Parenting: Stop the Pressure, Stop the Panic

There are days when running a minefield seems less daunting than raising your kids.

 

Thankfully there are experts out there who provide a healthy perspective and get us back on track to sane parenting. Dr. Wendy Mogel is one of those experts.

Internationally acclaimed clinical psychologist and the author of bestselling parenting books “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee,” and “The Blessing of a B Minus,” Dr. Mogel takes a straightforward approach to parenting, providing simple tactics to the pitfalls of rearing toddlers and teens alike.

As you look at parents today, what are some of your concerns?
I call them “good parents gone bad.” They are extremely devoted and want the best things for their children, but they over think a lot of things about their kids and lose common sense. This is a wonderful time to raise children, and parents and children are closer than they’ve ever been in many wonderful ways. We just want to shift some of the focus away from the panic.

Oftentimes I wish parents would stop worrying about the things that they don’t need to worry about, and worry more about things that really matter like not getting a good night’s sleep.
For example, so many of us worry about our kids hanging out with seedy friends. But we parents need to choose good friends too. That means don’t hang out with hypercompetitive parents who will make you feel like you’re neglecting your child or that your child has already missed the boat.

When we were growing up, there didn’t seem to be so much panicky parenting. Now it seems like we have too much information on everything from child development to SAT scores to athletic statistics—it’s making us all crazy. Would you say it’s a case of good intentions gone bad?
We live in a world today where parents have this illusion that if their child isn’t on track to be nationally ranked in something by the time she is 8 years old, it’s too late. Edline, powerschool, even websites that rank youth hockey players—resources for parents that minute by minute track our kids’ progress. Parents get addicted to these services, they keep hitting refresh. It’s exactly like a morphine pump.

Take the U.S. News & World Report college rankings—it’s like parent pornography. We’ve convinced ourselves there are only 10 good colleges or universities out there and almost no spots in these schools, not to mention money to pay for it—even in the wealthiest boroughs.

Think about it. Do you even want your child going to Harvard?

We have this very narrow, nervous definition of success that we’ve attached to our children. I’ve seen countless kids wedged into the toughest secondary schools or colleges that they can get into—and they don’t belong there. They’re not ready for the curriculum. They don’t have good study skills because their parents have been so over-involved and taken over responsibility for the deadlines and self-discipline.

Not every child is meant to be a neurosurgeon, hedge fund manager or the next Steve Jobs—and thank goodness. What kind of world would that be?

You were featured in the movie “Race to Nowhere” that highlights this “pressure cooker” society in which our kids are growing up. How do parents balance their desire to “get off the treadmill” with their fears that if they get off, their child will miss the boat?
Don’t mistake a snapshot of your child’s life with the epic movie. Too often parents take an isolated incident and blow it out of proportion. Having one bad grade isn’t going to blow their chances at life.

It feels so life and death to these parents. Let’s slow it down a bit. Take a breath and let your child figure out his problem before you step it. Be in the role of consultant rather than rescuer.

There’s an acronym used in some 12-step programs called WAIT – why am I talking? I often tell parents to use that with their kids and themselves. Avoid sentences that start with “what if.”  What if we don’t do this, then he won’t be able to do that.

You talk a lot in “The Blessings of a B Minus” about the concept of “good suffering,” that our children need to face difficult things now to prepare them for the realities of life.
No doubt you want your child to achieve and succeed, but you also want them to fail.

Too often we are focusing on the outward tickets to success—academics, sports acumen—but we neglect teaching kids about things like kindness, self-control, tenacity, citizenship, gratitude, resilience—all the things they need to truly succeed in life.

What do you think about the focus on character development in education today?
It’s another example of how we’re over thinking everything. Learning “character” in the classroom is only appropriate for the classroom character traits, e.g., don’t talk to your neighbor in class, don’t laugh at the teacher, don’t cheat on your test. That’s school citizenship.

Too often we are pushing our kids into these exotic community service projects, thinking that will build character. I want them to help out at home! We act like our children’s butler, concierge, ATM and talent agent. And it makes kids entitled, needy and lacking in self-control and self-discipline.

I want kids to be bored, disappointed, to have a bad teacher, to face up to a poor grade resulting from little effort. They need to experience the natural consequences of a bad decision now, because we all know they will face plenty of adversity later on in life.

How do you step back and help your child define his or her own version of success?
Think about what used to get your child excited before puberty (once they enter puberty, things get more desperate and charged up). If you look back to this younger person, you get a sense of whether this person is an artist, an engineer, a teacher. If you have to, pretend it’s someone else’s child so you get some space. And don’t let your identity be defined by your child’s success. Nothing takes away the intrinsic value in learning or achievement for a child more than when it feels like the parent’s achievement, not his own.

I want a child to be responsible for defining who he or she will be. They need to think about fulfilling their own potential, making it their own vision. Kids need to do things not because they are fulfilling their parents’ unlived lives.

Dr. Mogel will be speaking in Lake Forest on November 2, 2011, from 7 to 9 pm at the Lake Forest High School Raymond Moore Auditorium. Tickets are available through LEAD at leadweb.org. Based in Lake Forest, LEAD offers programs for parents and is dedicated to promoting healthy family relationships and preventing alcohol, tobacco, drug use, and other risky behavior by youth.