Friday, December 14, 2012

Are American Kids Spolied?

Last summer an article in The New Yorker entitled "Spoiled Rotten" got me thinking about my own parenting style and skills.

Since my kids are now 24 and 21 (both college graduates and both gainfully employed), it’s easier for me from this distance to reflect on what I did right and wrong as a parent.

The article focuses on how families in different countries with different cultures raise their children.

For the most part, children in the United States have the least responsibility/chores asked of them, yet they were the beneficiaries of the most material objects and attention from their parents. This all too commonly results in “parents wanting their kids approval, a reversal of the past ideal of children striving for their parents’ approval.”

 Two thirds of American parents feel their children are spoiled.

This is vastly different from child-rearing in a country like France, where the “French believe ignoring children is good for them. French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them. To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration…They view learning to cope with ‘no’ as a crucial step in a child’s evolution. It forces them to understand that there are other people in the world, with needs as powerful as their own.”

I’ve heard respected psychologist Robert Evans say that in America today parents want school to prepare the path for the child rather than prepare the child for the path.

I’ve heard Dr. David Walsh talk about how today we live in a "yes culture" with its resulting characteristics of impatience, instant gratification, and sense of entitlement.

I’ve written before about the how parents and teachers need to stress the importance of motivation, hard work, effort, determination, and perseverance as well as the benefit striving against obstacles and dealing with disappointment.

As parents, we need to help and support our children but also give them more responsibility and the latitude to make mistakes and solve their own problems.

While I regret not assigning more chores to my kids when they were young, my wife and I did place the responsibility for schoolwork on them. Before they each went off to college, we told them that we would cover reasonable college costs for no more than four years: if they didn’t graduate in four, they had to pay.

Had they not graduated in four years, I believe we would have followed through on our threat and made them take out college loans, but like most American parents, we would have struggled with this decision.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Raising Resilient Children

Robert Evans is one of my favorite educational presenters; he is a clinical and organizational psychologist who has provided schools and parents, especially those is independent schools, with guidance and advice for more than 30 years.

Here is a link to his website.

Earlier this week Dr. Evans gave a webcast entitled "Raising Resilient Children in Challenging Times".

Here is the link to the webinar (which lasts about a hour). Scroll to the bottom of the page and select Raising Resilient Children 12/5/2012. The password is onion.

If you don't have time to listen to the recording of his webcast, below is a summary of it (taken almost verbatim from the PowerPoint of his presentation).

Evans believes that all kids in order to become resilient need the following:
  • Nurture: To function as a member of a community, one needs to have been nurtured. Why? Because being nurtured helps one develop faith, confidence, and experience in reciprocity. No matter how old one is, she/he never outgrows the need to be nurtured (as my kids in their mid 20s remind me constantly). For children, both home and school need to provide appropriate amounts of nurture, which does not have to be as Evans states "a super fabulous" amount of nurture.
  • Structure: Evans uses the metaphor of a box: inside the box is what we do--and are allowed to do--and outside the box is what we don't do and aren't allowed to do. Structure for kids needs to be clear but not hard or rigid. Structure helps kids develop important qualities like perseverance and empathy
  • Latitude: Appropriate latitude to Evans is not freedom for a child to do what he/she wants, but the opportunity to learn from experience, especially errors, mistakes, and the unfairness of others.  For us to become adept at work and relationships (the twin essentials of a healthy adult life), we all need practice as kids in working through our problems and challenges; learning (and character) come from overcoming obstacles. 
Evans then outlined the challenges to nurture, structure, and latitude in today's world:
  • Challenge to Nurture: To nurture children, you need to be with them, yet over the past 20 years there has been a 20 hour decline in time a parent typically spends with his/he child. To Evans, kids don't need "scads of our time to be appropriately nurtured, but they do need enough time." Evans also states that while we live in a competitive world, competition at too young an age leads to child stress. He advises parents to focus not just on achievement and outcome but character and effort as well.
  • Challenge to Structure: To Evans, kids today live in a world where negotiating is the norm.  Evans laments that American society today has lost of the "you can't do this and must do that" structure from previous generations. We need to be clearer defining the box of what is and isn't permitted. To Evans, parents need to be  especially clearer about non-negotiables, even if child won't like it: he says "the key is not whether kids like you but whether they will be like you."(He tells a great story of a mother who nightly tells her kids at dinner time "Who's having lasagna, and who's going hungry?" rather than offering to make multiple meals for picky eaters. I can't imagine many parents today--myself included--saying this.)
  • Challenge to Latitude: For Evans, this is the hardest "need" for parents to provide: most of us over protect our kids. We are too lenient with our kids and also come to our kids rescue much too frequently and quickly. Adults need to recognize that if a child's path is too easy (often because we ensure it's easy for him/her), the child won't have the opportunity to develop resilience and become a well-adjusted adult. Evans advises parents to not race to fix their kids' problems before they have a chance to try to fix it themselves.
Evans closes his webinar by advising parents to "take a grandparent pill": in other words, be more relaxed, broaden your perspective, and recognize that every event in you child's life is not urgent. 

Love your kids, give them your time, and provide them the latitude to be kids and to make mistakes within a box of clear and consistent "have to's".