Tag Archives: children

~ Don’t Help Your Children With Their Homework?

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This article has some interesting insights on the impact (or lack thereof) parents have on their child’s education.  It debunks some common beliefs such as the more involved a parent is with a child’s schoolwork the better the child will do in school.  At the same time, the article also provides alternative, more effective means of ensuring your child’s success.   Click on the link below for the full article.

http://m.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/04/and-dont-help-your-kids-with-their-homework/358636/

 

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~ On Whether to Lie to Your Child about Santa

One of the benefits of waiting until you are older to have children is that you have more time to think about your childrearing philosophy.  You watch others – friends, family, and strangers – interact with their children, noting what you wish to emulate and what you wish to avoid.  You spend years developing your opinions on serious questions: do I want him or her to intently focus on one interest or to indulge in a myriad of activities? Should I raise my kids in a specific religion or expose them to many?  How will I explain death, war and the existence of bad people to my child? These are some of the “big” questions I’ve considered.  However, I recognize as I’m sure most actual parents already know, questions arise daily and as with most things in life, we can only hope to get some of them “right”.

Because of the holiday season, my future parent ponderings have recently been focused on whether I want to lie to my children about Santa (although the same ideas apply to the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, superheroes, and other assorted childhood legends.)  I say lie because essentially that is what we are doing when we spread the myth of a man in a red suit who slides down chimneys and rides on a sleigh led by flying reindeers.

Now, as a rule, I hope to be open and honest with my children, even about death, violence, and other aspects of life I’d like to shield them from.  I understand the urge to protect young ones from the ugly realities of the world.  Yet, ultimately, is it a good idea to keep out the harsh light of human failings for as long as possible and to raise children on these myths of magical beings who can perform miracles?

Don’t get me wrong.  I realize that there are some truths we should gradually introduce to children, that watching Breaking Bad or The Sopranos or Schindler’s List with a 7 year old might not be the best idea.   Yet, while most adults and parents would quickly agree to this, the majority of these same people have no problem convincing their children to believe in St. Nick, the North Pole, Elves on Shelves, and so on without seeing any danger in exposing their children to these stories.  In fact, not only do these cultural myths seem harmless; they are actually a lot of fun for children and adults.

But are they really good for us, particularly in the long-term?  And are we adults using these stories to cling vicariously to that childhood innocence we lost so long ago?

I can recall when I learned that Santa wasn’t real.  I felt betrayed and saddened, feelings similar to those I would experience years later when I realized that many of the stories I’d heard about Jesus and God were potentially untrue as well.  As an adult, I cannot help but wonder if this manipulation and deceit, however well-intentioned, might actually create children who are distrustful of adults and disillusioned about life.  I cannot help but feel there is something problematic about filling your child’s world with magic and miracles when they will inevitably learn that this is not the world we inhabit.   Is the temporary excitement and anticipation really worth the unavoidable letdown and disappointment?  Wouldn’t it just be better to help children slowly shed their innocence with carefully phrased truths rather than prolonging their naiveté with fantastical stories and logic-defying legends?

At the same time, while I want to always err on the side of honesty, I cannot imagine depriving a child of the wondrous world these myths create.  Not only would it be nearly impossible to avoid the ubiquitous Christmas references everywhere you go, but it might also be neglectful.  After all, childhood is the only time where the impossible is possible, when miracles can happen. * Because for there to be magic, there needs to be belief.  And unlike an adult who reads Harry Potter and is critical of the inconsistencies in the curses and spells the characters levy against one another, a child simply believes.  They have been given no cause to doubt what they are told is true and therefore it is true.  But as we get older, we lose this capacity for unmitigated belief.  To be an adult, for better or worse, is to see the world for what is really is, people for who they really are.  That is not to say that you are pessimistic and dispirited, only that you are more realistic in your endeavors and expectations.

So what is a parent or future parent to do?  Do you perpetuate the magical world of fairy tales and fantasies or do you simply help your child see the world for what it is and teach him/her how to make the best out of that reality?

As with most things in life, there is no clear answer, no definitive right or wrong.

Yet, while my ambiguous conclusion might make it seem like all my contemplations have been in vain, not having helped me arrive at a decisive answer, this is not entirely true.

What I do know is that a year after I determined there was no Santa, I stayed up all night on Christmas Eve, waiting anxiously on the couch by the fireplace and tree hoping for my misgivings from the previous year to be proven wrong.

Well, we all know the outcome of my standoff; my doubts were confirmed and my betrayal complete, an experience that should make me want to avoid replicating the same event with my children.   Instead, however, it taught me that it is not always the lie itself but rather the lack of explanation about why the lie was told that creates this sense of betrayal.

So for now, my working theory on how to approach this aspect of childrearing is to help children as they shed their naiveté, to not let them feel abandoned in this new world devoid of magic and myth.  Perhaps if someone had talked to me about why I had been led to believe in Santa or why we continued to pretend he was real for my younger brothers even though we all knew it was a lie, I wouldn’t have felt so disheartened and deceived.

And then again, maybe that wouldn’t have mattered.

