Too Much “Entitlement”, How to get your kids to do more

It’s funny how we have been living in families for so many thousands of years, but the modern family is so new that we don’t really understand the dynamics of it.  Our relationships to our partners is new where love as the basis for marriage came around less than 100 years ago.   Our relationships to children is dramatically different, with social influences and online access to information there are many outside influences that we may not agree with.

We are in the age of privilege where entitlement is a common complaint of the upcoming generation.  Kids these days hardly hear the word no, and rarely have to wait to get the toys they want.  It boggles my mind because it seems like we are making the parenting job so much more difficult.

o-TAKE-YOUR-KIDS-TO-WORK-DAY-facebookI agree with child labor laws to prevent us from working our children, but now we also seem to limit their contributions around the house.  As kids help less and less around the house, parents now have to work more to fill in that deficit.  And now that the kids are bored, without a sense of purpose, we have to create positive activities and parents rush around to get their kids to soccer practice on Monday night, Scouts meetings on Tuesday, the Math Tutor on Wednesday, a soccer fundraiser on Thursday, and Joey’s house on Friday night.

Jennifer Senior captured my thoughts exactly in her Ted Talk.  I suggest listening to the excerpt on the TED Radio Hour which interweaves an interview with Jennifer between the TED presentation.  She gets to this point: we have limited our goal of parenting to “Making them Happy.”  Now we all can debate the success of this goal for ourselves, and everyone we know.  But my question is how do we get back to wanting to teach our children “to function as an adult.” I see it in my nephews, and people all around us.  They are not learning to how to make a plan, solve problems themselves, manage finances, challenge advertising claims which may be deceiving.

Well Bruce Feiler’s Ted Talk addresses this issue and proposes a solution.  A way to get your kids to do more that helps out the family, and teaches them responsibility to be successful in life.

Well I might be biased, growing up as the oldest of 5 kids I had the responsibility burden when there were problems in the family.  Some people pity my childhood of cleaning, cooking and laundry for the whole family starting at age 9, but I wouldn’t trade my situation now.  No debt, paid for school, motivated and confident enough to pursue what I think is right for me.  People want to think that they are raising good people, and that is enough.  Well all my siblings are good people because of our family values, so yes that is important.  But one sibling did not get the responsibility role and now struggles to provide for himself and his family.  His work ethic is just a bit different and my parents still support him in various ways.

I think we need to give kids more responsibility, teach them how to get through it, and be supportive as they learn, but continue adding increased responsibility.  We see so many outreach programs for kids that have positive effects, many of them are successful due to the opportunity for responsibility given to young people.  This is the best time for them to learn, we should not rob them of that opportunity.

Teachings Knowledge or Teaching Skills

230px-Nofretete_Neues_MuseumI distinctly remember my 6t grade social studies assignment to write a research paper on Ancient Egyptian history.  We got to choose our own topic, and I was interested in the Queen Nefertiti who is now more famous than her Pharaoh husband.  Those of you who read my blog, have probably noticed that story telling is not my one of my strengths.  It doesn’t come natural, and it’s only once in a while that I think of a good story to include in my posts.  6th grade was the start of this lifelong battle with writing.  My research involved writing down quotes of important information from various sources, and combining them into the final paper.  I do not recall what preparation and training was provided for this task, but I do remember the note on my graded paper to redo the work and this time write the paper in my own words.  220px-Ankh_isis_nefertariThere is a lot I don’t remember about childhood, but this embarrassment, although not public, has seared this experience into my memory.  And although I cannot say I have mastered the skill, at least I’m conscientious not to plagiarize.

I think growing up, my view of education was that we were taught knowledge.  My view of that particular assignment at the time was that I was supposed to learn facts about Ancient Egyptian history, but now I see how the class was teaching me a skill to be used throughout the rest of my life.  Would I have performed better, had I been focused on the development of the skill rather than the accumulation of knowledge, maybe?

