Michelle Martin

Treat them like Adults

Saturday, September 3, 2016

You’ve probably seen it on the news or on Facebook: The sign posted on a the door of Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas, advising parents that if they are on their way to deliver their son’s lunch or homework, “Turn around and exit the building. Your son will learn to problem-solve in your absence.”

A picture of the sign posted on the school door was shared on Facebook more than 117,000 times and drew more than 3,600 comments, according to a Catholic News Service story, and most of the comments were positive.

In general, I agree with the premise of the school’s policy: Let children and teenagers bear the consequences when they make mistakes. That’s how they’ll learn. Having a parent step in and rescue them will only teach them that they can’t rely on themselves to either come up with a solution or cope with the fallout. Then how are they going to be able to function as adults?

And yet, something about this rubs me the wrong way. Not the school’s policy, especially as it is explained in the CNS story that accompanied the photo, with the theory that “soft failures” are necessary to a child’s development. I think my problem is more with the tone of the some of the comments I’ve seen and heard, talking about how kids today are so irresponsible they need their parents to bring their homework to school. Treat them like adults, they say.

The thing is, as an adult, I find that most people usually give me a fair amount of leeway. Working on a Catholic New World article and I’m having a hard time getting people to respond to me right away? I can talk to my editor and work out how to handle it, by delaying the story or scrapping it altogether. Show up at the Secretary of State’s office without the proper documents to renew my license? I may have wasted the trip, but I can certainly go back and try again. Even the IRS will take your taxes late, with a penalty, rather than throw you in jail.

But schools don’t always operate that way. Last year, my son had a teacher that gave him a zero on an in-class assignment because he wrote in red ink. She had mentioned once, weeks earlier, that she required black or blue ink. I didn’t mind that he was penalized, but I thought a zero was excessive. She could have made him rewrite it in blue or black ink, or given him half-credit — still a failing grade — but to give him a zero meant that he might as well have looked out the window and not done the assignment at all.

When I asked if he wanted me to talk to the teacher, he said no. “I’m almost 15,” he told me, “I can’t have my mom fighting all my battles.”

In most cases, that’s the right attitude. But in other cases, the best solution is to ask for help. Even from your parents. Perhaps we just have to pray that our children will have the wisdom to know the difference.


  • catholic schools