Teenagers Say Parents Text and Drive

Teenagers Say Parents Text and Drive – The New York Times


Do you text when you drive?

Most adults know that the “right” answer to that question is an unencumbered no, and most parents would make that an emphatic “no,” as in “I don’t text and drive, and you, child of mine, shouldn’t either.” That’s the message that comes from everyone from Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls to Randall Stephenson, the chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T.

But a recent survey from Liberty Mutual and Students Against Destructive Decisions finds teenagers outing parents for “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy: 59 percent of teenagers reported seeing their parents text and drive. Is our answer to that question really more qualified than we admit? No, except on a really quiet road. No, except at stoplights and then just for those last few characters after. No, except … when I do.

The teenagers in this national survey reported that their parents engaged in a variety of unsafe or distracted driving behaviors, from drinking to talking on their mobile phone (which an unsurprising 91 percent of teenagers say their parents do at least once in a while, in spite of research showing that even a hands-free mobile phone conversation significantly slows driver response time). A depressing 78 percent of teenagers reported texting while driving themselves: 27 percent often or very often, 24 percent sometimes, 28 percent at least rarely. Only 22 percent even pretended to reach that highly desirable “never.”

“Kids begin to learn to drive long before we think they do,” said Dave Melton, director of Transportation Consulting Services at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. “They go to the driving school of mom and dad for a long, long time. How can we expect them to do anything other than what we’ve taught them?”

For parents who hope to demonstrate to their teenagers how distracting texting and driving can be, Mr. Melton suggests having them describe the road around them while, in the passenger seat, trying to send a text or dial a number. Although there are apps on the market (like SafeTexting for Android phones which prevents texting while in a moving vehicle, and can be turned off by passengers, or Hatchback, an iPhone app still in beta testing that makes a game of completing trips without texts), Mr. Melton discourages trying to outsource this to technology. “Parents have to get involved, and stay involved.”

And if any parents among us are still convinced that they can send just a quick “yes” without taking their eyes off the road, this game from the developers in the newsroom at The Times might convince you that you’re not as fast — either reacting or texting — as you thought.

A shorter version of this post appeared in print on Sept. 27, 2012, on Page D2 of the New York City edition with the headline, “Witnessing Adults Who Text and Drive.”

Cultivating a Lifelong Learner: The Private-School Advantage

By Douglas J. Lyons, Ed.D., Executive Director, Connecticut Association of Independent Schools
  Flashback to 1980: A mother takes her 10-year-old daughter Melissa to a pediatric group practice for a check-up. She is disap­pointed to learn that the exam will be conducted by the 35-year-old junior partner. She was hoping that Melissa would be seen by the 65-year-old senior physician, whom she believes has more medical knowledge and vast experience.Flash forward to 2012:42-year-old Melissa takes her young son Jack to a pediatric group. She is disappointed to learn that the 62-year-old senior physician will be examining Jack. She was hoping that he would be seen by the 33-year-old partner, whom she believes has skill and medical knowledge that is more current and innovative.

In 1968, the scholar Marshall McLuhan made a prediction that has proved to be clairvoyant: “The future will not be about earn­ing a living, it will be about learning a living.” McLuhan issued the prophesy at a time when most students graduating from law, medical, dental, engineering and other professional schools had reasonable expectations that they were prepared for a long career in their respective professions. That assurance is not even an il­lusion today. Technology and the proliferation of knowledge guar­antee that all workers will be retraining throughout their careers.

A generation ago, a student who graduated from high school with a neutral or negative disposition toward learning new things, collaborating with others and seeking intellectual challenges would be at a competitive disadvantage. In the 21st-century work­place, that same disposition will no longer be a mere disadvan­tage. It will be an career disability.

Dispositions, unlike temperaments (which are genetic), are learned behaviors. All children are born curious; they become more or less curious depending on the home and school envi­ronments in which they develop. Curiosity, resourcefulness, in­dependence and charitability are all dispositions. They define a person’s characteristic way of responding to the world, especially to challenges.

Since much of adult behavior is the result of early experience, our dispositions exert a powerful unconscious influence on how we think, feel and work.

