It happens every so often. A youth is struggling with their project work, and a parent swoops in to rescue them. Is this helping or hovering? Leaders may perceive that these parents are slowing down the development of the Essential Element of independence.
Connecting Mastery to Independence
In 4-H, there are four Essential Elements: Belonging, Generosity, Mastery, and Independence. Each Essential Element plays an important role in positive youth development. Measuring Mastery is relatively easy but measuring independence can be more challenging. There are three things in the club experience that aid with the development of independence; a relationship with a caring adult (club leader), formal and informal leadership, and a balanced youth-adult partnership. Development of mastery also helps foster independence.
When a youth struggles to learn a new skill, the best course of action is for them to figure out the answer on their own. Youth should be encouraged to think critically about ways to improve their skills. Through open-ended questions, the leader can help guide them to the correct conclusion without giving them the answer. Through critical thinking and sound decision-making, youth will improve their skills with diminishing amounts of assistance. As the need for assistance diminishes, both mastery of the skill and development of independence takes place.
Challenges to Independence
A challenge to independence may come when the youth become frustrated with not achieving mastery as quickly as those around them. They may be the last one to finish or maybe the finished product is not of the quality the adult thinks it should be. It can be tempting for the leader to step in and help them expeditiously complete it perfectly. Sometimes the leader is practicing positive youth development by working through the process with open-ended questions. They may also be encouraging the youth to figure it out on their own when a hovering parent steps in.
Once the parent steps in, it can shift from the leader helping to the parent hovering. Parents who hover and “save the day” will inhibit the development of independence. “Rescued” youth may come to believe that they are incapable of doing the task correctly without their parent being involved. They may also give up and let their parent finish their project for them. This can present a conundrum for a club leader.
No Opportunities to Hover
Club leaders must decide how to intervene without alienating the parent. A blanket strategy is making a rule that parents must sit in the back of the room, without interacting with their child. Another option is for parents to leave their children at the meeting and only return when the meeting ends. If a parent continues to step in unnecessarily and to the detriment of their child’s development, the leader may need to take the parent aside. They can explain that part of positive youth development is developing independence. A leader should talk with their agent about how to approach the parent.
Parents may not recognize their behavior as lowering the chance of their child’s success. They can become fixated on a perfect outcome instead of a positive learning process. Without accusing the parent of dampening their child’s spirit, leaders can explain the positive ways youth develop mastery with minimal adult assistance. By achieving mastery with little adult assistance, independence is strengthened. It can also be pointed out that while the parent may be showing them the right way to do it, during the club meeting, the youth should be relying on the club leader for expertise and guidance. The club leader can also let the parent know that they have the child’s best interest in mind when working with them and they also want the child to be a successful and independent young person.