Category Archives: Parenting

Screen Time
From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik

“Think” – Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

I sometimes joke that in a few millennia humans will have evolved into stooped beasts able only to look down at whatever glowing device they hold in one hand. But, how naïve; of course, Apple will trump Darwin and implants will preserve our posture. What though of our ability to distinguish between virtual reality and…well, reality? What of our ability to pay attention to one another and to the world around us?

Alarmist hyperbole? Walk into any restaurant, any sporting event, any school, any place at all where people are gathered, and look around. How many people do you see looking at a screen—or two? How often do you see a family of four eating together when each of them is looking at a phone? How often do you see people sitting next to one another, each on a device and never exchanging a word or a look? Exactly.

This is old news by now, so old that we barely remember the quaint days of yore when we scoffed at people bellowing pressing news into their cellphones: “I’m in the vegetable aisle at the market. Where are you?” As we’ve become increasingly inured to the beeping, pinging, quacking, barking, and ringing that intrude on our lives, we veer from grudging acknowledgement of a problem to celebrating the cleverness of the marketing geniuses who sell us so much of what we so rarely need. What we don’t do is address the problem for what it is: an addiction.

More alarmist hyperbole? Ok. How often do you check your email, texts, and social media? How often without justifying it, without thinking that you might better spend your time in other ways? Do you dare to calculate the number of hours in a day, week, or year that you spend on your devices, “connecting” with other people or, more accurately, their avatars? What is the first thing you do in the morning and the last before you go to sleep? Can you cut back? Can you stop? No, you can’t, but, really, so what? How harmful is this so-called addiction?

We’re beginning to find out, to go beyond the anecdotal and actually find out. Two recent studies provide some answers: We risk brain function; we risk our ability to engage with other people; we risk the ability to pay attention to one thing for very long. We risk our cognitive ability; our emotional equilibrium, and we risk depression. We risk altering or destroying relationships with the people we love because we don’t pay attention them. We risk friendships and, yes, we risk that vague notion of “happiness.”

Have a look at some specific findings.

“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”

“Your Smartphone Reduces Your Brainpower, Even If It’s Just Sitting There”

When I showed these articles to a friend of mine, she asked me how I thought parents might best talk to their children about the problem. I think a better question is how adults and children can talk with each other about it. Two parents wielding cellphones and warning children about the dangers of too much screen time is akin to two parents wielding martinis and warning children about drinking. Besides, it is axiomatic that children have robust powers of observation. Even very young children miss little that occurs in their families; adolescents miss next to nothing. We adults aren’t fooling anyone. If it’s true that young people stand to lose the most from “screen addiction,” it’s also true that adult addiction can have an equally profound impact.

So, how do we talk with our children about all of this? We can save time and avoid the, “When I was your age” trope; and we can skip the Luddite vs. techno-savvy argument because we share the same addiction. Given those time-savers, we might consider discussing what’s important in our lives, what’s wonderful about what we share as families, what’s cool and useful about our devices and what isn’t, about what we gain and what we risk losing. Certainly, we might share some persuasive evidence, like that noted in the articles above, but hold the pontificating. This is one of those times when we are enmeshed in the same fast-moving phenomenon and we are no less vulnerable than our children. That’s an advantage, as it turns out, because it allows us to begin a collaborative conversation

And, perhaps vulnerable is a good word to consider. We are, demonstrably, every bit as vulnerable as our children and it’s good for them to see that vulnerability, to understand that this is not about “responsibility” or taking out the trash. We have no other motive than to help one another to live in the world—the real one, the off-screen world, the world of our friends and loved ones. Those are the people with whom we need to connect.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “The Truth About Success” and other articles.

The Limits of Parental Indulgence

"Sergio's Finish" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“I feel terrible about not being able to buy my kids what their friends have. But I can’t afford to buy them new ipods and shoes right now.”

Your value as a parent lies in what you communicate to your children and the values that you convey, not in what you purchase for them. You are not doing your kids any favors by buying them everything that they want or that their friends have. You are doing them a favor by not doing so and explaining to them why not.

Even when parents can afford things, they are giving more to their kids by NOT teaching them to feel entitled to have everything they want. Learning delayed gratification and planning for the future are valuable gifts that will go a long way in encouraging capability and independence.

Simply say,

“Right now we need to save money for the mortgage, emergencies, retirement, and your college.”

Or

“It’s important to have money put away to ensure that we will survive another potential downturn. Twenty dollars here, a hundred dollars there, add up surprisingly fast.”

It’s all in your attitude that says they’ll be fine without the new merchandise. If you don’t show anxiety about their wanting things or about their being “without,” then they will learn to live more comfortably with desiring things and not having them right away.

