put me in coach, I'm ready to play (watadoo) Fri 5 Sep 08 07:21
Teaching self reliance is key. Some parents of kids at my son's school are shocked, shocked that he rides his bike everyday to school for a whole half mile down a dirt road. Jeeze. when I was 12 going on 13 my mother would kick me out of the house on a summer's day and tell me to go ride my bike and be back by dark for dinner. The best thing I've done for my boy is send him to a 2 week sports camp in Canada last summer. He had to deal with his making his flight (TSA wouldn't let me go through security to the gate), getting through customs after landing, finding his own baggage and the representative from the camp who met him. He then had to live communally with 65 other boys in a dorm, get his own meals, take showers, feed himself and get his sh&$ together to make it onto the ice for 5 hours of session a day. He did it all didn't lose a thing, including his camera and passport. He thanked me for the fun time he had and mention that he thinks he's a stronger more capable person now. He's really proud of being self-reliant.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Fri 5 Sep 08 07:39
I devote a good portion of my book, and some of the earlier posts in this discussion, to pointing out what really makes people (kids are people, too) happy...which is meeting a challenge, which is the only possible means of growth. The sense of satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment, the sense of mastery all give kids a great foundation for becoming independent, which, of course, is the goal of childraising. A Nation of Wimps grew out of the observations and reporting I had done in 2002, breaking the story of Crisis on the Campus, discovering that once they left the protective cocoon of home for college and the emotional training wheels came off, America's kids were breking down psychologically in record numbers. Many suffering from depression, from anxiety including panic attacks, engaging in self-mutilation, and of course record numbers with eating disorders. It was exploration of this phenomenon that led me to discover how this generation is different from previous one, and what changed. Giving kids the experiences of getting to hockey camp on their own or riding their bikes on their own may invite the judgment of negligence from some parents. But it is an invaluable gift to kids. It strengthens them within. No one can ever take that away from them. And it is as good an inoculation against depression and anxiety as it gets.
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 5 Sep 08 09:24
I wonder how the next generation will parent after having suffered through overprotective parents themselves? Do you have any indications about what is starting to occur?
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Fri 5 Sep 08 10:03
This is a terrific question. I consider their behavior as parents and as citizens a great social experiment we're engaged in; the outcome is unknown just now, and unknowable just now. The leading edge of the generation that we're talking about is in their 20s. They're just beginning to move into the job market (sometimes bringing mom or dad along on those job interviews...it's astounding that a kid might ask mom or dad along; it's way beyond belief that a parent would even consider going, instead of coaching their kid on how to handle a job interview). They are some distance away from becoming parents. My fondest hope for them is that they stumble early...and, with or without professional help, learn they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get on with life, becoming a bit more resilient in the process. I've seen some of these kids as interns. You edit a piece of their copy and the next thing you find out is that they're in the bathroom crying their eyes out. They can't believe anything they do isn't perfect, and-this is really the scary part-they can't tolerate the possibility of imperfection. If that isn't fragility I don't know what is. They shatter so easily. We didn't see this in our interns a few years ago. This is something very new. No one loves to be edited but everyone needs to be edited. You give interns (actually, everyone) back their edited copy so they can see the improvements and understand what needed to be changed and why. You look at it and learn. Today's interns just look at it and shatter, unable to tolerate the idea that they everything they do might not be perfect. Will they absorb the lessons so that they can go on to become great journalists? Too soon to tell.
Mr. Death is coming after you, too (divinea) Fri 5 Sep 08 11:09
Hara, thank you SO MUCH for writing this book. I'm enjoying it very much. I have noticed, especially over the past few years, that these cotton-wrapped children have one of two approaches to adults in leadership positions (in my case, a Girl Scout troop): they either treat you like staff, and tell you what you should be doing for them, or they just ignore you and your stupid RULES. I wonder how helicopter parents contribute to these attitudinal problems- especially in an affluent community like the one where I live. The other observation that I've made, over several years of leadership, is that the kids who are waited on and micromanaged are completely unable to occupy themselves unless you make pointed suggestions for things that they might do; what is even more interesting to me is that the *parents* can't bear a minute of unstructured time. If the girls are left to amuse themselves for a few minutes, the parents don't appear to trust that they can do anything "worthwhile" under their own steam, and they will intervene, even in the middle of someone else's program. Do you have any insights to offer on this?
