This week's article summary is The Best and Worst Parenting Advice.
Whether we’re parents, teachers, or both, we all struggle about how best to raise our kids and/or teach our students.
Parents/teachers want the same outcomes for their kids/students: to be kind, empathetic, confident, independent, empowered (but not entitled), humble, appreciative, selfless, socially aware, intrinsically motivated, etc.
Where we differ is the methodology we use to try to shape and influence our kids: some of us are more lax and permissive, others more strict and even authoritarian. Often our parenting and teaching style is influenced by how we were taught and parented.
The child psychologist in the article recommends parenting/teaching strategies that help a child develop personal empowerment, understand the cause and effect of their actions, and, maybe most important, see that others lean and rely on the child for help and support.
As humans, our genetic make-up combines both selfishness and selflessness. We do want what’s best for us but we need the help and support of others to achieve it. Unlike other animals that operate on instinct, humans have a sense of fairness; hence, if I help you, it’s only fair that you help me. Getting kids to not only see why their behavior was wrong but in what ways it affected others is, to me, the provocative takeaway from the article.
The toughest aspect of being a parent or teacher is when our frustration level escalates to the point where we dictatorially impose our will and punishments on our kids. When we begin to lose our cool for whatever reason, we sacrifice providing our children/students with true learning lessons that can foster reflection and the development of intrinsic motivation/decision-making for the more expedient extrinsic consequence that research consistently says doesn’t work and even has a negative effect on the child.
We were imperfect and so are as parents and teachers. Sometimes the pressures of life can get in the way of good parenting and teaching. Still, it’s always important for us to keep the ultimate outcomes for our kids in mind and strive for the ideal even if we fall short a lot of the time.
Adam Grant, a child psychologist, author and professor at Wharton, took time to talk to us about his insights on parenting, having sparked global debate with columns on raising a moral child and changing the way we talk to kids about work.
What's the worst parenting advice you've heard?
The worst parenting advice that I've ever heard is that when kids do something wrong, they need to be punished. There's a classic study of rescuers during the Holocaust who put their own lives on the line in order to save, in some cases, complete strangers. The question was: what made them different from their peers, living in the same towns, who never stepped up and became heroes? And the answer was that in part, their parents responded very differently when they misbehaved. The ordinary citizens were constantly punished when they did something wrong and they learned to try to avoid negative consequences, whereas the Holocaust rescuers, instead of being punished, were actually given explanations. So when they broke a rule, they were told this is a rule that might seem silly, but here's the value or principle behind it, or here's how your behavior hurt other people. And then they were much more likely to reflect on the ultimate impact of their behavior on others. Now, of course, we don't know whether this parenting strategy ultimately caused them to engage in these extraordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice and courage. What we do know, though, is that they learn to engage in a different kind of moral reasoning and that instead of being just told that your behavior is wrong, or being penalized, if you actually understand why it has negative impacts, what it does to harm other people, you're much more likely to form your own moral principles around trying to do right by others. And that ultimately is something that more parents can encourage their kids to do.
On the flip side, can you share the best advice?
I think the best parenting advice I've ever received is to show kids that they matter, and that other people rely on them. We all need to feel that other people rely on us. I think parents often miss that with children. We feel that it's our job to teach them, to protect them, to care for them. And we don't ever give them the chance then to build their own resilience by helping us solve problems. One of the ways we can we can put this advice into action is to ask our kids for guidance every once in a while. When I'm nervous about a big speech, for example, I've asked them how I should manage that anxiety, which shows I have a lot of confidence in them. It also gives them a chance when they find themselves in a similar situation to think back on their guidance. And that makes them feel like they're active, that they have something to contribute and offer as opposed to just being dependent on other people. Every child needs to feel that they matter; even as young as six, seven, eight years old, they need to feel that other people are counting on them, that they can make a difference in the lives of others. It's an important way to make them feel that they matter and to build their strength.