Some of my favorite statistics come from the 70-year Harvard study about what makes people happy. The first thing they found out is that going to Harvard has no bearing on whether someone is happy. Another conclusion the research supports is that kids who have warm relationships with their mother make more money. And kids who have close relationships with their father have less anxiety.
You will ask, what is “warm” and “close” and the truth is that it’s largely self-reported. But it makes sense to me since I would say I have neither with my parents. (And then I think, I wonder how much money I could make if my mom really loved me. But that’s for another post. Or a book. Or a eulogy.)
To give you a sense of what a good relationship with parents really means, look at this great post at Brain Pickings about praise. You probably already know that if you give kids lots of praise, like, “Oh! You’re so smart!” then the kids will be addicted to external validation and they will likely be lower performers because of it. (Of course, this is exactly the type of interaction students have with teachers who give grades, which is why kids who do well in school grow up to be people who wait for someone to tell them what to do.)
The thing I really liked about the Brian Pickings post is that the conclusion is that presence, not praise, makes a healthy child. One example is that a child does a drawing and then looks up at the parent. The parent says, “I see you’ve put a lot of blue in your drawing.” That acknowledges the child’s work, and displays interest in the child’s work without judging it. This gives the child the ability to judge their own work, which is an essential skill for living an engaged, passionate life.
The cover article of the Atlantic this month, Touch Screen Generation, is about video games and electronic learning and how it’s affecting this generation. (Note: the research is massively in favor of more screen time for kids than the American Medical Association recommends.) An interview with Hanna Rosen focuses on our inability to raise kids differently than how we were raised.
“There’s a crazy nostalgia that there’s one way to have a good childhood. We have an ambivalence about how we ourselves interact with technology and we thoughtlessly impact this neurotic thinking onto our kids. like technology is a dirty place that we go.”
What strikes me about the language she uses to get parents to let kids play more video games is that it’s the same language we would use to get parents to stop genital mutilation.
Nostalgia closes our minds and keeps us from adapting, and the ripple effect, through our kids, is too damaging. We used to think that we need to judge our kids in order for them to judge themselves. But what we really need is to be there for our kids, and model behavior for our kids, so they can learn to make decisions for themselves. Internal motivation is a powerful life tool.
So it doesn’t matter if I let my kids play unlimited video games, or do unlimited reading, or unlimited sewing, whatever. They need to choose what they do so they can connect with what it feels like to have internal motivation to do something.
I need to make sure that I’m nearby to show that I care, and that their choices matter. The closeness you give your kid, that is so important throughout their life, comes from proximity. And it’s exactly what you don’t get sending your kids away for eight hours a day.
I’ve been saving the picture above because I worry that what it shows us having a super fun day at my younger son’s New York City internship as a stylist, while my older sits on the side playing his video games. But the truth is, this is a great example of parenting that works. It’s me being with him while he does what he loves.
So often I find that the very moments that I think are parenting failures are actually parenting success. And it’s such a powerful piece of parenting knowledge to know that what my kids need most is my presence.