inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #0 of 295: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 1 Sep 08 21:45
    
We're pleased to welcome Hara Estroff Marano to the Inkwell.

Hara Estroff Marano is editor at large of Psychology Today magazine
and author of three books, most recently A Nation of wimps: The High
Cost of Invasive Parenting. She is on the advisory board of the
Bringing Theory to Practice Project, which aims to make higher
education conducive to wellbeing by promoting intellectual and civic
engagement. She is also a member of the Board of Governors of the
University of Haifa (Israel). And yes, she is a parent herself.


Leading the conversation with Hara is our own Lisa Harris.

Lisa Harris is a small business owner and former educator.  Lisa has
two children, aged 10 and 7.  She runs her business from home so she
can also double as a stay-at-home mom.  Lisa is an active volunteer at
her children's school.  She is also studying Tae Kwon Do and will earn
a black belt within the next 6 months.

Welcome, Hara and Lisa!
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #1 of 295: Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 2 Sep 08 04:05
    
Hi Hara, and thank you for coming.  I enjoyed your book a great deal.  It
reminds me of how parents used to be, back in the day: Be home by dinner -
and we were, and they didn't worry about pedophiles or abductors, and we
were fine students and grew into responsible adults.  So whay happened?  How
did the change in parenting style come upon us?  If the world really isn't
any more dangerous for our kids today, then why do so many of us behave as
if it is?
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #2 of 295: Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 2 Sep 08 08:05
    
Oh, and why do we listen to the AT&T commercials that tell us about how good
parents need cell phones for their kids so we can bring them their forgotten
lunch and homework? Since when is AT&T the parenting expert? (Okay, I heard
the commercial on the way home from taking the kids to school - that wasn't
one of my planned questions).
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #3 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Tue 2 Sep 08 08:26
    
Lisa, good questions all. While the book may summon up glorious images
of one's youth, it's really not about the past or returning to a past
that was allegedly better. I wrote it out of concern for the future,
and the focus is on the future. What happened? The world changed. The
economy was globalized. Today's adults know that their kids are
inheriting a world that is fast, fluid, very dynamic. Success is not
guaranteed. Maintaining the socioeconomic status of one's parents is
not preordained. Parents are worried for the future success of their
kids. So they try to smooth the path to achievement for them. For them,
getting into a brand-name college is the safest guarantee of success
in a very uncertain world. So they push their kids. They hover over
them and micromanage them. In all fairness, the schools have invited
them in to oversee their kids, to serve as hall monitors, as it were;
to oversee homework and other activities. This is a measure of how
badly matched today's schools are to children's needs and the evolving
needs of the world. The schools are failing and we have to drug our
kids with Ritalin to keep them in their seats. That's among the middle
and upper middle class parents who understand that a college education
today is a minimum requirement for entry into the marketplace. Kids of
lower SES just drop out in droves. We behave as if the world is more
dangerous because we are extremely anxious and our anxiety has to
fixate on something. We hallucinate hazards where few exist. Do kids
really need to carry santizing gels in their backpacks? Do parents
really need shopping cart liners? Are shopping carts major or even
minor vectors of human disease? And No, there are not more predators
today. As hysteria has excalated over the past 15 years, the number of
child victimizations has dramatically diminished. But the ones that
occur, well, we certainly hear about them more. And the milk carton on
the breakfast table, the one with the picture of the missing kid, has
an outsize impact on us. In general, our cuture has done a lousy job of
educating people about risk, and we are just wildly irrational on this
topic. This is definitely a phenomenon psychologists have observed for
a long time. The cellphone phenomenon has provided an amazing means
for parents to (over)monitor their kids.  AT&T and and other marketers
are superb at mining the new anxieties of parents—and ramping them up
in the process. It is very difficult to resist all these cultural
messages.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #4 of 295: Lisa Harris (lrph) Tue 2 Sep 08 13:47
    
Well, I just received a notice home from my kids' school telling me
about a parenting class that will "Discover factors that protect kids
from high-risk behaviors".  Which, of course, I want to do.  I want to
protect my children.  

What would be the best way for parents to feel like they're protecting
their children without creating a different problem.  And, let's
identify the age(s) we're talking about here.  I assume there are
different recommendations for different aged kids.  Mine are 7 and 10. 
They're pretty independent, but I'm not sending them out to the local
convenience store on their own, yet (bad traffic between here and
there).
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #5 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Tue 2 Sep 08 14:27
    
