Guest Opinions

Parents: From robots to soccer, it’s up to you to create opportunities for your kids

A team of engineering students at Caldwell High School work on a robot in Mrch 2017 in advance of the VEX Robotics World Championships.
A team of engineering students at Caldwell High School work on a robot in Mrch 2017 in advance of the VEX Robotics World Championships.

As I look around today, I don’t see many parents intentionally creating opportunities for their children to learn, fail and succeed. I’m not talking about spoon-feeding a rigged-to-succeed scenario to your kids. I’m talking about intentionally creating authentic opportunities, complete with the chance of failure and for our kids to experience new and exciting firsts.

Instead, we seem to be rapidly devolving to a generation that looks for places to occupy our kids; programs that placate their ever-growing need to consume entertainment, yet fail to require anything of them or challenge them. Worse yet, we fail to involve ourselves in their learning, satisfied instead with a trite update on the ride home.

Years ago, my children asked to join a robotics team. When their search for a team didn’t pan out, they asked if we could start one of our own. My wife and I agreed, became the coaches and recruited a handful of kids from their soccer teams. It was scary at first, but we were amazed at how quickly the kids excelled. The opportunity was there all along. It simply required two willing adults.

Our team is making the most of every opportunity that comes. Recently, they experienced diverse cultures at the First Lego League World Festival Championships. They ate Vegemite with the Australians, tangoed with the Colombian Team, line danced with the Jordanians. They met youth from Israel, South Africa, and Costa Rica. Our team of fourth- through seventh-graders finished as runners-up to the World Champions, a high school team from Amman, Jordan. They were the only U.S. finalists. They didn’t just excel, this team of six young people crushed it. They’ve definitely made, and continue to make, the most of the opportunity.

We’ve had many parents ask how their child could join our team. When I suggest they create a new team and provide the opportunity for and alongside their child, nine out of 10 have dismissed the idea.

My intent is not to pick on other parents. It is actually to encourage them. I had exceptional opportunities as a child, many because my mother made sure they were there. She was my original skiing buddy, my first soccer coach, and the first one to chew me out when I messed up. She was my biggest cheerleader, my pit crew, and occasionally, my drill sergeant. She was also a working, single mom from the time I was 13. She taught me how to make the most out of opportunities because they often came at a cost.

Maybe your kid isn’t interested in robotics. That isn’t the point. The point is, what would they do if the opportunity were there for them? Got an idea? Go make it happen. Create the opportunity, and then help them make the most of it. Model what it looks like to fail forward and err graciously. Twenty years from now, you’ll be glad you put up the effort to be involved and society will be better for it.

Chad Houck’s evenings and weekends are happily consumed with his wife and children, and their soccer and robotics addictions. His days are spent at the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office and as a STEM advocate.