The good thing is that I have some time to think about this decision although in the end, I think it will ultimately be a choice made by the heart rather than the mind.  Still, until then, I will be watching, contemplating, and listening, hoping to learn from those of you who have already tackled the toughest and most important job on earth.

**in my opinion, the word ‘miracle’ is overused and a misnomer.  For example, while a child being born, even one delivered during an earthquake under ten tons of rubble, is amazing and wonderful, it is not miraculous.  A miracle is something for which there is no logical or scientific explanation, which means there is no such thing as a miracle unless you can cease to believe that there is a scientific or logical explanation for everything.

~ We Are What We Watch

Ask a man if he watches All My Children or General Hospital and he will most likely laugh dismissively.  As if he would waste his time on such meaningless drivel.

Ask a man if he watches The Real Housewives of New Jersey or Atlanta or Miami… and he will probably give you the same reply, perhaps admitting he has seen one of these programs but only at the behest of his significant other.   As if he would watch that mindless garbage if it were up to him.

But if you were to ask a man about whether he spends a large portion of his weekend bingeing on football game after football game after football game, you would very likely get a proud admission of his excessive consumption.

But why?  What about watching grown men wrestle each other to the ground in hopes of getting a ball to a desired end of the field is something to be vaunted rather than whispered?   What does it say about our culture that men who spend countless hours paying homage to the football gods are seen as “normal” and masculine while women who watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Teen Moms are viewed as shallow and celebrity-obsessed?

Yes, feats of strength and skill and determination are inspiring and exciting.  Yes, these programs can unite us in our love of our favorite team or through our hatred of a certain housewife.  However, any woman who has endured hours of the same stories being dissected on ESPN or any man who has witnessed repeated cat fights and betrayals on BRAVO has to admit that, ultimately, there are many worthier programs to watch, television shows that might teach us something new about ourselves or our world, programs that might cause us to question our beliefs or motivate us to do something important with our time here on earth.

Before you get defensive, know that this is not a lecture.  I am no saint.   I have gorged on horrible television that glamorizes bad behavior and talentless so-called celebrities.   And I also enjoy the adrenaline-fueled world of sports, having developed a love for athletic competition as a child.

Yet, when I consider that toddlers view about 24 hours of television each week and that this number tends to increase with age1, it becomes apparent that we ought to take more care in both our own and our children’s viewing choices.   We need to become more mindful of what we consume; we can no longer pretend that there isn’t a correlation between the television we watch and the people we are.   After all, why would a man be embarrassed to admit that he enjoys The Bachelorette if he did not believe that it, in some way, said something about who he is?

Again, I am not trying to criticize fans of reality television or admonish aficionados of football.  I am not claiming that if you never miss an episode of America’s Got Talent, you must be uninformed about what’s going on in the world.  And I am not arguing that all television turns our minds to mush.

What I am saying is that, if you watch certain types of shows exclusively or excessively, then perhaps you share the same qualities as that program.   And so if you don’t want to turn into a superficial gossip or a barbaric meathead, you may want to diversify your viewing menu.   Because, in the end, we all have a limited time on this planet, and if we are not careful, we’ll become more like what we watch rather than who we wish to be.

1 Hinckley, John.  “Americans Spend 34 hours a week watching TV,   according to Nielsen numbers”. NYDailyNews.com. 19 Sept. 2012.

~ On Perspective And Why It Should Be Actively Cultivated & Taught

Everyone wants to be wise, yet that term is usually reserved for the elderly, people whose years of experience is said to have given them the insight and understanding that cannot be learned from a book or in school.   But is this thinking correct?  Can’t we “wise up” before we hit our sixtieth birthdays?  Must we wait so long to reap the benefits of wisdom?

I believe the answer is yes, and the solution is to actively encourage people to broaden their perspectives.  That is essentially the basis of wisdom after all.  Perspective shows us a vision of the world that opens our minds; it gives us something to compare and evaluate our experiences against.  Without it, we are limited to our self-centered views of existence.  We become mere animal, seeing only what affects us, our happiness and our survival.   Language, art, technology – those are all great achievements that separate humans from other animals, but I would argue that the ability to see the world from multiple perspectives is equal or greater to those other accomplishments.   And just as we must cultivate an appreciation for art or master a new technology, we must be willing to work and sacrifice to see beyond our own myopic perspectives.

Let me give you an example of what I mean about the wisdom that perspective provides.

When I was in seventh grade, I forced my friends to listen to Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee” on repeat for an embarrassingly long time, completely convinced its lyrics captured the pain I was feeling after being rejected by my childhood sweetheart in favor of an older woman, one of the popular 8th graders at my school.  The heartbreak I felt back then was very real, yet now that I am in my 30s, I can’t help but laugh at my 12-year-old self.

This is the power of perspective.   The older me has had many more heart breaks since 7th grade – some caused by cheating boyfriends, others by personal failures, and the majority stemming from family turmoil – and as a result, my teenage misery is now merely a funny story.   This isn’t surprising to most of us; after all, how many times has someone told you, in an attempt at consolation after an embarrassing incident, that you’ll “look back on this and laugh years from now”? And while you may have wanted to punch them in the face at that moment, much of the time, those seemingly trite words were proven true.

