Real Girls Rule: A Review of The Curse of the Good Girl

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I decided to read The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons because I was worried about the dangers of “the ideal girl” curtailing my daughters’ power and potential.  But what I quickly discovered is that one doesn’t need to have daughters to get something out of this title, as Simmons tackles the curse of the Good Mother and Good Wife as well.  Ultimately, it not only gives practical strategies to help parents raise authentic girls with courage and confidence but it also offers thorough explanations as to why it’s important to erase the “nice girl” image from all women’s lives.

According to Simmons, “The Curse of the Good Girl erects a psychological glass ceiling that begins its destructive sprawl in girlhood and extends across the female life span, stunting the growth of skills and habits essential to becoming a strong woman.”  The problem is that while the Good Girl is socially and academically successful, Simmons explains, she represses what she thinks and is unable to handle her mistakes with humor.  These behaviors present numerous issues in the long term.

“There is nothing wrong with being a nice person,” Simmons maintains, “But girls need to have the tools to say no, to ask for what they need, and to say what they think.”  Otherwise, they will forever hide their feelings in favor of keeping the peace and as a result never learn how to engage in emotionally honest conversations.

You might not realize it, but you likely hear such stifled conversations on a regular basis.  Take the phrases “No offense” or “Just kidding” as examples.  They have become the staples of Good Girlspeak, according to Simmons.  She claims, “On the surface the phrases appear innocuous, cute little jabs that aren’t supposed to leave a mark.  But they contain an invidious logic about human behavior and personal responsibility, something along the lines of, If I didn’t mean it, it didn’t happen.”

This kind of language is problematic because if girls can’t speak the truth then chances are they won’t seek out the truth either.  This inability to pursue the answers to their questions forces girls to draw conclusions from what Simmons calls “dubious evidence: an unreturned wave, an ambiguous facial gesture, or a coy remark.”  Using assumptions, like these, to steer their relationships prevents girls from fully engage with other people.

Simmons argues, “They passively deduce the truth rather than seek it and imagine what is real instead of asking for it.”  This often leaves girls lost in what Simmons refers to as the Landscape of Girls’ Assumptions:

  • Assuming the worst
  • Assuming emotions: I know how she feels
  • Assuming emotions: She should know how I feel

Furthermore, the Curse of the Good Girl creates a “peer culture where taking responsibility for mistakes indelibly marks your reputation and where the rules for social success are at odds with being honest,” explains Simmons.  In other words, girls can’t admit to mistakes without it leading to the questioning of their self-worth.  In the short term, it’s easier simply to deny their failings, but in the long term, the practice promotes shame because the girls have hidden so much of their true selves.

How does criticism factor in to the Curse of the Good Girl?  Simmons includes some persuasive information from a study by psychologist Carol Dweck:  “Girls may have a stronger reaction to criticism because of the type they receive… It was different in kind from what girls heard.  Boys were told to “calm down” or “work harder,” comments easy to disregard.  Girls, on the other hand, heard critiques related to ability, making it harder for them to discount.”  As a result, girls take criticism personally, and when they do, Simmons notes, “they interpret a comment about an issue as a sign that something is wrong with a relationship.”

Simmons warns, “Girls do not develop their responses to criticism in a vacuum.”  Part of the current problem with the Good Girl image is that perfectionism is so pervasive not only in our culture but in our parenting.  Simmons argues, “Parents seem less willing than ever to abide an ordinary, mistake-making child.  This shift in the culture is leaving its mark on how all children handle criticism, as pressure to overachieve turns feedback into a moment of failure rather than opportunity.”

As a result, Simmons believes, “What girls need is a careful balance between self-concept and the mistakes they will inevitably make.”  Therefore, Simmons stocks the second half of her book with instructions on breaking the curse.  So if you’re interested in finding out more about turning your Good Girl into a Real Girl, then I suggest checking out this great book.

 

 

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Preserving Parental Ties: A Review of Hold Onto Your Kids

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According to Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, authors of Hold On to Your Kids, parents need to matter more than peers.  As a parent with a preteen, my child is often being invited to friends’ houses for, what I consider, unusually extended sleep-overs, which leave me feeling old-fashioned for wanting to spend quality time with my kids on the weekends.  So I was interested to learn more about how peer orientation stunts healthy growth, especially since it seems like I’m always coming across advice to “let go” of my kids as they age. Once I discovered why it’s so problematic for teens, in particular, to value peers over parents, this title took a place on my must-read list.

“For the first time in history young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role – their own peers,” argue Neufeld and Mate.  They define this phenomenon, which has taken place over the last fifty years, as peer orientation.  Neufeld and Mate explain that it “masquerades as natural or goes undetected because we have become divorced from our intuitions and because we have unwittingly become peer-oriented ourselves.”

