I credit my education to Ms. Mabel Hefty just as much as I would any institution of higher learning.
By President Barack Obama
When I entered Ms. Hefty’s fifth-grade class at Punahou School in the fall of 1971, I was just a kid with a funny name in a new school, feeling a little out of place, hoping to fit in like anyone else.
The first time she called on me, I wished she hadn’t. In fact, I wished I were just about anywhere else but at that desk, in that room of children staring at me.
But over the course of that year, Ms. Hefty taught me that I had something to say — not in spite of my differences, but because of them. She made every single student in that class feel special.
And she reinforced that essential value of empathy that my mother and my grandparents had taught me. That is something that I carry with me every day as President.
This is the simple and undeniable power of a good teacher. This is a story that every single kid in this country, regardless of background or station in life, should be able to tell. Sharing stories like these helps underline the vital importance of fighting for that reality.
Today, I’ll honor Shanna Peeples as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year — and I’d like you to share which teacher, like Ms. Hefty, helped shape your education. You can do that here, or by using the hashtag #ThankATeacheronline.
Tomorrow, I’ll travel to a local library that serves as a hub of learning in the Anacostia community of Washington, D.C. America’s librarians, like our teachers, connect us to books and learning resources that help us dream big. They help ensure that we continue learning throughout our lifetime. And that’s something that more kids ought to be able to access.
So while I’m at the library, I’ll announce new efforts to provide popular books to millions of underprivileged children and young adults around the country and connect more students to their local libraries — because we know that reading just 20 minutes a day can make a tremendous difference in a student’s success. Online, I want you to join the conversation by sharing which book was critical to making you who you are today using the hashtag#BooksForAll. (We all have one.)
And on Friday, as I work on the commencement address I’ll deliver at South Dakota’s Lake Area Technical Institute next Friday, I want you to share with me how far community college has taken you. For a number of folks on our staff here, it’s taken them all the way to the White House.
This week, we’re focusing on those fundamental people, places, and stories that made us who we are today. So whether it’s a teacher who inspired you, a book that changed you, or a college that shaped you — I want to hear from you. We’ll be responding to and sharing your responses all week long.
If your kid is into princesses, chances are she’s reallyinto princesses. Whether that means she regularly transforms her bath towel into an Elsa cape or she (or he!) knows every single word to [insert latest Disney princess movie here], there’s no shame in a princess fixation. We’ve come a long way since Cinderella was a princess-lover’s only heroine.
Historically, many princesses in movies and books were reduced to one-dimensional characters: helpless, beautiful, and lavishly dressed. The new crop includes spitfires, brainiacs, and adventure seekers. Plus, they can teach little girls — and boys — a thing or two about being smart, strong, and self-reliant.
Check out some of our favorite princess picks below (with a few classics thrown in for good measure):
16 Princess Books
Pull your hair up, Rapunzel — these ladies don’t need to be rescued. Channel the princess power found in awesome characters such as Princess Smartypants and Part-Time Princess.
20 Princess Movies
Choose between animated classics such as Beauty and the Beast and Sofia the First or live-action gems from The Princess Bride to The Princess Diaries.
Parents have a love-hate relationship with firsts. Some they like: the first smile, the first steps, the first sleeping through the night. Others they dread: the first flu, the first tantrum, the first broken bone. As children get older, the firsts become more nuanced, generating both joy in our children’s independence and fear of their slipping away: the first summer away, the first date, the first driver’s license.
But few firsts generate more ambivalence than the first cellphone.
On one hand, many parents welcome this milestone. Now they can keep track of their children when they’re out and notify the children if they’re running late. Also, parents gain leverage. One mother told me, “I’ve found the phone has given me newfound power as a parent, because I can take it away!”
On the other hand, children tend to disappear through the looking glass when they get their first phone. They become vulnerable to the dark side of the Internet, and once comfortable routines get upended. “We used to be a family before they got phones,” one father complained. “Now we’re never together.”
(This challenge has taken on new urgency in New York this month as children can now carry cellphones to city schools after Mayor Bill de Blasio lifted a ban that had been enforced by the Bloomberg administration.)
How should parents handle this transition? Some discuss freedom and responsibility, hand over the device, then respond as situations arise. But others try to do more, laying down a set of rules.
