Message to Parents January 31st, 2020
As indicated in the previous two communications in this series, this year we have started a new practice of messaging all parents and guardians with some advice and encouragement from our consulting psychotherapist Mr. Mauro Di Lorenzi (who has many years of experience counselling parents and families) and myself. We hope that this will prove to be of benefit and would welcome your feedback. The intention is to provide these messages at key points throughout the year addressing issues specially pertinent to the time and season that we find ourselves in.
The current message is intended to address some of the issues that arise at the end of the first semester and as parents begin to consider renewing enrolment for next year. It is at this time that many boys begin the process of negotiation and intensify pressure to get their own way, which invariably involves a return to a more comfortable existence.
Our present society tends increasingly to regard good parenting as giving children what they want. Added to this is an undercurrent belief that children and adults have the same rights. Such rights are also seen to imply that that they have the same rights as adults to make their own decisions.
Few would deny that children should have the right to make some of their own decisions. However, when it comes to important decisions with life changing implications there remain serious questions as to parental responsibility and parental rights. From any third party point of view, if parents allow children to make bad choices that will seriously impact their lives, there are few who would not blame the parents since they would be viewed as the more mature players. In such cases the allocation of responsibility for the outcome falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents rather than the child.
Clearly, it is one thing to disapprove of a choice or decision and to intercede and another thing altogether to disapprove of your child’s choice and feel powerless to act. So often however, feeling powerless makes us powerless. If we doubt our ourselves, then acting ineffectually renders us ineffectual. Disapproving of choices accompanied by the ability and desire to influence them, can make many parents feel confused and torn as to the right course of action. It is always important to realize that as adults any freedoms that we enjoy are invariably matched with and curtailed by responsibilities. It is natural for children to insist upon freedom but bypass issues of responsibility. In childhood you can do so at your peril. As an adult it is difficult if not impossible to separate the two. Mark Twain described freedom as the ability to move easy while in harness. As adults we all understand the harness part of this quote but children rarely do.
Clearly, it is always advisable to think before we act. In virtually all human decisions, it is best to stand back and attempt to as much as possible look at issues dispassionately before proceeding and carefully weighing the consequences both in the short term as well as the long term. It is with our children more than with any other relationships, that emotions cloud judgement and this is true on both sides of the equation. Children want their own way and appeal to their parent’s emotions rather than logic. Parents instinctively want to make their children happy. All too often this can be equated with giving them their own way. Human wants, we are told, are apparently limitless and expand like gas to fill available space. In short, they tend to escalate with time and reduced resistance. It is therefore important to regard wants with regard to character development. Dealing with frustration is so much more difficult when you rarely encounter it . Invariably giving children what they want will build the expectation that all of their future wants will also be granted. Once firm lines of conduct and expectation melt away, it is often nearly impossible to re-establish them.
It is understood that the programme at Robert Land Academy is intended to help boys to make changes and redirect their behaviours along positive lines. Part of this involves an environment that eliminates many of the choices they would be confronted with and expected to make outside of the Academy. Another part involves providing consequences both positive and negative intended to encourage or discourage certain choices, behaviours or actions. Clearly, such an environment is artificial and insofar as it is, it involves therapeutic objectives. The very presence of boys here involves the recognition that they are prone to having made poor choices in the past or may be at risk of doing so in the future. These poor choices may present as either a foreboding sense of future poorer choices or as having precipitated an immediate crisis. As such, parental enrolment of their sons at Robert Land Academy is largely along either proactive or reactive lines.
If the accusation is made that presenting boys with an artificial environment intended to stimulate and develop certain behaviours is a poor preparation for the outside world, let us be reminded that the family invariably provides an equally if not exaggerated form of the same thing. The often repeated statements making reference to the ‘real’ world out there or the ‘jungle’ that exists outside of these comforting walls underscore the artificial environment that we accept as being required for the incubation of the young.
Inherent in this process is the understanding that children are to absorb and internalize the values inherent in their upbringing and not merely appear to embrace them until other options present themselves. It is not enough to be content with appearances when it is substance that is of utmost importance.
The fact that so many boys arrive at the Academy and make rapid improvement provides indications of what they are capable of. Knowing that you are capable of doing things that you previously doubted is an important step forward and can neutralize the damaging effects of insecurity. However, without understanding and processing the circumstances that have made this possible, it is easy to loose any ground gained. Having made rapid advances, insecurities can often be replaced by an excessive amount of self-confidence. It is for this reason that we repeatedly emphasize that we provide a living and learning environment that takes place on a 24 hour 7 day a week basis. It is also for this reason that we stress to parents and students alike the importance of their internalizing the lessons learnt here. Central among these lessons is that personal success depends upon gaining self-discipline as a means of harnessing self-direction. Both are necessary and one without the other will most certainly lead nowhere.
The Academy’s ultimate objective is to produce in boys the skill set required to support their future success. Like the training wheels on a two wheel bicycle, the intention is to support forward movement until the rider is capable. However being capable and feeling capable are not necessarily the same thing and it should become the decision of the adult and not the rider to determine when to take the training wheels off.
The majority of boys admitted to the Academy demonstrate remarkable progress and so this should provide good reasons to have your son return. If your son is not doing as well at the Academy as you would like, there will be ample evidence that the programme has at least been addressing those behaviours as opposed to merely accommodating them. In the former case the objective is to support and maintain positive behaviour. In the latter case, the objective is to continue to address negative behaviours with a view that success can be achieved through persistence. In realizing our objectives, few would maintain that we are less stubborn in pursuing them than our boys can be in resisting them. We realize that parenting is more difficult now than it has been before and that these problems are increasing rather than decreasing with the passage of time. Challenges require proportionate resolve. Parenting, as one sage put it, is not for sissies.
Dr. David B. Harley
B.A.Hons., M.A.,M.A.,(McMaster) Ph.D. (Toronto)
Deputy Headmaster and Director of Admissions