Measure Up

There is no way to quite describe the feeling that I got when I sat down to eat with daughter at the school cafeteria for the first time. She looked up at me. It was a look that said she completely adored me just for being me. That just blew me away. She couldn't hardly sit still, or know what to do with her hands, as if she wanted to hug me.  There was a searching look as if to say, "Who am I?"  "Tell me who I am."

Fathers have a way of planting life mottos in the heads of their daughters.

"Measure Up!" is one of the most often heard. Perhaps it is never verbalized, but a daughter knows what's expected—and her attempts to live up to those expectations from her childhood result in her running her life by guilt. She ends up serving a motto instead of her creator. 

Stephen Goforth

Encouraging Independent Thinking

Students often don’t know why they’re learning something. Asking why is so important to kids and they deserve a better answer than “because it will be on the test.” By the time kids reach middle school, they give up asking and focus on getting a good grade. To in- crease curiosity, it is important to address the “why” questions. Why are we reading Hamlet? Why are we solving quadratic equations? When teachers answer these questions, it prompts kids to think more deeply about the implications of what they’re learning.

Parents can elicit curiosity in their children through similar methods. We don’t need to have the right answers all the time, but we need to encourage kids to ask the right questions. If we don’t know the answer, we can say, “Let’s find out. Do some research on Google, and we can go from there.”  

When we support curiosity, what we’re really developing is a child’s imagination. Which brings me to creativity, a wonderful by-product of independence and curiosity.

Esther Wojcicki, How to Raise Successful People

When Kids Realize Their Whole Life Is Already Online

Jaime Putnam, a mom in Georgia, said she has started to be more mindful of the fact that many of her kids’ friends don’t yet know how much information about themselves is out there. Recently she saw on social media that one of her child’s friends got a puppy. She brought it up when she next saw him, and he looked at her, horrified. He had no idea how she had learned that seemingly private information. “It made me realize these kids don’t know what’s being posted all the time,” she said. Now she’s careful about what she reveals. “It kind of feels like you’re maybe crossing a line telling them everything you know about them.”

Taylor Lorenz writing in The Atlantic

The First CRISPR baby

Eventually, a CRISPR baby will be born.* The (new gene-editing) technology is too easy. There is no world government to stop its use; many argue no one should do so anyway. At the point that baby emerges, perhaps modified to evade a particular disease or perhaps even to look a particular way, theoretical debates will become real. 

 Jennifer Doudna knows the influence she and her fellow scientists have is diminishing every day. “I would hope this would be used to create cures, to help people,” she says. Even if the technology is not quite there yet, CRISPR could eventually do plenty else besides. Every week a new paper is published finding more genes that influence looks, intelligence, stamina, even sexuality. 

“The dystopic view would be IVF clinics that offer parents a menu of options for kids,” she says. “Nobody has kids by sex anymore. You go to a clinic, pick from a menu, say, ‘I want my kid to be this tall, have this colour of eye, this level of IQ,’ and all those sorts of things. I think that would be terrible.” 

Tom Whipple writing in 1843 magazine 

*Chinese scientists are creating CRISPR babies  MIT Technology Review 


Throwing Away your Children’s Art 

When I first tried throwing away my own young children’s art…I felt an ache as I pitched it into the trash. There’s a moment when a child first presents you with her art, holding it out with the last split second of attention she can muster after completing it. That moment contains a burst of pride on both your parts, and a frisson of mutual love. But in the end, your pride lasts longer than the child’s does. Eventually, and soon, it must move on to another venture. Theirs always does, but yours lingers, heartstrings tugged.

It’s the wish to prolong this moment artificially, I think, that motivates the urge to keep and curate your children’s art for posterity. You convince yourself there’s some future where your child will want to return to that moment of pride and love through the act of witnessing the thing she made so long ago.

Don’t fall for it. You’re only trying to make yourself feel better. You’ll never quite be able to tell which moment your children will remember, and it’s not as if you can regulate that memory on their behalf anyway. And besides, childhood is made from a thousand moments just like this. There’s no way to hold on to all of them.