Twenty years ago, I relinquished a tenured (lifetime) position as Superintendent of Schools in one of America’s most affluent and high-performing public school systems to accept the Head of School position in an independent school. This was not an easy decision; public education had been my life’s ministry. I left be­cause I became convinced that the definition of success in public education was increasingly at odds with my hopes and dreams for both my own children and for the children in my professional care. The pivotal moment in my decision-making occurred when a kindergarten teacher confided to me: “In my class, we don’t sing, we don’t dance, we don’t play . . . we prepare.”

The teacher was referring to the practice of designing school tasks and student experiences with a singular focus on elevating scores on standardized (machine-scored) tests.

Twenty years later, public education continues to ask talented and dedicated teachers to dismiss much of what they believe to be true about the optimal environment for student engagement and motivation. Since test scores now repre­sent the primary measure of public school quality, the stakes are high.

To date, the research on standardized tests suggests that, while they accurately predict future success in similar school-based tasks, they are of questionable value in predicting achievement outside of a scholastic environment. These assess­ments do not measure 21st-century skills (analytical thinking, creativity, communi­cation and collaboration).

Most troubling is the high incidence of “the hollow victory:” the achievement of high test scores at the cost of diminishing students’ dispositions toward viewing read­ing and learning as pleasurable activities.

Schooling is not simply preparation for life; it is life, to be lived each day joyfully, creatively and in an evironment that dis­plays a knowledge of and an appreciation for the uniqueness of every child. A child not well known is a child not well taught. When I became head of an independent school, I experienced the power and the purpose of learning communities that are mission-driven, locally designed and that answer to market-based accountability.

Unencumbered by the curricular de­mands of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, independent-school facul­ties have the freedom to create programs that teach foundation skills and complex ideas simultaneously. Connecticut’s inde­pendent-school leaders believe (and are supported by research) that higher-level activities, projects and learning tasks that many public schools reserve for students in “gifted” classes are appropriate for all students and can be adapted for students with differing abilities.

Independent schools in Connecticut have become models of 21st-century skills development. The results are impressive.

Studies of independent-school gradu­ates in college reveal the broader effects of growing up in an independent-school com­munity. These alumni lead the nation in college graduation rates, graduate-school matriculation, career satisfaction, personal health and fitness, civic involvement and community service.

I have spent the last 22 years of my career serving in the independent school community. My grandchildren are now en­tering independent schools. I am writing tuition checks—again. Happily.

There are few things in life that we can give our children that will last forever. An education that creates a lifelong learner is most certainly one of them.

Original article

Why ‘Little Bear’ Made Me Burst Into Tears

Why ‘Little Bear’ Made Me Burst Into Tears

Harper Collins

“What kind of story would you like to hear?” said Mother Bear.
“Tell me about me,” said Little Bear. “Tell me about things I once did.”
–Else Holmelund Minarik, “Little Bear”

I’m not a particularly sentimental parent. In fact, I’ve sometimes felt guilty about my lack of emotional response to preschool graduation or a first haircut — so I was astonished to find myself weeping as I read these lines from “Little Bear” to my daughter.

What was it about this particular passage that pierced me to the heart?

Well, the utter trust, for one thing, and the unselfconscious self-centeredness of childhood. “Tell me about me.” As adults, we don’t get to ask for that kind of attention, no matter how much we’d like it (just for 5 or 10 minutes, of course).

But what really got me was the reminder about the passage of time. Little Bear is still Little, but already, he’s bigger than he was. So much is already past: his unnecessary attempt to dress warmly for the snow, his trip to the moon, his sixth birthday party. Childhood passes so quickly. In my own mind, I summarize this bittersweet truth: the days are long, but the years are short.

Little Bear asks his mother to tell him about himself. As parents, we play an important role in shaping and preserving our children’s memories of their own brief history. One of my happiness-project resolutions is to “be a storehouse of happy memories,” because remembering happy times in the past is an important way to boost happiness in the present, and children need parents’ help to sustain happy memories.

