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

Intensive Parenting

Some social scientists have theorized, the tilt toward intensive parenting originated at least in part from parents’ anxieties about their children competing for education and jobs.     Many children surely benefit from being raised like this—concerted cultivation can serve them well later in life, teaching them how to manage their time and assert their individuality. But heavily involved parenting can at the same time stunt kids’ sense of self-reliance, and overcommitted after-school schedules can leave them exhausted. Also, there is some evidence that parents who overdo it increase the risk that their children will grow up to be depressed and less satisfied with life. And on the parents’ side, the intensive ideal can lead parents—particularly mothers—to fear that they aren’t doing enough to give their child the best future possible.     

Joe Pinsker writing in The Atlantic   

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

Child rearing is an art

Child rearing is an art, and what makes art art is that it is doing several things at once. The trick is accepting limits while insisting on standards. Character may not be malleable, but behavior is. The same parents can raise a dreamy, reflective girl and a driven, competitive one—the job is not to nurse her nature but to help elicit the essential opposite: to help the dreamy one to be a little more driven, the competitive one to be a little more reflective.

Adam Gopnik writing in The New Yorker

 

 

It takes a Villiage

Of all the new experiences parenthood has brought into my life, I was least prepared for the public rebukes. I was standing at a bus stop recently after a long workday with my 2-year-old, worried that we would be caught in an imminent downpour. As I searched my phone for the status of the next bus, a car sped by. “Watch your kid!” the driver yelled unkindly. An immediate panic seized me, but my toddler, who had been holding my hand until a few moments earlier, was perfectly safe, intently examining the wall of a coffee shop not two feet away. The driver assumed he’d seen a neglectful mom absorbed in her phone, too busy scrolling through her Facebook feed to watch a wandering child. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t true; the reproach still stung.

Passing public judgment on a stranger’s parenting has become a national sport. Whole corners of the internet are dedicated to shaming mothers who decline to breast-feed, let their kids cry it out, or dare to sit the little one in front of the TV. Practices that were commonplace 30 years ago, such as allowing a child to walk alone to the playground or sit solo in the car for a few minutes during an errand run, now can lead to calls to the police and moms in handcuffs (see Last Word). This parenting paranoia makes little sense: Statistics prove it’s never been safer to raise a child in the U.S., though we act as if the opposite were true. Raising a child used to take a village of neighbors helping you. Now it takes a village telling you why you’re doing it all wrong.

Carolyn O’Hara, The Week Magazine

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

Walking a Tightrope

“We like to think that maturation is based a lot on experience, but even in adolescence we also have to recognize that learning may not count as much so much until the underlying brain structures are in place,” Peter Jensen, a former head of child and adolescent research at the National Institutes of Mental Health says.

While waiting for those structures to develop- and perhaps helping them get set up right in the first place- Jensen says parents of teenagers often have to “walk a tightrope.” On the one hand, they have to respect and encourage their teenagers’ need for autonomy because, in adolescence, “that’s where the action is.” But sometimes they also need to step in, offer a road map, and help those teenagers point their size ten feet down the right path.

To do that effectively, he says, parents might take tips from some of the ways psychiatrists, through the years, have found to deal with teenagers. Parents, says Jensen, might try acting a bit like the psychiatrist played by Judd Hirsch in the movie Ordinary People, talking through possibilities and options. They have to function like a surrogate set of frontal lobes, as “auxiliary problem solver.”

“With little kids you can tell them what the best thing to do is and then offer them a reward.. But with tennagers that’s not often a productive approach. If you just flat out tell a teenager what to do, you can lose that kid. You have to cut them some slack, but you can’t just leave them there, you also have to to help them figure out things themselves. You can say, ‘What do you think the consequences will be if you act a certain way?’ for instance, or ‘What will happen if you are rejected by your peers if you reject drugs?”

Barbara Strauch, The Primal Teen

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

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

arguments worth having

Parents who browbeat their kids into being obedient and agreeable may not be giving them the best preparation for the real world. A new study shows that encouraging teens to argue calmly and effectively against parental orders makes them much more likely to resist peer pressure.