Of course, you shouldn’t throw something away that your kids say they want to keep. But absent that urge, and particularly in the early years before it develops, most children’s art exists to be destroyed. The point of life isn’t to prolong youth, but to have grown up. That requires discarding things along the way, and enjoying the appropriate relief. That’s the kind of activity a parent ought to put their moral and aesthetic weight behind.

Mary Townsend writing in The Atlantic


Our Kids are Watching Us

I do a lot of surveys with people between the ages of 20 and 40, and I ask them to describe who they are now and to reflect on their childhood. Now, we have to be very clear that this is a very imperfect method of getting data about people’s childhoods, because there are all kinds of memory biases. But one of the most consistent findings is the association between the person’s current level of materialism and how they perceived their parents using things when they were growing up.

So in other words, parents who act in ways that value things, parents who make a lot of sacrifices to get a lot of things, parents who get a lot of joy from buying things, parents who talk a lot about things—they tend to have adult children who act the same way. Now, part of this is probably some bias as people recall their childhoods, but I don’t think that’s all of it. The helpful thing for parents here—and also the harmful—is yes, peers are really important, but our kids are watching us. Our kids are learning from us. A lot of what kids take to be normal comes from what they see us doing. Kids are going to learn what their relationship with products should be by looking at our relationship with products.  

Marsha Richin quoted in The Atlantic

How to create materialistic children

Children who recall that their parents just bought them stuff when they wanted it, or who paid them money or bought them things when they got good grades, there’s a very consistent association that when these things happen in childhood, when that person is an adult, they’re more likely to be materialistic.

And I’m looking now at what parents do when their kid’s unhappy, or upset, or they have a big disappointment—how do parents deal with that? And my preliminary evidence suggests that it’s something that’s learned in childhood. The parents might say, “Oh, you didn’t make it on to the team—let’s go out and have something to eat,” or, “Let’s go out and get you a new video game—that’ll take your mind off it.” Well, if the parents do that with their kids, we find that as adults, people are more likely to deal with distress in the same way, by giving themselves a little gift.

I never thought it was a good idea to reward children tangibly for the things that they do, because I don’t think life works that way—there are a lot of things you have to do and you don’t get any reward for them. 

Marsha Richin quoted in The Atlantic

The Perfect Parent Trap

When perfectionists become parents, their mindsets don't change; they just shift their unreasonable expectations onto their children. Now their kids must be perfect too. In fact, a number of studies have found that perfectionists are so busy worrying about the drive for excellence that they aren't sensitive are responsive to the children's real needs.

Perfectionist parenting is anxious parenting. So that their children never make mistakes, these parents are overprotective, controlling, authoritarian, intrusive and dominating.

(Not that any of it helps: Research at Macquarie University in Australia showed that perfectionist parents’ tendencies to admonish kids and emphasize accuracy didn't decrease errors in children's work.)

Unsurprisingly kids of perfectionists are perfectionists too, adopting the same unreasonable expectations and exaggerated responses to failure. As a result, they're more likely to be anxious and obsessive. According to the University of Louisville researchers Nicholas Affrunti and Janet Woodriff-Borden, every time parents rush into fix something their kids learn their mistakes of threatening and they come to believe they can't be trusted to handle new experiences on the run.

And through their parents’ disengagement, kids learn that love is conditional. The only way to get it? Achieve.

Ashley Merryman, co-author of Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, writing in ESPN the Magazine, May 11, 2015 issue

Minding the nurture gap

Upbringing affects opportunity. Upper-middle-class homes are not only richer (with two professional incomes) and more stable; they are also more nurturing. In the 1970s there were practically no class differences in the amount of time that parents spent talking, reading and playing with toddlers. Now the children of college-educated parents receive 50% more of what Robert Putnam calls “Goodnight Moon” time (after a popular book for infants).

(Putnam reports in his book “Our Kids” that) educated parents engage in a non-stop Socratic dialogue with their children, helping them to make up their own minds about right and wrong, true and false, wise and foolish. This is exhausting, so it helps to have a reliable spouse with whom to share the burden, not to mention cleaners, nannies and cash for trips to the theatre.

