Wanna hear something crazy? When my son arrived home from school the other day he walked in the front door and without stopping or hardly completing his usual hello! and walked right out the back door. I waited a few minutes to see where he went or if he was returning but he didn’t. Confused, I got up to see where he went and I saw him on our back patio hammering away. Lost in his own world. Blissfully happy. No ipod. No xbox. No Netflix. Just a pile of small blocks my dad offered to us for kindling and my son’s hammer and nails from his tool kit.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, that’s dangerous playing with a real hammer and nails….he could hurt himself. Yup. And he did. He smashed his finger three or four times the first time he came upon these new blocks, but today he proudly reported that he only smashed his thumb twice!
Building and creating things is very important to my boy. He wants to build a robot out of his old bicycle parts. He longs to build a tree house in the gargantuan oak in our back yard. He puts this and that in his glass Erlenmeyer Flasks and prays something will explode. You can probably imagine why up to this point, I have felt the need to supervise his free time! Yet as I grow older and wiser, I doubt that is actually in his best interest.
You see, I am a newly grounded helicopter mom. I recently learned in a parenting seminar that helicopter parenting robs kids of developmental processes crucial to learning about the world and how they function within it. I also learned that by constantly enrolling our children in organized sports programs, instead of simply allowing them to play “pick up” games, tells them that we don’t believe they are capable of playing fair or even correctly as we have to monitor and supervise every aspect of their play. And when we separate children during their arguments, we are saying they cannot come to their own peaceable solution. These approaches do not build confidence, responsibility, or self-esteem in our children, in fact they may destroy it.
But what concerns me most is hearing of friends whose marriages go through dramatic and painful challenges due to the underlying pain in the heart of their husbands. John Eldgridge in his book, Wild At Heart, tells us those wounds caused by a lack of validation in the heart of a growing boy destroys his confidence and fails to build within him a healthy self-esteem.
What if our loving, well intentioned efforts of protection, a truly non-agressive act, has shortchanged the process which helps young boys develop into responsible, confident, and faithful men? What if this can’t be built by overseeing every spare minute of a child’s day, or giving every player their five minutes’ on the court, or by swooping in and solving every problem for them?
This past summer, my son asked to ride his bike alone to his friend’s house, and I was filled with terror. What if he were hit by a car? What if someone tried to abduct him? What if he fell and broke an arm? What if… what if…. But I had kept him close to home for long enough. I had taught him the rules and warned him of possible dangers. He needed to feel the weight and responsibility of riding solo, following traffic rules, watching out for himself, and returning home at the designated time. Not yet convinced he should go alone, but knowing he needed this opportunity to demonstrate his capability, I sent him on, but with a simple walkie talkie to check in at certain times. Not only did he find his friend’s house, he demonstrated responsibility in following my rules and returned walking taller, like he had just conquered a major obstacle. The requirements had been met. Freedom was felt. Confidence had been boosted. His self esteem was built up and visibly strengthened that day.
So what’s the solution?
How do we help our children build self esteem? Do we completely let them fend for themselves and disengage as parents or do we keep hovering over them, slowly crippling their self worth and communicating that they simply can’t be trusted with anything? Of course, the answer falls somewhere in the messy middle, in trusting God to give us the wisdom to discern when our actions become less of a help and more of a hindrance. And He will give us the wisdom to know the difference!
“For the Lord gives wisdom and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6
It’s not an easy answer. It’s not a clear cut solution. Yet our children need us to fully engage and find the path that will continue to build their self esteem and confidence along the way. It comes with the charge in Colossians 3:21, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.”
What about you? If you have a son, how do you help him build a healthy self-esteem?