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Fri 5 Sep 08 12:11
I'm glad to hear that you are liking the book. Thank YOU. Oh yes, the tendency to tell YOU what you should be doing for them. Funny you mention that. I almost added a paragraph about that to my previous post, because that is exactly what i experienced with the last intern who was shattered by being edited. One of the unfortunate byproducts of being micromanaged is that the passivity sticks to the soul. Such kids do not...can not, as it's never been part of their experience... take an active approach to figuring out what to do, even when they complain of being bored. The parents have successfully communicated that these kids cant do anythng on t heir own. That message gets internalized. But these kids are not inherently defective, there's no geneetic difference from kids of previous generations. I think that if they are left to flounder for a while, they will, on their own, figure out something to do. Trust is a whole big issue. It's what's missing. Parents don't trust the natural course of development. They don't trust their kids. They don't trust the institutions that serve them. And they don't trust anyone else.This is one reason why I worry about the future. Trust is the bedrock of civil society.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Fri 5 Sep 08 18:01
One of the big culture-shock things for me as a parent has been the widespread use of portable TV sets and video games in cars. Parents seem to have this urge to keep their kids quiet by plugging them in to a screen, any screen. We went on a lot of long car trips when I was a kid, and I take my kid on car trips. We bring books and games and sometimes an audiobook or MP3 player, but we always seem to run out of batteries in the first couple hours and we never even *remember* to bring the GameBoy. I've wondered why parents seem to think that their kids can't be alone with thier thoughts for a few hours - and what you're describing seems like the inevitable consequence. But there's a flipside, too. I received a notice this week about this new book: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/publications/2008/Born_Digital Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, and these are the same kids - the ones IM'ing and twittering and constantly on the cell phone, spreading their identities out across the digital space. Always plugged in. I'm part of the bridge generation, as are a great many folks on the WELL - people born before the transistor who have been using these technologies since their infancy. I'll be old by the time that these children come to power, and it's too soon to tell whether they're going to grow up into something new and interesting, or whether they're *going* to grow up. Asking about parents though - I can bet one thing: *their* kids will do it differently. Maybe they'll re-discover concentration and contemplation!
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Fri 5 Sep 08 19:01
I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with the new technologies. I don't think they're the end of civilization as we know it. The problem is the way we use them. Many of the gadgets are new and captivating and they're marketed powerfully and as a culture we've flipped for them...and it's thrown a lot things out of balance. Yes, I've noticed that parents are often quite happy to have their kids entertained by electronic stuff because it keeps them off the streets, out of what they perceive to be harm's way. I'm not sure they realize the cost of passive entertainment vs active pursuits. Contemplation requires being comfortable with oneself. One problem of the overprotected, overmanaged, boundary-invaded kids is they don't HAVE a sense of self, they have no core identity. They haven't had the kids of experiences that build iden3tity. They haven't had the opportuniity to do anything for themself, to figure out what that self is. You can't develop one unless you've rubbed some rough edges in life and explored and developed your own idiosyncratic ways of coping.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sat 6 Sep 08 03:23
>>> Many of the gadgets are new and captivating and they're marketed powerfully and as a culture we've flipped for them...<<< Hara, why do you think we've flipped for them? What I mean is, how is it that as a culture we got to a place where video and computer games are more captivating and interesting to kids (and are used as child pacifiers by adults) than exploring the woods or fishing in the creek or hiking the nearby hill? I share <betsys>'s mystification at the use of video and video games inside cars, too. Every summer when I was a kid our family drove from California to the Midwest to visit relatives. My sister and I had a few comic books and car games to keep us occupied, but mostly there was the landscape passing by to watch and daydream about -- all those spines of mountains in Nevada, the immensity of Wyoming, the smell of wheat and corn in Nebraska and the red farm silos of Iowa. If you had asked me back then I'd have told you I hated those driving trips, but they very much informed who I grew into as an adult and now I can't imagine my life without the love for landscape that those trips gave.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sat 6 Sep 08 05:05
Something else occurs to me. My childhood in the '50s and '60s, which allowed me the freedom to explore my neighborhood and town with my pals (and to gain, from those explorations, confidence and independence) and which was similar to the childhoods of millions of other American kids in those years, was the result not so much of different values but of prosperity. A family in the 1960s could maintain a middle-class life on one income. Mothers, as a general rule, stayed home, which provided kids with the security and back-up safety they needed to roam. But as Hara has mentioned here a few times, that U.S. economy is a historical artifact; it has been replaced by a new, fluid, much less secure, almost frontier-like global economy. It's equally fascinating and disturbing how economic changes influence the way we raise our children.