Working-class parents, who have less spare capacity, are more likely to demand that their kids simply obey them. In the short run this saves time; in the long run it prevents the kids from learning to organise their own lives or think for themselves. Poor parenting is thus a barrier to social mobility, and is becoming more so as the world grows more complex and the rewards for superior cognitive skills increase.

The Economist

Fixed Intelligence

We’ve long assumed that positive feedback always has desirable results. But some recent research has painted a more complex picture. Melissa Kamins discovered that children who receive primarily person-praise (“how smart you are”) rather than good words about their efforts will usually develop fixed views of intelligence. When children are young and family members consistently tell them how brilliant they are (or how dumb), they get the message: life depends on your level of intelligence, not on how you work at something. You’ve got it or you don’t. Nothing can change that reality, they think. In short, fixed views of intelligence or growth mindsets stem from conditioning, not from some inborn character trait. They too can change.

Ken Bain, What The Best College Students Do

when children ask why

Children not only need to hear our conclusions (Do this! Do that!) they need to know the thought process that got us to those conclusions (Here's why you should do this or that). They need context. If you only offer orders and rules, then we are not teaching, not serving them as parents. We are just pontificating.

It's hard work articulating why we believe what we believe. We may hesitate, out of fear, to tell our children the honest "whys." Perhaps if we share, they will discover our secret weaknesses or find flaws in our reasoning. But rather than hiding our imperfections, if we let them know we are fallible as they are, we share with them a common bond and a true honesty. Rather than just trying to pour truth into their heads, we can help them make the marvelous discovery that they have something to contribute to our lives as well. We are fellow struggles, learning how to live right in a confusing and challenging world.

Stephen Goforth

The Marshmallow Test

IN THE 1960s Walter Mischel, then an up-and-coming researcher in psychology, devised a simple but ingenious experiment to study delayed gratification. It is now famously known as the marshmallow test. In a sparsely furnished room Mr Mischel presented a group of children aged four and five from Stanford University’s Bing Nursery School with a difficult challenge. They were left alone with a treat of their choosing, such as a marshmallow or a biscuit. They could help themselves at once, or receive a larger reward (two marshmallows or biscuits) if they managed to wait for up to 20 minutes.

The marshmallow test is often thought of simply as a measure of a child’s self-control. But Mischel shows that there is much more to it. One of Mr Mischel’s early studies in Trinidad suggests that a preference for delayed rewards also can be a matter of trust. Children who grow up with absent parents, Mr Mischel surmised, may be less likely to believe that they will actually get the promised delayed reward from the stranger who is carrying out the experiment. Indeed, he found that children with absent fathers, in particular, were prone to opt for immediate rewards. He believes the test also shows how the ability to postpone rewards is closely related to vigorously pursuing goals and to holding positive expectations. These traits, in turn, help explain why waiting for marshmallows at the age of five has such a strong relationship to outcomes in adult life.

from The Economist

Boredom and Cowardice

Teenagers and their younger siblings grow bored quickly. It's their job to figure out how not to be bored.

Life is filled with dull meetings and duller people and many empty moments. Either you hate a large part of your duties in life or you figure out ways to make that time interesting for you. Boredom is a wake up call for us to get involved in process of life.

As Scott Peck wrote in The Road Less Traveled, "Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs." Embracing what we are handed and then turning it into something worthwhile is a lifelong struggle. We all face it.

It isn't the job of parents to keep children entertained. The kids' job is take charge of their own situation to figure out what captivates them.  Parents just need to provide opportunities for their kids and a sense of direction to help them discover what works.

If we are not in the hunt for the compelling, we are not in the game and will certainly be miserable people. There's no one to blame but ourselves. There are many escape attempts from the dullness of life that can temporarily distract us. It takes something meaningful and awe-filling to engage us over the long run.

Stephen Goforth

Bridging the Generation Gap with Reading

And then one day, she asked him what he was reading. He had just started “The Hunger Games,” a series of dystopian young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins. The grandmother decided to read the first volume so that she could talk about it with her grandson the next time they chatted on the phone. She didn’t know what to expect, but she found herself hooked from the first pages, in which Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the annual battle-to-the-death among a select group of teens.

