Hair pulling fights over basic tenets of modern child rearing—even if more figurative than literal—rarely break out at 4th grade graduation ceremonies, but I was treated to one recently.
My son finished the 4th grade last week, with his school holding an approximation of a graduation ceremony, which they called a "moving up celebration." Until the administrators spoke, everything went according to plan: the kids sang cute songs, an impossibly adorable slideshow ran and parents choked up. Then? Cue the controversy.
The vice principal told the kids, as many do at these sort of affairs these days, that he understood they were scared and ambivalent about moving on to a new school with bigger kids. He felt their pain. Empathy, the act of validating every last passing feeling, is the supreme value of modern child rearing, and the vice principal did not disappoint. He assured the kids (perhaps even at the risk of encouraging them) that they had every right to be frightened.
Then came the superintendent, a generation older. He opened by saying that he disagreed with what the vice principal said. Alone, this was astounding--these sorts of presentations normally amount to little more than demonstrations of mutual admiration. But the superintendent was old school and proceeded to tell the kids that, in fact, they had nothing to fear. They would be going to school with the same friends, without even the complication of other elementary schools feeding into their middle school. The new school is nearby. Besides, a lot of kids have older and brothers and sisters there. You're familiar with it. You can rub shoulders with the big kids. An earth shattering adjustment this is not.
I'm paraphrasing (who knew a steel cage match on modern parenting would break out and I should have brought a notebook) but you get the gist: the young administrator effectively said, you are scared and uncertain and I feel your pain. The older one said: suck it up. You've got nothing to fear.
So which is better? Giving voice to fears, even at the risk of indulging them...perhaps even adding to them or teaching kids that they should greet challenge and change with handwringing? Or arguing a kid out of being scared? Telling him not to be a wimp or trying to superimpose an intellectual case over deep-seated emotion?
The parents I asked were split. In the end, I probably think both administrators were too far along a continuum. In a perfect world, a middle ground-- "I know you are scared, but suck it up. You're going to a good place" would serve best. But what do you think? I'm a bit obsessed with this and am dying to know. So write it in the comments below. Stay civil and on point and I'll be certain to get back to you.
Marek Fuchs is the author of "A Cold-Blooded Business," called "riveting" by Kirkus Reviews. He wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column about life in Westchester for six years and teaches non-fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville. When not writing or teaching, he serves as a volunteer firefighter. You can contact Marek through his website: www.marekfuchs.com or on Twitter: @MarekFuchs.