It’s For Their Own Good: Why We Can’t Solve Every Problem

As we conclude the second trimester and begin to look towards 2020–21, we begin to work through the course selection process. Through this process, I have many conversations with students about their schedules for the following year. As they think through their options, there are inevitably competing priorities (number of APs vs. extracurriculars, for example) and many varied paths a student can take.
In a recent conversation with a student about her schedule, she expressed an interest in taking more AP classes than is recommended. Having been through this process many times before, the easiest (and quickest) path would have been for me to say no and redesign the schedule for the student. Instead, I encouraged the student to map out a rough sketch of her schedule to see how many free periods she would have available given the courses she wanted to take, make a list of anticipated after-school and weekend obligations, and take some time to look over this information before coming back. Ultimately, this problem-solving exercise allowed her to come to a reasonable conclusion about a manageable schedule for next year.  

When we care so much about the adolescents in our lives, it can be easy to feel tempted to solve the problem for them, whether it be a schedule, a disappointing outcome, or any number of challenges that arise as they navigate their teenage years. When we do so, however, we rob them of an opportunity to flex their own problem-solving muscles. In this particular case, the student worked through the problem-solving process and arrived at a good outcome. Other times, however, the student works through this process and decides on a more impractical path. Yet even the process of solving a problem and coming up with a less-than-favorable solution is in and of itself a good learning experience and one that students lose if the adults in their lives take over that process for them. 

As teachers and parents, we are faced with myriad opportunities to either solve problems for our children or to support them as they work through the problem-solving on their own. While it can sometimes be hard to watch them struggle, ultimately we encourage independence and creativity when we give them the support and the space to do the hard work themselves.