The book helped this grandmother cut through the superficialities of phone chat and engage her grandson on the most important questions that humans face about survival and destruction and loyalty and betrayal and good and evil, and about politics as well. Now her grandson couldn’t wait to talk to her when she called—to tell her where he was, to find out where she was and to speculate about what would happen next.

Will Schwalbe, Books for Living

Encouraging Critical Thinking in Children

If we want our children or students or employees to express themselves creatively, then we have to give them the opportunity to do so. It doesn’t matter much if we tell them that we value their creative thinking, and then criticize or forestall every idea they propose.

From time to time, I do workshops for teachers, parents, and businesses that are eager to encourage open-ended, exploratory, creative thinking.  One unfavorable sign is when someone asks me exactly what they should do to encourage creativity. They want me to tell them step by step, blow by blow. Their desire is an unfavorable sign because if they want a recipe for creativity, the won’t find it. Moreover, someone who wants to be told exactly what to do is not likely to model a creative style, no matter how much they may wish to do so.

Ultimately, you must encourage creative thinking by modeling it. It is hard to encourage creative thinking if you do not model it.

Robert Sternberg, Thinking Styles

Teaching Critical Thinking

Give (children) many opportunities to use their reasoning abilities as they tackle fascinating problems and receive challenges to their thinking. Ask them to consider the implications of their reasoning, implications for themselves, for the way they view the world, for policy debates, for significant philosophical questions, or even for moral or religious issues. (Help them determine) what intellectual standards (can) test proposed answers and (how) to weigh conflicting claims about the “truth”. Help (them) learn to assess their own work using those standards. Ask them about their assumptions and about the concepts and evidence they employ in their reasoning.

Ken Bain, What the Best Teachers Do

Imaginary Friends

There's a little bit of evidence that adults who are novelists or musicians, for example, tend to remember the imaginary friends they had when they were children. It's as if they are staying in touch with those childhood abilities in a way that most of us don't. Successful creative adults seem to combine the wide-ranging exploration and openness we see in children with the focus and discipline we see in adults.

Alison Gopnik, The Philosophical Baby

Playing Patty-Cake

With younger children the communication is more and more nonverbal but still ideally requires periods of total concentration.

You can't play patty-cake very well when your mind is elsewhere. And if you can only play patty-cake halfheartedly, you are running the risk of having a halfhearted child. Adolescent children require less total listening time from their parents than a six-year-old but even more true listening time.

They are much less likely to chatter aimlessly, but when they do talk, they want their parents' full attention even more than do the younger children.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Love Begets Love

The more children know that you value them, that you consider them extraordinary people, the more willing they will be to listen to you and afford you the more willing they will be to listen to you and afford you the same esteem. And the more appropriate your teaching, based on your knowledge of them, the more eager your children will be to learn from you. And the more they learn, the more extraordinary the will become, If the reader senses the cyclical character of this process, he or she is quite correct and is appreciating the truth of the reciprocity of love. Instead of a vicious downward cycle, it is a creative upward cycle of evolution and growth. Value creates value. Love begets love.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled


A child responds to the game of kissing away a hurt or throwing away a fear. This simple process works for the child because in his mind he believes that that is actually the end of it. The dramatic act is a fact for him and so it proves to be the end of the matter.

Imagination is a source of fear, but imagination may also be the cure of fear. “Imagineering” is the use of mental images to build factual results, and it is an astonishingly effective procedure. Visualize your fears being drained out of your mind and the visualization will in due course be actualized. Imagine yourself as reaching into your mind and one by one removing your worries.

However, it is not enough to empty the mind, for the mind will not long remain empty. It must be occupied by something. It cannot continue in a stat of vacuum. Therefore, upon emptying the mind, practice refilling it. Fill it with thought of faith, hope, courage, expectancy.

A half-dozen times each day crowd your mind with such thoughts as those until the mind is overflowing with them. In due course these thoughts of faith will crowd out worry. Day by day, as you fill your mind with faith, there will ultimately be no room left for fear.

Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking