May 25, 2007
I was listening to a report on the radio a few days ago and the commentator, trying to explain some trend among college students, referred to their “age appropriate” sense of invincibility and difficulty delaying gratification. Now it’s true in general that adolescents don’t judge risk well and think they’re more capable than they really are, and it’s true in general that delaying gratification is a sign of developing maturity. But it struck me as odd that a journalist would expect young adults well past physical adolescence to act like children.
This is a trend that is growing and spreading, destroying reason in its path. Decades ago adults were likely to expect young children to exhibit more consideration and self-control than we now know their brains and bodies are capable of showing. They expected polite manners in restaurants and children only speaking to adults when addressed by them. High school juniors and seniors were treated as young adults about to be working and caring for themselves.
Today people bring their toddlers to adult movies and keep them in the theater, even when they’re screaming and shrieking. They don’t get up and leave the theater, respecting the rights of the dozens of other people who bought tickets. They move to the end of the aisle or maybe a little closer to the door, but they stay in the theater watching the movie. Tantrums are “age appropriate” so somehow that means all of society is supposed to endure them.
What happened to reason? It is age appropriate for a two-year-old to throw a fit to get his way sometimes, or just to do it because he’s frustrated or overwhelmed. But that doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t remove the child form a situation he is disrupting, or that they should tolerate being hit and screamed at.
Parents let their young kids run wild in restaurants, at church, and at school activities. They climb on things that aren’t for climbing and chase each other around, bumping into people and sometimes causing big messes. Restlessness and recklessness are “age appropriate” so parents don’t try to prevent the collisions and messes. They don’t step in until things fall apart, but only if they notice.
Wanting to be wild and silly is age appropriate for young children, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the time and place for it. Remember indoor voices and outdoor voices? Remember indoor games and outdoor games? Our parents understood the distinction and the reason. What’s happened to parents?
Wanting to spend every waking moment with friends is considered “age appropriate” for children starting at some age, which seems to drop lower each year, and now seems to be hovering around nine or ten. It’s true that social belonging is a genuine developmental need, which peaks in late adolescence and early adulthood. It’s connected to belonging to groups and establishing an identity, and to finding a romantic partner. However, it’s absolutely NOT age appropriate, healthy, or necessary for children and young teens.
It’s age appropriate for kids to develop interests outside their family, increasingly as they grow older. But it’s not age appropriate for them to despise or shun their parents—EVER! That’s a recent phenomenon in American culture and to a lesser degree in other Western countries. But it’s uncommon in most cultures today and was uncommon in our culture decades ago.
Our children’s security and stability, long-term identity, and deepest support come from family, especially dedicated parents. Replacing that with the whimsical acceptance and demands of peers who are children themselves robs our kids’ lives of that centered, grounded certainty they need to get through difficult challenges.
Wanting to experiment with alcohol is considered “age appropriate” for teenagers, so regardless of what the law says some parents expect and tolerate a certain amount of underage drinking. Some even provide the alcohol for their teens as long as they stay home while drinking! Some parents believe the way to respond to adolescents’ developing sexuality is to talk about “safe sex” and make sure condoms are available. Since the desires and feelings are “age appropriate,” they assume the behavior is, too.
It’s age appropriate for three-year-olds to want to eat all the ice cream in the carton. But that doesn’t mean we should let them. They want many things that aren’t healthy or good for them, like avoiding naps and refusing to go to bed when they’re tired at night. Kids at all ages will want things that aren’t good for them. Those wants and drives may be “age appropriate,” but acting on them is not.
Rude and insolent behavior in children and teens is tolerated because the pop culture says, “They’re just going through a stage,” or, “You know, it’s that age.” Understanding the feelings, the wants, and the drives of our children gets conflated with tolerating their offensive behavior.
Part of the problem, I am convinced, is a culture that idolizes adolescence. We rush to move our children into an adolescent world at younger and younger ages. Then we prolong adolescence, letting them live at home rent-free well into their twenties with no clear goals.
