Parents of young children are often overwhelmed by advice. The degree of generational differences in health, medicine, food, safety, and general well-being of children is colosssal today in comparison to just 40 years ago.
As a parent, we are all deeply invested in caring for our children with a loving determination to help them succeed in life. There is no wrong way to love, however we must also recognize that micromanagement "takes away the child's experience and [impedes] his learning how to handle himself in the world. Part of the job of the parent is not to do everything for the child, but to help him do things more and more independently," says clinical psychologist and author Marc Nemiroff, PhD. "Micromanagement goes against natural development."
Child developmental psychologist and writer, Alison Gopnik stresses that parents should stop stultifying their kids with endless schedules and heavy expectations, quit the helicoptering and let them get on with it. Fair enough. The idea that some parents now look over their millennial offspring's university assignments or talk through the minutiae of their kidult's work issues often appears to be centered on our ego.
As long as safety isn't an issue, parents should wait a few minutes before stepping in, says Benjamin Siegel, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. "You have to intervene if kids are getting hurt," he stated, "but oftentimes they work it out themselves." If you do have to step in, try to be an arbitrator rather than coming up with a solution for the children.
Parents should be like gardeners, tending young shoots and providing fertile ground. Instead, many resemble carpenters, chiselling away at them to create an image of success that has little to do with their kids' wishes, talents or needs. Their effort to keep kids clean often backfires.
Parenting shouldn't be directed toward the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult. This model causes Western parents' untold anxiety, while the kids wilt under an "oppressive cloud”. Worse, Gopnik argues, it's a "poor fit to the scientific reality”. We used to learn from tribes, or large extended families and communities. Now we have small, geographically scattered families, often with parents who work long hours. Some transfer skills they learned over years in a goal-oriented job to raising their children in the hope this will give them the resources to withstand unpredictable futures.
"Gardening,” says Gopnik, can create robust and resilient children with the resourcefulness to adapt to an unpredictable world. She draws on current research to build a view that balances the tensions inherent in growing up with intergenerational conflicts.
If you think you may be micromanaging your child, you should break the habit "like any bad habit -- start little." Begin backing off in areas of little consequence -- for example, allowing your child to decide whether or not to make the bed each morning. "If you're not micromanaging about little things, your kid will take you more seriously about the things that really matter," she says.
Take play, something that is fundamental to learning. By filling their time with packed schedules of enriching activities, parents may rob their kids of a vital developmental window. And while 5-year-olds play-fighting may not look as valuable as ballet classes or Kumon maths, rough-housing is something many animals do. Rat experiments suggest it is vital for honing social competence .
If you chain children to desks, and demand focused attention in a life so different from our evolutionary past, you can expect trouble. As she writes, there's "a close connection between the rise of schools and the development of attention deficit disorder”. In the US, 1 in 5 boys have an ADD label by 17.
It's all fascinating, but I'm left with many questions. Gardening children sounds intuitively better than chiselling, but are there risks? ADD aside, it isn't clear. Gardens can face north, too. When must you intervene? And can gardening turn into chiselling?
Then there's culture. What works in one place may not elsewhere. Some carpenter-like behaviours - say, the expectation of filial obedience - can work in other cultures if underwritten by love. Gopnik doesn't mention it, but a long-term study in nine countries shows this approach works in Kenya, but not Sweden, and among European Americans in the US.
The free-spirited childhood seems no longer possible if we do not change our parenting methods. Overparenting in the face of rapid societal change has ensured that, in a sense, childhood does not end.
We must realize that with every passing decade comes a cycle of change. We can never go back to who we were and our focus should be on making our future better for ourselves and our children. We can continue on this cycle of fear and raise a generation of timid and paranoid children, or we can empower them to become all that they can be, accepting consequences and responsibility of becoming mature, benevolent, conscious and loving beings. When love is in the equation, fear usually takes a back seat. At that point, anything is possible.