Thursday, June 29, 2006

Children Who Feel Empty...

I found this article in my SF Chronicle Magazine, from Sunday's newspaper. It's pretty long, but worth a look if you have some time. Really, there's nothing here that I haven't thought before...too many kids today are overscheduled, over-pressured, and very unhappy because of it. One thought that came to me, though, is that this story is about upper-middle to upper-class kids...what about the lower-middle and lower-class kids. When their parents push them and push them, isn't it supposed to be a sign of caring? And conversely, if they DON'T push them, isn't that a sign of failure? Where's the happy medium?

The article, which is really exerpts from the author's forthcoming book, talks in detail about the difference between healthy involvement, overinvolvement, and intrusion in your childs life. To be sure, children need a lot of involvement from their parents. The amount of time we volunteer at Maya's school is proof of that, as well as time spent together cooking, helping with homework, etc. Here is a quote that discusses the differences between these three terms.
"Appropriately involved parents know the importance of stepping back as soon as is practical, and of respecting their child's striving toward independence. Overinvolvement is not simply "more" healthy involvement; rather it is involvement that can get in the way of child development....It is usually, but not always, ill advised, and some children can be remarkably forgiving about this sort of behavior. I tend to think of overinvolvement as the things we do for our kids - the forgotten dishes we wash, the unmade beds we straighten, the editing we do on our child's writing assignments. But overinvolvement stops short of psychologically manipulating the child. It is more likely to slow progress than to damage children. Intrusion, on the other hand, is always unhelpful, if not damaging.

It invades the child's developing psychological space, and blurs the appropriate and necessary boundaries between parent and child, invariably to the child's disadvantage...."I know you tried hard, but I can't understand why you're not ashamed to hand in a paper that still has errors," says the intrusive parent, mistakenly believing that shame will motivate her child to try harder. Promoting guilt and shame invariably works against progress - and, more importantly, they weaken the ties between child and parent."
At the front of the magazine was an Editor's comment, by Alison Biggar, which I felt was worth including. Here are 5 tips to raising a well-adjusted teen, with my comments as well, because duh, you know I can't NOT have an opinion:
1. Love the kid you get. Knowing you're lovable is one key to future happiness.
This seems like a no-brainer to me, but then when you watch Shalom in the Home and the Nanny and other stupid reality shows, you realize how many kids are not getting that message. Often because the parents are just too overwhelmed, and don't know what the hell they're doing when they try to parent effectively. And also, Love the Kid you get....really, we so often expect something different, a child who loves to read or loves math or who isn't afraid of the dark, or who excells at sports or debate or spelling...whatever. It's sometimes hard to let go of these expectations and appreciate the wonderful child that one has. It's imporant, though, for them to know you not only love them, YOU LOVE THEM AS THEY ARE.

2. A happy mom raises happy kids. Moms need to take care of themselves.
It goes without saying to me that this applies equally to dads. And marriages. A happy marriage has a much greater chance of producting happy children than an unhappy marriage.

3. Discipline is crucial. Kids need a sense of limits and boundaries. It helps them develop self-control.
Can't say enough on this one, and no, I don't think it has to be spanking vs. doormat. Too many people think those are the only options.

4. High standards are great, but guilt and shame are no way to enforce them. Let kids make mistakes so they learn to pick themselves up and become self motivated.
This is a hard one. Not the guilt and shame...I HOPE we don't put that on her. But the idea of letting them make their own mistakes is sometimes easier said than done. I've gotten better at not reminding her that she has homework, and letting her take the consequences if she forgets to do it. But it's not easy. Better have her learn to be self motivated now, rather than just be starting on this skill in college, I'm thinking.

5. Leave kids alone. An internal sense of self - an inner life - comes from quiet, uninterrupted time to think and dream, not from an intense calendar full of scheduled activities.
This one makes me think of a couple of Maya's classmates. D, for example, has ballet 3 days a week, girl scouts twice a month, violen lessons, piano lessons, and swimming lessons. I have read of the benefits of music lessons on math comprehension, of sports on learning to work as a team and physical fitness, of second and third languages learned earlier rather than later being of great benefit. So, am I somehow failing Maya by not pushing her into more activities? Maybe not so many as D, who has at least one activity every day, but more than her current one at a time? That's been our solution so far...she has taken Spanish, Hip Hop, Soccer, Ballet, Karate, Swimming, and Girl Scouts, but really, only one thing per semester or whatever. She doesn't fall in love with any of these activities, so she moves on to the next one. Maya is fiercely protective of her "down time" (so much so that she once tried to get out of vacuuming the floor by stating, "I have my whole life to do chores - I want to enjoy my childhood!" Don't worry, she vacuumed. ;) ). If she weren't so protective of her time, and if she were as enthusiastic about activities as D is (and I've seen her, she LOVES all of these activities), then I'm not sure what we would do to slow her down. I hope we would stick to the "One, maybe two" activity rule, but it's not easy sometimes. Of course, we couldn't AFFORD all of those activities at once, so really, it's probably a non-issue anyway.

So, if you're interested in what looks to be a good read about why certain children, especially those who seem to "have it all", are increasingly feeling empty and isolated, start with the link to the article, and for more depth, move on to the book. Looks like a disturbing read.

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