The authors also share the results from a fascinating, international study, which links the breakdown of this vertical transmission of mainstream culture to increases in youth crime, violence, bullying, and delinquency.  This trend in peer orientation parallels a fourfold increase in suicides over the last fifty years in the ten-to-fourteen age range in North America, explain Neufeld and Mate.  The authors believe, “The more peers matter, the more children are devastated by the insensitive related of their peers, by failing to fit in, by perceived rejection or ostracization.”

That’s not to say that the authors are against your child becoming independent, but they define “healthy” teenage rebellion, as the attempt to define oneself part from both family and friends.  What is happening more often is that teenagers are replacing their parents with their peers, and as a result, they are unable to grow up into healthy adults.  “Children may know what they want, but it is dangerous to assume that they know what they need,” maintain Neufeld and Mate.  “To the peer-oriented child it seems only natural to prefer contact with friends to closeness with family, to be with them as much as possible, to be as much like them as possible.”

With communication technology changing more rapidly than ever, it has unfortunately only exacerbated the problem.  Neufeld and Mate explain, “We have unwittingly put it into the hands of children who, of course, are using it to connect with their peers.  Because of their strong attachment needs, the contact is highly addictive, often becoming a major preoccupation.”  That’s why it’s important that we enforce the typical, original reason for the purchase of such technology – easy communication between parent and child.

Hold Onto Your Kids reviews how since World War II, we’ve become a culture of missing attachments.  Modern America stands in stark contrast to the traditional, multigenerational cultures of our past.  As a result, the authors believe that the “natural order has been subverted.”  While Neufeld and Mate are quick to clarify that two working parents are not the problem, they do identify the lack of consideration many people give to attachment as problematic.  “Because caring for the young is undervalued in our society, day care is not well funded.  It is difficult for a nonrelative to meet an individual child’s attachment and orienting needs fully, especially if several other infants and toddlers are vying for that caregiver’s attention,” argue Neufeld and Mate.  Add onto this geographic dislocations and the deterioration of the extended family unit, children are much less likely to learn from elders, who are committed to their welfare, claim Neufeld and Mate.

Therefore, “The secret to parenting is not in what a parent does but rather who the parent is to a child,” believe Neufeld and Mate.  In other words, Neufeld and Mate write, “The power to execute our parental responsibilities lies not in the neediness of our children but in their looking to us to be the answer to their needs.”  Ultimately, what Hold Onto Your Kids maintains is that attachment can help a parent protect a child, much in the same way the main character of the critically acclaimed film, Life is Beautiful, did during World War II.

While you might not be able to change what’s going on in the world, you can make sure you aren’t prematurely replaced by following the advice in this book.  It closes with powerful chapters on “Discipline that Doesn’t Divide” and “Re-Create the Attachment Village.”  So whether it’s establishing the proper hierarchy in your home or keeping your children’s loyalty as they grow up, I highly recommend Hold Onto Your Kids, for Neufeld and Mate will help parents preserve the ties that empower their children.

 

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The Heart of Happy: A Review of Raising Happiness

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With school starting back up soon, I wanted to read something that would keep me mindful of the difference between my children excelling in school and being happy in school.  And the rest of their lives for that matter.  So this month I’m blogging on Raising Happiness by Christine Carter.  While Carter insists in her book that happy people are typically also successful people, I think it’s easy to lose sight of what it is we want most for our children – happiness.  So I was curious to find out more about Carter’s 10 simple steps for making more joyful kids and parents.

Carter begins by defining happiness as “much more than a mood or a cheerful disposition.  Rather, a happy life is one that is full of lots of different types of positive emotions.”  Then, she explains that “happiness is a skill that we can teach our children.”  And who wouldn’t want to teach her child that, especially after Carter establishes how important happiness is in the long run?  Did you know happy people tend to be healthier and live longer?  Teaching your child how to be happy is like the gift that keeps on giving.

I loved “Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First” because, as Carter reminds readers, “our own happiness as parents influences our children’s happiness in a variety of ways.”  Mainly, a depressed parent isn’t able to offer empathy and play in an “emotionally positive way.”  And as Carter points out, “Kids are great perceivers of emotion and tension, but most often they think that they are responsible for their parents’ fighting, or even their parents’ unhappiness.”

Next, Carter argues that happy people have better relationships, as people want to be with them.  She claims, “Despite the fact that technology and social media make it easier than ever to be “connected” to lots of people all the time, Americans are becoming less and less connected to one another.”  When Carter’s life gets so hectic that she has no time to spend with friends, she thinks about what kind of role model she’s being for her children and schedules some face time with a friend.