Another part, possibly the biggest, is our fear of saying “no.” I think many parents believe they have to allow all expressions of feelings in order to respect their children’s feelings. They don’t see the elegance of saying, “I see how very angry you are, but I’m not for hitting. Use your words.” They don’t understand how respectful and empowering it is to say to a child, “This isn’t a place for screaming. You can use a quiet voice and stay here, or you can go outside if you need to scream.”
I slip into despair sometimes watching parents struggle with their children and hearing their comments about how overwhelming it is to raise them. But I try to focus on hope, which comes from remembering parents who learned a little information and a couple of new techniques and completely changed their relationships with their children.
I want to bring that hope to people. I want to help them understand their children and their role in their children’s lives. I want to empower them to raise their children to become amazing and competent people. But I stumble over my frustration at the lack of effort and commitment I see and the growing tolerance of rude and offensive behavior. I’m too young to be so cynical. It’s not age appropriate!
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
May 18, 2007
I did a little market research on professional coaches offering services to parents and wound up overwhelmed. I know it’s typical to have some strong reactions to learning about the field you’re considering when planning for self-employment or business ownership. It involves a lot of change and a lot of risk so emotions get stirred up. But even though I knew that as an abstract idea, I was surprised by the details of my real experience.
I Googled and Yahoo’ed parenting and coaching and found a few sites. Only one site I reviewed listed a fee for coaching. It was in line with the format and fees of general life coaching I’ve heard about, but the rest wouldn’t state a fee—and I was anxious and annoyed! I’m inclined to put fees out there, so I wondered if that will somehow put me at a disadvantage. Do these other coaches have good reasons not to list fees? Is it better marketing to wait and cover them in a sales pitch? Are they ashamed or uncomfortable stating fees, or do they know about some strong research indicating it’s more effective to cover fees in person? I was stressing!
But that wasn’t the end of my anxiety. The coaches have different backgrounds. Some have bachelor’s degrees in a social science area (not psychology or human development). Some were teachers for years and use that as their experience base. Some have master’s degrees, but not in psychology or counseling or human development or education.
That should encourage me, right? I would think so! I have a master’s degree in psychology, specialty focus on child psychology and consulting in schools. I co-owned a preschool and child care center for 10 years, worked in residential treatment, worked in schools, and had a private psychotherapy practice. So why did the backgrounds of the other coaches get to me? Because maybe parents aren’t comfortable talking to someone with a mental health and therapy background about how to improve their relationships with their children and their overall parenting style—that’s why.
Then the big problem showed up. A recurring theme on the parent coaching web sites is, “We don’t tell you how to be a parent” or “We don’t have the answers” or “We don’t teach you a system—we help you develop your own system based on your values.” They state that because professional coaching is rapidly becoming helping people discover their own answers instead of training and teaching them.
My anxiety was buzzing full-speed now. It makes sense to avoid telling parents there is a single program with some number of steps and you learn the system. That’s simplistic and doesn’t allow for individual variation. But, come on, there are core facts!
You shouldn’t help an overly compulsive, worrisome mother develop her own style of intruding and controlling her children’s lives. You have to stand for the child’s need for autonomy and reasonable risk-taking because it’s developmentally necessary.
You don’t help a dad with high achievement standards and a stoic outlook develop a program for pushing for high performance in all areas that winds up ignoring his children’s emotional needs and vulnerabilities. You have to take a stand for the emotional security of the children.
You don’t help the mother who is worried about hurting her child’s feelings or causing a rift in the parent-child relationship develop a system that is permissive, with few boundaries and low expectations on the child, where the primary goal is to make sure the child approves of the mother’s choices. You take a stand for the child’s need for boundaries and expectations as a model for self-control.
My strong response to some of these aspects of other coaches’ web sites helped me reinforce some of my core values for my practice, so it was very helpful in that regard. But this experience stirred up a lot of worries that what I want to offer and what I believe in may not be the service parents are willing to pay to get. I’ve chosen this work because I know there are important things that children and adolescents need from their parents to develop compassion, empathy, self-control, morality, and strong character. I will encourage parents to learn about those things, help teach them the information, and help train them in the skills they can use to guide their children towards adulthood as capable, responsible, and fulfilled people capable of enjoying life and sharing it with others.