The responsibility to be the custodian of the art projects, class portraits and endless anecdotes about The Time You Got Locked in the Bathroom and The Time You Threw Up on the Way to the Airport can feel burdensome, but it’s an important obligation. Even though I almost suffered a nervous collapse when I finally buckled down to organize my enormous cache of photos into albums, I know that such records are a key way that my daughters and my husband and I hang on to memories.

We need the pictures and, like Little Bear, the stories, to show us the “things we once did.” It’s more comfortable not to be reminded that time is passing, but it’s also comforting to remember that those not-so-long-ago things remain a part of who we are now.

Watch Gretchen and KJ talk “Little Bear” and other picture books in their video introduction to the series here.

Original article

For Young Athletes, Good Reasons to Break the Fast-Food Habit

September 14, 2012,

For Young Athletes, Good Reasons to Break the Fast-Food Habit

Fast food is a popular choice for a post-game celebration.Mike Blake/Reuters
Fast food is a popular choice for a post-game celebration.

When I ran high school cross-country 14 years ago, the bus that took us to meets always stopped at a Wendy’s or McDonald’s after the event. Most of the team would order some variation of burgers, fries and a big soda. It was fast, easy and satisfying.

Things haven’t changed much for young athletes, according to a recent study in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Toben Nelson, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, and his colleagues interviewed 60 parents of youth athletes, ages 6 to 13, in Minneapolis and its suburbs. They found that parents brought post-game snacks for the team that typically included such items as candy, ice cream, doughnuts, pizza, cheese puffs, chips, even something called ‘‘taco in a bag.” They also said that stopping at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and Dairy Queen or grabbing a hot dog and a sugary sports drink at the concession stand during a meet was the norm.

‘‘Generally, it’s not what you would consider healthy,” one parent told the researchers. “It’s more of the things that the kids want to eat.”

For growing adolescents, a big meal after a tough game or race is necessary to replenish the body, said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and public health at New York University. And since they burn a lot of calories, they also need a fair amount of fat and protein.

“They are hungry,” Dr. Nestle said. “Especially if they are adolescent boys, they need phenomenal numbers of calories.” Serious athletes, she said, are burning so much fat and so many calories that they will not gain weight from eating a couple of burgers a week. “Sure, it would be better if they ate healthier, but we have to be realistic,” she said. “Fast food isn’t poison; it just isn’t daily fare.”

An active teenage boy requires about 3,000 calories a day, and an active teenage girl about 2,400 calories. Younger children, like those in Dr. Nelson’s study, require anywhere from 600 to 1,000 calories a day less.

Problems can arise, though, when young athletes are taking in more calories than they are burning. Studies show that more than one in four youth sport participants are overweight, and half of youths who are obese say they participate in a sport.

Very young athletes may be particularly prone to excess intake. “They’re not yet exercising as much, and they’re not growing as much,” Dr. Nestle said. “They don’t need to be eating every two hours.”

And other research has shown that players spend quite a bit of time sitting on the bench during practices and games.

“The premise of sports is not about health” and getting a good workout, said Jim Sallis, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “The premise of sports is about beating your opponent.”

Part of the tradition in American sports is also to celebrate with food, Dr. Sallis added.

Instead of the standard ice cream and pizza, he suggested some alternatives for snacks after games or workouts. “Maybe go to a grocery store, and everybody gets a couple pieces of fruit,” he said. “There are other ways to do it. Parents could take turns making something for the kids, or help the coach find healthy eating options.”

Alicia Kendig, a sports dietitian for the United States Olympic Committee who works with swimmers, figure skaters and other athletes, called fruits “nature’s perfectly sized snack” and said the most important thing was to eat natural, unprocessed foods and unsaturated fats that come from foods like avocados and almonds.

“Sports nutrition is now a competitive advantage,” she said. “If you’re eating correctly and you’re ingesting the correct nutrients, there are clear performance benefits.” Whole foods take longer to digest and keep the body full longer, she added.

In a report published last year, Sonia Kim, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that one in four teenagers ate fruit less than once a day, and one in three ate vegetables less than once a day.

Teenage girls should eat at least one and a half cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables each day, she said, and boys should eat two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables daily. A cup is equal to about one medium apple, a dozen baby carrots or a large tomato.

