I sat in accident and emergency, cradling my son’s hand, while he recited a list of things he would like as "rewards" for breaking his little finger.
I gave him everything he wanted – not least because, earlier that day, I had told him that his finger was only a little bruised and to just “give it a rub”.
The problem was, I realised, I was guilty of being overzealous in my endeavour to raise tough kids who moan rarely and can shake things off easily.
It’s true, I have brought up my children to be resilient. And although this remains an aspect of parenting that is hard to get right, I still believe it is essential (broken bones being an exception).
However, since I became a teacher, parents seem keener than ever to shield children from even small dissatisfactions and are all too often unabashed in pressing teachers to change course solely for the benefit of their child. Whether that means asking for a move to a different group, an award certificate, a part in a play, a cushion for a chair, or even the rewriting of a line in a report, some parents seem to have forgotten that strength is built on forbearance.
In the last five years, the advent of closed messaging apps like Bambizo, ClassDoJo and Edmodo mean that teachers are receiving messages directly from parents throughout the day, conveying all manner of seemingly small requests that teachers feel obliged to reply and often concede to.
'Twenty messages a day'
Many teachers I know receive on average between eight to 20 messages a day, ranging from the update that granny is picking up a child (fair enough), to requests for a child to stay in since it’s cold (honestly), or even, as one colleague recounted, to see if "Bobby" could sip water from a bottle rather than use the tap because he doesn’t like the taste. All this on top of mountains of general work emails.
Often, these communication apps are also connected to behaviour management. With ClassDoJo, for example, teachers can reward pupils with ‘DoJo points’ for positive behaviour and take them away for negative behaviour. This means that parents get a notification on their phones informing them when a reward or sanction is given.
This results in parents requesting explanations as to why their child lost a point, which in turn often leads to disputes about whether the lost point was truly deserved and yet more messages back and forth – all time away from the array of other things teachers need to do. Whatever happened to just telling a child off and the matter stopping there?
So where does all this leave us?
While many parents I know use this new-found communication with teachers very sensibly, for some parents, these apps serve only to fuel a form of precision-parenting that slowly chips away at a child’s long-term resilience.
For me, these communication apps have been positive in communicating lots of things to parents that assist teachers in their job. After all, it’s helpful to remind parents to bring wellies tomorrow for that muddy walk, or to collect those shoe boxes for junk modelling. Yet, on the other hand, they have also opened the door for an avalanche of fussing and fretting that does not serve children well at all.
Certainly, one solution is for schools to communicate to parents more clearly how these apps are meant to be used. Granted, this is not always that easy because of their automatic and direct nature, but ultimately it is for parents to allow for a safe degree of discomfort and dissatisfaction to feature in their children’s lives.
It is character building to sit next to someone annoying; you will learn how to deal with annoying people, and there will be many of those in life. If you don’t get picked for the part you wanted, you’re learning to be patient and to celebrate other people’s successes; this will make you a more grounded human being. And, sometimes, you just got a ticking off because you were talking too much, so should learn not to – no need for mum or dad to send a message.
So, while I would not advocate ignoring a child’s broken finger, I would advise parents and schools to take care with these new-found digital pathways into the classroom for the sake of enabling children to build a steadfast resistance to life knocks.
And let’s not forget their teachers, who would rather be working with children – instead of responding to a screen full of messages about them.
Beth Budden is Key Stage 1 leader at a primary school in London. She tweets @BethBudden