Everything From This Point Is Extra Credit

I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life.

  • Angel Flight pants paired with a silk shirt. Really a two-fer.
  • At age 16, getting shit-faced and hurling in the Disneyland parking lot after trying to sneak in through the employees’ exit. While wearing Angel Flight pants and a silk shirt. Can all of a person’s bad decisions coalesce in a single night?
  • Last Monday at Tumwater Valley golf course, repeatedly hitting gap wedge instead of pitching wedge and coming up short.
  • Weeding amongst poison oak in shorts and t-shirts. A couple of times.
  • Asking my eight year old daughter to help me jump start the car.
  • Running the first half of the Boston Marathon way too fast.
  • Using a clueless, commission-based financial planner.
  • Attempting to put Christmas lights on top of the steep ass roof.
  • Watching the Seahawks throw from the one yard line for a second Super Bowl victory.

Fortunately though, the biggies have gone especially well. I picked excellent parents who provided a loving foundation. I went to the right college because I had to work harder than I ever had to succeed there. And I am a much better person for partnering with The Good Wife.

Also, half way through college, discerning that I wanted to teach. And related to that, earning a doctorate early on opened doors to what has been an extremely fulfilling career in higher education. And while in graduate school, committing to daily exercise which continues to add to the quality of my life.

Recently, I reflected on these life decisions when a friend, the same age as me, late 50’s, opened up about her desire to change the world. It surprised me because she’s contributed a lot to a better world as an especially caring mother and volunteer. In hindsight, she said parenting was fulfilling, but only to a point. She regretted staying home with her son and daughter as long as she did. As she talked excitedly about plans to work outside the home going forward, I couldn’t help but think how different my mindset is.

If I’m honest with myself, I do not want to change the world too terribly much anymore. Why?

I think my spirit is relatively settled because of my decision to teach. The psychic renumeration has run circles around the financial. My soul is satiated with decades and decades of meaningful relationships with numerous students and co-workers. When deciding between vocations, young people don’t factor that in nearly enough. Being in debt certainly doesn’t help.

One huge advantage of working with adult students is after a class is over they often take time to write or say how much they appreciate my teaching efforts. And for all of the downsides to social media, it’s pretty cool to get “friended” by a former student who is flourishing as a teacher or social worker him or herself in some distant corner of the country or world.

If someone tapped me on the shoulder this September and said, “Sorry dude, but we have to go younger, you know, someone with hair,” I’d be cool with it. Absent that shoulder tap, I plan on continuing half-time for the foreseeable future because I think my teaching is mutually beneficial to both my students and me. At minimum, their idealism inspires me and they help me focus on more than baby rabbits.

I do not want to change the world in the manner my more energetic and ambitious friend does, but that doesn’t preclude me from doing so in small, subtle, nuanced ways.

If I don’t want to change the world, what do I want?

I want to invest in old and new friendships by slowing down and making time for others. I want to spend more time in the kitchen. I want to sit on the deck and watch and see if the four baby rabbits cuddling together in the planter survive the eagles’ daily fly-bys. I want to enjoy art, especially excellent literature and independent film. I want to swim, run, and cycle in nature. Mostly though, I want to be present in my marriage and as a father. I want to listen and understand my wife’s and daughters’ dreams and cheer them on as they achieve them.

And I still want to help others take small steps toward thriving families, schools and communities by putting pen to paper or keyboard to screen*.

*awkward phrase, one more bad life decision

 

 

 

Over Parenting

Parents, grandparents, and guardians of infants and young children cannot dedicate themselves enough to children’s well-being. Especially during the first ten years of life, every hour spent conversing with children; playing with them; helping them learn to enjoy sports, arts, and school tends to pay positive dividends later when they blossom into respectful, thoughtful, kind, independent, self-confident young adults.

But I’m not sure how to square that hypothesis with the fact that an increasing number of adolescents are suffering in silence with not just anxiety disorders and depression, but suicide, because many loving parents, grandparents, and guardians invest time and energy in those same silent sufferers.