“Fruits and vegetables are important for everyone, but especially for athletes,” Dr. Kim said.

An athletic 15-year-old boy needs about two and a half cups of fruit and four cups of vegetables a day. An athletic girl of the same age needs two cups of fruits and three cups of vegetables daily.

Dr. Kim encouraged parents to pack healthy meals for their children so they can avoid fast food, and to leave fruit out and readily available in the kitchen. Schools and sports teams should also provide and encourage healthier options, she said, including whole grains and nuts and other healthy protein sources, like lean meats and seafood.

For parents, the time and investment in setting a good example is worthwhile, so their young children mature into healthy, fit adults. “It will have a lifelong effect,” Dr. Kim said. “Habits formed early on track to younger adolescence and into at least young adulthood.”

Original article

Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits

Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits


When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills. Recent studies suggest that these benefits extend all through life, at least for those who continue to be engaged with music.

But a study published last month is the first to show that music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop.

Researchers at Northwestern University recorded the auditory brainstem responses of college students — that is to say, their electrical brain waves — in response to complex sounds. The group of students who reported musical training in childhood had more robust responses — their brains were better able to pick out essential elements, like pitch, in the complex sounds when they were tested. And this was true even if the lessons had ended years ago.

Indeed, scientists are puzzling out the connections between musical training in childhood and language-based learning — for instance, reading. Learning to play an instrument may confer some unexpected benefits, recent studies suggest.

We aren’t talking here about the “Mozart effect,” the claim that listening to classical music can improve people’s performance on tests. Instead, these are studies of the effects of active engagement and discipline. This kind of musical training improves the brain’s ability to discern the components of sound — the pitch, the timing and the timbre.

“To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.”

Skill in appreciating the subtle qualities of sound, even against a complicated and noisy background, turns out to be important not just for a child learning to understand speech and written language, but also for an elderly person struggling with hearing loss.

In a study of those who do keep playing, published this summer, researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.

“We often refer to the ‘cocktail party’ problem — or imagine going to a restaurant where a lot of people are talking,” said Dr. Claude Alain, assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and one of the authors of the study. “The older adults who are musically trained perform better on speech in noise tests — it involves the brain rather than the peripheral hearing system.”

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are approaching the soundscape from a different point of view, studying the genetics of absolute, or perfect, pitch, that ability to identify any tone. Dr. Jane Gitschier, a professor of medicine and pediatrics who directs the study there, and her colleagues are trying to tease out both the genetics and the effects of early training.

“The immediate question we’ve been trying to get to is what are the variants in people’s genomes that could predispose an individual to have absolute pitch,” she said. “The hypothesis, further, is that those variants will then manifest as absolute pitch with the input of early musical training.”

Indeed, almost everyone who qualifies as having truly absolute pitch turns out to have had musical training in childhood (you can take the test and volunteer for the study at http://perfectpitch.ucsf.edu/study/).

Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Dr. Kraus’s lab and one of the authors of a paper published this year on auditory working memory and music, was originally trained as a concert pianist. Her desire to go back to graduate school and study the brain, she told me, grew out of teaching at a French school for musically talented children, and observing the ways that musical training affected other kinds of learning.

“If you get a kid who is maybe 3 or 4 years old and you’re teaching them to attend, they’re not only working on their auditory skills but also working on their attention skills and their memory skills — which can translate into scholastic learning,” she said.

Now Ms. Parbery-Clark and her colleagues can look at recordings of the brain’s electrical detection of sounds, and they can see the musically trained brains producing different — and stronger — responses. “Now I have more proof, tangible proof, music is really doing something,” she told me. “One of my lab mates can look at the computer and say, ‘Oh, you’re recording from a musician!’ ”

Many of the researchers in this area are themselves musicians interested in the plasticity of the brain and the effects of musical education on brain waves, which mirror the stimulus sounds. “This is a response that actually reflects the acoustic elements of sound that we know carry meaning,” Professor Kraus said.

