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!
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?
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).
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 parentsand ramping them up in the process. It is very difficult to resist all these cultural messages.
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
Dana Reeves (dana) Wed 3 Sep 08 11:25
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Lisa Harris (lrph) Wed 3 Sep 08 18:12
And depression occurs when that doesn't happen?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Wed 3 Sep 08 22:33
I think that everyone on the receiving end of these experiencesthe administrators, the professors, even the job interviewersis 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.
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.
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."
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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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