In the last posting of The Commons, Laura Walker wrote of the joys of summer reading. Taking her advice in stride, I recently took up Dan Heischman’s newly published Good Influence: Teaching the Wisdom of Adulthood.
The book leads the reader through a series of reflections on how important it is for young people to have true grown ups in their lives and how we, as adults, can claim adulthood as a rich and rewarding place from which to engage with, guide, and influence young people in their own life journeys.
The chapter titled “Landing the Helicopter” makes an interesting distinction between management and presence. When it comes to kids, we all know about management—the contemporary impulse for constant contact and immediate intervention, action, and problem-solving. The “helicopter” parent is its most extreme manifestation, always ready to respond to any crisis (isn’t everything a crisis?) with an immediate rescue operation.
Presence, on the other hand, resists this impulse to swoop in and problem solve. To be present is to quiet the impulse to act and let the inner voice to speak and be heard. Adults who are grounded and calm, and who recognize that a young person’s life is uniquely their own can offer young people a much needed way of being that can be an enduring gift.
Flight attendants always remind us to put our own oxygen mask on first before assisting the child accompanying us. Similarly, we need to take time to understand and embrace our own adulthood if we are to help young people in the journey towards their own.