There’s a fascination — and even a certain heady delight — in learning what the brain can do, and in drawing out the many effects of the combination of stimulation, application, practice and auditory exercise that musical education provides. But the researchers all caution that there is no one best way to apply these findings.

Different instruments, different teaching methods, different regimens — families need to find what appeals to the individual child and what works for the family, since a big piece of this should be about pleasure and mastery. Children should enjoy themselves, and their lessons. Parents need to care about music, not slot it in as a therapeutic tool.

“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music,’ ” Ms. Parbery-Clark said. “Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”

Original article

When A Popular List of 100 ‘Best Ever’ Teen Books Is The ‘Whitest Ever’

A stack of books.


When NPR Books invited audience members to nominate and vote for their favorite Young Adult novels, more than 75,000 responded. The extraordinary outpouring speaks of the passion connecting the books section and its followers.

But in that response also lie the seeds of a defect, for lack of a better term, in the poll. The resulting “Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels” included only two books whose protagonists are people of color, which critics called unjust. The two were Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. One of the four heroines in a third book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares, is half Puerto Rican.


As lovely an honor as this is, it also made me sad.


– Author Laurie Halse Anderson

Even one of the selected authors reacted in dismay.

“This just might be the whitest YA list ever,” wrote Laurie Halse Anderson on her personal blog. Two of Anderson’s books, Speak and Wintergirls, made it on the list. Still, she wrote, “As lovely an honor as this is, it also made me sad. And angry and frustrated.”

Much of the criticism was directed at the four white judges, but the censure is misplaced. After speaking with editors and studying the poll, I find that the problem was not the judges, but the nature of the poll and the make-up of the audience. This is not to condemn either—let’s celebrate engagement!—but it does raise a question as to how NPR should protect its editorial integrity when publishing a popularity list that realistically will be taken as NPR’s own and have great influence in schools and sales.

As a reading and English teacher in Minneapolis identified as “Shaker Laurie” wrote:

The problem is not that amazing books about teens of color don’t exist. They do. My kids latch obsessively onto books about teens like them and read them voraciously because adolescents in all their self-involved glory enjoy reading texts that remind them of, well, themselves. Sherman Alexie and Sandra Cisneros certainly deserve their received accolades: The House on Mango Street is a beautifully poetic account of a Latina’s coming of age, and Absolutely True Diary poignantly tells the story of a boy who struggles with life on a reservation and his desire for a strong education. Judith Ortiz Cofer, Walter Dean Myers, Linda Sue Park, and Matt de la Peña’s work also comes to mind, so when NPR comes along and declares 100 books the “Best-Ever” and leaves nearly every single young adult title written about people of color off the list without caveat or mention, damage is done.


NPR’s audience skews white. The poll result was innocent, normal and natural. If still sad.


The issue with NPR’s audience is that it skews white and mature. As I detailed last year in a report on diversity in NPR, roughly 87 percent of the radio audience was white, compared to 77 of the country’s over-18 population, according to NPR’s Audience, Insight and Research Department. African-Americans and Hispanics are particularly under-represented; Asian Americans are slightly over-represented, but they are a much smaller group.

While there is no profile of the 75,000 voters themselves, they surely reflect this overall audience to a great degree. It thus seems reasonable to me to assume that many of the voters merely selected the books they knew, loved and identified with when they were teens.

The poll result, in other words, was innocent, normal and natural. If still sad.

The good news is that the proportion of non-whites in the NPR audience is growing as the proportion of African-Americans and Hispanics graduating from university in the nation grows. More than two-thirds of NPR’s listeners are college grads. The bad news is that so long as the nation, and especially the universe of college graduates, is overwhelmingly white, then a popularity poll on books is likely to skew in favor of white authors or white protagonists.

The methodology of the poll, moreover, may have further guaranteed a non-diverse result. Readers submitted more than 1,200 titles, a panel of experts narrowed the list to 235 books that they judged were actually eligible, and the audience responded a second time by voting for their top ten. By picking only 10, voters reasonably went for the books they really most loved or identified with, statistically reinforcing the bias of the audience breakdown. The small number left little room for adding books that a reader might think is also good medicine.

