Bill was in a workplace the other day and he watched as one of the managers talked sternly to her staff, pointed here and there, redistributed materials on display and shouted directions. He saw the reactions of her staff, the downcast eyes, the subtle shakes of head, the slumped shoulders, and, yes, a few eye rolls.
Bill thought to himself, "I wonder how her kids feel and I wonder if she knows."
She seemed a good hearted, concerned person, someone focused on efficiency, but a person who was unaware of the impact her need for control was having on her staff.
We have both seen the results of control when students come to the university.
Many have impressive grade point averages, high test scores, and just the right number of accolades, awards, volunteer activities and leadership roles.
But too many lack direction, the ability to make reasoned choices, empathy for the struggles of others, or a sense of personal responsibility.
Many of them need to phone home at the slightest challenge or question. They struggle in the independent higher education environment.
The consequences of control
Children who are raised in a highly controlled setting where protection and direction are paramount, find it difficult to move forward confidently on their own or make choices without paralyzing fear of being wrong.
We saw too many students whose unfamiliarity with personal responsibility, inability to recognize or understand the challenges of others, and frequent contacts with mom and dad for direction, caused difficulty when they were "on their own" in college.
Our goal as dads has been to help our kids operate successfully on their own.
Did we always succeed?
Of course not.
But when situations for decision making and accountability presented themselves, we tried to give our kids the opportunity for what we'd call "personal agency." A study from University College London backs up that philosophy. The study found that people who perceived their parents as less controlling as they were growing up were likely to be happier and more satisfied as adults.
Let 'em go
We're certainly not advocating turning over the raising of teens to our teens. What we're promoting is reducing control, letting kids make some of their own decisions, honoring their input, respecting their privacy, promoting their independence.
You're still in charge. You're still providing limits and setting expectations.
These should be conveyed and explained clearly so that your kids know what they are and the reasons behind them. But by reducing control, you're recognizing your kids, respecting their opinions and intelligence and allowing them to take responsibility.
Our goal should be, must be, helping our kids become fully functioning, successful adults. We think that reducing our control over them will bring this goal to pass.