25 June 2011

The Problem with Ariel

My grandparents have a rock outside their house that is slightly slanted. When I was about two feet tall it seemed enormous and exactly perfect for playing Ariel on. You know the part. The end of the "Part of Your World" reprise with the water splashing up at just the right time for dramatic emphasis. I'd crawl up there and pretend that I was by the ocean and not the road and getting sprayed in the face with water and not occasional gas fumes.

As I grew older and the rock grew smaller, my love of Ariel waned a bit. She seemed selfish instead of admirable (and it was easy to get distracted by her gravity defying 80s hair.) Her catch phrase of "I WANT MORE!" made me want to smack her upside the head. "You have gadgets and gizmos and whosits and whatsits and thingamabobs and you want more?!" What kind of role model is that for a girl?

But I've started to re-examine Ariel recently. You can certainly look at her story as being somewhat selfish and obnoxiously teenaged where a father doesn't stand up to his daughter and instead indulges her whims, but this year I've gained new appreciation for what happens when parents actually hold their children back from progressing and achieving and becoming the best version of themselves that they can.

For instance, I've worked with students who have been pulled out of normal classes because their parents are afraid they are spending too much time out of home. I've had students pulled out of classes because they are too stressed. I've had students who are very talented in certain areas express frustration when their parents don't understand the talent they possess, and, as a result, criticize their hard work.

Now, I'm not a parent. I'm very well aware of this. I also recognize that I am not an insider to either families of my students and am not the best qualified to make decisions for them. So I'm going to go back to Ariel. If you look at Ariel another way, she's not wanting more for the sake of wanting more - what she wants is experience. She wants the chance to try something new. Her father's insistence on keeping her where she is and holding her back in her case only magnifies the problem and forces her into the rebellion he was hoping to prevent. She goes to drastic measures (re: selling her voice to Ursula) to get what she wants and nearly ruins herself as a result. Fortunately, it turns out well for her in the end, but the real application of this story is that parents who shelter their children run the risk of creating exactly what they try to avoid: rebellion.

One thing Ken Robinson discusses in his book Out of Our Minds is that one of the quickest ways to stifle creativity and progress out of people is to force them or encourage them to avoid something they are passionate about. He argues that if a person is interested in something, they are much more likely to do a better job with what they are given, even if it is hard. This is all fine and great on electronic or physical paper. Yay for people pursuing their dreams! But what if said person's dream is to become the world's greatest mass murderer? What do you do then? Obviously that's a bit of an extreme example - so what about something smaller and less destructive: what if this person's dream is to travel the world as a nomad selling homemade trinkets to pay the way and to get to know the cultures of the world by experience instead of by book? What is a parent to do then?

Well. . . I'm not a parent. I don't know. But I do know that God values agency so much that He was willing to let us fail and take chances and make fools of ourselves. I also remember a conversation I had with my mother once about a family friend whose child had struggled for many years but had recently pulled her life back together. Our family friend had a conversation once when her daughter was young where a well meaning person had told her that she would struggle with her daughter because she was so stubborn. Our very wise family friend responded correctly that she couldn't control her daughter's agency and wouldn't try. What she would do is teach correct principles and know that, because the principles are true, they would win out in the end. And she was right.

Moral of the story?: We should have a little more faith in our children and in our faith. Also, Ariel was on to something.

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