The Obamas, for example, said they did not give their daughters cellphones until they were 12, barred their use during weekdays, kept the girls off Facebook until 17 and gave them what the first lady deemed “days of lectures” on the dangers of talking to strangers. Janell Burley Hofmann, a mother in Massachusetts, wrote her 13-year-old son a letter when he got his first phone listing 18 edicts, including: “If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad.’ Not ever.”
The Internet is bursting with dozens of multi-plank contracts for parents to execute with their children. As the father of tweens, I like this idea, but I’m also realistic enough to know that a three-page contract will be swiftly ignored and even it can’t keep up with the last parent-avoiding app. What I craved was a handful of overarching rules that could guide our interactions.
Yalda Uhls, a psychologist at Common Sense Media and the author of the forthcoming “Media Moms & Digital Dads,” said parents should set guidelines in advance: “I believe that when you first give your child something that gives them unlimited access to the Internet and their friends, it is important to make it clear that you own the device, you pay for it, and if there is any behavior that you feel is not true to your family values, you can take it away.”
Part of this deal is that you will respect their boundaries, she said, but you also have the right to join any social network they join, know their passwords and check their texts. This can create awkward situations, she said, like when her daughter mentioned on a friend’s Instagram page how funny it was when he shoplifted. “I was horrified,” Ms. Uhls said, “but I chose to focus on the impact on him. ‘This is a public forum,’ I said. ‘His parents will be seeing this.’ ” She removed the comment.
Though it seems as if children know everything about social media, Ms. Uhls said, actually they’re still learning. “They’re so focused on themselves and their friends,” she said, “they don’t understand that other people are watching.”
Step Away From Your Phone
Of the 10 contracts I examined, one item appeared most frequently: “Phones will be turned off and put away at certain times of the night.” Research backs this up. A study from the University of Basel found that teenagers who kept their smartphones on at night were more likely to watch videos, text and have poor sleep habits and higher depression. Lynn Schofield Clark, a professor at the University of Denver and the author of “The Parent App,” told me that setting physical limitations may be easier than enforcing time restrictions.
“When parents say, ‘You can use the phone only from this hour to this hour,’ it’s hard to manage,” she said. She recommends that all phones go in a box by the door when children enter the house, or all devices go in the center of the table during mealtimes, including at restaurants.
“Whatever rules you adopt,” she said, “make sure you put the chargers in a public place, so the phones have to be out of their possession at night.”
Read Every Text Twice
One role of parents is to explain that digital communication can easily be misconstrued. Ken Denmead, the publisher of GeekDad.com and the author of several books, said that he tells his teenage sons that text-based conversations have no emotional nuance unless you take the extra step to insert it. “You can use smileys and emoticons to add flavor to what you’re saying,” he said. “It’s also about word choice or adding #enthusiastic. The bottom line: Before you send a message, go back and read it without context. Consider if that exclamation point could be read as aggressive.”
The Grandmother Rule
Everyone agrees on the need to prevent children from sexting, bullying or posting something inappropriate. But how to convey that? One parent told me she requires her children to put potential posts on the refrigerator and get a majority vote from the family. Mr. Denmead tells his sons, “Always pretend you’re speaking in front of a crowd.”
Ms. Uhls recommended giving children a visual. “Think about your grandmother,” she said. “Think about the principal. Think about the most embarrassing adult in your life. Before you hit send, reflect on how that person would react.” My daughters independently suggested the same rule, and when I asked what the consequences should be for violating it, they said, “Actually show the post to Grandma!”
No Phones at Family Time
Everybody I spoke with had certain rules about family time. Ms. Uhls said: “When I was younger and took parenting classes, everybody said, ‘Just 10 minutes on the floor with the children.’ Now I say the same thing. ‘Just 10 minutes. No devices. That’s our time together.’ ”
In Mr. Denmead’s family, the first 20 minutes of every car ride are reserved for conversation. After that, devices can be plugged in. “I think we’re overly nostalgic for ‘spot the license plate,’ ” he said. “It’s just a substitute for abject boredom.”
