Link: As Teens Push Away, What Can Parents Do To Support Them? | MindShift | KQED News

Great, quick read for parents who are journeying through life with their teenagers.

My favorite clip:

When teens push themselves away, says Hill, “it does not mean that they don’t want and crave their parents’ acceptance of their identities and interests. One of my colleagues said parenting teens is like hugging a cactus. Even as the ‘warm fuzzies’ are not often reciprocated, teens still need them, still need to know they are loved unconditionally. Don’t miss the opportunity to say or show love, warmth and affection toward even your most prickly teen.”


via As Teens Push Away, What Can Parents Do To Support Them? | MindShift | KQED News.


Article: Class and family in America: Minding the nurture gap | The Economist

What matters most in a child’s shot at success? Being in a stable two-parent middle class home, according to this research.

Stunningly, Mr Putnam finds that family background is a better predictor of whether or not a child will graduate from university than 8th-grade test scores. Kids in the richest quarter with low test scores are as likely to make it through college as kids in the poorest quarter with high scores (see chart).



via Class and family in America: Minding the nurture gap | The Economist.

Teachers (and parents) affect students’ perceptions of content

File this under “not rocket science” but it’s nice to see some data back up what I’d call a reasonable hunch.

Some new research out of the University of Chicago, summarized here, suggests that teachers and parents who are averse to math (for example, since math seems to be the whipping boy of the subject disciplines for most students) pass on that negativity to their students.

For example:

Previous studies have looked at how parents’ stereotypes (“boys are better at math, and girls are better at reading”) and expectations (for example, holding sons’ academic performance to a higher standard than daughters’) affect their children’s orientation toward learning. Gunderson takes a different tack, suggesting that parents may influence their offspring’s attitudes in two more subtle ways: through their own anxiety, and through their own belief that abilities are fixed and can’t be improved (expressed in commonly-heard comments like “I’ve never been good at science,” and “I can’t do math to save my life”).

Research shows that school-aged children are especially apt to emulate the attitudes and behaviors of the same-sex parent—a source of concern if we want to improve girls’ still-lagging performance in traditionally male-dominated fields like science and mathematics. If mom hates math, a young girl may reason, it’s O.K. for me to dislike it too.

This same effect applied to teachers and at least some data suggests that elementary teachers are some of the most mathephobic (totally just made that word up).
Teachers and parents have profound effects on the children under their care.  To really tackle some of the deficiencies we see in educational systems, we need first to tackle our own.  

When "Success" Becomes Lethal

This past Sunday the New York Times ran a lengthy article about students (high school and college) who use “study drugs” — ADHD medications like Adderall are regularly sold under the table in schools to help stressed students get ahead. 

This shorter article excerpts poignant testimony of student addicts. Many of their stories follow similar themes: overwhelmed by the pressure from teachers, society, and parents to perform well and be successful, they succumbed to the pressure to enhance their attention with easy-to-get ADHD medication. Contrary to their expectations (based on the anti-drug themes they’d grown up with), the results were instantaneous and positive….at first.  Now, many are addicted and regretful.

In Their Own Words: “Study Drugs” 

I found this student’s comment especially telling:

Let me say first off that I take full responsibility in choosing to take Adderall as a study drug. It definitely helped me get good grades during finals, but plenty of students get good grades without it, and I would understand if somebody in my classes felt cheated because I took it.
That being said, the immense pressure put on students by parents and educators has made taking speed a socially acceptable thing. I come from a family that gets disappointed and chews me out for B’s or even B+’s and A-‘s. My whole life I’ve been told that, no matter how smart I am, the only way to be successful (see: acceptable) is through academic excellence. Now, would my parents be upset that I’ve taken study drugs? Probably, and that’s just symptomatic of the problem.
I’m sick of the expectation of a “perfect” kid. The parents and educators in this article who express shock at kids using study drugs ought to look in the mirror; they are equally responsible. College is harder to get into today than it was and it is much more stressful and difficult once you get in. Change your unrealistic expectations or take the My Kid is an Honor Student bumper sticker off your minivan.

I’ve been at the giving end of that kind of pressure. Teachers know that a push to achieve something beyond what a student believes is possible may be necessary to get some students out of a rut or laziness or low expectations for themselves and moving toward real growth and change.

But I’ve also been the one pushing students into “faster, higher, stronger, better” when it probably wasn’t the best choice.  You don’t really know until you see them break, and then you realize “that was probably too much.”

So how do we know when to push and when to relax? Many people worry that we coddle kids too much these days. What’s the balance?

The students cited in the NYT article all cite unmanageable workloads and unrealistic expectations.

We need to delve into the definition of “success” in the educational venture, and even consider the purpose of education in the broad sense, to begin to unravel what “realistic expectations” should be in a biblically normative classroom. 

Any definition of success that defines a person’s worth by what they can do rather than what they are (character) seems to emphasize product over process. I am more interested in a student becoming a life-long learner, curious about the world and how it works, than what they “know” at any given point.