I also loved how Carter devoted a section of “Build a Village” to the importance of volunteering.  She shares a variety of effective research throughout the book, but in this case, it’s a powerful study of how “people 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations had an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying during the study period.”  Therefore, doing good for others is really doing good for yourself, thanks to what Carter label’s the “helper’s high.”  She uses this physical state to back up why parents shouldn’t reward helping behavior, as it robs kids of the intrinsic motivation that comes from doing good for someone else.

But my favorite part was in the chapter, “Expect Effort and Enjoyment, Not Perfection,” and how choice can be a curse.  Carter claims, “Happy people have different decision-making processes than unhappy people; they tend to ‘satisfice’.”  This means to choose something based on “present criteria and move on.”  It’s the opposite of what she calls “maximizing,” which sadly I do all the time.  I’m always analyzing every situation ad nauseam and then agonizing over whether I made the right decision once I finally make one.  Reading Carter’s description of my behavior was eye-opening, as the last thing I want to do is perpetuate that kind of perfectionism in my daughters.  So I’m thinking of trying out one of her tips – to employ the prompt “One mistake I made today…” at the dinner table so we can all practice coping with our imperfections.

This book does a great job of helping readers set the stage for their children’s happiness by addressing such things as how to form happiness habits and how to rig your environment for happiness.  Her suggestion to practice gratitude is just the beginning of the art and science of raising happy kids.  Because contrary to what you might want to believe higher income only correlates with higher happiness up to $50,000 a year.  After basic needs are met, Carter claims, “Financial resources seem to lose their hold on our happiness and well-being.”  So check out Raising Happiness by Christine Carter if you’re looking for a resource to help you instill joy in your family’s life.

 

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Taking Back Youth Sports: A Review of Changing the Game

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With sports and kids’ extra-curricular schedules ever on parents’ minds, I decided to blog about Changing the Game by John O’Sullivan in the hopes of giving parents pause before signing their children up for fall sports.  According to O’Sullivan, “Seventy percent of kids drop out of organized sports by age 13.”  O’Sullivan claims, “Some children quit because of financial hardship, others because they acquire other interests, but many children quit because sports is no longer fun.”  Therefore, if you’re interested in putting the “play” back in “play ball,” I highly recommend you check out this book.

How did youth sports become so over-competitive and under-fun?  O’Sullivan believes it’s the result of three myths:

Myth #1 – Children need to specialize early in a specific sport if they want to play competitively, play high school, play college, or even play professional sports.

Myth #2 – Sports, and especially travel and competitive-level sports, are an investment in a future scholarship or contract.

Myth #3 – Parents and coaches who want to develop high performers must focus on winning.

The reality is, according to O’Sullivan, “Since 1947, only twenty-three players who participated in the Little League World Series – the ultimate event for twelve-year-old baseball players – have also played in the major leagues.”  So if you’re trading your kids’ free-time for more field time, think again.  If you’re spending money on expensive coaches and athletic gear, stop.  O’Sullivan claims, “The single greatest factor that affects performance can be developed absolutely free.”  It’s a mindset.

According to O’Sullivan, “A high-performing mindset requires the absence, or at least a minimum, of the physical, emotional, and mental obstructions that many of our young athletes face:”

  • The pressure to win
  • The absence of enjoyment
  • Excessive criticism and yelling
  • Sports as work and not play
  • Poor adult mentors

O’Sullivan argues there’s been a shift in paradigm in youth sports away from its most important purpose – “to develop character and core values based upon universally accepted social and ethical principles.”  And O’Sullivan doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that the current negative culture of youth sports coincides with the quick-fix mentality prevalent in American culture.  He says, “We now expect instant solutions that get us in shape, help us lose weight, and make us feel better…We have become a society that lacks accountability for our current situation, and we feel entitled to quick and cost-effective remedies…We no longer realize that real solutions are only achieved through commitment, effort, and a process that starts from within.”

We can all pretty much agree that youth sports look a lot different now than they did when we were growing up.  While O’Sullivan explains, “Some parents tell him that when they were kids they played all the time and their kids can too,” O’Sullivan is quick to remind people, “We played for fun and not under the watch of our parents or adult supervisors each and every day.”  That’s part of the reason I find the trend of parents staying to watch practices, in addition to games, troubling.  Kids need time to experience the trial and error required to succeed in sports without an parenting ready to offer advice at all times.