As many are quick to point out, one thing that’s different these days is the pervasive influence of social media. The most shocking related statistic I learned lately is that 40 percent of teens say they use a device within five minutes of going to sleep, 36 percent admit to waking up to check a device, and 32 percent say they use a device within five minutes of waking up.

For parents the numbers are 26, 23, and 23.

If tonight Steve Kerr tweets that I’m needed in Golden State’s backcourt, or the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences tweets that I’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize, I’m sorry, I’m not waking up. I know, sleeping straight through the night, how old fashion can I get?

To point to social media as the single most important variable is too simplistic. When it comes to something as complex as parenting and adolescent development, differences over time have to be multi-causal. So what else might explain what’s different today? Or to ask the same question differently, when it comes to raising relatively happy and mentally healthy young adults, what did my parents’ generation tend to get more correct?

I think the answer lies in one thing I notice about parenting today. Many super involved parents of young children seem wholly unable to disengage from their children’s lives as they move through adolescence into adulthood. More simply, compared to their parents, they stay way too involved, way too long. Having dedicated themselves so much early on, it’s as if they can’t help themselves. But somewhere between ages ten and twenty, parent involvement reaches a point of diminishing returns.

Many modern parents don’t realize that too much involvement can convey a lack of trust in young people’s abilities to learn from their mistakes and gradually become independent. Just yesterday, after some unsolicited advice, Youngest, who is building a photography business said to me, “And dad, I’m going to make mistakes because I’m new at this.”

I believe over parenting is contributing to an unhealthy, prolonged, co-dependence between parents and children. I have no idea how to restore some semblance of balance.

How about you?

Erynn Brook’s Mum Taught Her She’s Allowed to Leave

A Twitter thread @ErynnBrook.

“I want to tell you a story about how my mum taught me that I’m allowed to leave an uncomfortable situation.
I was maybe 7, I think it was my first sleepover at someone else’s house. I don’t remember the girl’s name. But before I left Mum told me that if I was uncomfortable at any point, for any reason, even if it was in the middle of the night, I could call her.
She was very clear. She said even if her parents have gone to bed I want you to knock on their bedroom door and ask to use the phone. I could call her even if it was late. And if her parents didn’t answer the door to just go find the phone and call her anyway.
She said it doesn’t matter what time it is, you won’t be in trouble and I’ll come get you.
I think I was being teased about something. It definitely wasn’t just I can’t sleep, there was something social going on. But that’s what I did.
The girl’s mom tried to discourage me. She said it was late, I said my mum didn’t care. She said I could sleep on the couch. I said I wanted to go home. She said I was upsetting her daughter, I said she was mean to me.
I remember holding the phone and my mum answered. I said “hi Mum.” She said “you want me to come get you?” I said “yes please.” She said “ask her Mum to help you pack up your things and get your coat on. I’ll be right there.”
And my mum showed up on her doorstep in pajama pants and a coat. The girl’s mum kept apologizing for me calling, my mum put up a hand and said “don’t apologize for my daughter. I want her to know she’s allowed to leave and I’ll be there for her at any time.”
I remember the little crowd of sleepover girls huddled in the far doorway that led to the bedrooms, watching all of this confused and silent. And I remember that mom apologizing. She didn’t seem to know what to say after my mum asked her to stop.
I had more incidents like that as I grew up. My mum did a lot around boundaries with me. I remember her marching me down the street to another girl’s house to ask for an apology in front of her parents.
I remember her telling 3 friends to sit in the front room with their bags packed while they waited for their parents to come get them, after I had told them all to “get out of my house” for teasing me and bullying me.
I remember her coaching me through a speech on how to resign and leave from a hostile work environment when I was in the middle of nowhere at a camp for the summer, and she offered money to get a cab to pick me and my friends up.
I can’t say I’ve always followed my gut on boundaries and discomfort. I can’t say I’ve never swallowed it in order to make others comfortable. But I can say what she taught me was important. It was and still is radical.
It’s radical to have boundaries. And to exercise them. Three things I think were really really important in what she did:
1. She always explicitly said ‘you can leave if you want to.’
2. She never questioned why, or whether I was overreacting.
3. She showed up.
But I think a lot about the girl’s mum apologizing and how… that’s the norm, actually.
What my mum taught me was radical, what that girl’s mum was teaching was the norm. ‘Just deal with it, don’t trouble anyone, go back to sleep, it’ll be over soon, don’t ruin it.’
And I still get that message from a lot of places. But my mum taught me that I’m allowed to leave.