You can also suggest to them that they can save up for what they want themselves. If children learn both to wait and to work for what they want, they will end up appreciating the items more, or they will lose interest in acquiring them all together.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Feeling rejected by your teenager?
“I was upset at my teenage daughter for not travelling with me to visit family, preferring to catch the bus two days later so she could catch up with her friends.”

Detail from “Sultry Adele” by Mimi Stuart ©

It is normal for a teenager to want to spend more time with friends and less time with family. It may be painful and aggravating as a parent, but you should not take it personally.

It is important to balance your desire for control and closeness with your teen’s desire for autonomy and growth. Too much control and manipulation will cause the child to rebel and resent you and become secretive. Allow your teen to make decisions and grow, while you maintain reasonable boundaries and expectations. As long as teenagers are accountable for their actions and responsible for contributing to the family by doing some chores and spending some time with the family, it is best to allow them to develop increased independence as they grow.

When situations arise in the future where your daughter wants to spend her time with friends instead of with you and the family, try to be understanding, remain self-composed and by all means, avoid acting hurt. Be relaxed and self-assured and say something like the following:

“I understand and am happy that you want to spend time with your friends. But we love seeing you too. Why don’t you pick a night this weekend to have a family dinner with us / a day to join me to visit your grandparents.” Or

“I know you’d really like to see your friends this weekend. But it’s important for me and our family that we have some family time together. Let’s figure out what day would work best for everyone.”

When children grow to be teenagers, then young adults, and finally independent adults, the parent will suffer an unavoidable loss. However, to avoid raising a dependent, incapable grown child, you must embrace this loss. Look at the positive side: you are likely to gain a capable and responsible family member whom you like and respect.

In the meantime, you may want to focus on your interests, friendships, and making your own life more fulfilling. After putting so many years into parenting, it takes time and effort to re-focus your life away from parenting. Once you push yourself to do it for a while, you will feel happier and more vital. Your teenager is likely to notice and respect you more for it too.

In summary, avoid pursuing too much closeness and control over your teenager. Maintain reasonable expectations and mutual respect while your teen is living under your roof. Be understanding, yet focus more on your own life and expand it in new directions.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed
Giving Up Parental Narcissism for Parental Maturity

"Lungta Windhorse" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Lungta Windhorse” by Mimi Stuart ©

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed writes:

Parents often seek their validation from the wrong source — their children. The pure unconditional love of an infant is so intoxicating that many parents want to experience that transcendental glow for as long as possible. Who wouldn’t want to be adored without any discernment or judgement? The tricky part is that in order to be a truly loving and effective parent one needs to learn to give up the idealization from their child in favor of setting boundaries, expectations, and healthy limits.

The love that can develop when a parent does not try to be mirrored by their child or best friend to their child, but instead be the parent the child needs, is a love that is built on respect, consistency, and inner wholeness.

All of us need to constantly work on this maturity because inside each of us is a child that just wants that unconditional love we may have once experienced in our parent’s eyes and did feel from the purity of our newborn’s love.

A child has a million chances to make friends but it is exceptional to have a sturdy, loving, and reliable parent.

What does it take to give up parental narcissism for parental maturity?

It requires us to recognize first and foremost that our child is not the right place to look for our adult emotional needs to be met. If we have a partner we need to work diligently on that relationship so that it is a source of meaningful connection and legitimate feedback. If we do not have a partner we need to invest in a robust network of friends.

Adults need to be the people we turn to help us get through the ups and downs of life. Adults are the people we need to rely on to give us accurate appraisals of our appeal and competence.

Children need us to be clear and not back down when we have set standards. We need to be the solid posts they can lean on or push against to know their own capacities and inner strengths. When children know where the limits are and can depend on them then they feel more relaxed and trusting. When we feel confident that we can adhere to our values and withstand the inevitable protestations of our children then we can be calm and secure in our parenting and our mature love of our children.

If this all sounds a little too dry or somber let me reassure you that children who are parented by mature adults are raised in some of the most raucous and happy households I have ever seen. Once the proper walls and foundations have been set and reinforced patiently and consistently — both parents and children find an incredible freedom and joy within those healthy boundaries. Genuine playfulness and affection are often an outgrowth of mutual respect and emotional solidity.

After all it is much harder to dance on a buckling and splintery floor. It is never too late for a parent to grow up and become the mature beacon your child needs and deserves.

