Visit any private or public school on the North Shore at 8am and see lines of four-wheel drive vehicles, mums and kids in tow, being dropped off outside school gates. No matter what the weather conditions, most of our children have never independently walked to or home from their local school, or even to the local shops or to visit friends. And in the afternoons, a myriad of organised after-school activities also predicate parents picking up their offspring and ferrying them to and from extra curriculum activities.
Experts say the overwhelming consensus is that today, many parents don't encourage independence and resilience in their children.
In his new book, Ten Leadership Lessons Your Teenager Must Learn, headmaster of The King's School and internationally-recognised educator, author and social commentator, Dr Tim Hawkes, says society is crying out for authentic leadership.
"Our young need to be challenged to acquire the traits of a leader," he tells North Shore Living. "In an age that sees schools assailed by accountability measures such as league tables and Naplan tests, there can a temptation for them to concentrate on those things that are publicly reported.
"We should not just be preparing our students for an exam. We should be preparing them for life.
"Dr Hawkes, who has taught thousands of students around the world and will end his 40-year teaching career when he steps down as headmaster next June, insists, "it's vital to tackle leadership skills when young, because it can do something to counter grey lives devoid of purpose and an unrelenting dependency on others.
"A well-designed leadership course can help realise potential and develop resilience. The latter is particularly important in an age where depression is the fastest growing ailment among young people."
Dr Hawkes says children need to learn to cope with setbacks, opposition and disappointment, explaining how we live in an age of curious contradictions.
"There is massive under-protection of children in some areas of the world," he says, "but on the other hand, there is also massive over-protection, with them being bubble-wrapped to such a stage that it imperils resilience."
Mosman High students, Taylor Springett and Gabrielle King, were recently instrumental in forming an environmental group, which now has about 30 members.
Dr Tim Hawkes says preparing for leadership involves:
- Setting an example - prefects, young community leaders, sports groups etc
- Campaigns for change
- Teamwork within the school, sports, family and peer groups
- Personal presentation including honesty, work ethic, creativity and problem solving
- Stop wrapping children in cotton wool and encourage them to be independent and move forward in life
"I was involved in lobbying against a fig tree being cut down outside my house in Balgowlah - which we eventually saved," Taylor tells North Shore Living. "It's really important to talk to others and take leadership seriously - and it's frustrating that sometimes older people don't take us seriously."
Gabrielle insists, "as an individual you can do something that makes a real difference", adding, "leadership teaches you about self-reliance and self-belief. Young people have a lot of power and can get incredible results."
Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says over the past two decades, society has witnessed "a slow decline in the standard of parenting" and he urges parents to find the backbone to prevent a generation of totally indulgent and lacklustre youngsters.
Dr Hawkes agrees. “I have met too many directionless and undiscovered teens," he adds. "This is tragic when so many have a hidden strength that, if developed, would prove a blessing to themselves and the wider community.
The lessons he advocates are making the right choices, following the right examples, finding a calling, working with a team, formulating strategies and learning discipline.
"Each of our children is a miracle of creation," he maintains, "and has unique abilities. Each is called to be a leader - if not of others, then of themselves.
"We need to encourage our sons and daughters to develop a calling, a creed and a cause. There should be something in their lives that takes them away from a preoccupation with self."