Put another way — if our purpose on this earth is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever; if we  want our schools to equip students for Kingdom living — shouldn’t our schools recognize more than just academic accomplishment?

If I speak with the tongue of a Harvard Business grad but have not love, I sound like a clanging gong played by a toddler.

If I gain admission to a top-20 school, but have not love, it’s not really worth anything.

If I define success according to academic performance or career goals but ignore the child’s own desires and talents, it hurts both of us in the long run.

If I make a student think I am proud of her when she gets good grades and unhappy with her when she doesn’t “perform” to the level I think is appropriate, have I not redefined my relationship with her into a performance-based hamster wheel?

It’s time to challenge the established 5-hour SAT testing sessions, cut-throat races for scholarship money, and underlying assumptions about the role of a college education as the route to success for the overwhelming number of high school students.

It’s time to question the usefulness of worksheets and homework, the validity of the school day chopped into 7 or 8 45-minute periods, a 3-month summer vacation, or the value of the lingering 20th century American curriculum in a 21st century world.

It’s time to reclaim a more biblical notion of “success.”

Excuses, Excuses Excuses: How Parents Sometimes Undermine Character Development in Their Children

The following article was first published in Tri-State Family Magazine (Distributed by The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, WV). Copyright © 2007 by Dennis E. Bills.

“I am not trying to defend what my child did, BUT . . .” or “I know what my child did was wrong, BUT. . .” As a school administrator, I have heard these words all too many times. Few parents like to think that their child has a behavior problem, but parents who excuse misbehavior risk stunting character development. An important part of character development is learning to take full responsibility for mistakes, accidents, errors, and especially wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, children do not need help excusing bad behavior. They are adept at either explaining it away (“My fist slipped and I accidently hit him”) or generously sharing blame with others (“He hit me first”). Parents who also make excuses are subtly teaching their children that such behavior is not really so bad, and that they can get away with it regardless of their own culpability.
There are several reasons why some parents excuse their children so quickly and easily. Some parents who believe their children are unfairly accused may be overly protective, resulting in blind defensiveness. Other parents cannot accept that alleged misbehavior is really all that bad, failing to understand that perfect children are few and far between. Still other parents are simply unwilling or unable to face their child’s problems. Often they observe the same problems at home and feel helpless to deal with them. They find it easier to deny or excuse misbehavior than to address it head on. Parental excuses for misbehavior usually fall into three categories:

Blame Circumstances

“If such and such had not happened, my child would not have misbehaved.” Other versions include “My child is rowdy because he’s not been feeling well,” “He is disruptive because he is bored,” “If the notes had been sent home on time, she would not have cheated,” and “She hit Sam because they were sitting too close.” While circumstances may sometimes contribute to misbehavior, they are not themselves the cause of it. At some point, children must learn they are responsible for their actions regardless of the circumstances surrounding them.

Blame Other People

“I know my child did wrong, but what are you going to do about that other child?” A common ploy of those who wish to excuse their child’s behavior is to point out what was wrong about another child’s behavior. They do this for two reasons: 1) to minimize their own child’s blame, and 2) to satisfy some notion of justice. While it is important for children to see discipline as fair and impartial, fairness is not nearly as important as taking full responsibility for one’s own actions, regardless of what punishment befalls another. The thought that someone else is not getting what they deserve too easily distracts from the full weight of one’s own guilt. A child who is focused on “fairness” will not be willing to face his or her own responsibility. Likewise, parents who are preoccupied with fairness are stealing from their children even more valuable lessons about personal accountability.

Blame the Brain

“My child has ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).” When a parent announces this to me, I know to brace myself for two things: 1) the child will likely have behavior issues, and 2) the parents have already begun the process of excusing them. Now, I have no doubt that a real, organic condition known as ADD exists. However, the label is often bandied about apart from a professional diagnosis or without adequate exploration of its causes. ADD is a label for a particular set of symptoms, such as “does not pay attention” and “does not sit still.” It is a description of, but not an excuse for, behavior problems. Even professionals are coming to realize that ADD is often an unhelpful and overly diagnosed label. ADD cannot and should not be made to imply that morally wrong behavior is acceptable, that such children are incapable of doing right, that there might not be additional reasons for misbehavior, and that normal, consistent discipline is inappropriate.
Most parents work very hard to teach children right from wrong, but sometimes they undermine their own efforts by making excuses for them. Parents who excuse misbehavior are not teaching their children to take responsibility for their actions. Children who do not take responsibility for their actions will not adequately recognize bad behavior or have incentive to change. Parents will do better for their children if they help them identify and take responsibility for the full measure of their own wrongdoing—without making excuses.

Post-Publication Note: Fairness and justice is a crucial issue for parents to teach their children. Unfair discipline can cause bitterness and hopelessness within a child, so I believe that parents should fight for fairness in discipline in schools. However, my experience has led me to believe that “fairness” can very frequently be used to deny or distract from the culpability that a child bears for his or her own behavior. A best case scenario would would include encouraging children to take full responsibility for their own behavior while fighting for fairness in school discipline.