505. Influences

Parents sometimes worry about what influences other people have on their children. They try to instill certain values in their children, and protect their children from harm. Sometimes they try too hard, insisting on values that aren’t appropriate for their children, or protecting their children too much. After all, there’s only so much we can do, and children have the right to become their own people, trying on their own values for size, and taking some of the risks they want to take. And they may be influenced by people we wish they would ignore.
It really upset my wife and me when one of our children had a teacher who either didn’t like her or liked her but didn’t know how to show it. We wanted our children to know that they were lovable; we didn’t want them to have any doubts about that. Once, we had our daughter taken out of a class because the teacher seemed to be making her feel bad about herself. Another time, we spent an entire school year occasionally explaining to our daughter why her teacher behaved the way she did. We told her we loved her, and we tried to help her get through the year with as little damage as possible. She still does have memories
of that teacher (not fond memories), but I think she considers the problems she had to be her teacher’s problems, not hers.
I’ve heard from parents who are quite upset about their children’s teachers. These parents work hard to give their children good lives – to help them grow up feeling good about themselves, and aware of both aspects of life to be appreciated and enjoyed, and problems that need solutions. Like me, and like many other parents I know, they hope their children will inherit both a love of the world the way it is and a commitment to making it better. That kind of legacy isn’t something you can just write in a will and have notarized; it takes lots of thinking, talking, listening, and doing.
When someone else is in a position to influence your child, you want that someone else to carry on the mission; you want your child to get another perspective that will help guide her/him on that path toward self-esteem, responsibility, and other things you’ve been working so hard for. You don’t want your child’s teacher to undo any of the hard work you’ve done and are doing.
My first impulse is to tell you not to worry. I think of people who have given my daughters negative messages that my daughters refused to take. Admirable people, my daughters. And I’m not just saying that because I’m their father.
But I did worry, and in retrospect, I don’t know how much of that worrying and subsequent words and actions helped my daughters become who they are now. So instead of suggesting that you not worry, I recommend that you remember that your children are being strongly influenced by someone who is really on their side: you.

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