Too much parenting isn’t helping

robert bunnyIn an article in Fatherly  called “Science Suggests Parents Are Taking Parenting Too Far” by Patrick A. Coleman, Parents who want to give their kids every advantage are spending more and more time and money on kids, but science is finding that it’s better to step back and find balance.”

I figured this out for myself. The more I did for my kids, the more I crippled them. Sometimes it doesn’t show up for years, but the damage is done.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the article:

According to a recent study by Cornell University, a majority of parents see world-consuming hyper-engagement as the best method of child-rearing. Going all in on kids has become a cultural best practice, begging this simple question: Does it work? Ask a scientist and they’ll likely tell you no.

Parents who really want a kid to get a head start will often push their child to hit developmental milestones early. The problem is that hitting a developmental milestone early does nothing to improve a kid’s outcomes. Also, pushing them to develop early might actually be detrimental, according to a recently published study by infant attachment expert Dr. Susan Woodhouse of the Leigh University CARE lab.

“We were trying to understand what parents are doing that really matters for children to become securely attached by 12 months,” Woodhouse says. In other words, she was looking into parental behaviors that help babies orient to their parent in a developmentally appropriate and secure way. “What our data showed is that when a baby really needs you and is crying, if you responded at least half the time, the baby would be securely attached.”

Woodhouse calls this the “secure base provision” which simply means parents are responding correctly to a baby’s cues enough times that attachment can form. Importantly, in order to reach the secure base provision, parents don’t need to respond to their child’s cues correctly 100 percent of the time, or even 80 or 70 percent of the time. They simply need to respond correctly 50 percent of the time, which Woodhouse likes to call “good enough” parenting. The clear virtue of this approach is that it allows parents to behave less mechanically, lowering levels of stress, and shielding kids from the potentially deleterious second-hand effects of anxiety and parental busyness.

kat chairThe article explains why we shouldn’t be interrupting and hovering over our kids all the time. They need time to figure out how the world works without us interfering:

But that’s not the whole story. Responding to a child is one thing, but so is letting them explore independently. “When the baby is not in distress, learning about the way the world works and exploring, parents get the job done by not interrupting the baby and making them cry,” Woodhouse explains. “When a cry shuts down the exploratory system and gets the attachment system activated. The exploration stops. The baby isn’t doing their job anymore and that creates insecurity.”

That reminds me when my kids were young and they were playing at the park. My husband and I were sitting on a blanket a few yards away. Our toddler girl fell off the swing, face planting into the sand. My gut reaction was to run to her and see if she was alright! My husband held my hand and said “Shhh!”

We watched as she picked herself up, dusted off some sand and hopped back on the swing. What would have happened if I had my way? I’m sure I would have been carrying home a sobbing child.

But insecure attachment in babies isn’t the only risk of being over-involved. According to a 2012 study, published in the journal PLOS One, kindergarten-age children’s risk for anxiety disorders later in life might be correlated to maternal anxiety or excessive maternal involvement. After tracking 200 children into their elementary years, researchers found that children were more likely to have diagnosable anxiety if mothers had responded positively to survey questions like “I determine who my child will play with” or “I dress my child even if he/she can do it alone.”

The fact is that parenting is stressful enough. But when parents take burdens, either social or educational, off their children’s shoulders, kids do not learn the crucial coping and organizational skills necessary to become functional adults.  

Schiffrin’s most-cited study looked into a child’s self-determination — essentially the ability to make decisions for oneself, feelings of autonomy and having relationships. A child who has strong feelings of self-determination generally also has a sense of well-being and happiness. Schiffrin wondered if helicopter parenting, defined as a developmentally inappropriate level of involvement, affected a child’s self-determination. And … yes. Very much so.

The point of the scientists quoted in this article is for us parents to stop helicoptering, quit snowplowing and find some balance. Good enough parenting is being there when our kids need us, but allowing them room to grow and thrive to become self-sufficient.

kat and rob beachWhat are your thoughts about doing too much for our kids?

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Helicopters, snowplows, submarines and “dog moms”

robertbaby

My son

Have you heard all the new names for parents? We used to have helicopters, but now there are snowplows and submarines. My daughter told me that I’m more of a “dog mom.”

“What’s a dog mom?” I asked.

“You keeping me on a leash or locked in a crate.”

Ouch! Although it’s kind of funny–I mean sort of–if its not true. I guess I should be joyful that she coined a new term, right? Remember, you heard it here, first. “Dog mom.”

In “How Parenting Styles Affect Kids: Snowplow vs. Submarine,” by Maria Schwartz on Teenlife, she explains in more detail about different styles of parenting and how we should strive to become submarines.

Labels for different parenting styles have come and gone for just about as long as there have been parents. Since the college admissions scandal made headlines last month, there has been a lot of talk about the perils of “snowplow parenting” — clearing a path for children by shoving obstacles to the side.