Finally, in Changing the Game, O’Sullivan argues why it’s important parents stop chasing the scholarship myth.  Sadly, “Only 3-5 percent of high school athletes even play in college, an even smaller number receive athletic financial aid,” reports O’Sullivan.  “About one in one thousand high school athletes receives a (partial) college scholarship, and about one in thirteen thousand ever becomes a professional.”  However, O’Sullivan is quick to note, “Between 30-50 percent of youth sports parents believe their child is good enough.”

As far as O’Sullivan is concerned, “The people responsible for this [trend in youth sports], and the only ones who can change it, are the adults.”  So if you’re interested in giving youth sport back to your kids, then get Changing the Game – my new must-read parenting title – and check out this title for information on seven actionable principles for raising happy, high-performing athletes.

 

 

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Childsick: A Review of Homesick and Happy

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Blog_Homesick-Happy“Camp directors tell me that managing “childsickness” – parents’ longing for their absent camper – is becoming a bigger problem for them than dealing with homesickness,” Thompson writes in Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow.  Having just survived my older daughter’s first week-long sleep-away camp experience, I know exactly what he means.  While my eleven-year-old child doesn’t have a telephone yet, I’m religious about keeping tabs on her whereabouts so it was a bit surreal to not know how she was spending her days.

Thanks to social media, I was able to join a password protected closed group on Facebook to see pictures periodically, certainly a means of managing the ‘childsickness’ Thompson writes of.  While a glimpse of my daughter’s smile during a “dance party” put me at ease, for other parents the pictures only seemed to make the situation worse, as Thompson predicted, for they were frantically posting, “Where’s Suzie?” and harassing the site administrators, “Why aren’t you taking in pictures of the Counselors in Training?”  I wanted to write, “Sign off Facebook, get yourself a copy of Homesick and Happy, and leave these poor counselors alone.  Your kid is going to be fine.”

Instead, I read “Childsick and Happy” for some reaffirmation that parents becoming so involved in their child’s experience it’s a detriment.  Thompson offers and elaborates on seven suggestions to keep you from suffering too much from childsickness:

  1. Give your child the gift of letting him or her go.
  2. Prepare your child for homesickness.
  3. Do no try to manage homesickness from a distance.
  4. Do not make the “We’ll take you home if you’re unhappy” deal.
  5. Help your children practice the skills they need before they leave.
  6. Use letters, postcards, and other slower forms of communication.
  7. Take a vacation from parenting, have some fun, and don’t feel guilty about it.

Thompson realizes that sending your child to sleep-away camp requires your willingness to “let go of your importance in your child’s life to make space for someone else and new experiences” but it’s worth it.  Camp is a magical time, which is why most people remember it so fondly.  As I walked around camp on the day I dropped my daughter off, I was flooded with wonderful memories of hiking, crafting, and singing from my youth.  While it was difficult to say good-bye, I knew I was making it possible for her to create wonderful memories of her own.

From a psychologist’s point of view, Thompson maintains camp offers numerous elements that make for an emotionally powerful experience for children:

  1. Opportunities for imagination, play, and creativity
  2. Camp is not school (No tests, judgment, or evaluation)
  3. Character development: “I feel part of something bigger.”
  4. Independence, self-esteem, and identity
  5. Friendship and social skills
  6. Making a relations with nature
  7. Relationships between counselors and children
  8. Leadership training

“The essential difference between [school and camp] has to do with the high stakes of school and the lower stakes at camp.  You could argue that camp is full of contests, competition, and evaluation,” Thompson concedes, however, “Camp contests teach you to be able to make a heroic effort, laugh about it, and move on.  Camp contests, done right, are group play.”  This, of course, is something sorely lacking in most school settings.

If you still have your doubts, Thompson writes, “Perhaps the single most important finding in the camp research literature is that children who attend camp come home feeling independent and confident.”  Since “true self-esteem comes not from praise but from real experiences of skill building and making a contribution to a community,” the camp setting provides kids something they really can’t get anywhere else.

When I picked up my daughter yesterday, everything she’d packed was filthy and her eyes looked sleepy, to say the least, but she teared up when she said good-bye to her counselors and her cabin mates.  As we walked to the car with bittersweet smiles on our faces and stories of campfires and horseback riding being told a mile a minute, I felt so good about having the courage to let her go.  Clearly, this will be a week she’ll never forget.

 

 

 

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Holding on Too Tight: A Review of Homesick and Happy

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Blog_Homesick-HappyThis month I’m featuring Homesick and Happy by Michael Thompson in honor of my older daughter attending sleep-away camp for the first time.  With helicopter parents becoming more and more prevalent, I picked this book to reassure me that time away from parents can help a child grow.  I’d been to camp when I was in middle school and had a great time so I desperately wanted the experience for my daughter.  But I’ll admit it was difficult accepting it was time to let her go.  In my eyes, she’ll always be my baby.