Ms. Schofield Clark went so far as to add family time to the contract she wrote with her children. That item reads: “We will have weekly technology-free activities, like hiking, biking or walking the dogs. Occasionally, we will take technology-free retreats, like when fishing or camping.” The contract also includes weekly movie night, with the proviso, “When Mom watches horror or fantasy films, she’s not allowed to say, ‘Ewww,’ ‘Oh no!’ or ‘Gasp!’ ”
Do Unto Yourself
One surprising thing I heard about these agreements: They should include restrictions on the parents, who are the most egregious technology abusers of all. Ms. Schofield Clark’s daughter insisted on the clause, “When I have something to say, Mommy has to close the laptop and listen.”
Her son added a rule. Beginning when her children were young, Ms. Schofield Clark took their photo with Santa every Christmas. She forced them to do it when they were teenagers, then posted the photo on Facebook. Within seconds, her otherwise hibernating 14-year-old son came bolting from his bedroom. Their agreement now includes the plank, “If Mom wants to post a photo with a kid in it, she needs to ask.”
This story also holds perhaps the final lesson of managing media in families: No technology agreement can be written in stone. It needs to be revised with every new child, every new phase, every new device and every new app.
ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.
When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.
A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.
It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?
We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.
But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.
So a few years ago I set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn’t know if I could follow their road to character (I’m a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am). But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like.
I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.
If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:
THE HUMILITY SHIFT We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.
But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.
SELF-DEFEAT External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage. Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.
THE DEPENDENCY LEAP Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift. This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success. This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside. But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.
People on this road see life as a process of commitment making. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.
ENERGIZING LOVE Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction. But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”
That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward. As she wrote, “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”
She made unshakable commitments in all directions. She became a Catholic, started a radical newspaper, opened settlement houses for the poor and lived among the poor, embracing shared poverty as a way to build community, to not only do good, but be good. This gift of love overcame, sometimes, the natural self-centeredness all of us feel.
THE CALL WITHIN THE CALL We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.
Frances Perkins was a young woman who was an activist for progressive causes at the start of the 20th century. She was polite and a bit genteel. But one day she stumbled across the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and watched dozens of garment workers hurl themselves to their deaths rather than be burned alive. That experience shamed her moral sense and purified her ambition. It was her call within a call.
After that, she turned herself into an instrument for the cause of workers’ rights. She was willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, push through hesitation. She even changed her appearance so she could become a more effective instrument for the movement. She became the first woman in a United States cabinet, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and emerged as one of the great civic figures of the 20th century.
THE CONSCIENCE LEAP In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.
The novelist George Eliot (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was a mess as a young woman, emotionally needy, falling for every man she met and being rejected. Finally, in her mid-30s she met a guy named George Lewes. Lewes was estranged from his wife, but legally he was married. If Eliot went with Lewes she would be labeled an adulterer by society. She’d lose her friends, be cut off by her family. It took her a week to decide, but she went with Lewes. “Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done,” she wrote.
She chose well. Her character stabilized. Her capacity for empathetic understanding expanded. She lived in a state of steady, devoted love with Lewes, the kind of second love that comes after a person is older, scarred a bit and enmeshed in responsibilities. He served her and helped her become one of the greatest novelists of any age. Together they turned neediness into constancy.
Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?
Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.
The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.
This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.
External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.
The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.
As policymakers, administrators, and teachers, we want the children in our classrooms to be happy, of course. But how much does their happiness really matter when it comes to learning? According to a new study by HGSE lecturer Christina Hinton, Ed.D.’12, the answer is clear: It matters a lot.
Hinton examined the interplay of happiness, motivation, and success in a K–12 setting, and she also looked at the school factors that support student happiness.
Using both quantitative and qualitative measures, she found that from elementary school to high school, happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement. She also found that the culture of the school and the relationships that students form with their teachers and their peers play an influential role in their happiness.
In order to conduct the study, Hinton collaborated with the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School near Washington, D.C., which educates students in grades K–12. “We developed surveys to collect data on students’ happiness and motivation,” Hinton says. “We also collected qualitative data on happiness and motivation to dig more deeply into the construct. In addition, we collected data on students’ grade point averages. We then analyzed this data to explore the relationships among happiness, motivation, and academic achievement.”