R's dad (aslan) Sat 6 Sep 08 05:34
Wow, just caught up on everything said so far. Hard to keep up with a bunch of WELL writers on fire. I have personally struggled with my own underlying inclination to know every detail of what my (now 8-year-old) daughter is doing at all times, and to solve every problem she might have. I have made a conscious decision since her infancy to let her solve as many of her own challenges as possible, whether it involve climbing trees in the park or dealing with other people at school. That is not to say that I never step in; just that if I DIDN'T make that conscious effort I know my tendency to take over would rear its ugly head. That said, I was raised with a huge amount of freedom to explore the world, and I give her as much of that freedom as she is ready to accept. This means that I DO deal with busybodies telling me she is way too young to go to the corner store on her own (I started at least a year younger than she did, and I had to cross a busy street to do it.) On the other hand, there are some things I don't let her do (e.g. stay in the car with the windows down on a not-too-hot day), not because I have any fears of abductors, but because someone probably will call the police. I would give her more unstructured time if there was someone she could share that time with. In the summer, there is -- she can go to the park and more often than not find a friend to play with. Some summer days she will be out for 6 or 8 hours straight, and then show up with a friend asking for supper. But during the school year, everything has to be arranged in advance or there is nobody there. And while freedom to explore is one thing, it isn't much fun doing it all by yourself -- at least not for her.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Sat 6 Sep 08 07:18
Let us try to avoid using our own childhoods as the benchmarks of what is good, true and beautiful. Our children live in a different world, and they are moving forward. The technology and its uses are vastly different today, for good and for ill. And I think our cultural infatuation with it all(the hype that attends the release of a new iPhone is just amazing) has blinded us to where it belongs best. I agree, not in the back seat of the car. But really, that's no different from having the screen on the seat in the airplane. I think we now need to start making some rules about where these things belong, and frankly, families are free to set their own values and make their own rules. I know people...perfectly good people, not Luddites and not nuts...who don't own a TV set. I know college professors who have banned cellphones and laptops in their classrooms...and guess what? It turns out everyone likes it better and everyone pays more attention. Hey, #61, I really share your pain. You would give your daughter more unstructured time if there were someone she could share it with. Yes, yes, and yes. This is the great tragedy; there are some changes parents can make on their own (resist buying a cellphone with GPS technology that allows you to track your kid's movements; instead develop a bond of trust with your kid). You can't create playmates. But what you can do, and I really think this is important, you can try to talk to some parents who might be like-minded on these issues. And agree to let the kids play together without constant monitoring. Now this is kind of a bastard solution, because it might involve some planning, but once the kids are together, they're on their own. It isn't just the economy that has changed. Something deep in the social fabric has ruptured, and I worry about this more. Trust. There are so many aspects to what is going on, and part of it is that parents not only overmonitor their own kids, they distrust others to do the job as well as they do. So you have the absurdity of 14 parents accompanying 11 kids to one grassy bus stop that is right in front of the kitchen window of another parent. You don't trust your neighbor to look after your precious one and meet all his/her needs the way you would. I think a big part of it is that parents are terrified that little Johnnie might be unhappy for a second or two. They desperately don't want their kids to be unhappy, even though they have a mistaken view of what happiness is and how you get it.
