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Robert Kaufmann’s “Annealing Forces”

“06880” has devoted many pixels to today’s parenting styles — the well-known “helicopter,” the less familiar “lawnmower” (they clear away every obstacle their children face), and (we’re mixing and matching here), the result of all that:  “boomerang” kids (they return right back to their place of origin).

I’ve weighed in; I’ve cited Staples principal John Dodig; our chorus of commenters has thrown in their two cents’ many dollars’ worth.

Time now for Robert E. Kaufmann.

He recently stepped down after a year as headmaster at Fairfield Country Day School.  Now in his late 60s, he’d been away from head mastering for 15 years when he took the interim gig.

Before leaving, Kaufmann shared some reflections in the FCDS alumni magazine.

Kaufmann described several “new realities,” along with “the reinforcement of some established ones.”  He said:

Apples fall near the trees on which they grew. “Kids have been, and remain, a reflection of their parents,” Kaufmann wrote.

“Parents who live lives of integrity tend to have kids with the same qualities…. The way we, as parents, take care of our daily obligations, the way we treat others each day, and the way we deal with rules (laws) are extremely important ingredients in raising ethical and moral children.

“Conflicting or inconsistent messages are confusing to kids.  The apple needs to be sure the message from the tree is strong and steady.”

The medium is not the message. Though “technology has altered the entire landscape in which our children grow up” — and kids are extremely comfortable in that environment — Kaufmann worries that “the hours spent on this aggregated electronic pile is being confused with thinking and learning.”

While “Google provides a lot of answers,” it does not offer much training in “thinking or deduction.”  Retrieving information, Kaufmann said, demands “intellectual perspiration.”

The parenting airplane is best flown at 35,000 feet. “Loving parents,” he noted, “run the risk of being too protective.”

At FCDS — and many other places — there is “a sense that all the errors of the young are to be eliminated and all possible blemishes on a student’s record be eradicated, lest they have some impact on college admissions.”  (And remember:  FCDS is a K-9 school!)

“Even loving parents tend to rush to defend; to excuse; to shift causality; to protect their kids in ways that are often counter-productive,” Kaufmann said.

While “records may appear ‘cleaner,'” the youngsters themselves “are denied the learning opportunity of dealing with whatever ‘sticky wicket’ had arisen.”

Crucial life skills can’t be learned, he continued, “if parents run interference too fast, too often.  The focus seems to have become a search for perfect justice in daily events involving children’s interactions with other children and even with their teachers.”

Both parenting and teaching are difficult jobs, Kaufmann said — and they’re probably harder now than before.

“There is no perfect parenting formula,” he acknowledged, and usually no one correct answer.

However, “kids need to be encouraged and enabled to begin to handle more of life’s daily bumps on their own.  Imperfection and occasional failure are annealing forces in developing personalities.

The children, he concluded, will grow up “straighter and stronger.”

And, he promised,  they “will not love their parents less.”

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