Her analysis found several key associations that open the door to further research on how schools can optimize students’ learning experiences. Among them:
Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.
Happiness is also positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.
Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related, but further research is needed to confirm this.
Happiness is predicted by students’ satisfaction with school culture and relationships with teachers and peers.
The finding that happiness is positively correlated with GPA is significant, Hinton notes, because GPA provides a broader picture of academic achievement than standardized test scores, encompassing multiple types of abilities and the influence of social dynamics.
Moving past quantitative scores, the study examined the relationship between happiness and achievement from the students’ perspectives, as well as the source of the happiness that students report feeling in the classroom. “We asked the students what supports their learning, and then we coded the responses for themes,” says Hinton. “Students often reported that happiness, or positive feelings like enjoyment or fun, promotes learning.” They cited many reasons for their positive feelings, including feeling safe and comfortable at school and having secure relationships with their teachers and their peers.
These findings set the stage for important future research, Hinton says, as well as for exploring interventions that can successfully boost students’ overall happiness — and their performance in the classroom.
“In this study, we found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness,” Hinton says. “If schools want to support student well being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students.”
When children reach adolescence, everything that’s joyful, challenging, and surprising — or sanity-sapping — about being a parent seems suddenly to multiply. But hang in there. Just when it may feel like your kids are beginning to pull away, your involvement — and support — matters profoundly.
A body of research has already shown that parenting practices in early adolescence are predictive of later educational achievement. Now, some new findings by Professor Nancy Hill of the Harvard Graduate School of Education are showing the importance of one particular practice: helping teens set goals and explore interests.
In the research — a longitudinal sample of 1,452 African American and European American adolescents and their parents — Hill and coauthor Ming-Te Wang, Ed.M.’06, Ed.D.’10, looked at the effects of three parenting practices that grow in importance during adolescence, as young people assume greater control over their own development:autonomy support (providing opportunities for young people to make choices, make decisions, and develop solutions to problems independently); monitoring (providing clear and consistent guidelines and knowing where kids are, what they’re doing, and who their friends are); and warmth (a supportive relationship between parent and child). These parenting practices, Hill and other researchers have found, are related to outcomes in adolescence and early adulthood, as well as more directly to school engagement and achievement.
In the new research, Hill and Wang found:
All three parenting practices, when measured at 7th grade, have both short term positive associations with aspiration, grade point average, and school engagement and long-term effects on college enrollment three years post–high school
All three practices were related to aspirations and behavioral engagement at 8th grade.
The pathways from 8th-grade aspirations to 11th-grade engagement and GPA were stronger than the reverse paths from 8th-grade GPA/engagement to 11th-grade aspirations.
Aspirations are key to engagement; when connected to aspirations, engagement in school becomes self-motivating.
The connection between aspiration and school engagement is also important for students who are already high achievers.
Parents remain a significant influence through adolescence and early adulthood by promoting aspirations, helping their kids find meaning and purpose in their schoolwork, and showing them how their current endeavors fit their longer-term goals and identities.
Parental warmth matters broadly. Warmth was directly related to aspirations, school engagement, and GPA, and through these factors was related to college enrollment.
“Parental warmth, including trust and connectedness, provides the emotional security and foundation young people need to explore their ideas and interests,” Hill says. “It enables parents to both affirm and shape who adolescents will become.”
In one of the study’s interesting findings, Hill observed that the effects of two of the three parenting practices were somewhat different in African Americans and European Americans. The practice of monitoring is more positively related to grade point average and behavioral engagement for African Americans than for European Americans, whereas the practice of autonomy support was more positively related to GPA for European Americans.
The benefits of firmer parenting and monitoring for African Americans are consistent with prior research, Hill says. But autonomy granting, which, research shows, is used much less by black parents, is significantly related to kids’ developing aspirations and planfulness. “There is a paradox for African American parents,” Hill says. “Firmer parenting strategies and monitoring are beneficial for their children, both with regard to grades and to teachers’ ratings of classroom behavior. Research has shown that African American teenagers are more likely to face disciplinary measures in school, so many parents naturally focus on following rules. But these strategies are not as beneficial for honing aspirations and don’t allow for youth to make and learn from their mistakes in ways that are essential for adolescent development. There is a delicate balance for black parents in figuring out how and when to closely monitor their youth and allow for autonomy.”