Thompson blends practical advice with his expertise as a clinical psychologist to prove why it’s important for children to go to sleep-away camp.  Thompson was motivated to write this book not only by his own childhood but also by the growing apprehension among parents to question letting their children go, even when it’s an overnight field trip run by their child’s school.  Therefore, Thompson visited nineteen camps and talked to hundreds of counselors and kids in the hopes of convincing parents that “character” camps, as he calls them, benefit our kids more than “skill” camps.  Think places that build community as opposed to places that help kids master a sport or an instrument.

“When I ask for the sweetest moments without parents, 80 percent of adults tell variations on a similar story that always have the same four or five elements: The child is away from adult supervision, out-of-doors, with friends, facing a challenge and doing something a bit risky,” Thompson writes.  Interestingly, many parents who shared just such a moment were still reluctant to send their own kids away, believing we live in a “scarier” world.  But in actuality, Thompson argues, “Rates of violent crime are at historic lows in the United States.”

While I’m not worried about violent crime, I could relate to this idea of putting your kid in a risky situation.  My daughter will be going to horseback riding camp with a friend, whose mom was extremely worried about them being safe.  I kept remembering all the days I spent when I was my daughter’s age, riding around bareback on my friend’s horse, usually both of us at the same time, through the fields near her horse, unsupervised for hours on end.  It was wonderful, and while I certainly don’t want my kid to get hurt, I couldn’t help feeling like, “Surely, our kids could handle a couple of hours in a corral with a riding instructor.”

Thompson writes, “In my conversation with parents, they are often surprised and relieved to learn that developmentally speaking, there is a limit to what they can and should do for their children.  More specifically, there are eight fundamental things parents want to do for or give their children, but cannot:”

  1. We cannot make our children happy.
  2. We cannot give our children high self-esteem.
  3. We cannot make friends for our children or micromanage their friendships.
  4. We cannot successfully double as our child’s agent, manager, and coach.
  5. We cannot create the “second family” for which our child yearns in order to facilitate his or her own growth.
  6. It is increasingly apparent that we parents cannot compete with or limit our children’s total immersion in the online, digital, and social media realms.
  7. We cannot keep our children perfectly safe, but we can drive them crazy trying.
  8. We cannot make our children independent.

The reality is while being away from home can be scary for kids it can also make them happy.  “Sometimes they have to get away from us and experience a little suffering in life, along with the full range of feelings in life – boredom, anger, giddiness, romance, et cetera – to get the hang of it on their own,” Thompson argues.  My older daughter’s second family resides at the gymnastics center, where she trains, and I’ll admit it caught me a bit off guard the first time she referred to them as her gymnastics “family.”  My knee-jerk reaction was, “Aren’t we enough?”  Well, we’re not.  And we shouldn’t be.  As a parent, it’s hard to admit, but it’s true.  Don’t worry.  It’s not a bad thing.  It’d be like saying your kids are enough; you don’t need any friends.  I don’t know what I’d do without the ladies I “lunch” with.  My second family growing up was ACT II, a theater school I practically lived at during productions.  Some of my happiest childhood memories happened there.  I’m grateful gave me the opportunity to spread my wings.

Thompson claims, “As long as a parent is standing by watching, the child is going to interpret his or her experiences through the parents’ reactions,” which is why kids need time away from parents to grow.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Homesick and Happy, particularly the chapter “’Childsick’ and Happy.”  Because just as much I want my 11 year old to experience “The Magic of Camp,” I also don’t want to be one of those moms who have nothing to share on Facebook but her children’s accomplishments.  So whether you’re looking to justify the cost or needing reassurance to let your child go, check out Homesick and Happy if you want to know more about how the real danger of childhood is parents holding on too tight.

 

 

 

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Less is More: A Review of Creating Innovators

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Blog_CreatingInnovatorsTony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators, is upfront about how his book wasn’t intended to offer parents advice; rather, he hoped by focusing on a couple of key questions, such as intrinsic motivation and risk taking, he could help parents and educators see how innovators evolve.  For this book, Wagner interviewed parents and innovators alike in order to illustrate what it takes to raise a child into an innovative adult.  Therefore, the majority of Creating Innovators is anecdotes.  Through powerful tales of STEM and Social innovators – like Jodie Wu, who designed an affordable maize-sheller for use in Tanzania fashioned from a bike and Zander Srodes, a young environmentalist who wrote a book at age eleven about sea turtles that was translated into six different language – Wagner convincingly conveyed why I need to nurture my children’s creative impulses.

