Six months after moving to Seattle in 2012, I still didn’t know how to get anywhere. Other than the grocery store and a few places right in my neighborhood, I had almost no geographical awareness. And the reason was obvious to me. Before any departure in my car, I plugged the destination into my phone and let GPS do the rest. No thinking. No choosing between available routes. I was following instructions, but I wasn’t learning. Nothing became more familiar, even after repeatedly taking the same route. So I literally and figuratively unplugged. I’d look at the map once to figure out how to get to my destination, then let my own brain do the work to remember and adjust when necessary. In just six weeks, I knew my way around far better than I had at any point in the previous six months.
It’s not particularly surprising science, but there’s evidence that consistently relying on GPS dulls the brain’s ability to navigate. Yes, it’s helpful technology and I’ll admit that I still use it frequently. But it’s also emblematic of an important, larger reminder: learning requires thinking.
And this is why it’s important for parents not to step in and run our kids’ lives as they get older. When a parent makes every decision, when a parent makes the choice between available options, or when a parent just does the task for the student, we become the GPS. And our students become dependent drivers who can’t find their own way anywhere without step-by-step instructions.
Everyone gets lost occasionally. But the more thinking and learning we let our kids do for themselves, the more likely they are to choose the best route.