I see what a privilege that is as an adult. For some people, for some situations, there is no way out. But sometimes, also, we don’t leave because we think we’re not allowed.

So, just in case no one ever told you (or you need a reminder): YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE.

You can leave a date, a party, a job, a meeting, a commitment. You are allowed. If you’re worried about keeping your word remember that your boundaries are also your word, your integrity.

I wanted to tell this story because the message to stay to make others comfortable is so pervasive, that without actively teaching me that I’m allowed to leave, that’s what I would’ve absorbed.
Hell, I absorbed a lot of it anyway. As an adult, at that camp job, I remember her on the phone saying ‘what do you want to do?’ And not knowing, until she said ‘do you want to leave?’ And I said ‘can I?’ She said ‘You can always leave. What do you need so you can leave?’
So, if you’re a person like me, who was taught that you’re allowed to leave, keep an eye out for those who weren’t. They may need the reminder. They may need to hear that it’s okay. They may need help. And keep telling yourself that you are allowed. You’re allowed to leave. 💜
Wow this is really taking off! Before it goes too far I wanted to say: I’m seeing this being gendered and while I am a woman and my mother is a woman there’s no gender on this message. I understand the impulse to teach your daughters this but please teach all children.
When you know that you are allowed to leave, when you exercise that boundary, the idea that others are allowed to leave also comes up. Boys stay in uncomfortable situations to fit in as well, they also deserve this lesson.
Trans, non binary and gender non conforming folks often shrink themselves for the comfort of those around them. They deserve this lesson too. Everyone is allowed to leave. No one is obliged to be uncomfortable for others’ comfort or enjoyment. 💜”

Friday Assorted Links

1. How we talk to our kids about race, racism and identity. After the discussion, one of the participants communicated an important insight that is often lost on people who do not have much experience with people different than them.

“This experience concretized a familiar truth: black identity is not a monolith. Our experiences and stories are as vivid, varied, and complex as our culture and hues.”

2. Does implicit bias training work?

Researchers suggest:

“When companies get in hot water over bias, their initial reaction is often to do some kind of training because it’s something you can outsource and it’s relatively easy to do and has good optics. The studies that look out six months to a year tend to be equally likely to show increased bias after the training as they are to show decreased bias.”

All is not lost though:

“. . . companies can have better success decreasing bias by making sure their workforces are integrated so that people of different racial groups are regularly in contact with one another. “We know that what works best is for workers to be put side by side with people from other groups and have them work together collaboratively as equals. That seems to be the best way to change stereotypes in people’s heads because it causes people not to lump all members of a group together, but to start to individuate.”

3. Fixing Ethiopia Requires More Than a New Prime Minister.

Hilary Matfess describes the The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s  (EPRDF) political hegemony. It’s a blueprint of sorts for wannabe authoritarians the world over.

Her logical conclusion is disheartening:

“The current unrest in Ethiopia is not a phase that will fade with the pronouncement of a new prime minister, but rather a reflection of a system in which modest reform and dissent have been made nearly impossible. Until the government remedies the marginalization of ethnic groups and ceases to perpetrate gross human rights abuses, it will experience protests, potentially escalating beyond the low levels of violence that have characterized the clashes between Oromo protesters and the government thus far. Putting a new face to the leadership of this system will not be enough to stabilize the country—radical democratizing reforms are necessary. Failing this, the country (and its hand-wringing security partners) can expect continued resistance and instability.”

