Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Raising Successful Children

I haven't finished reading commentary on Jonah 4, so today I bring you some thoughts on an opinion piece--Raising Successful Children--written in The New York Times Sunday opinion column. I found the link on Ann's site. Another article I found, Who's Minding The Teenage Brain?, is also discussed below.

The Holy Spirit makes me increasingly aware that any anxiety I have about my children's futures must be tongue-controlled. I must turn every worry into a prayer. For example, telling my children that a strong work ethic helps them achieve their personal best is one thing, but uttering fears or doubts about their future is quite another.

I'm also more aware as my boys mature, that high expectations help children steadily achieve, and that steady achievement--wrought with a healthy, not crushing level of frustration--builds a strong foundational confidence. We don't build confidence by saying, "You're so smart", as the Raising Successful Children article explains. We build it by facilitating achievement.

As you read both pieces, or both excerpts, think about teenagers especially. You have to give kids room to make mistakes. I agree. But what about studies showing the teen brain is hardwired for danger? I continually think of Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol--understand, not finding fault with this family, just trying to learn--when I read things about giving teens autonomy. Mistakes made in those years can affect many lives...even legacies.
Excerpt from Who's Minding the Teenage Brain:
In the time it takes you to eat dinner tonight, two adolescents somewhere in the United States will contract HIV. Over the next month, nearly half of all high-school students will sneak a drink of alcohol. And sometime over the course of 2007, one in 12 high schoolers will try to kill themselves. 
It is one of the great paradoxes of modern existence: Humans grow far stronger and healthier during their second decade of life, but their chances of dying rise rapidly at the same time. In the vast majority of cases, it all comes down to a bad decision. A 17-year-old honor student gets behind the wheel while drunk. A high-school freshman tries methamphetamine — and gets hooked. A pack of fans at a football game picks a fight with their rivals. A depressed girl, alone in her room, chooses to check out.
Because the brains of adolescents are not ready to fully regulate their behavior, "adolescents need more supervision," says Mr. Steinberg. "We need to build that into the way in which the laws and other kinds of social policies regulate their behavior." 
Ronald E. Dahl, a professor of psychiatry at Pittsburgh, has reached a similar conclusion from his own research on adolescents. He calls for adults to provide kids with more "scaffolding and monitoring, so that risks are relatively less, but as [show responsibility and develop skills, you gradually give them more freedom." 
That kind of support — in the form of supervised after-school programs or restricted driving licenses — is critical because it allows the adolescent brain to acquire its social and emotional fluency, he suggests. 
When that learning process breaks down, either because of genetic susceptibilities or problems in their lives, teenagers can develop depression, anxiety, or the other types of mood disorders that make their appearance during this stage of life. Stunted growth in this domain can also send people veering toward addiction, he says. 

God can redeem anything and we must love our children unconditionally through their mistakes. But why go there at all with teen sexuality or teen substance abuse? If we know teens are less capable of making sound judgement, why leave them alone so much? Going to the store for an hour is one thing, but leaving them alone for hours or more? I don't think this is wise. If that first kiss occurred and we were absent too long and unaware of the incident, we don't know to watch out for the fire it ignited. And Satan? He'll do everything to keep that fire burning.

When a child leaves town for college--or gets married as an older teen--we have to let go entirely, at least physically. Their brains are more capable of weighing risk by that time. If we invest in their hearts for 18 years, discipling them faithfully (including a purity plan), they should do fine, yes?

If they fall at that point, it's the bittersweet free will issue, less than a parenting issue.

Tell me, what is your opinion about leaving teens alone?

Here are a few excepts from the other, 2-page article, entitled Raising Successful Children.

Decades of studies, many of them by Diana Baumrind, a clinical and developmental psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, have found that the optimal parent is one who is involved and responsive, who sets high expectations but respects her child’s autonomy. These “authoritative parents” appear to hit the sweet spot of parental involvement and generally raise children who do better academically, psychologically and socially than children whose parents are either permissive and less involved, or controlling and more involved. Why is this particular parenting style so successful, and what does it tell us about overparenting?

For one thing, authoritative parents actually help cultivate motivation in their children. Carol Dweck, a social and developmental psychologist at Stanford University, has done research that indicates why authoritative parents raise more motivated, and thus more successful, children.

Their research confirms what I’ve seen in more than 25 years of clinical work, treating children in Marin County, an affluent suburb of San Francisco. The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parents do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child.

The central task of growing up is to develop a sense of self that is autonomous, confident and generally in accord with reality. If you treat your walking toddler as if she can’t walk, you diminish her confidence and distort reality. Ditto nightly “reviews” of homework, repetitive phone calls to “just check if you’re O.K.” and “editing” (read: writing) your child’s college application essay.

Once your child is capable of doing something, congratulate yourself on a job well done and move on. Continued, unnecessary intervention makes your child feel bad about himself (if he’s young) or angry at you (if he’s a teenager).

While doing things for your child unnecessarily or prematurely can reduce motivation and increase dependency, it is the inability to maintain parental boundaries that most damages child development. When we do things for our children out of our own needs rather than theirs, it forces them to circumvent the most critical task of childhood: to develop a robust sense of self. 

If you clink on the link and read the entire 2-page article, you see it indicates an eleven-year-old girl should be able to spend time at the mall with her friends. Agree? I'd like your opinion on this, as well as the teen autonomy issue. Thank you for your input!

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