University of Virginia researchers observed more than 150 13-year-olds as they disputed issues like grades, chores, and friends with their mothers. When researchers checked back in with the teens two and three years later, they found that those who had argued the longest and most convincingly—without yelling, whining, or throwing insults—were also 40 percent less likely to have accepted offers of drugs and alcohol than the teens who had caved quickly.

“We found that what a teen learned in handling these kinds of disagreements with their parents was exactly what they took into their peer world,” study author Joseph P. Allen tells NPR.org. The key to having a constructive debate with your kids, experts say, is listening to them attentively and rewarding them when they make a good point—even if you don’t end up reaching a mutual agreement. “Think of those arguments not as a nuisance,” Allen says, “but as a critical training ground” for wise, independent decision-making.

The Week Magazine

arguments worth having

Parents who browbeat their kids into being obedient and agreeable may not be giving them the best preparation for the real world. A new study shows that encouraging teens to argue calmly and effectively against parental orders makes them much more likely to resist peer pressure.

University of Virginia researchers observed more than 150 13-year-olds as they disputed issues like grades, chores, and friends with their mothers. When researchers checked back in with the teens two and three years later, they found that those who had argued the longest and most convincingly—without yelling, whining, or throwing insults—were also 40 percent less likely to have accepted offers of drugs and alcohol than the teens who had caved quickly.

“We found that what a teen learned in handling these kinds of disagreements with their parents was exactly what they took into their peer world,” study author Joseph P. Allen tells NPR.org. The key to having a constructive debate with your kids, experts say, is listening to them attentively and rewarding them when they make a good point—even if you don’t end up reaching a mutual agreement. “Think of those arguments not as a nuisance,” Allen says, “but as a critical training ground” for wise, independent decision-making.

The Week Magazine

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

the risk of independence

All life itself represents a risk, and the more lovingly we live our lives the more risks we take. Of the thousands, maybe even millions, of risks we can take in a lifetime the greatest is the risk of growing up. Growing up is the act of stepping from childhood into adulthood. Actually it is more of a fearful leap than a step, and it is a leap that many people never really take in their lifetimes. Though they may outwardly appear to be adults, even successful adults, perhaps the majority of “grown-ups” remain until their death psychological children who have never truly separated themselves from their parents and the power that their parents have over them.

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

the aim of genuine love

Parents who say to their children, “You should be grateful for all that we have done for you” are invariably parents who are lacking in love to a significant degree. Anyone who genuinely loves knows the pleasure of loving. When we genuinely love we do so because we want to love. We have children because we want to have children, and if we are loving parents, it is because we want to be loving parents. It is true that love involves a change in the self, but this is an extension of the self rather than a sacrifice of the self. As will be discussed again later, genuine love is a self-replenishing activity. Indeed, it is even more; it enlarges rather than diminishes the self; it fills the self rather than depleting it. In a real sense love is as selfish as nonlove.

Here again there is a paradox in that love is both selfish and unselfish at the same time. It is not the selfishness or unselfishness that distinguishes love from nonlove; it is the aim of the action. In the case of genuine love the aim is always spiritual growth. In the case of nonlove the aim is always something else.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

What Overinvolved parenting does to Kids

When parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking, the talking to strangers, and the confronting of authorities, kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college or work. They will experience setbacks, which will feel to them like failure. Lurking beneath the problem of whatever thing needs to be handled is the student’s inability to differentiate the self from the parent.

When seemingly perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and have trouble coping with the various new situations they might encounter—a roommate who has a different sense of “clean,” a professor who wants a revision to the paper but won’t say specifically what is “wrong,” a friend who isn’t being so friendly anymore, a choice between doing a summer seminar or service project but not both—they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process. This inability to cope—to sit with some discomfort, think about options, talk it through with someone, make a decision—can become a problem unto itself.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success

two lies

We lie, of course, not only to others but also to ourselves. Of the myriad lies people often tell themselves, two of the most common, potent and destructive are “We really love our children” and “Our parents really loved us.” If may be that our parents did love us and we do love our children, but when it is not the case, people often go to extraordinary lengths to avoid the realization.

I frequently refer to psychotherapy as the “truth game” or the “honest game” because its business is among other things to help patients confront such lies. One of the roots of mental illness is invariably an interlocking system of lies we have been told and lies we have told ourselves. These roots can be uncovered and excised only in an atmosphere of utter honesty.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled