Parenting - Nurturing Independence

A fundamental fact for almost all children is that eventually they grow older. But, sadly, not all grow up. If an individual is to have a hope of a happy life, a large amount of independence is essential.

Independence, here, does not mean never needing another person, nor creating every value that one needs - physical, intellectual and emotional - without any involvement from others. Life alone on a desert island would be harsh and dreary. But it does entail a significant amount of independence in the traditional sense. It means thinking and choosing for oneself, without undue influence or consideration of the views of others.

Why is that important?

Life presents everyone with choices, often difficult and sometimes unpleasant. When faced with such choices, each one of us has a fundamental alternative - to think for oneself and do what that tells us is best, or to be (relatively) mentally passive and simply do what others do or think should be done.

But to develop one's own thinking ability, to exercise individual choice is to practice the basic skill that allows determining what is best. You can not become an athlete by watching others run, you must get on the track and use your own legs.

Sometimes that process will go astray. Sometimes heeding the advice of wiser or more knowledgeable and experienced people - parents, in many cases - would have indeed produced the best result. But as the child matures, the process of individuation is important if the results are to be a healthy person, not just a passive robot fortunate enough to have good advisors.

Advice from others can be enormously helpful to any person at any age. But at a certain point in the process, the decision to do this rather than that is presented to everyone. And, just like the athlete who never trains, performance in that task is affected by whether the person has done any independent exercise, or just drifted along.

It's possible to make a mistake when you don't give enough weight to the views of others, particularly those more experienced and thoughtful. But you retain the ability to correct your mistakes much more readily if you've made a practice of thinking for yourself.

Parents find it difficult to know when to let a maturing person make mistakes that they - with greater insight - can see will turn out badly. The desire to protect them is understandable and the frustration from being ignored even more so. But the most important task facing any parent is to encourage the healthy development of their child.

Sooner than we think that individual will be faced with the necessity of making decisions that are much more important. The practice they get exercising their faculties is essential to meeting those challenges.


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