A Day at the Beach
Parenting Strategies – July 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Kay Kimball Gruder, SuccessfulCollegeParenting.com
I was recently at the beach where I sat in front of a group of college students and next to an extended family with a six year old and a four year old. Within the first 10 minutes at the beach the mom of the young children shared the following with her two children:
“Don’t get sand on your blanket.”
I thought -- you have two young children and you are going to say this how many times today? You are at the beach!
“It is too windy to go in the ocean.”
I thought -- but it is almost 100 degrees out and other families have their young children in the ocean – there was a gentle sea breeze, thank goodness!
“Use your shovel and dig like this.”
I thought -- is there really only one way?
“Don’t put the squirt gun in the salt water, because it has metal parts and they will rust.”
I thought -- that’s probably a $2.00 squirt gun at most -- and couldn’t it just get rinsed out with fresh water after being used at the beach – or maybe it shouldn’t have been brought to the beach or maybe the child could have one for salt water and one for fresh water.
“Don’t touch the seaweed.”
I thought -- but it makes great flags when tied to sticks placed on top of sand castles.
“Don’t dig too deep.” And I thought -- why not?
In contrast, the college students’ conversations included the following:
“Who’s going to Jeff’s party this weekend? He owes me a case of beer!”
I was reminded how college students are involved in all sorts of situations that we don’t know about – many of which are situations that will challenge their decision-making skills.
“I can’t believe how sunburned you guys are!”
I thought – how some lessons, unfortunately, need to be learned more than once, and that by experiencing cause and effect there is greater hope that next time a different decision can be made.
“Do you think I can sleep over instead of driving back after the party?”
And I thought – how important it is for children to be able to come up with their own options, because this is what they will need to do again and again to stay safe and to do well.
The college students were doing their best to navigate their world by talking about options and decisions – some better than others. The young children next to me were given limited opportunities to explore and to experience cause and effect. It is true that they were only six and four years of age, but there were so many missed moments for them to have learned about and navigated the world around them. I couldn’t help but think, “What are these young children going to be like as college students?”
To be able to make good decisions you have to have been allowed to make mistakes and to experience the impact of poor decisions – whether it is how to use a shovel in the sand or choosing not to apply sunscreen at the beach. To make good decisions you also need to be able to come up with and choose options – whether it is staying over after a party or rinsing out the squirt gun after using it with salt water. In our parenting, we continue to play a key role in all of this extending through the college years. We can be the parent who hinders our student’s ability to successfully navigate the world, by managing aspects of his or her life like the mother at the beach. Alternately, we can be the parent who contributes to our students’ abilities and development of self by allowing them latitude and opportunities to learn from trial and error, to feel the impact of poor decisions, to make meaning from experiences, and to gain confidence from what are truly their successes.