November 12, 2012 § 5 Comments
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Unwrapping the Bubble Wrap Kids
My sons are nine, six and two, so my eyes should have been on chapter three, “The Tasks of the Elmentary School Years.” But that chapter didn’t grab me as much as the other two, on middle and high school. As I read through Part Two of Teach Your Children Well, flying through the pages with intense absorption, several times my tears wet the pages of the book and stuck them together. I couldn’t stop thinking of my sons as they are right now, dressed in their small clothes, appropriately prepared for their carefree lives, the ones where deciding whether to have cereal or yogurt after school (and of course, who gets to the fridge first) is their most pressing concern. Yet Part Two reminds us that more lies ahead for our kids; they are going to change, and struggle, to grow up.
Growing up is so simultaneously painful and beautiful, and reading this section, which lays out a pretty good map for what’s going to happen on our kids’ road to independence, is a reminder that the yogurt/cereal quandary will only be with us for a short while longer, then it will evaporate, like t-ball stands and training wheels, into the ether. From the anxiety-riddled piece of my brain – the one that’s screaming please don’t ever grow up! – what’s left after reading the parts on “The Middle School Years” and “The High School Years,” is nothing less than a quiet panic.
It could be my own growing up that causes me to want to lock my boys in a well-stocked closet for a few years – especially for, say, grades 6-7-8. What’s strange is that my growing up wasn’t so painful: I had great parents, great brothers and sisters, good schools, close friends – the works, really, and I couldn’t be more grateful. And yet alongside all those things, I felt outside and alone, awkward and completely misunderstood – things that I now understand are developmentally appropriate for the age. Yet that does not stop me from wanting to hold a cast iron shield between middle school/high school and my sons, to protect them from all that messy uncertainty and confusion. While reading, I had an almost visceral reaction to wanting them to not have to go through it – to not have to be a witness as they break apart (as I did in front of my parents) because they get rejected by someone they adore, or because they can’t make algebra work right, or because they were last to be picked for a team in gym, or because they are confused how to dress, how to act, how to be themselves.
Yet Levine assures us that learning to deal with and understand these very feelings – I’m alone, I’m different, who am I?, what matters to me? – is what strengthens kids’ coping skills. As a veteran high school teacher told me recently, “The kids these days come bubble-wrapped, complete with parents who want to be sure that nothing bad ever happens to them. But life is so complicated for kids today, I can’t really say that I blame them.” I want to be the parent who offers up my kids to the universe – hell, to middle school – without the bubble wrap; but I can’t say that I’m going to enjoy it.
It is perhaps anxiety-filled reactions from moms like me that encouraged Levine to write the book – that we do our kids a disservice by focussing solely on the importance of academics and ignoring the social and emotional growing up that will also determine the course of their lives. That we shouldn’t approach these years with panic. That that might be a bad thing.
After all, Levine does seem a little relentless in her assurance to parents that it is all going to be ok. My favorite passage from “The Tasks of the Middle School Years” says of the ups and downs of adolescence: Think of yourself as a sociologist. Keep your distance. Observe. Resolving the vast majority of high-drama crises that unfold over the middle school years is exactly the kind of challenge that your youngster needs to strengthen confidence in herself. I find this passage so clarifying, so reassuring, because I think my natural reaction would be exactly the opposite of that. (!)
Levines says, Our system of education for this age group (middle school) is largely a misery, and the middle schooler’s well-documented needs for adequate sleep, flexible study time, multiple breaks, and quiet, restorative time are ignored. Add to this a stew of hormonal and brain changes. And just a few pages later, she writes, With all the push on kids to grow up quickly, there is evidence that they benefit from an extended childhood rather than a precocious adolescence.
Tonight’s talk: What Levine is asking we parents to do is basically the opposite of what’s culturally accepted and has become the norm for how we treat our kids – like the cast-iron shield I was thinking of buying. So, how do we un-bubble wrap our kids?
November 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
Welcome to an encore of the October 30th Parent Book Club chat! To have access to all the comments and replies, please click on the title of this post; the post will go to a new page, and comments will be located at the bottom of the post. Please read and feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below. For more discussion, follow me on Twitter here or on Facebook here. Thanks!
