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?

The Great Millennial Novelist

Sally Rooney. Or so “they” say. I just finished the 28 year olds second novel, Normal People. Eldest was mostly right about Rooney’s core readership.

From inside the cover:

“Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.”

Two-thirds of the way through I texted Eldest who devoured it in one marathon session:

“Normal People. Past half way, but having a wee problem with the intensity of their feelings for one another and their proclivity to spurn one another. Doesn’t ring true to me.”

Eldest, at 26 years young, is in a much better position than me to assess the believability of two characters in their early 20’s and she respectfully pushed back, to which I wrote:

“Yes, but in my experience, that’s the diff between high school and college. In college you quit caring what your friends think of your bfriend/gfriend.”

That prompted the most Millennial of texts:

“Hahahahahahaha. I WISH!”

Sadly, it appears I’m losing touch with today’s young adults.

By the end, the story not only rang true, it left me immobilized in my reading chair, like a great film sometimes does. The last sentence of my favorite review of the book resonated most with me:

“It is a long time since I cared so much about two characters on a page.”

And to think she’s just getting started. Here’s hoping expectations don’t take a toll.

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Pacific Northwest Heatwave

In the Pacific Northwest, when the mercury rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C), everyone gets a little nutty, similar to how Southern California drivers lose their minds when it rains. Last night it was 90 degrees at 8pm, plus it was high tide, so the salt water beckoned me from my reading chair. The Sound is cold, but less so at high tide, since the rocks heat up during low tide.

As I stood in the waist deep water, I thought I was all alone, but two friends emerged from the wooded trail and joined me. Griffey and Eddie, two hyper friendly dogs, were even more excited to swim than me. Summertime fun.

Tangent. On the walk home, I may have spied my neighbors’ empty glass bottles which were set out on the street for once-a-month recycling. You may label this nosey eavesdropping, but it’s more sociological analysis. How much alcohol do people drink? Do they prefer wine, beer, or spirits? If beer, the cheap stuff or expensive craft labels? How are their family economics?

Another tangent. If your doc is like mine, she probably asks you how many drinks you have a week. I’m guessing people seriously underreport. I mean docs are scary in their lab coats and all and you know the answer they’re looking for. Same as when your scary dental hygienist asks if you floss. “Several times a day.”

Then I walk by your house and there’s a Giza Pyramid of empties on the curb. Pants on fire. Hey docs, here’s an idea, stop with the questions and walk your patients’ streets on recycling night.

In an effort to outsmart my similarly sociologically inclined neighbors, I’m masking my drinking habits this summer via aluminum cans which get tossed into a larger, enclosed receptacle that they’d have to lift the top off of to see inside. No one would go that far would they?

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From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement

Truly excellent and important reframing from Shawn Ginwright.

“While trauma informed care offers an important lens to support young people who have been harmed and emotionally injured, it also has its limitations. I first became aware of the limitations of the term “trauma informed care” during a healing circle I was leading with a group of African American young men. All of them had experienced some form of trauma ranging from sexual abuse, violence, homelessness, abandonment or all of the above. During one of our sessions, I explained the impact of stress and trauma on brain development and how trauma can influence emotional health. As I was explaining, one of the young men in the group named Marcus abruptly stopped me and said, “I am more than what happened to me, I’m not just my trauma”. I was puzzled at first, but it didn’t take me long to really contemplate what he was saying.

The term “trauma informed care” didn’t encompass the totality of his experience and focused only on his harm, injury and trauma. For Marcus, the term “trauma informed care” was akin to saying, you are the worst thing that ever happened to you. For me, I realized the term slipped into the murky water of deficit based, rather than asset driven strategies to support young people who have been harmed.”

Sociology > psychology.

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.

 

Choosing to Be Different

A bright, personable, caring young woman in my writing seminar this fall said she had absolutely no interest in marriage because her parents had failed so miserably at it.

I felt no need to sell marriage, but her passionate rejection of it reminded me of how we often generalize from our experiences way too much.

Then I read this blog post, The In-Between Process, by an exceptional alumnae of my writing seminar. And this sentence jumped off the page, “I get to choose to be different, and I will be.”

As sociologists remind us, the vast majority of time we follow pretty damn closely in our parent(s)’ footsteps. As we see in her friend’s kitchen, some though do manage to “be different” by seeking alternative family mentors and friends.

Those of us fortunate to enjoy happy and healthy families should never take them for granted. Instead, we should look for opportunities to love and support those mired in troubled, dysfunctional families.

Paragraph to Ponder

From Tyler Cowen, “The Marriages of Power Couples Reinforce Income Inequality“:

Universal preschool, further experiments with charter schools, and higher subsidies or tax credits for children are among the policy innovations that might lift opportunities for children of lower earners. Even if those are good ideas, it is not clear how much they can overturn the advantage that comes from being a child of highly educated, highly motivated parents with lots of will and also money to spend on lessons, outings, travel and other investments in the future of their children.

The technical term is “assortative mating”. Read the New York Times marriage announcements for examples. In hindsight, I probably should have “married up”. My wife’s beauty blinded me to the fact that she rarely balanced her checkbook; planned to be a public school teacher; and owed more on her old, beat up Honda than it was worth. It’s a limit of the discipline that few economic models factor in “hotness”.

I suspect Cowen’s extrapolating from the present data too much. Sure assortative mating will continue contributing some to income inequality, but as I’ve written before here, academic achievement among female college students so dwarfs that of males that many female college grads will have no choice but to settle for partners with much more modest economic prospects.