Challenges, Risks, Mistakes, and Letting Go…

In less than one week, seniors throughout the country will hit “send” on their college matriculation choices. At Bush, many of our students have already decided which campuses they will spend the next four years on as they mature into adulthood. They will soon bid adieu to the hospitable confines of our six-acre campus, and will depart for Los Angeles, Palo Alto, New Haven, Charlottesville, St. Paul, Walla Walla, Chicago, Providence, New York City, and beyond. They’ll take with them the skills, knowledge, wisdom, and confidence to face the challenges ahead. These include not only the rigors of calculus, organic chemistry, and global environmental history, but how to make beds, manage schedules and food budgets, and begin a conversation with someone who wears a t-shirt representing an opposing viewpoint or political party.

As we’ve learned from books like Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult, not all parents trust that their children can face these responsibilities on their own. At Stanford, Lythcott-Haims “saw students rely on their parents to set up playdates with people in their dorm or complain to their child’s employers when an internship didn’t lead to a job. The root cause was parents who had never let their children make mistakes or face challenges.” As partners in helping Bush students become adults, I appreciate that our parent community trusts The Bush School to create opportunities for our students to make mistakes, face challenges, and take risks that will help prepare them for certain and uncertain emotions that lie ahead—like feeling lonely, homesick, and perhaps adrift in unfamiliar environments.

Bush intentionally places students out of their comfort zones beginning with overnight trips in the Lower School, continuing with E-Weeks in the Middle School, and culminating with trips such as solo senior projects in the Methow Valley or participation in international programs like Passepartout. Students learn about the world outside of our campus in Madison Valley/Denny-Blaine, and, more importantly, learn about themselves, become more independent, and develop a sense of agency. Placing students in situations of discomfort—but not peril—challenges them to stretch their thinking, preconceived ideas, and apprehensions. In these situations, they discover that they are capable of doing more than they imagined or expected.

Even if you don’t have a graduating child whom you are tearfully, yet joyfully, ushering off to college and life in the fall, start thinking about what you can do next year to help your children make mistakes, face challenges, and take risks. Start small. Have your children wake up on their own or make their own breakfasts or manage their homework on their own. Consider hosting a world language intern—a great way to prepare your children to talk to someone with different experiences and perspectives—or choose an E-Week or Cascade that allows your children to practice intercultural fluency with students and activities that are novel and transformational.

Setting up situations of perceived risk is the best way to foster children’s independence. Start early.