The study also notes one essential commonality: It found no difference in the importance of parental warmth. Across ethnicity, warmth was equally beneficial for supporting aspirations, engagement, and achievement.
A generation of “snowplough” parents have pampered their children so much that they are driving a mental health epidemic among today’s teenagers, a leading Australian child psychologist says.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, a high-profile parenting expert who spoke to teachers and parents at The Illawarra Grammar School this week, said many Generation X parents had made their children’s lives so easy that the kids were left with no way to handle problems or overcome obstacles on their own.
“This generation of parents just push all the obstacles out of the way and try to make life as simple and as easy as possible for their kids,” he said.
“On the face of it, that’s admirable because we all want the best for our kids, but it teaches them absolutely nothing about resilience and creates immense vulnerability when they leave home and go into the big wide world.”
A snowplough parent drives their child right to the school gate instead of making them catch a bus or walk to school.
They buy their children all the latest gadgets and toys, wash, clean, cook and iron without making kids pitch in, and they make sure their sons and daughters only hand in meticulous homework and assignments.
Dr Carr-Gregg blames this increasingly common parenting approach on guilt, caused by mothers and fathers not spending enough time with their children.
“Part of it is that you’ve got parents with much smaller sized families, [who are] less connected to extended families so there is less support,” he said.
“The parents are time poor, they are guilty and they tend to indulge their kids too much.”
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This was not only creating a generation of spoilt and overindulged children, he said, but was contributing to an unprecedented mental health crisis by leaving young people ill-equipped to deal with their own problems.
He said the rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide were higher in regional areas like Wollongong than in major capital cities.
“About one in four young people will have a major psychological problem before leaving school … so arguably this is the most vulnerable generation in the history of the Illawarra,” he said.
“It’s ironic because we’ve seen the First and Second World Wars and Vietnam but in fact, from a psychological point of view, these kids are less resilient than their parents or grandparents.”
Dr Carr-Gregg said it was up to parents to help avert a bigger mental health crisis by making their children do the hard work.
“I have a rule of thumb, ‘never do for your children what they can do for themselves’,” he said.
He said this meant putting children on a bus or bike, or showing them how to use public transport to get to school.
They should also have regular chores, strict rules about using technology and, when they are old enough, a part-time job to teach them the value of money.
“We just have to stop pampering them – it’s reached epidemic proportions,” he said.
“Many of the kids I talk to have never actually cooked for themselves, they’ve never actually made their own bed or tidied their own room, washed their clothes or ironed their shirts.
“Kids aren’t made of glass and they are not going to shatter.”
How to care for your kids without being a snowplough
• Make sure your kids get enough sleep
Sleep is the single most important study tool because kids who don’t get enough sleep are ‘‘crabby and unpleasant and can’t learn properly’’.
• Make sure they eat a healthy breakfast
Research suggests 10per cent of schoolchildren don’t eat breakfast and another 15per cent eat unhealthy food – they are neurologically unteachable.
• Zero tolerance of alcohol
Alcohol is toxic to the developing brain, so children should not drink anything at all until at least 16.
• Moderate and limit technology use
Dr Carr-Gregg says most parents are unaware of tools that allow them to block or moderate their children’s internet and video game use. Parents need to use programs to allow kids to access the internet for homework but block social media that will distract them.
• Talk to your kids. Eat at the table
Parents don’t spend enough time talking one-on-one with their kids when they are young.
Eating at the dinner table leads to better academic results, language development and protection against alcohol and drug abuse.
Hours after my first child was born, I couldn’t sleep. I held the little bundle of adorableness in my arms and thought, As long as you are happy, nothing else matters. Flash-forward 17 years of parenting, and you know what? Happiness isn’t top of the list for my deepest wants for my kids. Somewhere along the road, I realized that my kids’ happiness is way overrated.
Every day, on Facebook and parenting message boards, I see my fellow moms complaining about how loads of homework and mean teachers are making their kids unhappy. Their kids are bored or stressed or under too much pressure. They aren’t happy, they worry. They need to be happy, they protest.
