Home and Classroom strategies for Learned Helplessness and the Electronic Generation

We know our kids live in a scary place, but one of the things that scares me the most is how many children are unable to think for themselves or to problem solve. I am referring to mainly two types of children here:
The first is the child who has learned that if he just asks for help or says he does not understand, someone else will help him do it and then he does not really have to do much in the end anyway. Here we have the child who does not listen because he knows he does not need to. Someone will come to his rescue without effort on his part.

The second child is the one who finds all the answers at the click of a button on Google. I am shocked at the number of gaming cheat sights around. So, when you are playing on your ipod/ds/playstation/wii etc and you hit a snag, you just need to hop on to Google cheats and find your answer and life goes on. No problem-solving skills and no perseverance needed. Remember the days when we had assignments at school? We had to work so hard to find the information. Have you noticed that when using a computer, you never really have to think much about what action to take next. It always tells you which button to click…
The problem is that Google does not tell you where your shoes are when you can’t find them. It also does not explain a question to you when you are presented with one in a school learning environment. It does not give you the answers for when you are upset with a friend. Google is also not available to you when you are asked to write a story. So now we are presented with a huge number of children who give up as soon as they are faced with a challenge, because they do not have a button to press!

And so, my strategy at home and in my classrooms (and the kids know this, although they hate it initially) is that, “I will not help you until you help yourself.”
Here are the responses I use to standard questions at home and at school:
“Where are my shoes?” Response: Wherever you left them.
“I do not understand this.” Response: Well, before I help you, I need to know what you think it means or could mean.
“I don’t know what to do.” Response: What do you think you should do?
“He hurt me/my feelings.” Response: I am sorry that happened. What do you think would be a good step towards solving the problem you have? (We usually write down all the solutions, even the funny ones. It becomes clear then which route to take.)

I love it when children take on ownership of the process. My students have learnt that I won’t help them until they produce something themselves. My kids know that I won’t help them find their shoes until they have taken the time to really look for them and work out where they left them.
Think. Think for yourself. That’s what I want. I feel I have reached my goal when my own children and my students come to me with their possible solutions rather than their problems.

It is a hard slog. It is not a lesson that is learnt or taught at the click of a magic button. Kids will be resistant in the beginning. But the end result is worth it for sure. Should we raise children as independent thinkers or children (who grow up into adults) who are dependent and helpless?

I know which one I prefer…

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One Response to Home and Classroom strategies for Learned Helplessness and the Electronic Generation

  1. penny says:

    I really do agree with everything you have said here! Im a teacher here in South Africa and am looking for strategies to combat learned helplessness as part of my Masters Thesis. Our kids are becoming ever so used to everything being done for them and we are creating helpless little beings, instead of independent critical thinkers and problem solvers!

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