Avoiding today's parent traps By Monica Ginsburg
All parents hope their children will be self-reliant, optimistic and well-mannered, a challenge in our current culture. Wendy Mogel, psychologist and author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children," talks about some of the universal issues of modern parenthood. Q: Why write a parenting book? The bookstores are full of parenting advice books. A: I think much of the information out there addresses the mommy-and-me years. Parents have so much support from play groups and parenting groups, and easy access to parenting information in a child’s early years. I felt there was a need for that level of guidance during the elementary and early middle school years. Now there are more questions than ever. When do you let your kids see PG-13 movies? Where do you draw the line with clothes for young girls? When do you let them go on the Internet without looking over their shoulder? Kids who are into IM (instant messaging) have a new code—POS—parent over shoulder. As parents, we need to talk to each other about how much you need to be over the shoulder in these situations. Q: How do you know where to draw the line? A: Find a parent with a child a little older than yours that you think is turning out nicely. Ask that mother how she did it. In Judaism we have the tradition of havura—friendship or affinity groups. Talk to other like-minded people. After mommy-and-me, there’s no reason to stop learning and turning towards other parents for support and ideas. Q: And when your children don’t agree with your choices? A: Your children don’t have to agree with your choices! They do have to learn to respect the choices you make. Kids learn respect by example. I’ve seen parents call teachers or coaches to find out why their child didn’t get on a team or get a part in the school play. This teaches kids to be very demanding. Parents have to set an example that decisions need to be accepted. You talk about it and you move on. You don’t get everything you want when you want it. Q: How has Sept. 11 impacted the way we parent? A: Parents feel an anxiety about the future, especially since Sept. 11, and we don’t believe our children should be cold or wet or hungry for more than a second. What’s happening is our children are getting beautifully educated through high school, go on to prestigious colleges, then they come back home to live! They don’t have the life skills to work and live on their own. Q: How do you ensure your child is picking up life skills? A: Let your children make cheap mistakes when they’re young. If you’re constantly nagging your child to eat breakfast, a hungry tummy before lunchtime will teach a valuable lesson. If your child forgets her lunch, she can share with a friend. Don’t rush to school to deliver it. The same with homework that’s left at home. Don’t fax it to school. Let her work it out with the teacher. You need to raise your consciousness about your own behavior. Then have your children take responsibility for one or two small things. If you spend your day nagging and corralling them into homework or chores, you’re doing the work of life for them. Q: Since you’ve mentioned homework, this has become a battleground in our house and my daughter’s only in first grade! A: I’ve seen kids take a 15-minute homework assignment and stretch it out for 45 minutes. They see their mother cares about nothing more than having them complete the assignment perfectly. She’s stopped whatever she was doing and is ignoring the sibling, just to sit down to monitor homework. What great power that child has. I suggest setting a time limit and letting your child do their homework poorly, if that’s what it takes. Then she can take it up with the teacher. In my house, homework needs to be completed by 7:30 p.m. If it’s not, my kids know they’ll have to work it out with their teachers. You need to step out of the student-teacher-homework triangle as much as possible. And teachers want the parents out of it, too. Teachers constantly tell me that parents are too involved, teachers don’t know what words the kids can and can’t spell. Q: Beyond homework, there seems to be an emphasis among parents on multiple extracurricular activities. A: Parents need to teach the value of moderation. One or two activities are fine. Your child doesn’t need four activities. It’s easier to overschedule, but kids need to learn how to entertain themselves. They need unscheduled time to lay on their back and think. Q: What about the trend toward a heavy load of schoolwork? A: On a national level, this is something everyone is working on. Some high schools are considering eliminating AP classes entirely or limiting kids from taking too many AP classes. Some schools are moving math programs down a notch or limiting homework. But school administrators say parents are demanding more homework and AP classes because they’re concerned about their kids getting into the best schools. College deans tell me they categorize incoming freshmen into two groups: teacups and crispies. Teacups are so fragile from being overprotected they don’t know how to adapt to college life. Crispies are so burned out from a strenuous academic load, there’s no pleasure left in learning. They’ve already done college-level work in high school and they’re tired. Research shows the selectivity of a college has much less to do with earning power than the choice of major. We have CEOs, cultural leaders, world leaders, people who are making important contributions, who didn’t get straight As but did develop emotional intelligence. They learned how to bounce back from failure, how to work as a team, and the value of optimism. They learned how to be good people.Mogel to lecture in Chicago Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant, brings her national lecture tour to Chicago on March 12. The Los Angeles-based author of "The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teaching to Raise Self-Reliant Children" is a blend of ancient teachings and contemporary psychology. She will speak at 7:30 p.m. March 12 at Temple Sholom, 3480 N. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago. Tickets can be purchased in advance for $20 or at the event for $25. Call (773) 525-4707 ext. 360 to purchase tickets or for more information. Monica Ginsburg is a freelance writer based in Chicago.