David Albert (aslan) Sat 6 Sep 08 07:43
<scribbled by aslan Sat 6 Sep 08 07:43>
David Albert (aslan) Sat 6 Sep 08 07:44
(Correcting some phrasing). It's true: I DON'T want my kid to be unhappy. I actually do trust just about every other parent in the neighborhood to look out for my kid. But what I don't want to do is impose, and in this day and age there is no such expectation. Therefore, it becomes an imposition if I leave my kid at the bus stop "unattended", that is, unattended by me -- whether I explicitly ask others to look out for her or not.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sat 6 Sep 08 07:47
It's funny, one of the reasons I'm working so hard to give my daughter freedom is that in my own childhood, I was *not* trusted or trustworthy, and I managed to carve out a very great deal of unsupervised time for myself and go a lot of places under the radar (and my parents *were* paying attention). I survived because of a mixture of good luck and a fair bit of common sense, even as a teenager. This has made me very very aware that I won't necessarily be able to protect my own kid by controlling where she goes or who she is with. If she's going to be safe she *must* have those safeguards on the *inside*, her own common sense and safety instincts. For similar reasons, I don't do things like filter her internet or screen her email. (also, as an internet professional, I know too well how ineffective external filters are.) If I want to keep her safe, my best bet is to have *her* recognize a dangerous situation. That's yet *another* problem with overprotecting children: if we try to keep them away from ALL dangers, how do they learn what's truly dangerous and what's only a small risk? I keep ranting about the Say No To Drugs/Great Body curriculum. My kid came home in first grade with a poster that said "don't put drugs into your Great Body" and showed a picture of three drugs: a cigarette, a joint, and a wine cooler. She looks in our refrigerator, sees the six-pack that's moldering in the back, and goes "MOM! WHY ARE THERE DRUGS IN HERE!". I don't want my child to take any illegal drugs, and I have told her so at length, but I want her to know that there are differences between a wine cooler and heroin and "huffing" (which kills a lot of young kids dead). I know damn well she will be exposed to drugs and alcohol and I want *her* armed with the information to make intelligent choices. (For example: a few beers won't kill you by themselves, but drinking beer can destroy your judgment so you can't recognize a really dumb idea that *could*. Being alone with out of control drinkers could hurt you badly. Getting into a car with a driver who had a beer could kill you dead. Oh, and you can call me any time day or night and I will come get you and your friends from anywhere and I promise not to say a word until the next morning) (http://www.snopes.com/toxins/dustoff.asp ) (<aslan> "slipped")
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Sat 6 Sep 08 08:07
David, i wasn't so much thinking of leaving your kid unattended at the bus stop (but what's so wrong with leaving a bunch of kids unattended?) as having the neighbor who passes your house anyway with his kid also pick up your kid, so you don't need the 14 parents standing there with 11 kids. My experience squares with Betsy's. My kids had the explicit instructions that they could call at any hour day or night if they needed to; there's something about that backup support, the knowledge of it, the security it imparts, that helps kids with their decisions. I wasn't raised that way. If I called my father at 3 a.m., we couldn't deal with an issue until the screaming died down; that was a great disincentive not to call. Not only can't we keep our kids from all dangers...why on earth should we? Sooner or later they're going to face them. I'd rather have my kids face them when I can be reached at 3 a.m. for backup support than when they're older. I'd rather my kids face some dangers, learn how to cope, and get some confidence in their ability to manage themselves; this is true preparation for their future. Anything else handicaps them for their own future.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Sat 6 Sep 08 11:05
David I think you make a really good point about worrying about our kids. That's what parents do. And I too battle myself as to how much to watch them so I can protect them vs. how much I need to let them go and figure it for themselves. Right now my children are at the park. I left them there with water bottles and money for snacks at the vending machine and the directions home (okay, they knew how to get home without my directions). I am nervous because it's the first time they're doing this. But I trust that they know what they're doing. I think the trust issue, as Hara writes, is the key to all of this. Trust them, but also trust that I've taught them well enough to handle things. Hara writes about parents thinking their kids just aren't capable of being independent and thinking on their own and doing things for themselves. I just don't believe that about my kids. I KNOW they are capable. It's not them that worries me, ever, with regards to giving them independence. For me it's a coupling of my own fears of the world and my own fears of how other parents may view me and my children when I'm not there to protect them. The amazing thing is, when I leave my children at a friend's house or send them into a store on their own, the feedback I get from the adults they encounter is always positive. I hear how polite my children are. I hear how they wait their turn and speak respectfully. I hear how they knew to ask for help or directions, when needed. That feedback is what I repeat to myself now as I wait for them to come home from the park. It helps ease my worries.
descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Sat 6 Sep 08 11:35
> Something deep in the social fabric has ruptured, I think you've identified a core point with that statement. We're in an era of unprecedented change and that is profoundly unsettling. We're living in Toffler's "Future Shock" world where profound change is the norm. As an optimist, I would say that we're undergoing the death of an old and the birth of a new social fabric. But that process is as traumatic socially as the human birth process is individually if not more so.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Sat 6 Sep 08 12:10
(the kids are home. they had fun. no biggie, mom)
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Sat 6 Sep 08 12:12
Today's parents didn't invent anxiety. I think anxiety has been an inevitable part of parenting from the beginning. But it's what you do with that anxiety. There's Lisa, holding her breath a bit, because her kids are at the park for the first time on their own. Now that's admirable...that the kids are there on their own AND that Lisa is finding a way to manage her own anxieties WITHOUT CONTAMINATING THE KIDS WITH HER FEELINGS and paralyzing them with her fears. We're all responsible for managing our own emotions. That's what adulthood is. she has educated her kids about how to handle things...and then let go a bit. a bit. she hasn't gone off for the weekend and left the kids to fend for themselves. she's let out the leash a tiny bit, based on the kids' ability to handle themselves...and handle themselves with aplomb, no less, according to the feedback she gets. I think we parents always battle with our own anxieties. And that's not a bad dialogue to have with ourselves. By that self-talk we can keep our fears to ourselves, where they should be on these issues. Where I think many parents are mistaken is in putting their own emotional needs ahead of their kids' developmental needs. There's always going to be parental anxiety; our obligation is to find a way to manage it. So Lisa gets the gold star of the day. After all, the goal of raising kids is to produce an independent, autonomous adult. Kids have a developmental needs for incremental doses of independence, just as they have a need for incrementally challenging math problems or books. none of us started out reading War and Peace in kindergarten. it is extremely unwise, not to mention incredibly selfish, to let our fears restrict their development.
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Sat 6 Sep 08 12:13
Yay, Lisa. I'm cheering for you. And your kids.
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sat 6 Sep 08 15:25
Fascinating that you cast over-protectiveness as "selfish" when the parents would say that they're doing everything for their kids, but I think you are dead-on right.
Lisa Harris (lrph) Sat 6 Sep 08 15:49
Thank you. I'm cheering for my kids, too. It's no different for parents than it is for kids: until we live through the pain we don't know we can handle it. Hara, do you think the fear of empty nest syndrome fuels some helicopter parents?
Hara Estroff Marano (haramarano) Sat 6 Sep 08 16:27
Betsy, it's selfish to let one's own anxieties, and especially the ones that don't even get examined as to how reality-based they are, take precedence in childrearing over the needs of children to take the next developmental step towards independence. This is one big element that is crippling kids from within, making them psychologically fragile, or as i say, wimps. Lisa, fear of the empty nest plays a big role in retarding independence of older kids. huge role. this is where parents don't want their kids fledging for at least two reasons: they enjoy the companionship of their kids, and their kids moving on remind them too much that they themselves are aging. the parents themselves want to delay the next stage of their lives. often enough, it turns out, it's because the marital bond is defunct or really missing in action. remember, these families have been child-centered for years. both mom and dad have taken much of their emotional joy and social meaning from the achievements of the kids. very often, it seems like a daunting or even impossible or possibly dangerous task to examine the marriage and see how to re-energize it. lots of marriages fall apart now when the kids leave, because the adults haven't paid much attention to each other, only to the kids. I remember clearly when my younger son went off to college. wow, the house was suddenly quiet. but even before that, i could feel myself approaching the departure with a little dread, and i analyzed the situation and realized that my husband and i had to move closer to each other. and we did. but it takes planning. we hadn't really grown apart, and we had always had summers when the kids were away to remember our own relationship and to become a couple again. it always took a few days, but we always did it. some marriages have much, much more to repair. the adults have to reacquaint themselves with each other, update themselves on each other. and sometimes one or the other doesn't want to make the effort. or one of them found someone on the outside to give them the attention they weren't getting at home.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Sat 6 Sep 08 16:31
In terms of being over-protective, how much of a role do you think the media plays? My contention is that there were all kinds of bad people doing bad things to kids back in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, but only in the last couple of decades have these stories gone national.
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