Monday, February 4, 2013

Teach Your Children Well: a review

via amazon
{Dude. You guys. Full disclosure, I did not finish this book. I am really close too. I just, I can't. At the rate it has been going, it will be another four months. And I really like the book. I think maybe because it doesn't have much day-to-day practical usefulness, my motivation was just not there.}

The overall theme of this book is our culture's obsession with a very narrow definition of success (think: English, math, athletic success; prestigious college acceptances; and a career in finance or something equally lucrative) and our willingness to sacrifice health, happiness, and all things "childhood" to attain it. If your kid is interested in being a mechanic or an artist, we kill that enthusiasm and try to force them into a mold they don't fit into, making them miserable. We sacrifice play-based learning in the preschool and early elementary school for rigid, test-based learning and kill our children's natural curiosity to learn.  We put our kids in middle schools that keep them up all night doing homework when research shows that an hour of homework a night at that age is ideal (and more is detrimental). We make high schoolers miserable trying to get into colleges they don't even want to go to. This one-size-fits all approach and over-emphasis on competition instead of cooperation is making us all miserable.

The book is broken up into section by age (preschool, elementary school middle schools, high school) with the end of the book dedicated to what you can do to cultivate meaningful success in your children. The stuff on older kids made me really sad, I'm not gonna lie. I hadn't thought that far ahead and the idea of them pulling away, becoming their own person, and not wanting to cuddle with me on the couch to read a book together?! WHAT?! I thought they'd be babies forever. Ugh! 

The part where I wanted to high five the author: she totally backed up my philosophy on food. She has an entire section entitled: DON'T USE FOOD AS REWARD OR PUNISHMENT. (yesss) She gives really good advice on obviating the food/body issues (to the extent possible, because, genetics is huge here).  Don't dwell on your weight, or other people's weight/appearance, normalize puberty weight gain, get them involved in food choices and preparation, that sort of thing.

Also, she talks about how in middle school, a kid's level of conformity remains constant; the direction of that conformity changes though, from mom and dad to peers. So that made me think: if you demand unquestioning obedience and your kid hits middle school and has some questionable friends? Then you just set you and your child up for a really bumpy, ugly ride.

She also has some advice for how to handle the dumb stuff your kids will do in high school (like having sex, which she says isn't technically dumb, in a outcomes-based research sense, if it happens at the age of 17 or above). That was hard to read. Because my kids will never do that stuff. RIGHT, KIDS? And then she goes on to talk about how parents who are in denial (ha) and/or blame their kids' screw ups on something/someone else (which actually undermines their self esteem/efficacy) need to stop. She talks about how abstinence-only education is moronic (thanks, school and state I grew up in). It makes no difference in when kids have sex and only impacts how clueless they will be about the consequences and how to prevent them.

I also like how she talks about how important it is to let your kids fail when they are young and the stakes are low. I always told this to my high schoolers when I busted them for cheating. Some teachers didn't really have the energy to deal with it because parents were quick to flip out on you, it seemed like such an up-hill battle. But I made sure there were lots of opportunities for dealing with the setback (i.e., you weren't doomed to fail). I told them, it may seem awful, but it is way better to learn this lesson now than to think "cheating is no big deal, I got away with it so far!" and then get busted in college, when they'll keep your tuition and kick you out, or on the job when they will fire you and maybe even press charges. Plus, learning you can come back from a failure allows you to learn from the mistakes and makes you less paralyzed by a fear of failure in the future.

Part two, with more from the practical tips tomorrow. Or whenever I get around to it. Maybe never. Probably tomorrow though.

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