Matt Heath: Tough lessons forge kids for harsh world

Section
Blogs,
Publish Date
Monday, 7 May 2018, 9:22AM
NZ Herald
NZ Herald

I've decided to be tougher on my kids. Subject them to more pain and risk. Not for fun, but for their long-term safety.

I've been taking in a lot of Jordan B Peterson, the superstar clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto. Fan of self-reliance and enemy of identity politics.

His new book 12 Rules for life: An Antidote to Chaos is literally a life-changer. I've read it twice. It's not gimmicky self help. It's aggressive. Brutally researched. It rings deeply true. Everyone should read it.

He asks: "Do you want to make your children safe, or strong? In any case, there's a serpent in the Garden, and he's a 'subtil' (sic) beast, according to the ancient story (difficult to see, vaporous, cunning, deceitful and treacherous)."

What he means is this. If your focus is simply keeping your kids safe from the world, you're not preparing them for that world. It's a world they'll have to enter at some point anyway. You can't save them from that. Evil will get to them sooner or later. Disaster, disease and bad people. They need to be strong to deal with it all.

As Peterson says: "Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will."

Toughening up the kids we love is our primary duty. Overprotective parents are subjecting their children to undue mid and long term risk.

So here are three small things I'm doing to harden up my children.

Last week my 8-year-old son and I left the car behind and went to the supermarket. He'd been complaining about walking home from school. That his bag was too heavy. That it was too far.

So I made him carry four bags of heavy groceries all the way home on his own. It took him ages. His hands hurt as the bags spun and wrapped tightly around his fingers. One bag alone had four cans of baked beans, 1kg of tasty cheese, a box of potatoes and a whole smoked chicken.

But he battled like a little trooper. Made it all the way home. I was so proud. More importantly he was proud of himself. Hasn't complained about walking home from school again. That's easy compared to his brutal shopping bag ordeal. I've toughened him up just a little bit. Great parenting from me.

The next day I took my other son to the cricket nets. At the end we played the classic 20 runs in two overs game.

Normally I'm soft. I'll give him a single when it would have gone straight to a fielder. A boundary for a shot that would have been caught. "You nicked that but first slip is drunk and dropped it." I'll even bowl pies for him to smash (sometimes on purpose). Basically I make it so he chases down the total no matter what.

But what does that teach him about the world? Nothing. So this time I was ruthless. In his two overs he only got three runs.

Strangely he was more excited afterwards than ever. Keen to get back at me. "I'm gonna wreck you next time Dad," he threatened with a huge smile. Great parenting again from me.

I take my kids on long bike rides. The three of us cruising safely along footpaths and down bike lanes and tracks. Even shamefully getting off and pushing our bikes between safe zones.

That had to stop. Clearly one day they'll have to negotiate traffic on their own. So why not today in central Auckland on the busiest streets in the country? It's a bit terrifying for them and very terrifying for me. Trusting them to stay to the left of cars, buses and trucks.

But they freaking love it. Can't believe how wussy we were being. Now the whole city has opened up to them. Great parenting again from me.

Some of my ideas haven't been so good. Forcing them to have cold showers before bed was a bad idea. It's just mean with no clear goal. That one will build shivering resentment. Terrible parenting from me.

Making the hard choices that toughen up our kids is the most important thing we can do. The universe is coming for your loved ones no matter what. They'll need to be tough to handle it. To better the crap people and befriend the worthwhile. Strong rather than safe.

Because even if you lock them in a basement for their own safety, evil will get in. That evil being you (for locking them in a basement).

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.