It seems as though parents nowadays equate happiness as a life devoid of boredom or dissatisfaction. Every activity children engage in, no matter how mundane, should be creatively constructed to engage and enlighten.
I get it.
You look at that little representative of all the best things about you rolled into huge eyes and a sweet messy smile, and you feel the urge to keep them happy at all costs.
You want to keep from them the agony of failure, the pain of rejection and the self-conscious awkwardness of not fitting in. You want your child to walk through the world believing they can do anything and be anyone and that they are special.
I get all that. I just disagree. Life insists you do all kinds of things that make you unhappy. I don’t want my kids to be happy. I want them to be battle-tested.
When kids are young, you create their whole world. You pick their friends, their clothing, their activities, their entertainment, their education, even their food. It’s easy to construct a perfect existence for them, filled with encouragement.
But that is not maintainable in the long run. At some point, the world gets hold of them, and there’s nothing a parent can do to protect them.
When I decided I was so terrific I should make more of me to populate this already overcrowded world, I figured I owed my kids a certain legacy of competence. I meet my responsibility with love, but I never lose sight of the fact that I am preparing them for something bigger than our relationship.
So, I don’t save them from the hurts of life. These little earthquakes feel huge at the time, but soon fade in importance. More times than not, my kids learn from those hurts, and they use the lesson to develop as people.
There are no lessons in happiness. People don’t grow from joy. The meat of life is in all those other emotions; fear, sadness, frustration. That’s where we do our growing — facing and learning how to navigate those feelings.
The best way for me to raise these people is to give them the tools to find their own way. I can’t follow my children through life clearing a path for them. But I can give them a machete and teach them how to clear their own path. Yes, I just suggested giving children weapons — it’s an analogy. That has been the tactic I’ve been following for the last 17 years.
I parent with love, but I parent with the day I can no longer parent in mind. In each ‘end of days’ moment my kids experience, we pick out the personal responsibility. We talk about our power, and finding the strength that only comes from failures. We talk about facing fears and find the opportunities within.
Parenting will always be a balancing act: Keeping our kids safe, keeping them moving forward and keeping them happy. To make that more doable for our family, I’ve given up on that last one. My kids aren’t always happy, and that’s OK. We embrace the pain together. Through each issue we face, they grow stronger and closer to becoming fully-functioning adults.
An interesting article – sounds very similar to the work we’re doing in our Maker Space, and our concentration on student-centered learning and Goal V, personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom.
SAN FRANCISCO — My 9-year-old daughter is in the midst of a “pioneer” unit in her third grade class. It’s a great example of a project-based curriculum: The kids are developing math skills by determining what and how much they can pack without overloading wagons for a cross-country trek. They roll a “twist of fate” die that presents (virtual) obstacles they might have faced in the late 19th century — bad weather, loss of livestock, etc. — and then have to problem-solve to get their trek back on track. They’re reading a variety of historical perspectives, such as Louise Erdrich’s “The Birchbark House” and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. And perhaps most important, they’re learning about self-sufficiency and resilience — and how even the youngest kids needed it in spades.
Before the Industrial Revolution really kicked into high gear, people had to know how to do everything, from navigating routes to preserving food, building homes to sewing clothes. You couldn’t head to the nearest supermarket or mall, you had to figure out how to make it, catch it, build it or grow it. For contemporary kids used to streaming video, play dates and even drone delivery, it’s illuminating to learn about this. And it’s not something easily — or typically — conveyed through grade school homework.
I’m not nostalgic for pioneer days. I’m a huge fan of modern conveniences. But as we’ve become so disconnected from where things come from, from the knowledge, resources and effort required to fulfill even the most basic needs, I believe we’ve lost something essential (if intangible). That’s why I want to talk about two amazing endeavors geared toward cultivating that sort of resourcefulness and creativity.
If we want to raise kids to be independent thinkers and change-makers, one of the best things we can do is give them the tools to figure stuff out for themselves. And a terrific manual for that is “50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do),” by Gever Tulley, a self-taught software engineer.
“There are not enough opportunities in a child’s life to be taken seriously, to be given autonomy and to learn authentically,” says Tulley. “I think they need learning opportunities that respect and incorporate their ideas.”
