In Newman and Newman (2007) Eric Erickson’s eight stages of personality development are listed; trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame/doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role diffusion, intimacy vs. isolation and so on to the end of life, (pg 217).

Erickson was very clear in his discussion of the role of adolescence in life – that is namely, independence from parents. The job of the teenager is to pull himself or herself away from dependency on parents. This subconscious psychological goal explains a lot of bad attitudes that are common with teenagers.

In the same way, the role of the older child (school age-elementary) is to become industrious and to learn how to do things for themselves which also, gradually pulls them away from dependence on the parent.

As anyone who has learned to play a musical instrument knows, progress is not always steady. There may be practice, practice, and practice with what appears to be little or no improvement. But yet, if the student is diligent and continues to practice, all of a sudden, one day they are ‘suddenly’ better at playing the instrument.

Growing up and growing away from parents follows a similar pattern. Kids seem to grow really quickly for awhile and then regress and backslide into more juvenile behavior and then, seem to catch their breath, get back on track or whatever is their own process, and start growing again. Sometimes faster and sometimes slower depending on the kid, the subject and the circumstance.

Safe Choices: it is the job of the parent and the teacher to give students numerous opportunities to grow and develop in a safe and sheltered environment until such time as they are ready to do things themselves. Vgotsky (Newman & Newman, 2007)talked about the Zone of Proximal Development where the child/student was being supported by an older person, more experienced and with more wisdom as they learned and were able to ‘stretch’ to their own potential, (pgs 243-244).

These concepts apply to learning music, math, English, sports and personal relationships. I was teaching at a High School recently and the class was called ‘Leadership’. The students, all high school seniors, were allowed to leave campus to go elsewhere for a couple of hours to volunteer for this and that. The program is carefully monitored and regulated with permission slips, cars, phones, the whole bit. After the activity was done, they would come back to campus and check in. This is a perfect example of allowing students to fulfill their needs for growing autonomy, self-regulation and self-control. It is a good program and is giving the student ‘freedom’ in little bites.

The entire process of education from start to finish is an ongoing process of two steps forward and one back. This is to be expected and is a normal part of the growth and development process. Wise parents and teachers keep formulating ways in which students can grow and develop in age appropriate stages.