The best way for parents to protect their children and the best way
for parents to FEEL like they're protecting their kids may be two
different things. The single most important protection parents can
provide is a stable, loving adult-adult relationship. That is the
protective cocoon in which kids feel most secure and thrive. The second
most important thing parents can do to protect their kids for life is
to provide an early-life environment (researh suggests the first four
and a half years matter most) that is stable, loving, warm, sensitive,
secure, and cognitively stimulating. AND "NOT INTRUSIVE OR
OVERCONTROLLING" (in the very words of the researchers themselves).
What happens early has a lasting impact. Seven-year-olds can be taught
how to cross streets. They can, at first, be asked to cross the street
alone while a parent watches from either the far or near corner. And
then the child can be allowed to cross on his/her own. Yes,
seven-year-olds and 10-year-olds should be allowed different
responsibilitties and privileges, because a parent has to let out the
leash gradually. We must remember that the goal of childrearing is to
produce an independent, autonomous adult. That doesn't happen
overnight, and you can't expect it to happen overnight. Gradually, the
leash has to be lengthened, and there is no single one-size-fits-all
prescription. It depends on the child and his/her readiness. In the
current parenting climate we inhabit, there is a horrible judgmentalism
about parenting practices that seems to be keeping parents in line,
and many parents are made to feel downright negligent if they are not
overprotecting their kids. It takes some time and a lot of guts to
think things through for oneself and one's kids. 
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #6 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Tue 2 Sep 08 20:56
    
I should clarify that the judgment is being passed on parents by other
parents. There is so much mean-spiritedness afloat in the parenting
world today. It's not clear where it's coming from. Is this what
feminism has devolved to? Let's face it, our society provides zero
support for parents. So every mother faces an agonizing decision over
whether to work or not and how to arrange childcare. She factors in all
the particulars of her own situation. We now have a bumper crop of
highly educated mothers. But it's as if they have to work overtime to
defend their own decision, and they're hostile to anyone else's set of
choices, and all they're doing is sitting in judgment of other mothers'
decisions...about everything. What a waste of energy! I didn't really
see this in action until after the book was written, so I don't discuss
it in the book. But it definitely operates to reinforce overprotection
and overinvolvement as the new norm of parenting.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #7 of 295: Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 3 Sep 08 07:45
    
I am interested in the depression factor.  I found what you say about
endorphines release to be fascinating.  In short, as I understand it,
endorphines are released before attaining one's goal.  Can you tell us about
the studies that determined this and how it effects depression in children?
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #8 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Wed 3 Sep 08 11:01
    
What I'm taking about isn't about endorphin release. There is much
more to positive emotions than endorphins. The circuitry of the brain,
specifically in the prefrontal cortex, is believed to regulate the
balance of positive and negative emotions. Emotion regulation happens
in the prefrontal cortex, which, among many other inputs, is fed by raw
emotions, largely of a strong negative nature (think of fear) coming
from the amygdala and other parts of the brain's so-called limbic
(emotional) system. Adult or child, when we are working towards a goal
and meeting a challenge, the prefrontal cortex is suppressing negative
input from the limbic system at the same time that it is in its most
eager state, eagerness being the highly positive emotion that gets
turned on as we approach a goal. It's as if the faucet of negativity is
turned off and the faucet of posistivity is turned on full blast.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #9 of 295: Dana Reeves (dana) Wed 3 Sep 08 11:25
    
(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them
 added to the conversation by emailing <inkwell@well.com> -- please
 put the author's name in the subject line. Thank you!)
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #10 of 295: Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 3 Sep 08 18:12
    
And depression occurs when that doesn't happen?
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #11 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Wed 3 Sep 08 18:38
    
There are many reasons depression can happen. The amygdala can be
overreactive because the body is too sensitive to stress (often because
of conditioning by some very negative early experience, like neglect
or abuse). 

But yes, the brain is never in such a positive state as when it is
reaching towards a goal; it doesn't admit depression. So here you are,
suffused with eagerness, reaching towards a goal, stretching your
abilities, and you see that it is within reach. You also gain the
satisfaction of accomplishment and a sense of mastery. And the entire
experience results in an enduring sense of satisfaction. This is real
happiness, real well-being, not the hollow kind that comes from having
or getting things, like getting a new iPod. The neural circuitry of
emotions is in a positive state, not the negative state that is often
experienced as depression.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #12 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Wed 3 Sep 08 18:43
    
Need I add that this is why it's important for our children to have
challenges? To not have things done for them, to not have paths cleared
for them. It's also why we adults need challenges of interesting
goals. But the issue is children, because they (at least those in the
middle and upper middle class, whose parents want them to get into some
name-brand college) are the ones who are at risk of having all the
challenges in their path cleared for them by their anxious parents.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #13 of 295: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 3 Sep 08 20:13
    
Some of the anecdotes in your book knocked my socks off -- parents
calling college professors and/or administrators to argue about grades
or homework, parents accompanying their young adult kids to job
interviews???  That's just beyond over the top. We all know helicopter
parents at our kid's schools who hover over their kid clearing their
path adn trying to make their kids life stress free all the way into
their teens, but I was just on the verge of incredulity reading some of
the case studies. While I'm sure all the examples happen how prevalent
is some of the more extreme behavior?
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #14 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Wed 3 Sep 08 21:25
    
Parents calling professors? That's an everyday phenomenon. The really
entitled ones don't bother with the professor; they just call the dean,
or the college president. At 2 a.m. You may think it's over the top
and I may think it's over the top, but this is everyday stuff. 