Like the tiger mothers and helicopter parents who came before, snowplowers are highly involved parents who take a proactive and often authoritative role in their children’s lives. Any parent can understand the desire to do everything in their power to make their kids’ lives better. And, with the advantage of age and experience, it can be easy for parents to believe they can — and should — make all the right choices for their children.

The downside of snowplow parenting

There is, however, reason to believe that the kind of top-down micromanagement involved in some parenting styles is doing more harm than good. When children aren’t given a chance to fail, they get little practice grappling with the frustrations and challenges of failure.

On the other hand, kids who lose the student council election, get cut from the basketball team, or get the C they deserved instead of the A they wanted learn valuable lessons about hard work, resiliency, and handling disappointment.

“We learn to adapt and recognize new opportunities when something doesn’t work out,” wrote Rebecca Pacheco in The Boston Globe earlier this month.

So instead of emulating a snowplow or a helicopter, parents should consider drawing inspiration from another source: the submarine. Submarines are powerful machines that gather intelligence and are ready to pop up when needed. But they spend most of their time “guiding & protecting” below the surface.

In the same way, parents who step back (or below) — while their teens take charge of navigating the seas of school, relationships, and personal growth — give their kids a chance to make mistakes, find solutions, spot opportunities, and — most importantly — gain confidence. But, like a submarine, they are ready to surface when needed to provide information, guidance, or protection.

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My daughter

Schwartz includes three tips to be an effective submarine parents: letting kids fail, being a sounding board and getting them out of the house into an independent activity.

Those three tips are good ideas. Without allowing our kids to fail, they won’t know how to pick themselves up and continue on. We’re taking away a valuable life skill of resilience. Listening is so important, too. How often do parents try to give advice and tell our kids what to do when all they want is someone they trust to listen to the?

As for independent activities outside the house, My kids learned so much from their weeks at swim camp when they were younger. They got to stay in dorms with other kids, have college-age counselors, be coached by Olympians. What great memories and independence they had. There are so many activities available for our kids these days. Let them go to experience something new without us hovering and yanking on their leash.

Don’t be a dog mom. Undo that leash, open the crate and let them run!

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Waffles at the beach

What are your thoughts about all the new parenting labels?

No one-size-fits-all approach works in parenting

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Me and my two kiddos.

In an article in The Boston Globe, different parenting styles are discussed, from helicopter parents to the new buzz about snowplows—plus those lawbreakers who crossed the line with cheating on college admissions. According to Rebecca Pacheco in “Forget the buzzwords about parenting styles, let’s just be present.” she makes good points about how important is to be there and be present in the moment, regardless of your “style.”

Every generation has a fresh take on parenting, its own personal stamp on how children should be raised. Lately, though, it seems we hear of a new style every few weeks. First there were attachment parents and helicopter parents, and now come the snowplow parents.

This last group is particularly infuriating because it means just what one might expect: to remove all obstacles in the path of a child. In other words, instead of preparing the child for the road ahead, the parent prepares the road itself. They plow it and pave it and block traffic. Sometimes, as in the case of the parents in the college admissions scandal, they even commit fraud.

As far as parenting styles named for heavy machinery are concerned, it seems that snowplows deserve more ire than helicopter parents — characterized as those who hover too close — because snowplows do more than hover. They do the work, sometimes even the dirty work, for the child.

Of course there’s a big difference between over-parenting and engaging in criminal activity. Either way, I’m curious if there’s anything positive to glean from the revelation of how far some parents go to shelter their children from the travails of growing up. How did we get here, by the way? And what can parents of more modest means (and probably stronger ethics) do instead to better prepare their children to succeed in the world?

She goes on to say, let kids experience failure. Failure is good for our kids and especially when the stakes aren’t too high. For example, if they fail at a test in high school, it’s not as important as in college when classes cost a ton of money. Failure needs to be looked at as an opportunity to learn. If we swoop in each time to save the day, our children won’t learn the lessons they need to move onto the next phase of their lives. Their days “adulting” will be filled with anxiety and stress, because we robbed them of necessary experiences. Just saying, from my own experiences.

Here’s what the writer from the Globe said about it:

First, let’s remember: Failure is good. Not all the time, not as a way of being or way of life. But failure teaches kids resilience, creativity, and prioritization. Through failure, we learn what matters enough that we are willing to work relentlessly toward it no matter how many times we fail; or we learn to adapt and recognize new opportunities when something doesn’t work out.

Jessica Lahey, New York Times best-selling author of the book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed” and a longtime educator, puts it this way: “Kids need to have a positive, adaptive response to failures in order to learn from them, so every time we swoop in and save kids from a consequence, that’s a learning opportunity lost.”

The best thing she said, in my opinion, was “Be present.”