I can’t prove this, however. Alternatively, a small group of readers—say, Asian Americans—who all voted for the same Asian-American titles could have disproportionate impact under a top-10 system.


I am passionately committed to reaching out to diverse authors.


– NPR Books Senior Editor Ellen Silva

Of the 235 finalists, my assistant, Lori Grisham, found at least four more that had diverse heroes and heroines, which still isn’t very many. These included American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang; The First Part Last by Angela Johnson; 
Copper Sun by Sharon M. Draper; 
and Sold by Patricia McCormick.

It is understandable that some listeners blamed the panelists. The three women and a man—Pamela Paul, Diane Roback, Tasha Robinson, Ted Schelvan—are white. And as Linda Sue Park, a children’s fiction author and winner of a Newbery Medal, wrote on her blog:

I have tremendous respect for the panel that narrowed the list; I have worked with some of them personally. But if NPR had been serious about that ‘very best’ label—as opposed to ‘very best if you’re white, educated, and middle-class’—it should have attempted a vital corrective by selecting a panel that included at least one person of color.

But while we as a nation are not at a point yet where we can ignore concerns with diversity, the panelists in fact had little power over the selection. Their race didn’t much matter. As Joe Matazzoni, Senior Supervising Producer of the Arts & Life section of NPR.org, explained in a considered response to me:

The panelists are all experts in the field but none this year, as far as I know, are persons of color. This will be something we will certainly remedy in future polls. I’ll caution, however, the panel’s influence on the outcome is limited.

It’s important to understand that, for the most part, the panelists are more like line umpires at a tennis match than judges of a beauty contest. Which is to say, they don’t pick the finalists or the winners. In the vast majority of cases, the books that make it to the final voting are the books that received the most nominations from the audience. The panel’s job is to rule out the titles that, in their estimation, fall outside the boundaries of the category — be it science fiction, thrillers, or, this year, young-adult fiction.

This year, as in years past, we allowed the panelists to include up to two of their own favorite books in the voting roster — as a courtesy to thank them for their service. Some of them took us up on the offer. But, to paraphrase an old saying, you can lead a reader to works of literary merit, but you can’t make her vote for them. As in years past, when the voting came around, the audience ignored the “editor’s picks”; none made the top 100.

[Matazzoni’s full response is posted below.]

The books section does, in fact, go to great lengths to cast a wide diversity net in its everyday coverage and features. Supervising Editor Ellen Silva provided these examples from books series over the past eight months:

You Must Read This:Gabrielle Zevin, Pablo Medina, Manuel Munoz, Jesmyn Ward, Roya Hakakian, Alex Gilvarry

My Guilty Pleasure:Krishnadev Calamur

Three Books: Diana Lopez, Lin Noueihed, Hosam Aboul-Ela, Lysley Tenorio, Tim Wu, Alex Gilvarry, Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa

PG-13: Risky Reads: Victor LaValle, Jesmyn Ward

In the hopper:Tahereh Mafi, Abraham Verghese, Joy Castro, Ruben Martinez, Alberto Manguel, Rajesh Parameswaran

In addition, the newspoet series on All Things Considered featured Tracy K. Smith, Kevin Young, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Paisley Rekdal, and Monica Youn. The Morning Edition poetry games series included winner Mbali Vilakazi, Monica de la Torre, Kazim Ali, and Ouyang Yu.

“I am passionately committed to reaching out to diverse authors,” Silva wrote. “It is an essential part of my leadership role at NPR Books.”

So, what should NPR do with its book poll? Matazzoni offered this consideration:

A few people have suggested that we shouldn’t call the top-100 the “best-ever” books, since a popularity contest doesn’t determine quality. It’s a fair point. We picked that title this year to suggest breathless, teen-aged enthusiasm. Also, the lists of recommended books on the NPR Books site are usually restricted to new works, so the title is meant to indicate that the novels on this list come from all periods.

And he made this invitation for even more engagement with you, the audience, to find a solution:

Our job at NPR Books is to find great books for our audience to read. Audience polls are one way of doing this – a way that complements the reviews, interviews, commentaries and other stories that we assign and which more fully express the editorial judgment of the NPR Books team. Finding ways to tap that audience wisdom while not creating an experience that makes some feel excluded will be a challenge, but it’s one we accept. I invite your readers to offer their suggestions.