Tulley’s book presents 50 challenges (with instructions), each utterly at odds with today’s rampant helicopter parenting, such as Stand on a Roof, Taste Electricity (by licking a 9-volt battery), Dam a Creek and (I’ll admit I’m not ready to allow this one yet) Cross Town on Public Transportation.
“50 Dangerous Things” emphasizes the importance of introducing risk, facilitating autonomy and letting kids know that with danger comes discovery. This book comes to life at The Tinkering School, a program Tulley started here in San Francisco in 2000. (There is also a K-12 school, Brightworks, and a sleepaway camp down the coast; the program has recently expanded to Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin and Buffalo.)
At the start of the week, children are given a project: to design and build a Yellow Submarine, perhaps, or to construct a Monster City and a mechanical King Kong to destroy it. Starting as early as age 6, kids are taught how to use tools (hammers, orbital sanders, skilsaws) safely and responsibly (and to put everything back the way they found it at the end of the day). They form teams, determine tasks and timelines and, with guidance from an expert crew of instructors (the ratio is about one adult to four kids), are entrusted as project leaders designers and heads of a construction crew.
This isn’t just a bunch of kids messing around with stuff. Behind the chaos you can see the gears turning. There is no template, no set of instructions (and no screens). They need to be attentive, engaged and curious. As they begin a project, they’re learning how to collaborate, identify the skill sets of their group and deploy those talents accordingly, and problem-solve creatively. “The use of real tools dramatically increases agency,” says the Tinkering School’s manager, Joshua Rothhaas. “It’s like learning Spanish and suddenly realizing you can talk to about 400 million more people in the world than you could before you knew Spanish. It fundamentally changes the way your kid thinks about the world, how it works, and what they are capable of.”
All these children need are tools, materials and guidance. From there, their imaginations take over and creative problem-solving commences. They are still young enough not to have totally surrendered to that horrible adult trait of second-guessing. They’re given parameters and deadlines, which they take with the utmost seriousness. And at week’s end, the kids take the project apart; the materials can be reused and recycled, so they’re also learning about the life cycle of products and materials.
“When I started 10 years ago, I had the strong sense that kids were not being treated as competent people,” says Tulley. “It was as if no one expected them to be able to actually do anything until they graduated high school. I knew that they were capable of more, and wanted to create a place where they could show themselves and their parents that they could tackle a big problem.”
The Tinkering School ethos is echoed across the bay at Project H in Berkeley, Calif., where, says its founder, Emily Pilloton, “There’s no reason in the entire world to be bored.”
After graduating from architecture school, Pilloton quickly became disenchanted with what she was being paid to design while working at a for-profit design company. So, in 2008, she established Project H, a nonprofit that merges design and hands-on building to inspire youth, transform communities and improve K-12 public education from within. She and her small team teach 200 students at the Realm Charter School in Berkeley (it’s part of the regular curriculum). She also runs a summer camp for girls, and recently added a weekend workshop program for adults. (I couldn’t let my daughter have all the fun — I took welding with Pilloton last year and can’t wait to do it again.)
Her young crew is currently building two tiny houses that they designed. In the process, they’re looking at housing through a social, economic and environmental lens: upon completion of work, the students will donate the homes to Opportunity Village, an organization that helps the homeless in Eugene, Ore. Pilloton had wanted to donate locally but this group is the only one she could find that uses houses of this size (175 – 200 square feet) to house the homeless legally. Her students learned another valuable lesson as aspiring designers/architects — you’ve got to learn to work with zoning restrictions.
Creating something as ubiquitous as a house, says Pilloton, makes these kids look at the things around them in a different way because now they understand how they’re put together. (By the way, this all happens on an annual budget of $200,000. I think the greater challenge is the inability to clone multiple Emily Pillotons.)
“Every student in our class has something to contribute,” says Pilloton. “When you put a tool in the hands of a young person there’s the instinct to use it in a really creative way. It’s super powerful for a kid to say I drew this thing and now I’m building it.”
As Pilloton describes what and how these kids, and the young girls in particular, are learning, her observations jibe with what I’ve seen with my own daughter. “It’s powerful and necessary to give girls the opportunity to do something unexpected,” she says. “There’s nothing you could say to them that they wouldn’t try.” In short, they’re true pioneers.