Raising adults, not children

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By Rose Threlfall, ICS Head of School

It is fascinating to watch students grow-up. I am always eager when they return to visit the school (typically well into their university courses or after receiving their degree) to find out how they are doing both personally and professionally. Did we as educators play a contributing role in their chosen career paths, or in the development of essential life skills such as resilience, integrity, empathy, compassion, independence, or self-assurance? Did we talk enough about the realities of being human: the ups and downs of relationships, self-doubt, living independently, being alone, dealing with tough times? It is obvious to say that we are not alone in this task and the phenomenally challenging role of parenting carries the major weight of this ‘load’.  However, I like the sentiment in the title, ‘raising adults’ as opposed to ‘raising children’ as it directs us to the longer-term goal of pushing our young people out into the world with the confidence that they know it’s their life and life’s decisions are theirs.

In her latest book, ‘Becoming’, Michelle Obama writes eloquently about such an approach:

“My mother maintained the sort of parental mind-set that I now recognise as brilliant and nearly impossible to emulate – a kind of unflappable Zen neutrality…. She loved us consistently… but we were not over managed… She and my dad offered guidelines rather than rules… and they would trust us to stick to our word… Every move she made, I realise now, was buttressed by the quiet confidence that she’d raised us to be adults”.


Over the past couple of weeks, a new Twitter hashtag, #headteachersreallife, started by a head teacher in the UK hit the national press for its honest posting about everyday life and its tribulations. Her tweets focus on the ordinary problems she faces, as a retort to what she called ‘humblebrag’ and carefully curated posts that highlight good looks, successes and popularity that create images of impossible perfection:

“I started tweeting about the ‘real stuff’ rather than simply the things I wanted to market or other people to see… People can curate their lives online and just show you the best bits. It can make their lives seem more perfect than they are. Only seeing good things may make young people feel they’re the only ones with problems”.

It’s an important message for a generation who have grown up plugged into social media channels. Our role is to support them to sift fact from fiction in the online world. However, when you are constantly bombarded by a fantasy world and your world doesn’t seem to add up to this perfection, no wonder there is rising concern about the mental health of our young adults and distortions in their understanding of the real world.

This topic resonates strongly with me personally. Having had the pleasure of being a part of my niece’s life as she has grown up, I have seen her encounter many life challenges, both professional and personal. I have had to explain that such challenges are completely normal. Jobs are not always perfect, bosses or mentors are not always helpful, it’s tough living alone for the first time, budgeting and making financial choices is a reality, confronting difficult colleagues who lack respect is a necessary challenge to be managed, and self-doubt is inevitable however successful we appear. The ability to keep healthy by developing necessary culinary skills and finding the right balance between work and play is something that must be figured out, and finding new friends and relationships all can take time.

Being young in today’s world is more difficult than ever before. My hope is that schools and parents can work together to develop the required competencies, experiences and conversations so essential for our students to develop robust self-worth and healthy and fulfilling adult lives.


Maria Leonard