NPR Books staff have also discussed simultaneously publishing two lists—the popularity poll and one selected by experts. I think that is a good idea. This offers the added fun of comparing and debating the two. No one panel, after all, can lay claim to the truth, so we can additionally fight over throwing the bums out.

But you may have better ideas. Please take up Matazzoni on his invitation. He and his staff are genuine in their request.

Assistant to the ombudsman Lori Grisham contributed to this report.

The Key to Raising Confident Kids? Stop Complimenting Them!

by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D.

The Key to Raising Confident Kids? Stop Complimenting Them!

Self-esteem comes as the result of achievement
Published on August 17, 2012 by Peggy Drexler, Ph.D. in Our Gender, Ourselves

In Maria Semple’s hilarious new novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, the title character’s daughter, Bee, attends an elite, and progressive, private school. Here, grades are doled out in three tiers: S for “Surpasses Excellence,” A for “Achieves Excellence,” and W for “Working Towards Excellence.” That is, there is no child who is not excellent in some way. It’s a parody that is, unfortunately, not far from reality.

As parents, we believe we’re meant to instill confidence in our children. That building self-esteem is the number one priority of raising, and educating, children, and that regular praising will encourage them to believe in themselves. And if kids believe in themselves, the thinking goes, they will take risks, meet goals, and generally achieve great things. Except it turns out that confidence doesn’t necessarily lead to better performance. In fact, praise might actually undermine kids’ success.

First thing’s first: I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be supportive or encouraging, or help kids feel loved. But how often do we find ourselves saying “great job!” to the 4-year-old who cleans up her crayons after a coloring session? Or to the 8-year-old who finishes his broccoli? By dishing out praise to a child for doing things she should be doing anyway, we teach her that she gets rewarded just for being. Later, we tell them they’re smart and beautiful and awesome baseball players before they’ve had a chance to earn it—or know what those words really mean. They grow up placing their self-worth in that praise: If I’m not told I’m beautiful, she’ll start to think, then I must not be.

Research with children and families has indeed told us that praise has the opposite intended effect. It does not make children work harder, or do better. In fact, kids who are told they’re bright and talented are easily discouraged when something is “too difficult;” those who are not praised in such a manner are more motivated to work harder and take on greater challenges. The unpraised, in turn, show higher levels of confidence, while overpraised are more likely to lie to make their performances sound better. Praise becomes like a drug: once they get it, they need it, want it, are unable to function without it.

Let’s look at 6-year-old Matthew. A natural athlete, Matthew was widely praised at an early age for his throwing and catching abilities. Once he became old enough to play with other children, he realized, for the first time, that he was good—but perhaps not the best. What happened then? In Little League games, he’d choke up, constantly looking back to his parents for encouragement and forgetting to keep his eye on the ball. He’d get upset if his every effort wasn’t met with accolades from his coach—but such accolades wouldn’t help him perform any better. Safe in the envelope of constant praise that happened in his backyard with his dad, Matthew was a bundle of nerves out in the real world.

Here’s where we also see how praising kids sets them up for a world that’s almost never as generous. For kids who’ve spent their lives being celebrated for, say, tying their own shoes, failure can be devastating. In a recent New York magazine article, 27-year-old Lael Goodman said, “The worst thing is that I’ve always gotten self-worth from performance, especially good grades. But now that I can’t get a job, I feel worthless.” And this guy’s an adult; it’s even worse for an actual child. What’s more, by focusing too much on how we can build our kids’ self-esteem and confidence, we’re overlooking teaching them what real achievement means—and depriving them of knowing what it’s like to feel the satisfaction of setting a high goal, working hard, and achieving it. When we place more emphasis on the reward than the process of learning or doing—whether it’s an algebra problem or hitting a fly ball—kids inevitably focus more on the reward. They stop learning how to spell because it’s a benchmark for learning (and necessary); they learn it for the trophy and ice cream party that follows.

