Earlier this week, I happened upon a story about “Bean Dad.” I was actually late to the party, so had to dig a little deeper to get the background of the story. I’ll spare you the time it takes to actually read the entire ordeal through tweets, and sum it up. The long and short of it is a dad decided to turn a simple request for help into a teaching moment. When his daughter couldn’t figure out how to open a can of baked beans using a manual can opener, he insisted she figure it out on her own, and documented the ordeal on his twitter account. After he was met with harsh criticism, including being called a child abuser, he issued an apology and subsequently deactivated his Twitter account.
Now, a few more details.
Throughout the Twitter tale, the dad describes how he talked his daughter through the process. He encouraged her to use critical thinking skills and analyze each part of the can opener. He told her to determine what each piece was for, and make an assumption at how each piece works. He told her to test her theories over and over, and, eventually after trial and error, she figured it out. He rejoiced in her triumph, and praised her perseverance, hard work and determination.
If the story stopped there, I’m not sure any of us would have an issue with it. I mean, it’s the scientific method in action. It’s like a science fair project that doesn’t require a tri-fold poster board and graph paper. Analyze, predict and try.
But it didn’t stop there. It continued on Twitter. For six hours.
Sometimes, I think we take the concept “it takes a village” a little too far. And while in theory, that’s true, in practice, it should probably look little different than congratulating yourself on social media for turning something simple into a teaching moment.
Please understand that I’m speaking to myself as much as I am to anyone. I learn so much from my kids. Every day I am humbled, encouraged, discouraged and pushed to be better. And almost every day, I have to fight the temptation of living their lives on my social media.
At some point, my children aren’t going to be pleased with all the photos I’ve posted of them over the years. Photos of pitching fits, painted tongues and mismatched clothes. They probably won’t like all the posts about words they have confused (but I’ll never stop laughing about the time my son asked for the Pope’s orange juice, instead of orange juice with pulp. See. I just did it again.). I’ll be honest and admit that there have been a few times when rather than coming to the rescue of a frustrated and crying child, I first grab my phone to take a picture because I think “I want to document this.”
Living our lives on social media is one thing, but living our kids lives is completely different.
I actually think Bean Dad was on to something initially. I think teaching our children to think critically and problem solve is of utmost importance. When we teach our children to look at a problem or a difficulty, and test and try different methods to solve the problem, we are teaching them a life skill that will carry them way beyond just opening a can of baked beans. It’s similar to the adage that says if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. While I’m not sure I could have stretched the lesson out for six hours, Bean Dad did conclude his story by sharing the pride his daughter now displayed on her face, and her newfound desire to open every can in the pantry.
But his daughter could have learned the same lesson, in a lesser amount of time, without being the watershed post on her dad’s Twitter feed.
As parents, we certainly do need to look for teaching moments. We certainly do need to foster creativity and problem solving and let our children know that failure is a part of success. But we also need to make sure they feel safe in their failure. Safe from humiliation. Safe from the judgement of their lack of life skills. If they are worried about their failed attempts going viral on their parents’ social media. They won’t fail. But they won’t fail because they won’t even try.
At some point, we need to realize that our children will make their own digital footprints. And while it is a good idea for us to help make the pathway clear for them, we need to be careful not to place our footprints where there’s should be.