Take the below quiz and see how you are doing in cultivating mature parenting (for parents of 8 year olds and up)

Score 1 – 5 (1 – Never, 2 – Rarely, 3 – Sometimes, 4 – Often, 5 – Always)

1- I give into my child’s demands to stay up later than they should

2- I let my child watch too much TV

3- I can’t stand it when my child is crying so I do everything I can to make it better

4- I allow my child to use bad language

5- I tell my child to be “good”

6- I allow my child to interrupt me and other adults

7- I am too tired to follow through on consequences I set for my child’s misbehaving

8- I would rather get along with my child than press an issue

9- I make all the meals for my child and clean up after them

10- I let my child monopolize the conversation and not really know anything about me

11- I let my child indulge in unhealthy comfort foods or substances to soothe their unhappiness

Scores of 30 and above indicate you have some work to do to become a mature parent instead of a popular one.

by Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed, PhD, child behavioral expert, co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.) http://ahasb.org

From the Headmaster—Guest Author Jon Maksik
Failure is Good

"42, Mariano Rivera" by Mimi Stuart ©

“42, Mariano Rivera” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Jon Maksik writes:

A cynical colleague once cautioned me about using the word “failure” when discussing children. “Challenge,” he said would be more soothing. Becky wasn’t failing to meet her responsibilities and getting a ‘D’ in the class, she was facing challenges and if she would only live up to her potential, etc. It was only a semantic feint but one that reveals both the residual muck of the so-called “Self-Esteem Movement” and, more important, our apparent lack of respect for our children. Becky, of course, knew exactly where she stood: She needed to do her homework and study.

And, Becky certainly knew where she stood when she was in first-grade and the teacher put her in the Papayas (which was, wink-wink, the kids who didn’t read as well as the Kumquats). It wasn’t exactly a secret which fruit group read, counted, and scrawled the best letters, any more than it was a secret who did the best tricks on the recycled Brazilian wood play set outside. It wasn’t Becky who needed the disguise; that was for her parents. Becky just needed the teacher’s encouragement to hang in there and keep working; she’d be a Kumquat soon enough, and if not, well there are other fruits. From the moment our sons and daughters waddle into the world of other children, they almost always know where they stand.

Maybe Becky’s teacher hadn’t read the studies that reveal an entire generation (Let’s call it the, I feel really good about myself, but I can’t add or find Pakistan on a map generation) of Americans whose self-esteem is so elevated that they believe they know things they don’t. Becky’s first Little League coach didn’t need to read the studies. He knew that when she got her first hard ground ball at shortstop, the “Great Fielder” trophy from last year’s tee-ball banquet wouldn’t help much. What did help was getting clipped in the jaw with the ball and getting right back on the field. The coach knew that when you fall or fail, you get right back up and try it again.

I don’t know a single accomplished adult who hasn’t failed often. Yet, when we become parents our instinct to protect our children can so overwhelm us that we seek ways to shield them from learning the very lesson that offers the best protection—falling and getting back up. We send them to schools where they are “not allowed to fail,” where their every talent and attribute is celebrated. And if they come home discouraged? We call the school. Our kids get certificates for showing up but not always for doing something really well. What devastation to the “self-esteem” of the kids who didn’t get an award. In forty years of teaching I never met a child who bought that “everyone wins” snake oil.

Becky gets why she isn’t at the top of her ninth grade math class and it isn’t because she “doesn’t test well,” or “the teacher doesn’t understand her learning style.” It’s because she isn’t very good at math and would rather be reading or painting or playing ball. And it isn’t because her grade is filled with mean girls that the school won’t do anything about. We aren’t paying all this money so she can come home miserable every day. The problem is that those other girls “don’t feel good about themselves,” that’s why there’s beer at their parties. And what, by the way, is the school going to do about that?

Ok, this is a bit hyperbolic, but I’m betting that some of it sounds familiar. Becky and her friends do thrive on encouragement and success. As parents—and teachers—we should work hard to help them discover what they love and then support those things with all our hearts. Our children need to know we believe in them, but if they’re going to believe in us, we need to be honest with them and respect their intelligence. No baby talk, no fruit groups, no excuses, no suing the school.

Our children look to us to gauge how they’re doing and how to function in the world. More than look to us, they watch us. Ever have a fight with your husband or wife? No yelling, just one of those run of the mill quarrels in another room so the kids wouldn’t know. They knew anyway, right? They don’t miss much about their parents and they want the truth, including what we think they’re good at. If we try to fool them, they’ll look elsewhere to figure things out.

Do you remember that day when your little boy was learning to walk and fell hard on the pavement? Shock, maybe pain, then…he looked at you to see what it all meant. I’m betting that if you leapt up and raced over to him looking terrified, he cried as if he’d been snapped in half. If—far more calmly than perhaps you felt—you walked over and lifted him up with a smile, he probably didn’t cry much at all and you taught him something about falling down and getting back up. What we learn about falling down and getting back up goes a long way to define the kind of person we become—which is to say what we learn about failure is what makes us successful.

