study session, I didn’t learn until later that the house was 25 miles away in an area he wasn’t familiar with. He’d never pumped gas, and the tank was empty. Had I known any of these details beforehand, I would have offered lots of advice—but my not knowing turned out to be better for both of us. Somehow he navigated a busy gas station, prepaid with his debit card, pumped gas, and headed north on the freeway to hunt down the student’s house. He was capable of figuring it out on his own, and he did just that.
It was a gratifying moment. We all like to imagine a world where our kids make smart choices when we aren’t around. By the time they leave the nest to go to college, travel, or start a job, we want to feel confident they’ll thrive. Unfortunately, many hiring managers today don’t see as much problem-solving ability in their young employees as they’d like. “Young people’s ability to get things done on their own and take initiative is one of the biggest employer concerns,” says Ray Bixler, CEO of SkillSurvey, a cloud-based reference-checking service. “The word ”confidence“ is one we see often in areas of development.”
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Of course, no one intentionally prevents their children from learning to solve problems. But today’s parenting culture of leaning in to help kids get ahead can undercut their ability to develop the skills they need, says Julie Lythcott-Haims, former dean of freshmen at Stanford University and author of Real American and How to Raise an Adult.
How can you give your kids space to figure out their stuff? For starters, don’t view “giving space” as yet another task you do for your kids. It’s about establishing a new mindset, not making life more complicated. A few ideas from the experts.