Wagner argues, “’Tiger moms’ such as Amy Chua don’t believe in play and won’t allow their children to fail,” and “Helicopter parents [who] indulge and insulate their children from failure at all costs” are doing little to produce innovators.  If you want your child to develop a passion for something, you must start by encouraging play.  Wagner is quick to clarify that that’s not to say kids don’t need limits because they do, but as Semyon Dukach of Global Cycle Solutions explains, “Too much of teaching them to be obedient can kill the creative impulse.  The challenge is to balance respect for authority with constructive engagement and constructive rebellion.”

According to Wager, parents of innovators are unanimous in terms of one thing: less is more.  “Fewer toys, and toys that encouraged imagination and invention, were seen as essential.”  LEGOs and K’Nex were popular toys for innovation, but Wagner also includes anecdotes from parents, whose children enjoyed cardboard boxes for hours on end.  What Wagner is really clear about is that “The ‘less is more’ philosophy was also reflected in these parents’ views on technology and screen time.”  Wagner explains that the parents resisted buying their children electronic devices, keeping computers and televisions out of children’s bedrooms.  I realize during the summer time it can be difficult to limit screen time, but the reality is that the creative mind doesn’t typically kick in until it gets bored.

Finally, Wagner maintains, the parents viewed reading as play.    Many of them required an hour of reading daily with children choosing their own titles.  The point being to offer an alternative to schools, allowing kids to move at their own pace and reading what most interests them.  Wagner explains that in his experience, “The discipline of reading develops the muscles of concentration as well as the habit of self-motivated learning.”  As an English teacher of 22 years, I concur.  (Have you signed your kids up for summer reading yet?)

Wagner recognizes the difficulties in what some might see as a different approach to parenting.  He points out how parents of innovators never said raising them was easy.  Wagner claims, “Dealing with their children’s schools, creating space to let their children fail, and being ‘different’ parents were recurring themes in my conversations.”  For example, there is often a conflict between “learning for a test or a grade versus learning as an expression of their children’s intrinsic interests.”  But according to Wagner, we “different” parents must stay the course.

Wagner explains being a parent of an innovator requires confidence and courage.  He writes, “Ultimately, to parent in the ways that I have described requires trust: First, trust in yourself as a parent.  Then, trust in your child.”  As far as Wagner is concerned the future of innovation depends on our deeper understanding of the importance of innovation.  We need to stop seeing learning as such a passive experience.  Children are not ours to “fill up” with knowledge.  Rather, according to Wagner, we need to focus on developing a set of skills – such as solving a problem, creating a product, or generating a new understanding.  That’s why Pultizer Prize winning author and journalist Thomas Friedman believes, “CQ (curiosity) plus PQ (passion) is greater than IQ.”

So let your children dabble in a variety of things this summer.  Stop pushing for early mastery.  And resist the temptation to schedule every moment of your child’s day.  If you have any doubts along the way, read Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner; for as he explains, “Increasingly in the twenty-first century, what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know.”

 

 

Need a refresher on why it’s good to limit screen time.  Click here to read “Not. So. Much: Why Limiting Screen Time is More Important than Ever.”

 

Click here to learn more about Jodie Wu’s company, Global Cycle Solutions.

 

Click here to listen to Zander Srodes TED talk for teens.

 

 

Follow @WinterhalterV on Twitter for updates on blog posts or like Parenting by the Book on Facebook.

 

Creating Innovators

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Blog_CreatingInnovatorsInnovation comes in many forms, according to Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators.  Therefore, in his latest book he attempts to give parents a peek into a variety of twenty-something innovators childhood’s so similar behaviors can be encouraged in the next generation.  Quoting countless industry experts and building on his previous book, The Global Achievement Gap, Wagner begins by outlining what he calls Seven Survival Skills:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurship
  5. Accessing and analyzing information
  6. Effective oral and written communication
  7. Curiosity and imagination

Then, Wagner gives parents a primer on innovation, explaining the importance of establishing it as a habit by asking good questions and developing a desire to understand things more deeply.  Unfortunately, this is something that is often “educated out of us,” according to Sir Ken Robinson, author of The Element and Out of Our Minds, which I blogged about a couple of years ago on PBB (Read Blog One and/or Blog Two).  Wagner offers up the easily identifiable example of the preschooler, who won’t stop asking questions, and compares her to the high school student, who fails to show inquisitiveness.  And suddenly the point that creativity is a habit that can be discouraged is crystal clear.

What can parents do about this?  Wagner stresses the need for action and experimentation.  Of course, Wagner acknowledges, “You cannot innovate from nothing.  You must have expertise;” however, he maintains while acquiring new knowledge is crucial, without creative-thinking skills, students won’t “ask the right questions, make connections, observe, empathize, collaborate, and experiment.”  Therefore, creating innovators requires a delicate balance of expertise, creative-thinking skills, and motivation, which is why teaching to the test is so ineffective in the long run.

