Children are capable…

Reading through various news stories over the past decade or so, I learned that a 17-year-old bicycled from New Jersey to Oregon by herself; a 14-year-old completed a solo voyage across the Atlantic; a confident 6-year-old sang a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” on national TV; and a 9-year-old took the subway by himself across Manhattan and made it home unscathed and empowered. Are these children amazingly gifted, or are most children capable of achieving things that the majority of adults believe them to be incapable of?

In a conversation with our oldest daughter, when she reached her mid-twenties, she mentioned that she was glad she had finally reached an age where people were no longer amazed at what she was capable of doing. It was causing her much irritation that so many adults were surprised by her abilities, once they discovered her age. It is clear that our society has little faith in the potential skills of those under eighteen.

In our own family we saw a 5-year-old reading young adult books; an 8-year-old participate in a meeting with seven other adults about her educational options…and make the final decision about her future; a 12-year-old attend junior college; and a 13-year-old test out of high school. I am regularly told that we are amazing parents and that our children are especially gifted, based on their achievements. I typically respond that our family’s abilities are no different than most other families. Our children are just normal kids who have been allowed to tap into their natural potential.

My response is often brushed away as untrue, as I’m told that we just aren’t aware of the ways in which we are imparting our knowledge to our children. Because these people believe us to be more capable than most, they then conclude that our approach to child rearing and education would not work for other families. In reality, it is our attitude towards each other that makes our family atypical, far more than any perceived collective intelligence. The unique quality of our family is that we have always tried to show true respect for each person’s needs, concerns and opinions, regardless of their age. It’s strange to me how unusual that is.

-Jenne Hiigel