In our classroom, there is a sign that my children have memorized. It reads, “Spoken words can’t be erased. Don’t blurt what might hurt. THINK before you speak: is it TRUE? Is it HELPFUL? Is it KIND?” This sign was one of the first things I put up in our “classroom” (which is our kitchen table) when I began homeschooling.
The purpose behind this sign wasn’t about adding colorful decor; it was one hundred percent intentional. My intention was to remind my children continually that they have control over their words and that having the quality of being slow to speak has many benefits. However, they initially thought I was just trying to recreate a “classroom” and micromanage them.
As a public-school teacher, one of the first attributes I looked for when analyzing my students was a simple one: kindness. Unfortunately, a significant number of the children I taught in the public school lacked the intrinsic motivation and integrity needed for this simple attribute. They wouldn’t do the right thing just for the sake of doing it, and their lack of discernment was noticeable. They required external motivation to accomplish anything. I call this the “Pinocchio Syndrome,” not because their noses were growing, but because they resembled puppets. This “puppet effect” manifested not only in academics but also in their general interactions with other children.
By the “puppet effect,” I mean that unless someone or something was pulling their strings, motivating them to do the right thing, they wouldn’t act. Their lack of an internal moral compass made them seek approval from their teacher or friends. They were primarily self-focused and indifferent to consequences; they needed rewards to motivate them.
Of course, there were exceptions, a few students who did not overachieve with extra assignments but were respectful, kind, and considerate of others’ feelings. They were the ones who excelled in critical thinking and problem-solving. Despite being bored, they still paid attention and never had any intention of hurting or manipulating their friends. Their strong moral compass guided their actions, motivating them to do what was right. They could distinguish right from wrong and were not puppets; they could think for themselves.
So why did this disparity exist? What caused many students to lack this moral cornerstone, while others did not? Did they not see the movie Pinocchio? The answer is that they genuinely did not know what was happening inside their young minds and hearts. It was not their fault. They had never been introduced to the idea of God or the responsibility to be a productive member of society, participate in a community, and be a good friend. No one had told them to let their conscience be their guide.
The children who could make excellent decisions without the promise of a reward did so because they listened to their conscience. They all had one thing in common: their parents were fully engaged in their education. They were the “hovering” parents, the ones other teachers complained about for being overbearing. These parents called to ensure their children completed their homework correctly, volunteered regularly, and showed that they valued education. At school, they emphasized the importance of community, showed respect for teachers, and cared about their children’s academic and social performance.
These parents taught kindness, discipline, and intrinsic motivation at home from an early age, and then they cut those puppet strings. Expecting their best efforts, they sent their children to school with the tools they provided. They understood their children would make mistakes but remained engaged. Active 2: They discussed simple things like being kind, responsible, and respectful—values that should be taught at home and reflected in daily life, especially at school. The other students’ parents rarely made themselves visible or voiced their opinions, except during parent-teacher conferences. Their approach was not necessarily disrespectful, but it was absent. They did what they had to do to get through the day, day after day, with nothing extra left, not for themselves or their kids.
Is this their fault? Initially, no. We live in a fast-paced society where God is often last, and family time is limited to the car rides shuttling children to various activities. However, something was different for these parents. They were caught in the same cycle their own parents had created, so they didn’t know any better, or they were simply too exhausted to be engaged parents.
Here’s my plea: for those of you in the distant parent group, I apologize if the truth hurts, but it can also set you free. There is still time to help your children. To those who did not want their children to be puppets, I applaud you. Keep doing what you’re doing; the world will benefit from your engagement.
Children are a gift from God. They don’t choose the family they grow up in; they are a product of their upbringing and the world around them. While they may inherit certain natural traits, the nurturing they receive molds them into who they become later in life. This outcome can be cyclical. If your parents were absent, too busy, neglectful, or dysfunctional, the chances of you ending up in the same cycle, and your children following suit, are almost 100%. When you have a child, you make the choice to bring a life that depends entirely on its parents in this world. It’s your responsibility to invest in them, teach them discernment, and instill fortitude. Through this, they will gain intrinsic motivation, but you cannot achieve this without God, your presence, and your engagement.
Brittany Stewart, an accomplished writer and educator, draws inspiration from her 23-year marriage and upbringing near Lake Tahoe in Verdi, Nevada, now residing in Tucson, Arizona. With her Bachelor’s degree in Education, emphasizing Native American Literature and Journalism, Brittany is a multifaceted professional who is also a Licensed Massage Therapist. She is deeply involved in Tucson’s homeschooling community, leading a homeschool group, teaching dance, and offering art classes.She and her family have a homestead in Southern Arizona, where her husband hunts and she tends to the garden, emphasizing the importance of God and family in her life while continually seeking adventure through her travels.