07/17/2013 04:47 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

When Helping Our Kids Starts Hurting Them


Let me ask you a question. How far would you go to help your kid do well in school? If you're a teacher, how much do you do to help your kids to score well on tests?

More and more, adults worldwide are demonstrating they're willing to go to almost any length to help kids, all in the name of "love." I love those kids, we say.

Last month, a 52-year old mother, known as Caroline, was caught helping her teenage daughter cheat on an exam. But, she didn't just help her -- she took the test for her daughter. Yep. She allegedly took a crucial exam wearing low-wasted jeans, Converse shoes and lots of make up to blend in at the exam center, in Paris, France.

According to The Telegraph, the test center was not at her 19-year-old daughter's school and there were non-traditional students (adults) also taking the test, so no one noticed her at first. Eventually, Caroline was spotted by a teacher who knew the teen and police were called to escort her out of the building. She now faces an $11,800 fine and three years in prison. Her daughter may not be able to re-take any official state test for five years. Incredible.

May I suggest the bigger crime?

While it can be tempting to step in and help our kids on any level, doing this is a trade-off, at best. No doubt, the help relieves them of stress in the moment, but it may enable them to fail in the end. They never develop resilience. One day, we will not be next to them to help them. What skill will they have then: cheating skills or problem-solving skills? This kind of "help" not only communicates to kids that cheating to get what you want is OK, it disables them from building life skills. In fact, they learn to take short-cuts. Endurance and perseverance drop when kids don't learn to struggle through adversity when solving problems. The bigger crime is that we cheat our students out of long-term success and growth in their lives. Life-skills atrophy because those "muscles" never get developed.

Our problem is, we assume our kids are too fragile. Many of us adults just don't think our kids are capable of failing and then, getting back up and moving forward. Instead we safeguard them from issues like problem solving. Dr. Michael Unger, a child therapist, writes: "We seem these days to have a magical notion that children can learn common-sense items by just watching and listening to others talk about it. That just isn't the way our brains develop. We are experiential beings. Lev Vygotsky, a famous child psychologist from Russia, demonstrated very well what he calls 'zones of proximal development.' We need to be pushed, not too far, but just enough to learn something new. Good development occurs when we are invited to accept challenges that are just big enough to demand we work at solving them but that they don't completely defeat us."

Whether we know it or not, by removing the struggle we scream the message: "I must help you because you are incapable." Hmmm. Is this really what we want to communicate? There must be a better way to help them.