Friday, December 06, 2013

How do you learn to run hurdles if there are no hurdles on the track?

It's even hard for me to believe I'm saying this, but there was an interesting segment on Katie today. (What little respect I ever had for Ms. Couric's intellectual prowess faded altogether on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when she said some of the stupidest things ever uttered by a network news anchor in the midst of a catastrophe. And there's this. But I digress...) I wasn't actually watching the show, mind you, but it was on in the background as I walked through the living room with a banana peel en route to the kitchen trash pail. It caught my ear, and I sat down to listen.

Katie's guest was a woman who suffers from devastating Mom-xiety. All moms will second-guess their parenting skills, but this mother hardly has a moment when she isn't tormented by worries that she's not good enough or thorough enough, that she's forgetting something vital that will have tragic results for her four young children. (And maybe the "four young children" has something to do with it?) Naturally, Katie also featured a 7-step solution to this woman's malaise, courtesy of a couple of shrinks who wereyou guessed it!hawking a self-help book.

But this self-help book I almost kinda liked. At least I liked its overall conceptual framework, as sketched by the authors. To wit:

We spend way too much time trying to childproof life for our kids. Instead of (a) teaching them that there will be hurdles and (b) helping them develop the mettle to overcome those hurdles, we helicopter over them and instead try, as parents, to remove all the hurdles. We try to ease their path in every possible way. Not only is this a tremendous source of anxiety for us, the shrinks argue, but it's a terrible thing to do to our kids. Children raised in such an environment grow up thinking that life is a breeze, that they can be (and should be) happy all the time and that it's Life's job to make it so. In any case, they do not develop the coping mechanisms that they will one day need to tackle Real Life, which inevitably is going to contain its share of failure, loss and heartbreak.

If this sounds familiar, it's because it echoes my feelings about one of the core pop-psychology initiatives of the past half-century, the self-esteem movement that began formally in American schools and then metastasized informally pretty much everywhere else.

We do our kids no favors by endlessly chanting, "You can do anything you want in life!", "Don't ever give up your dreams!", "You can even be president if you like!", "No mountain is too steep, no challenge too difficult!", blah blah. I've addressed this point ad nauseam in my book, in other blog posts, in numerous pieces for this or that or the other or still another publication, and in practically all of my several hundred appearances on radio and TV, so I won't belabor the point here. The bottom line is that the best thing you as a parent can do for your child is to equip your little Jordans or Tatums* with COPING SKILLS. Make your kids understand that the world isn't necessarily their oyster, that life is tough and competitive and often unforgiving, that there is no beneficent universe out there that exists to pointedly serve their needs. (Yes, you must also equip them with resiliency and the determination to keep trying as long as it is reasonable to do so; it's a balancing act. Hey, no one said parenting is easy.) Help the kids develop a thicker skin and a philosophical way of accepting defeat (while also instilling the notion that defeat may just be temporary).

Otherwise, two things:
1. They will come of age with a way-inflated sense of their own place in the solar system.
2. They will crumble in the face of Real Life as soon as they're removed from your perky little bubble of influence.
In which case their fallback coping skills may consist of copious amounts of booze or weed or sex or worse, and/or an abiding bitterness or anger or self-loathing, and/or, sometimes, not often, but just maybe, an assault rifle.

* I picked popular unisex names, so feel free to picture little Jordan or Tatum as your son or daughter.


Jenny said...

Yerp! Steve, I wonder, when you made it to the kitchen pail and deposited your banana peel, did you notice any eggshells in there? *wink* I laugh with you at the thought of that broken egg on the cover of your book.

So, who wrote this self-help book of which you speak? What you say about coping skills is at the very heart of good therapy, I think. My understanding of it, anyway.

Something I was thinking about today is the juxtaposition of adult children (sorry, hate that term) who cling too tightly and fail to launch from the comfy home nest and the ones (like my daughter) who leave with a vengeance, vowing never to return, not even for a quick kiss and a hug. I perhaps helicoptered too much, and maybe her dad (my husband) was too opinionated and directive, but we never imagined she would estrange herself from us the way she did. On the other hand, I hear other parents who seem to have almost the opposite problem, which is overly-enmeshed offspring still living at home and with no real prospects luring them away. What is going on here, I wonder.

Anonymous said...

This strikes me as an extremely negative way to raise children, in keeping with the extreme negativity of your blog. Why do you go out of your way to attack everything that stands for positivity and hope? I've said this before to you and I repeat it here, what a miserable person you must be. I feel sorry for you.

Jenny said...

I feel sorry for "you" -- miserable person, Anonymous. Must feel rotten to lack the guts to sign at least a name when "you" come here to show sympathy for poor pitiful Steve.

What I'm wondering, though, is where are the people who used to post here often? It got to where only the most outrageous controversies generated any real discussion. What happened? Where's DimSkip and Elizabeth, Ron and Connie, and other regular SHAMblogsters? Would be great to see some lively conversations here again.

Steve Salerno said...

Jenny, thanks for acting as my "agent" and I much appreciate the plug! ;)

Yeah, I've been wondering that myself. I still get a decent amount of traffic, thankfully--or else I'd just pack it in--but few visitors pause to weigh in these days.

I'd hate to think we lost the war for rationality and reason...

Charles Knight said...

As much as Sly Stallone's Rocky films are maligned by some, the stand out line in 'Rocky Balboa' was that "the world all aint sunshine and rainbows". This relates to the problems the young face with employement not just in the US but in many countries worldwide (including the UK where I'm from).

There seems to be a culture of entitlement (not helped by reality TV giving the impression fame is the easy ticket to riches for youngsters) where some young people don't want to do jobs that they see are beneath them, even when they complain of not being able to find work.

Part of this has been attributed to parents mollycoddling and spoiling their kids, making them believe when they leave school that a job will be ready and waiting for them.

Steve Salerno said...

Charles, thanks for weighing in. Some years back when my publisher was readying the UK edition of the book, I got the impression that this "mollycoddling" wasn't nearly as prevalent in the UK as it is here in the U.S. My publisher felt that for this reason, a Brit audience might not be able to relate to some parts of my argument as well as U.S. readers do.

You think this is the case?

Charles Knight said...

Steve, the UK is much less straightlaced than before. You only have to look at how some of our athletes at the London 2012 Olympics cried their eyes out to see we are no longer the nation of the "stiff upper lip".
This emotional freedom is then transferred onto parenting but with a more 'positive' spin for the child.

Social/armchair commentators and phychologists have complained that the UK has brought up a nation of 'soft' children unable to deal with the life's challenges. Children reportedly having breakdowns/tantrums for being 'unfriended' on facebook or losing on the school sports day etc.
This was such a hot topic last year that 'resilience coaches' were brought in to help schoolkids.

However I will take issue with your view on self-help. The sugary platitudes people see are only part of the story. At it's core self help reminds people of some basic fundamental truths (I've read Covey's 7 habits) about dealing with life challenges and taking responsibility (which even Tony Robbins mentions). The industry isn't all riddled with snake oil salesmen promising the earth if you just 'believe and conceive'.

By the way, 'Outliers' is a good book for debunking both the hard luck/hard work story.