Wagner claims the one thing that emerged most frequently in his interviews with innovators was the desire to “make a difference.”  In order to do so, young innovators, according to Wagner, follow a progress from play to passion to purpose.  “Their play was far less structured than most children’s, and they had opportunities to explore, experiment, and discover through trial and error – to take risks and fall down,” Wagner argues.  Therefore, if you’re interested in creating innovators, you must do what most modern parents struggle with – give them free time to fail.  Wagner believes that if you take the less conventional path as parent, teacher, mentor, you’ll be more likely to raise a child who thinks about things differently as well.  If it helps, draw inspiration from some this “Famous Failures” video – Walt Disney was fired from his job as a journalist for “lacking imagination” and Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a news anchor for getting too emotionally invested.

In Creating Innovators, Wagner uses anecdotes to illustrate to parents what this creative approach to parenting looks like in day-to-day life.  For example, twenty-nine year old Kirk Phelps was both a high school and college (Stanford) dropout, who came to work on the first iPhone for Apple.  Apparently, while his parents gave him clear rules related to reading time, screen time, and bedtime, Wagner explains, “They were adamant about children using playtime as an unstructured opportunity to discover, explore, and experiment.”  Translation: Unlike the rest of the moms in their suburban neighborhood, his chose not to “fill up her children’s out-of-school time with additional classes and lessons, preferring that they have more unsupervised time playing outside.”  Wagner maintains Phelps’s mother believed he needed to learn to entertain himself, whether it be with LEGO blocks or climbing a tree.  Ultimately, despite the risks parents typically associate with free-play, Phelps discovered his passion for science, which ultimately gave him a purpose in life.

So with summer on the horizon, try to resist the temptation to schedule activities for every week of your child’s vacation.  Set some screen, reading, and bedtime boundaries.  Read my posts on The Overscheduled Child if you need help (Blog One, Blog TwoBlog Three, and Blog Four.)  Then focus on discovery through trial and error.  Like Wagner explains, for Phelps’s parents, “Learning was not a means to an end – a way to get into a good school or job – it was an end in itself.”  Therefore, start creating your innovator by keeping that end in mind.

 

 

Follow @WinterhalterV on Twitter for updates on blog posts or like Parenting by the Book on Facebook.

How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World

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Blog_EskimoBabiesWarmDespite growing globalization, parenting techniques around the world continue to vary widely.  In How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood, she blends research, interviews, and personal experiences to prove there are many ways to be a good parent.  In my first blog on this book, I looked at the following chapters:  “How Kenyans Live Without Strollers” and “How the Chinese Potty Train Early.”  While most of the title is directed towards moms, the chapter, “How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World,” ended up captivating me the most.

According to Hopgood, the Aka are a community of approximately 30,000 people living in the forest that border the Congo and the Central African Republic.  Hopgood explains, “They are among the last true hunter-gathering people on earth.”  Hopgood references the work of anthropologist Barry Hewlett, author of Intimate Fathers: The Nature and context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care, when she relates how Aka children spend equal time with both parents.  Apparently, “Aka dads harness their babies in infant slings and take them on hunts, babysit when moms need to set up camp, and bring them along when they let off steam with the guys at a palm-wine happy hour,” Hopgood explains.

Hopgood reports how Barry Hewlett claims, “There’s a level of flexibility that’s virtually unknown in our society.”  And as far as Hopgood is concerned, “The Aka have become living proof that fathers can and do participate evenly in child care, if called upon, if expected, and if given the right circumstances and support.”  So why aren’t more fathers like this?  Hopgood explains that according to anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Tribes and nations that expect their men to go to war tend not to let their men get too close to their young.”  The Aka are an example, Hopgood points out of a non-warring tribe.  Hopgood also explains how “expectations feed the way we behave.  If we assume that men shouldn’t be affectionate with children, they won’t be.”

While more and more research is showing how children benefit from time spent with their fathers – more sociable, adaptable, and better performing in school – Hopgood reports, according to the Fatherhood Institute, of the 156 cultures studied only 5% helped fathers be closer with their little kids.  A perfect example of this is paternal leave.  Hopgood relays, “The United States is one of the stingiest of the world’s wealthy countries when it comes to any kind of paternity leave…placing last with zero weeks of paid leave required by law and twelve weeks of upaid leave only for employees of firms with more than fifty employees.  By contrast, Sweden offers dads two months paid leave, according to Hopgood.  She writes, “If daddy didn’t take it, the family would lose it.”  As you might imagine, 85% of Swedish fathers take paternity leave.