The point isn’t to criticize children. But it’s to recognize that self-esteem really, truly comes as the result of achievement—in the classroom, on the field, at home—rather than false accomplishments. Instead of praising your child with “you’re so smart!” be specific. Tell him, “You did a great job on your spelling quiz,” or simply, “You tied your own shoes!” Instead of telling him he’s he best on the team when you really don’t mean it, tell him you could tell he tried hard. Next time, he’ll try even harder—guaranteed.

Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Medical College, Cornell University, and author of Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family (Rodale, May 2011).


Original article

Why It’s Important to Let Your Child Make Mistakes


Author, research psychologist, and gender expert

Why It’s Important To Let Your Child Make Mistakes

Posted: 09/01/2012 8:58 am

 At the end of a long, fun day at the water park with her dad, 9-year-old Nora decided she wanted to tackle one last slide before going home. It was the “big kid’s slide,” and she’d avoided it for years. With her father’s okay, Nora climbed the stairs, took a deep breath, and hurled herself down the plunging free-fall. Then she ran to the bathroom and threw up.

Her dad, Jeremy, had not pressured Nora into going on the slide, but he’d had no qualms about letting her go. By the park’s rules, Nora was more than tall enough for that slide. There were lifeguards. What’s more, she was typically a skittish child, often afraid to take risks or try new things. Though Jeremy was surprised by Nora’s interest in the slide, he thought it was a step in the right direction. As Nora cried over being sick — and repeating over and over again she never should have gone on the slide, and how could he have let her do that? — Jeremy told her that he was proud of her for trying something new, that she learned something important, and that everyone gets sick sometimes.

As parents, of course we want to protect our children — from danger, from upset, from things not turning out how they hoped. But we also need to realize that it’s not just okay, but essential, to let our children make mistakes. Jeremy had been right to let Nora go on the slide: By deciding to try something that was a little beyond her comfort zone, Nora was testing her independence and summoning up her courage — and growing. The outcome might not have been entirely pleasant, but she was safe. And a week later, she’d all but forgotten the unpleasant aspect of the experience; instead, the memory she shared with others was a gleeful, and unmistakably proud, “I went on Geronimo!”

As parents, our responsibility is to keep kids unharmed. That doesn’t mean shielding them from all possibility of defeat. It means letting them fail safely. That’s difficult, especially when it results in sadness, anxiety, or regret. But as psychologist Madeline Levine recently wrote in the New York Times, “if you can’t stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business.” What’s key in Nora’s story was that she felt safe enough with Jeremy and with her own abilities to try something new. That’s the feeling that must be fostered in order to help our children grow into confident, autonomous adults. Here’s how to help your child take risks — and make mistakes, inevitably — safely.

Aim to be reliable, but non-interfering. Ask yourself: Can my child handle this situation safely? Most children are not naturally reckless. But they don’t have the ability, as you do, to pay attention to details and be aware of all dangers. A child who desires doing so should be allowed to climb a tree — unless the tree is full of swarming bees and the child is allergic. What’s not okay is preventing your child from doing something to save yourself exclusively from your own worry.

Involve him in the decision-making. Explain the differences between two hikes — this one’s harder, this one will be longer — and then let your child choose. Or pick out his outfits. So what if he goes to school wearing mismatched socks (or worse?) So long as he’s decent, and comfortable, he’ll learn what works for him — and what doesn’t. An adult friend of mine still vividly remembers that moment in kindergarten when some other kids made fun of the striped knee socks she’d chosen to wear. At first, she was angry at her mother for letting her out of the house “like that,” but the eventual decision to continue wearing the socks anyway was one she made on her own, and proudly.

Let her solve her own problems. Too often, either because it’s easier or because we hate to see them struggle, we rush in quickly to help our child figure something out, whether it’s zipping her own coat or pouring her own glass of juice. Sure, it may take a few (or more) attempts; maybe there will be some spills. But children develop self-confidence when they figure out how to do things on their own. Letting your child try and try again — and eventually get it right on her own — teaches her more about herself, and about life, than rushing in to save the day. You can still be her hero, but let her be her own hero, too.

This first appeared on Psychology Today

Original article