Still, viewing the world from our own limited experience of it is as instinctive as breathing; even if my older self could travel back in time and explain to my younger self that this boy would mean nothing to me in another year, that I would have many other crushes, and would even be the crushee on several occasions, I don’t know if I would have been any less devastated.   After all, your first heartbreak is exactly that, your first.  You have nothing to compare it to.

This would seem to suggest that you cannot teach perspective to people, and while that may be partially true, it is not a good enough reason to forgo any attempts to do so.  In spite of the inherent self-centeredness of the young, we do not have to be that way.  We all learn through repetition, and so while an attempt to teach perspective may fail at first, well, you know what they say about failing to succeed: try again.

Think of those people who seem to have been born with the capability of seeing life from the mountain top.  We often call them “old souls”, those individuals whose few years on this earth don’t correspond with their insight and understanding of the world and its inhabitants.   Yet, usually these individuals share some things in common that can account for their seemingly premature insight.   More often than not, they are acute observers, or survivors of a traumatic experience, or voracious readers.  The existence of these “old souls” demonstrates that perspective, and hence wisdom, is not something reserved for the elderly.   We do not have to have endured and suffered many years on this planet to earn the understanding the older generations have acquired over their decades on earth.   Yet, it is something we must actively cultivate for ourselves and teach to our youth if we wish the young to possess the perspective of the more mature.  Fortunately, this effort is worthwhile.   Having a broad perspective is the basis of wisdom, the vital component to contentment, the essential element in compassion.  So how do we go about gaining this perspective?

While perspective can arise after enduring traumatic experiences, I am not suggesting we go around traumatizing the youth.  (It is, however, a way to put a positive spin on the less savory events a friend or loved one may experience.)   Fortunately, there is an easy way we can teach perspective in schools, particularly through reading.   Think of the multitude of experiences, feelings, biases, and conversations that we are exposed to while reading a book, providing readers with one of the important benefits of literature, which is to force us to look beyond our own worldview.  In fact, studies have shown that those who read tend to be more empathetic humans, and I have no doubt that is due to the broadening of perspective that coincides with the reading of others’ stories.  Reading is the cheap, easy way to expose ourselves to the myriad of experiences, feelings, and choices human beings can face.  Students who analyze Night can learn how inhumane humans can be, racists who study Uncle Tom’s Cabin or To Kill a Mockingbird may perhaps relent in their prejudiced worldview, and teenagers who read Oliver Twist may even find gratitude for their parents.  I am not saying that this is a certainty, but it is indisputable that the more we “walk in each other’s footsteps” the more paths we have to compare to our own, thus ensuring a less narcissistic perspective.

Both schools and parents can encourage reading as a means of gaining this less selfish worldview, however, there are other means to this end as well as pitfalls to avoid that endanger this endeavor.  Parents, for example, can prevent their children (and themselves) from indulging in some of the “reality” TV shows or idolization of celebrity lifestyles that are promoted in tabloid magazines and television.  These sources of entertainment give us, and more importantly, the impressionable youth, a distorted perspective.   They skew our view of the world, making us think these individuals live lives far removed from the trivial and mundane tasks that make up most of our days.  Instead of generating appreciation for what one has, they create ingratitude for what one has not.

And lastly, in addition to avoiding being subjugated to the distorted lifestyles in the media and to vicariously experiencing what we may otherwise never actually experience through literature, we can gain wisdom by seeking out new, sometimes difficult, life experiences.   This is where I expect the most resistance, yet it is also the most surefire and the swiftest means to broadening our perspective.   Let me give you another example to illustrate what I mean.

A few years ago I went on a “volunteer vacation” to the Dominican Republic.  During this experience, I endured stifling hot and humid days filled with manual labor, giant centipedes and equally enormous and disgustingly hairy tarantulas, and an absence of television, internet, air-conditioning or even privacy.   And I paid handsomely for this experience, as much or more than it would have cost me to take an extravagant trip abroad.   My friends and family, while outwardly expressing admiration for my sacrifices, were clearly confused by my choice.

Yet, I would not give up my experience in the Dominican Republic for the most luxurious vacation elsewhere.  I learned more about myself, my good fortune, my fortitude, and my limitations on that trip than I have in any other experience.  Yes, there were moments of longing for a private toilet or shower, hot water, or a bed that was not covered in my sweat and mosquito netting, but without those deprivations, I would not have grown as much as I did in those few weeks.  I would not have gained the perspective that now makes me ashamed of the abundance most of us take for granted.

Don’t worry.  I am not advocating that parents forego all trips to Disneyland or that schools stop field trips to museums; just that every now and then, you choose the more formidable, less comfortable path.   Instead of going to see Cars 3 with your children, go to a homeless shelter to pass out blankets and food. Yes,  enjoy a trip to the Bahamas this year, but next year, spend the same amount of time and money in Appalachia, helping those who don’t have the option of a vacation.   You may not come back with a gorgeous tan or pictures with Mickey and Minnie, but you will come back with all the wisdom that a broadened perspective provides.