As for Becky, she’s the only girl on the high school baseball team and she’s hitting .333. That means she fails to get a hit twice out of every three times she comes to bat and which, for those of you who don’t follow baseball, is Hall of Fame hitting. For those of you who do know baseball, you know that it’s hard as hell and that you can call striking out a “challenge” if you want, but it’s really just striking out.

by Jon Maksik, Ph.D., who served as headmaster of the Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, from 1987 until his retirement in 2006.

Read Jon Maksik’s “Teaching Kids to Leave” and other articles.

Getting your child to develop self-esteem:
“Honey, you’re so smart and talented!”

“Morning Lily” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Parents who praise their children too much, give constant advice, ask too many questions, or joke around all the time are not doing their children any favors. While parents who become fused with their children usually have the best interests of their children in mind, they harm their children by inadvertently serving their own insecurities. Such expressions of too much attachment result in children becoming dependent and incapable, or secretive, detached and rebellious.

We are talking about extremes of course. It is equally harmful to be excessively critical, indifferent, or humorless. This article, however, is intended for parents who tend to be too attached and involved in their children’s lives.

Praise for Self-esteem

In hopes of fostering their children’s self-esteem, parents sometimes praise and compliment their children too much, which can result in the following problems:

1. When a child gets used to a lot of praise, he or she can become dependent on external validation, losing sight of his or her own internal compass.

2. Too much praise can lead a child to feel inadequate because excessive praise actually expresses the parent’s anxiety over the child’s self-esteem. Expressions of support tinged with anxiety will then backfire.

3. The child sees that the parent is being disingenuous and trying to manipulate the child. As a result, the child loses respect for the parent.

4. Too much praise can result in children becoming fearful of being found out, that is, fearful of not living up to being as wonderful, creative, and smart as they are supposed to be. As a result, they stop trying.

It is generally nice to receive praise and recognition for a job well-done. Parents shouldn’t go to the extreme to ignoring their children’s hard work and accomplishments. But they should avoid trying too hard to make the child feel good.

Too Much Advice

Giving a great deal of advice is often an expression of excessive attachment. Parents who give endless cautionary advice cause their children to tune them out and ignore their warnings. These well-intended but meddlesome parents are the last people children will turn to when they really do need advice.

While it’s important to keep children safe (age appropriately), too much direction implies that the parent thinks the child has no common sense or judgment. This often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the child may learn to feel incapable of having good judgment.

Analogously, in the United States, we are warned of every potential hazard on roads, ski slopes, and at playgrounds. As a result of expecting to be warned about every potential danger, we often stop paying adequate attention to our surroundings to notice danger with our own eyes.

In effect, children develop better judgment when they have to practice using their judgment while growing up rather than counting on receiving warnings from others. Children learn best through experiencing their own mistakes and learning from consequences. Ideally, they are gradually given more and more age-appropriate freedom and responsibility, avoiding both extremes of being mollycoddled and being neglected.

Too Inquisitive

A parent who is overly interested in the details of his or her child’s life is often unknowingly trying to satisfy his or her own longings and needs. Perhaps the parent wasn’t a successful athlete or wasn’t as popular as desired. Perhaps the parent didn’t get the appreciation and attention craved for from his or her own parents. He or she can now attempt to live the desired childhood through his or her own child’s life.

However, too much interest in every detail of their children’s friends, activities, and grades causes them to feel invaded by the parents’ attempt to fuse with them. Again it causes them to become either compliant, incapable, and dependent, or secretive, detached, and rebellious.

It’s better for parents to live their own lives, while being open to conversation without pushing themselves into every detail of their children’s lives.

Too Much Joking

A sense of humor is a wonderful trait to pass on to one’s children. Too much joking around, however, broadcasts the parent’s need to be liked and accepted by the child. Too much jesting breeds over-familiarity that prevents the needed separation between the parent and the child. It also can result in a lack of respect for the parent because the parent appears incapable of taking him- or herself seriously.

Respect

Parents may think they are being loving by praising, joking, advising, or inquiring into their children’s lives. Yet these attempts at interacting with their children often reveal the parents’ unmet needs rather than respond to the children’s own needs. In excess, these ways of relating squash the healthy separation and respect between parents and children.

Ideally, we can strive to relate to our kids without trying to give them the childhood we wished we had. Instead, we can leave enough separation that will allow us to respect their differences in personality and desires, and allow them to develop judgment and independence, through which they develop self-esteem. Ironically, when we try a little less, our relationships often become more natural, connected, and respectful. When we stand back a little, we also allow more space for our children to grow and to move toward us, because they won’t dread being overwhelmed by excessive parental energy.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read Dr. Madeline Levine’s “Is Your Parenting Style Based On Faulty Thinking?”