Parents going on job interviews with their kid? What about calling to
negotiate the kid's salary after s/he is hired? Parents going to job
fairs at college to gather all the info so their precious son or
daughter can sleep through it? Commonplace. I can't put a number on
this, but this is the kind of stuff being seen everywhere. I had a
conversation with Adrienne Martini, a professor in the State University
of New York system. One of her students recently cornered her after
class. "Professor Martini," the student said, "Can you move the test on
Wednesday?" "No," she said. "Then can you talk to my mom," the student
said, holding his cell phone out. "She thinks that I have too much to
study for on Wednesday and need to have something moved."

Hold onto your hat. Some of the best anecdotes aren't even in the
book. I've heard so many more since it was written. I'll give a talk at
a bookstore or in some school or community and someone always pulls me
aside and tells me something that happened in their kid's class. It
goes like that.

I think this one is pretty hard to beat. Early this year (and a few
times since) I went out to L.A. to visit my younger son and daughter in
law and their new baby. Friends of theirs, a pre-child-bearing couple,
came over. And they related this experience. A cousin of the wife had
just spent some time visiting them in L.A. from the Midwest with her
husband and toddler daughter. When the visitors first arrived at LAX
they jumped into a cab and headed for their hotel. But they asked the
cab driver to make a stop first at the nearest Home Depot. There, they
ran in and came out with...a roll of bubble wrap. And they proceeded to
their hotel where they completely lined their room with bubble wrap.

You couldn't make this stuff up if you wanted to. 

I'm a member of an Advisory Board of a project working hard to revamp
some aspects of higher education. We can't hold a meeting without
members first sharing their latest roll-the-eyeballs story of parental
intrusiveness. Just when you think you've heard it all, it goes beyond.
These are professionals in the trenches...deans and provosts and other
administrators. And they still have the capacity to be shocked at the
parental intrusions. As parental overinvolvement becomes the norm of
parenting, the invasiveness of parents simply keeps evolving.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #15 of 295: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Wed 3 Sep 08 21:35
    

> Parents going on job interviews with their kid? 

At times in my career I was a hiring manager. If a parent had shown up at
an interview, it would have meant the end of the interview then and
there. I guess I'm old fashioned.

And what can I say about the much worse other incidents you relate except
good grief. How do people who have to put up with such things stand it?
It would take a miracle for me to not read the riot act to some of those
parents.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #16 of 295: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Wed 3 Sep 08 22:01
    
Good Lord! Bubble wrap!! If I keep reading this topic I may soon own
no pairs of socks at all!!  What do some of these parents think they
are doing for their hyper entitled kids beyond paralyzing them and
delaying their passage into adulthood? But then, perhaps that's the
point, ya think?
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #17 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Wed 3 Sep 08 22:33
    
I think that everyone on the receiving end of these experiences—the
administrators, the professors, even the job interviewers—is to some
degree in shell shock. All this has come about very recently, much of
it enabled by the cellphone. 

I am now being asked to speak to teachers all over the country, who
feel totally powerless in the face of this invasion by parents. I think
it's happened so quickly everyone was caught off guard and those in
charge haven't stopped to think how to handle this without just
blurting out the obvious...back off! No one has been trained to deal
with this. I try to help teachers find ways to deal with it effectively
and to set some boundaries for parental involvement in their
classrooms. 

It would be nice if parental interest and involvement extended to ALL
kids. But it extends only to their own kid.

High school guidance counselors all over the country tell me that
their biggest problem is overinvolved parents. But their second biggest
problem is underinvolved parents...and those parents tend to be the
poorer parents. And their kids aren't doing so well. There are kids who
really do need some help. But all the middle and upper class kids get
way too much for their own good.

Yes, it does delay the passage to adulthood. And many parents are very
happy about that. They want their kids around. It makes t hem feel
young. I coined a term for that: Permaparenting. 
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #18 of 295: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 4 Sep 08 03:35
    
Last night, in her speech accepting the Republican nomination for vice
president, Gov. Sarah Palin said the only difference between a hockey
mom and a pitbull is "lipstick." 

Which is exactly the kind of hockey mom that makes hockey coaches go
crazy. (I wonder of the vice presidential candidate has bubble-wrapped
any hotel rooms lately -- pregnant daughter, Down syndrome baby, you
know.)