According to psychologist Madeline Levine, one of the reasons we parents can’t see that we’ve gone crazy over caring for our kids is because we are too busy – overscheduled and overcommitted ourselves, we’ve simply failed to notice that changes in culture and technology may be unmooring us. In Chapter 2 of Teach Your Children Well, Levine says,
“Perhaps we have become so seduced by the possibility of being able to cultivate ‘outstanding’ children because we are a bit lost ourselves. Technology has revolutionized communication. While smartphones, tablets, Skype, Facebook, and LinkedIn increasingly connect us they can paradoxically make us feel disconnected as we devote less time to basic human needs for empathic, resonant communication, eye contact, and touch. Increased mobility robs us of the stable community that once provided the emotional resources to weather the challenges of child rearing. Instead we are immersed in a culture that emphasizes individuality, competition, and self-centeredness. This cannot possibly nourish our own needs adequately, and it often leads us to feel isolated and even a little bit desperate. We hunker down and immerse ourselves in our children’s activities at the expense of adult relationships and our own continued development. Decreasing the sphere of our own lives makes us increasingly dependent on our children for a sense of meaning and accomplishment.”
Since the first two chapters of the book – “The Kids are Not All Right” and “How Did we Get into This Mess?” – clearly address the parents, I thought it would only be fitting if Parent Book Club addressed us tonight. So, for tonight anyway, forget the kids. According to Levine, our kids don’t receive the message that life is a series of high-pressure pass/fail tests, devoid of free time or play, from the ether; evidently, they are getting the idea that life is a performance, and a chore, from us. Levine emphasizes over and over in these first two chapters how modern parents have no time for themselves, and many of the parents she knows have carved out little time for their own hobbies and friendships. (Ostensibly because they are “too busy” and life is too demanding to have the time.) But why is this? She suggests that parents put their children first at ever opportunity, choosing to do for their kids and careers what they dare not do for themselves. Levine even goes so far as to point out that people who only fulfill the needs of others on a constant basis are going to feel overwhelmed, overscheduled, desperate, and depressed – the exact emotions she sees in her young patients. Could it be that we parents are modeling the very behavior causing so much distress in our kids?
And, let’s be honest, it’s causing distress to us, too, if we took the time to admit it. But until we admit that it’s a problem, we can’t fix it. I can’t help but think of a moving article I read recently about the happy, healthy, relaxed inhabitants of the Greek island of Ikaris, called, unnervingly, “The Island Where People Forget to Die.” The long-lived residents, who work in their gardens, get up when they feel like it, and stay up all night playing dominos and drinking wine, seem to have openly admitted the secret to life – having fun. I couldn’t help but contrast it with my own current situation: we rush from one half-assed activity to another, and whenI do see other parents, we complain about how busy we are, and how we wish we could be less so. Looking at why kids can’t be kids in our current culture, I can’t help but see Levine’s point: we are doing nothing more than showing our children their future, and the future is this – life is a chore, created to be endured.
Not to say that there isn’t meaningful work, or pride and accomplishment in doing something well. But have we fallen over the deep end entirely? This book suggests that it’s a possibility.
The one burning question I had after finishing these two honest chapters is the subject of tonight’s talk.
Tonight’s Talk: How on earth do we possibly change our own behavior? What are the things you are doing to resist the temptation of throwing yourself into everything but yourself – including your kids’ lives? Or, are you safely out of the danger zone – enjoying your own activities, career, friends, life? If so, please share your secrets.
I am so looking forward to reading what you have to say!
November 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
Part Two of Teach Your Children Well, called “The ‘School Years’ Are Not Just About Academics”, is long and hard to break up. In addition, last week’s Book Club attendance was down due to hurricane Sandy and Halloween. So I decided I’m going to re-run last week’s talk again this Tuesday night, November 6, at 8:30 PM CST, for another live chat. It’s a good one, and deserves another shot. We’ll then cover the entire Part Two section, broken into three different parts, next Tuesday.
Madeline Levine’s Teach Your Children Well is longer than our last book, and contains more information, too. I’m trying to get us finished up by Thanksgiving, so I decided to do all of Part Two next Tuesday night instead. If you are just beginning the book and want to catch up, check out our discussion on the introduction with author and educator Kurt Wootton. See you Tuesday night!