And as I speak about and write about what I believe, I have to trust my words will reach parents who want that future for their children and will be able to see that they need to learn certain principles and skills to help make it happen. I will coach them, as unique individuals, to help them find the specific skills and techniques for providing their children what they need. But I will always stand for the needs of the children and help parents see what they should be doing to cultivate the roots of resilience and the fruits of abundance in their children’s lives.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
May 11, 2007
A lot of people I talk to seem trapped.
Some are trapped on the path of what they “should” be doing with their careers. They are spending a few years at one company and trying to get a better job at another company, which will lead to a different better job at a different company—and they aren’t sure where it stops and they know they don’t even want to take the ride.
Some are in jobs they’ve had for years, where they hear lots of promises of change and better opportunities, but all they get are empty words. They hang on wondering if the words will ever come true in spite of the evidence they see every day.
Some are bored, or even worse they feel like their souls are shriveling up. They pour their productive hours into monotonous tasks without meaning and with no end in sight. They don’t think they deserve to enjoy their work.
The sad thing, but also the powerful thing, is that all these people know they have a vision to do something unique that’s bigger and more fulfilling. But they won’t pursue the vision, because of what they “should” be doing instead, or because they’re holding on to safety and security while they whither away. Worse yet, some hold on to not-quite safety and not-really security hoping what they have will become “good enough” some day.
Fear is insipid. Creative career counselor Barbara Sher likes to refer to “the Dobermans” in our minds that start barking and howling when they sense danger—even when the danger is merely changing from the boring rut to the exciting unknown of possibility. Like the guard dogs, our internal Dobermans are overly alert and greatly exaggerate the threat, but we hear the barking and think it must be really dangerous so we pull back.
Most of our “support” systems just support the status quo. Be normal, like us. Don’t excel. Don’t do unique and exciting things. Have the same kinds of jobs and take the same kinds of vacations and enjoy the same kinds of activities as the rest of us. Then it will be really easy for us all to talk to each other, because we won’t have to stretch our minds, leave our comfort zones, and think.
I stand opposed to ruts that keep people from knowing their true nature and expressing their true talents.
I stand opposed to ruts that hold people back from taking reasonable risks to try the new, the unique, and the interesting.
I stand opposed to ruts that tell people fitting in with other people’s expectations is more important than creating a life that fits just right.
I stand for creative thought, visions pursued, authentic living, and the power of expressing your true self.
I stand for hope.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
May 4, 2007
I have this idea that podcasting might be fun.
It’s an odd idea for someone with a voice like mine, which would be perfect for a mime.
Podcasting would be an avenue for teaching and explaining. It would be a way to share interviews with people about the paths to self-discovery they took and the accomplishments they achieved when they jumped out of the rut called “typical.”
It sounds like it could be a lot of fun. It will require learning some technical skills and doing things I haven’t done before.
When I was a kid my older brother took apart a radio shack tape recorder and found a way to use it as a P.A. system. We would talk into the little disc microphone and our voices would be amplified through the built-in speaker. We built a shack out of shipping crates under a tree and used it as our radio station. So, actually, this is not something I haven’t done before. I have a brief broadcast career. It just wasn’t recorded and isn’t available for download over the internet.
I have an iMac computer, which is supposed to be set up for podcasting. It has a program called “Garage Band” that can record a podcast. But I have to get very friendly with the computer screen to have my face close enough to the built-in mic to get an adequate recording.
I plugged an external mic into the iMac and tried to see how that would go. I also plugged headphones in so I could monitor how I sounded. Bad idea! Not only does it let me hear my own voice—it has a tiny delay, so I get tripped up waiting for my voice in my headphones to catch up with what I’m saying.
So far, I like how I sound best when I use the effect called “helium head” or something like that. I also like the one that makes me sound like the croaky electronic voice of Princess Leia in disguise as a bounty hunter.
I’m going to try to do this. I will sketch out some episodes with a few minutes of content each. I’ll try to add a little musical intro (that’s been a learning experience, too). I’ll find a low-cost way to get my podcasts hosted. It will help me focus on ideas I want to share and it will help me think about giving one piece of information at a time in a clear and understandable way.
And it will let me play with more of the features on my iMac! Playing is good, especially when it nearly looks like work.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,