When it comes to parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each kid is different. The strengths and resources of parents vary greatly. And yet, one technique stands out for me, which can be summed up in two words: Be present.

Practically speaking, babies and toddlers do not exist anywhere other than the present moment. When they are hungry, hunger is all that exists. When they are in pain, pain is all-encompassing. Older children understand the concept of time, but their needs are only slightly less immediate. You can reason that you’ll go to the playground not today but tomorrow or request that no one wake you before 7 a.m. on Saturdays, but a child of any age still often needs a response in the moment.

When it comes to parenting, the most important question might not be which style we choose, but how we show up for our children in a given moment. One moment after the other. Every day. Year layered upon year, like tiers of birthday cake or bricks. Granted, no one is perfect, never distracted, or immune to a bad mood or short fuse, but before we can be “good” parents, we must first be present ones. We can borrow wisdom from all kinds of parenting styles: from Montessori or Tiger Mamas, attachment or anything goes, but it all seems secondary to the question of whether our faces light up when they enter a room. Do we take the time to be attentive in their presence?

We teach kids to stop and look both ways before crossing the street. It’s a crucial safety precaution, but it can also serve as mindfulness inspiration as parents. How often do we take pause, stopping to consider what is happening as it’s happening, rather than merely reacting? As parents, do we have a stop-and-look equivalent as the moment is unfolding?

Being in the present is important when you have adult kids, too. It’s also something to remember when you’re with your spouse. Are you preoccupied on your phone while they are talking to you? Are you nodding your head in agreement without listening? Most people are distracted because of our phones. When our adult children call, get off the computer or whatever else we’re doing and pay attention. If we’re distracted all the time and not really “there” we may find ourselves in a day and time when nobody is calling anymore.

Stop. Breathe. Be here, in this moment, with yourself, with your kid whom you love. That’s the job. Leave the plowing of snow and hovering at 460 rotations per minute to the heavy machinery.

What are your thoughts about being in the moment with the people you love?

meandrbeach

Are Snow Plow Parents to Blame for the Cheating Scandal?

robertHere’s a different take on the college admissions scandal where wealthy parents have been bribing coaches, athletic directors and SAT proctors to get their kids into the schools of their dreams—maybe it’s not the fault of being a snowplow parent after all.

In an article from Psychology Today, written by Daniel R. Stalder Ph.D. called “Are We Overreacting to Snowplow Parenting?” he makes the point, “We may not want to shame all snowplow parents over the admissions scandal.”

In the recent college admissions scandal, some wealthy parents allegedly bribed and lied to get their kids into certain colleges. Although we’ve known for a long time that kids from wealthy families have advantages in higher education, the criminal element of this story is new. Parents are getting arrested.

Many of us have criticized these parents for such behavior. But along the way, some of us have gone further by criticizing their general parenting style.

As a professor, I’ve had to deal with cases of student cheating, such as smuggling cell phones into tests or copying a classmate’s answers. Such behaviors are wrong, but I don’t extend this judgment to other aspects of the students’ lives, such as how they study or take lecture notes. Is it different for judging parents who break the law?

Maybe. I’m definitely not trying to defend the alleged behavior. But several recent authors in The New York Times and elsewhere have gone further by using the scandal as a jumping-off point to criticize “snowplow” parents in general. In my view, everyday parents who seem to snowplow or hover get criticized enough without unfairly grouping them into a high-profile scandal.

Snowplow parents are usually described as parents who clear their child’s way of every obstacle, or shield their child from any stress or failure. Helicopter parents are similarly described as wanting to “ensure their children’s success” (Darlow, 2017). A common criticism of all these parents includes the adage that we learn and grow from our mistakes and failures.

I like the fact that this writer makes the distinction that the parents who broke the law aren’t just snow plow parents — they are doing something beyond annoying — they are acting immorally and illegally. While we helicopter and snow plowers may cross the line on what is helpful to our kids, we stop way before the illegal line.

In my profession, if I get a call from a parent demanding I change their child’s grade, does that mean this parent is a snowplow parent? If a student makes a similarly unreasonable demand, does that mean they were raised by a snowplow parent? I don’t know.

My first point is that there is an inability to see the whole at-home story based on a single behavior. This is partly to say that a particular parent might seem to fit a parenting label in one context but not another (Stalder, 2018). But even if the label fits a parent in general, I’ve observed other biases in criticizing snowplow (and helicopter) parenting. These biases include the strawman fallacy, dichotomous thinking, the converse error, and just not considering individual differences in children.

I enjoy that the article discusses the fact that it’s not a one or the other situation. It’s not black or white. I think that’s true for me. I may hover in one area, and not in another. We are after all trying to do our best to raise healthy, happy and successful kids. Maybe we need a break on the labels and blame? kat

Anyone else agree? What are your thoughts about the snow plow and helicopter labels on parents?