Summer Reading and Thinking

What I’m reading. Janesville by Amy Goldstein. What happens to a place when a majority of people work for an automaker that closes shop? When people used to earn $28/hour with some overtime and now make somewhere between $0 and $16/hour. Here’s a part of the answer:

     “In the shadows of town, hundreds of teenagers are becoming victims of a domino effect. These are kids whose parents used to scrape by on jobs at Burger King or Target or the Gas Mart. Now their parents are competing with the unemployed autoworkers who used to look down on these jobs but now are grasping at any job they can find. So, as middle-class families have been tumbling downhill, working-class families have been tumbling into poverty. And as this down-into-poverty domino effect happens, some parents are turning to drinking or drugs. Some are leaving their kids behind while they go looking for work out of town. Some are just unable to keep up the rent. So with a parent or on their own, a growing crop of teenagers is surfing the couches at  friends’ and relatives’ places—or spending nights in out-of–the-way spots in cars or on the street.”

Robert Putnam on Janesville,

“Reflecting on the state of the white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy focuses on cultural decay and the individual, whereas Amy Goldstein’s Janesville emphasizes economic collapse and the community.  To understand how we have gotten to America’s current malaise, both are essential reading.”

On deck. In the hole.

Shifting to thinking, I’m thinking about how artists talk about becoming artists and the implications of that for parents, teachers, and coaches. How do parents, teachers, and coaches cultivate true artistry or other specialized forms of expertise in young people? Specialized expertise that might enable them to independently make a living in the new economy. My thoughts are still in the subconscious primordial ooze phase, but I trust they’ll settle in some sort of coherent pattern sometime soon.

In short, here’s what I don’t hear artists say, “I took this really great class in school.” Instead, musicians for example, almost always say, “My parents were always playing the coolest music.” The word I keep returning to is “milieu” or social environment. In this data obsessed age, we’re utterly lacking in sophistication when it comes to the cumulative effective of the environments young people inhabit. Granted, formal schooling, think Juilliard for example, can contribute to artistic excellence, but meaningful learning is mostly the result of osmosis outside of school.

How do some families, in the way they live day-to-day, foster specialized expertise in children almost by accident, whether in the arts, academics, cooking, design, computers, or athletics? What can educators learn from those families to reinvent formal academic settings? What might “osmosis-based” schools look like? Schools where students watch adults actively engaged in learning and get seriously caught up in the fun.

 

Why are Parents Surveilling Their Young Adult Children?

How much Mario Batali, famous chef, and father of two college age sons, do you have in you? Batali in a national newspaper recently:

I still pay for my son’s phones, so they use the “Find My Friends” app, which allows me to track them no matter where they are. If they turn it off, I give them 15 minutes to turn it back on or I turn off their phones. ’Cause if you’re somewhere you don’t want me to know about, maybe you should pay for your own phone.

It’s amazing to me that Batali is not the least bit self conscious about surveilling his sons, meaning maybe you find my reaction more surprising. But before this phenomenon becomes the new normal, let’s “press pause” and think about it a bit.

Some questions for the Batali’s of the world. Why so little trust in your adult children? Was your parenting that bad? How would you have liked it if your parents had used global positioning satellites to keep track of your every move when a young adult? When a young adult, did you have ample freedom to make some important decisions by yourself, including where to go and when? And did you learn anything important from poor decisions? In the end, were you better off as a result of the pre-gps autonomy you enjoyed?

“But the world is a more dangerous place today,” the Batali’s will say, “then when we grew up.” But social science data strongly suggests otherwise. So rampant parental anxiety about their young adult children’s well-being isn’t rational, it’s emotional, which begs a few more questions for the Batali’s. What is your greatest fear? Is it, as I suspect, that your adult children are going to be physically harmed, maybe even die?

How will your technological tethers prevent random bad things from happening? My guess is, and tell me if I’m wrong, the Batali’s can’t quite accept the fragility of life, theirs, and especially their children’s. If we want to truly safeguard our young adult children, we have to ban them from getting driver’s licenses, not allow them to go away to college, and preclude them from being outdoors in public. In addition, we need to strengthen our technological tethers so that we can detect blood alcohol, THC, and nakedness from long distance.*

Last but not least, a suggestion for the Batali broheims and their watched over peers. Scrape together enough money for your own phones. Tell your parents to take their “Find My Friends” apps and shove them. Lovingly of course. Because life is fragile.

* I hope no one in Silicon Valley reads this.