Telling Kids to “Listen to the Teacher” Can Backfire

Yesterday I discovered that my 6 year old daughter believes everything her martial arts coach says. I took her to her training session and saw how she and other little kids sat around listening to the coach intently, taking in everything he was saying. Literally everything. When we drove home and talked, I learned something revealing.

Naturally, I want my daughter to trust her coach when he teaches the technique. But other things he says should be taken with a grain of salt – for example, when he urges everyone to participate in tournaments or when he makes the kids that win the most medals into absolute role models and praises them excessively. My daughter goes home nervous telling me that she feels she is not good enough (even though she trains hard and does great) because she compares herself to the champions that the teacher praises in class, and telling me that she has to go to tournaments because her “teacher says so.” She wants to please her coach to earn his approval and praise, and she is willing to do anything he says, even when it does not make sense. She even thought that her coach invented BJJ and was very surprised when I told her that her coach was just one of many, that he didn’t invent anything and that there were many other BJJ schools and coaches like him. That’s how much she believes that her coach is the center of the universe and puts him on a pedestal and trusts his every word.

It takes some effort on my part to teach her to think critically and tell her that she should listen to her coach only when he explains the technique but not believe him when he pushes everyone to go to tournaments or praises his best students too much. I explain to her that tournaments are not essential to her life, that they are too sanitized and not the best way to develop real fighting skills, that champions lose as well, that nobody is perfect and no champion is unbeatable. I want her to understand that not everything her coach says is right and good for her. I want her to learn to tell the difference between common sense and BS.

But how many parents are aware of the problem? How many even admit this is a problem? How many tell their kids to just listen to their teacher and follow everything he or she says?

This is just one example of how easily little kids can be molded, how they can put an authority figure on a pedestal, how they can unconditionally believe that anything their teacher or coach says is absolutely true and indisputable. My daughter trains at her martial arts academy only for an hour twice a week. Can you imagine what happens to a small child who sits in school all day every day? No wonder kids get corrupted in school where their authority figures are their teachers who can easily brainwash them all day long. We need to be careful with this. It takes a parent to keep things in check and so set things straight for the child. It’s important for us as parents to talk to our kids, deconstruct what the teacher says, and explain to the child what is true and what is not, what to believe and what not to believe. Children must be taught to think critically, especially when it comes to listening to authority figures.