When my first daughter was born, I was teaching in New Jersey and able to secure my pension if I finished out the school year, so my husband, a Federal employee, took paternity leave.  He still considers those months as some of the best in his life (and will frequently tease that all her achievements stem back to their time together ;-).  While our declaration that my husband was on paternity certainly turned a few heads, it’s something I wish every dad and child could experience.

As far as Barry Hewlett is concerned, “Our value of children has to increase.”  Hopgood admitted that her and her husband negotiated daily over who would take care of their daughter.  Ultimately, she came to wonder if they shouldn’t be arguing over how they could spend more time with her.  This idea really resonated with me, especially with summer approaching and so many families making arrangements to busy their children so they can get their work done.  What if American parents abandoned their quality versus quantity mindset and took a lesson from the Akas?  Anthropologist Barry Hewlett argues, “The Aka relationship is special not because of how a father interacts or plays with his child but because father and child know each other exceptionally well because of the time they share together.”

So if you’re up for experimenting with your tried-and-true traditions, check out Mei-Ling Hopgood’s How Eskimos Keep Their Babies War.  Her chapters on “How Polynesians Play without Parents” and “How Mayan Villagers Put Their Kids to Work” are really interesting as well.  You might not be ready to adopt all of their practices, but at the very least, you’ll have a world of new ideas.

 

 

Follow @WinterhalterV on Twitter for updates on blog posts or like Parenting by the Book on Facebook.

How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm

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Blog_EskimoBabiesWarmEvery May, I like to feature titles specifically with mothers in mind.  Some previous titles highlighted at Parenting by the Book include The Balanced Mom by Bria Simpson, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, and What Happy Working Mothers Know by Cathy Greenberg and Barrett Avigdor.  So when I found out about How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood, I thought it’d be the perfect fit to continue this trend.  While there is a chapter on “How the French Teach Their Children to Love Healthy Food,” which I already addressed when I blogged about one of my favorite parenting titles, Bringing up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, for the most part Hopgood’s book offers news moms, in particular, a lot of great possibilities.

There are a few chapters in the first half of Hopgood’s book that really stood out to me.  I probably enjoyed “How Kenyans Live Without Strollers” because I always felt my kids lingered in strollers way longer than they should have.  I remember a trip to Water Country U.S.A. when the friends we were visiting the water park with left theirs in the trunk, on purpose.  The mother remarked, “Isn’t the point for them to get exercise?”  Of course, it was.  Granted, it can be easy to forget when everyone else’s kid is kicking back in a stroller and yours is whining about walking, but how had I missed that?

In the case of Hopgood’s stroller example, she’s actually referring to the first year, when mothers in Kenya carry their babies instead of pushing them in strollers.  Hopgood combines anecdotes with interesting research that indicates American babies spend 2/3 of their days out of the reach of a caretaker versus Korean babies, who in stark contrast, spend less than 8% of their day alone.  According to Meredith Small, author of Our Babies, Ourselves, this is why American babies cry more than others around the world.

Hopgood also explains strollers were actually invented not to take the load off women in terms of carrying babies but “rather as an aesthetic indulgence for English royalty during the 1730s.”  This has had long-term implications.  According to Hopgood, “In 2002, the National Association for Sport and Physical Activity (NASPA) task force on infant and preschoolers physical activity warned that too many children were being confined in ‘containers,’ such as strollers, baby seats, and playpens for too long.”  Hopgood describes how the NASPA believes this has contributed not only to the growing weight problem among children but also delays in children’s physical and cognitive development.

In “How the Chinese Potty Train Early, ” Hopgood explains how “many Chinese parents have their children potty trained to some degree before the age of eighteen months, if not much sooner.”  She explains as far as some Chinese parents are concerned, “Waiting until a child is ready can be an expensive, if not absurd, notion.”  Hopgood goes on to remind readers that American parents didn’t always wait until two or three to train either.  It was the rise in disposable diapers that made it possible.  With manufacturers happy to offer large sizes and extra absorbency, the necessity to potty train just becomes less and less.  But when you consider that, according to the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Protection Agency, it takes about 450 years or more for a disposable diaper to decompose it certainly seems like a change that benefits us all.

All in all, I think Hopgood’s observations of parents around the globe are fascinating ones.  I look forward to reading the rest of How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm and blogging about her chapters on “How Polynesians Play without Parents,” “How Mayan Villagers Put Their Kids to Work,” and “How Aka Pygmies Are the Best Fathers in the World” later in May.

 

 

Follow @WinterhalterV on Twitter for updates on blog posts or like Parenting by the Book on Facebook.

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