But I mention this here to suggest that Palin's speech and the context
in which she gave it shows that over-protective, over-bearing moms, at
least, comprise a kind of morally heroic, not just diligent adult,
behavior for at least some segments of the American population.  
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #19 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 05:06
    
Oh yes, they claim the moral high ground. Protection...it's a good
thing, right? If a little is good, how could more be bad? And they make
other mothers feel downright negligent if they are not meeting their
high standards of vigilance and overprotection. There is a huge amount
of judgmentalism that parents express of other parents today. So you
basically  have the parenting police. I've seen it at work on parenting
websites. I've seen it in person. 

A friend had this experience: She went to the park with her 3-yo
daughter, who had something of a meltdown. The mother sat on a park
bench and was talking to her child. The daughter looked away. The
mother put her hand on her daughter's chin and guided her attention
back to the conversation. "You look at Mommy when we're talking," the
mother said. A couple of seconds later, she felt a tap on her shoulder.
Another mother was suddenly standing over her and said, angrily: "I
saw what you did. If you lay another hand on that child I'm calling the
police." My friend said, "Oh please do, I'd be happy to explain my
childrearing philosophy."
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #20 of 295: put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Thu 4 Sep 08 05:37
    
 #18   I'm a hockey dad, married to a hockey mom. Our coach and
overall hockey program had us sign an agreement that we wouldn't yell
at the coaches, kids or refs. That we would leave the coaching to the
coaches and endeavor to be positive only to our kids (avoiding "the
long drive home" lecture after a loss or less then perfectly played
games). We actually had a coaches/parents meeting to talk about keeping
the game for the kids only and for fun. It was amazingly refreshing
and well received as we've all seen those pitbull hockey moms and dads
(and soccer and baseball and basketball for that matter).
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #21 of 295: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 4 Sep 08 05:39
    
Boy I can't relate to parents calling professors.  When I went away to
college I didn't even have a phone in my room (and no, I'm not *that*
old).  I talked to my parents via a collect call a couple of times a
semester.  It would not have even occurred to them to talk to my
professors -- they wouldn't have even known who my professors were.

My daughter's going to college in a few years.  I do not intend to
call her professors.  I do occasionally talk to her junior high school
teachers, basically to tell them we want them to kick her butt if she
doesn't do her work.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #22 of 295: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 4 Sep 08 05:56
    
#19: there's a lot of things I would do but don't not because I think
it's unsafe for my daughter but because I'd be concerned about what
some busybody thinks -- letting her play on the playground of the
school next door, wait in the car reading while I'm in the store, etc.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #23 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 06:34
    
There  have always been busybodies. But the judgmentalism of other
moms has ramped up recently and it enforces overparenting. It takes an
enormous amount of courage in this climate to ignore these parents and
make the decision about what's best for you and for your child. I have
seen some mean mean stuff go around these parenting websites and online
"communities." It breeds conformity to this new standard of
overparenting.

To #21, yes, this wasn't the norm when you were in college. The new
technologies have contributed an enormous amount to this phenomenon of
overparenting, virtually enabling it and spreading it at the speed of
light. That's why I say it's happened too rapidly for most
organizations (schools) to establish a reasonable policy. 

I have found that, from the University of Notre Dame to local high
schools, it's the coaches who have been able to handle this best. Or
they noticed it first and noticed how it interferes with player
motivation. They have a most effective weapon. They can tell a team:
"If I get a call from any of your parents, you will be benched from the
next game." This tends to put an end to calls to the coach. But it
doesn't stop parents from exercising their performance demands on their
kids.
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #24 of 295: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 4 Sep 08 07:09
    
"But the judgmentalism of other moms..."

Is it usually or most often moms -- or always moms? (Perhaps too
simply or stereotypically, I imagine the pitbull parent of elementary
and high school kids to be the mom and the pitbull parent who calls the
college dean to be the dad.)  
  
inkwell.vue.335 : Hara Estroff Marano, A Nation of Wimps
permalink #25 of 295: Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Thu 4 Sep 08 08:36
    
You bring up a good point. It's the dads who do a lot of the calling
to the coaches, by and large. And it tends to gender-split like this.
The dads of the boys call the coaches. The dads and moms of the girls
call the coaches. Or overinterfere, or don't let go when they drop them
off at sports camp. This may turn out to be a big problem in the
training of kids in some sports for the next Olympics; this is not
hypothetical. I am just not in a position to say more on this just yet.

And yes, it is often the dads who call the deans and college
presidents. But not exclusively. And as one of my sources says, a VP at
a major research university on the east coast, "they're all lawyers."
The point is, these parents understand the system and are not
intimidted to challenge it. 

As for the judgmentalism, I'm sorry to say that it seems to involve
more moms than dads. There are many more SAHMs than SAHDs, and many of
them have more time on their hands than is probably healthy for their
children.  
  

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