Each grade level and class type during K-12 education will vary in it’s focus.  Math and Science I think are more weighted on teaching knowledge with some skills learned as well, but history and social studies  have the opposite distribution.  Maybe this distinction doesn’t make a difference to students, or educators.  Maybe the educators are completely aware of this and subtly build it into their curriculum so that students have no idea.  But I think I might have learned more, if I realized the necessity of learning skills.

My boyfriend used to teach at the graduate level, thinks that higher education is more focused on the learning of knowledge.  If this were true, then we might expect it could be possible to test through an undergraduate degree.  But to my knowledge, you have to complete equivalent coursework to be eligible for a diploma.   Does this suggest we are more concerned about people learning skills?

Why do we Ignore what we Believe is Right?

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” ~Edmund Burke

There can be a lot of disagreement over what is right and wrong, it’s not my intent here to discuss what actions fall into each category.  I am curious about situations where people clearly, and knowingly, do something against what they believe to be right.  For example: Someone may think it’s a good idea to follow the speed limit, but they choose not to on occasion.  Or people who thinking that smoking is bad, but they are now addicted to smoking and have trouble quitting.  Given the current child abuse scandal, how did the adults at Penn State turn a blind eye on the horrible actions of “Jerry” Sandusky and let more children fall victim???

What really intrigues me are the situations where people do something they believe to be wrong, just because are likely to get away with it.  Again, the Sandusky situation which repeated itself because he felt protected in that environment.  What occurs in our way of thinking to make us choose the action we think is wrong?

  • Biological abnormalities aside, some people’s brains are just wired incorrectly.  The more we learn about identifying those abnormalities the better.
  • Do we believe it will help us more than hurting others, so there is a net benefit?
  • Are we operating based on a biological instinct to do anything that helps us as individuals, even if it hurts the group.  Do our actions have to be mutually exclusive?
  • Do we believe someone else is doing it, and so we are entitled to help ourselves in the same way?
  • I recently came across a scientist researching the brain and talking about why we lie, including how the brain lies to ourselves without us know.
  • I suspect it’s a combination of the biological, for each of us is susceptible to certain behavior just like some people become an alcoholic while others can drink every day and not become addicted, we all have a biological disposition to be affected by certain things.  And its laziness, it’s so easy for us to enjoy the comfort we are given (I did not fight in the revolution) and to continue to want more rather than use what we have to help everyone achieve a minimum quality of life.

If I go back to school, this is probably what I would study.

Education Fundamentals – My Personal Truth

A variety of experiences and knowledge are combining in my world to help me understand and define my personal truth.  And it relates to our socialization and education to create positive impact on humanity.

Books – The following have helped create this understanding of how to create a positive impact on education and humanity:

  • How We Decide, by Jonah Lehr:  The explanation of how the brain naturally works, and the stories of personality changes as they relate to areas of the brain being affected by disease helps me understand the physical control of the brain in the way people think and behave.
  • All of the books by Malcolm Gladwell: give great insight into social behavior and influence.  Especially the book Outliers which analyzes successful people and how they achieved that success.
  • Don’t Shoot ….., by David M. Kennedy:  A documentary style book of the very effective programs ending violent crime in the inner cities.  The story demonstrates how both “good” and “bad” people want the same thing – no violent crime and how the social behavior is significantly influenced by the group expectations.
  • The Neighborhood Project, by David Sloan Wilson:  I will update when I finish the book, but it suggests ideas on how to improve the social welfare of impoverished neighborhoods.
  • Studies of middle-class and working-class families which show the group of learned characteristics that factor into a person’s level of success, such as those in the book Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau.
  • Biographies of our Founding Fathers: At the start of the United States, many scholars and experts were self taught by reading and experimenting.  Using science to understand cause and effect, action and reaction, they developed theories on farming, the weather, electricity, etc.  It’s inspiring to read how Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others developed knowledge about the world and society around them without a governing mandate of public policies.

Examples – I love the concept to “Lead by Example”.  There are groups developing and testing ideas for improved education and humanity.

  • Mission Hill School in Boston: Is implementing a revolutionary teaching concept which will result in students who are independent, interested and personally responsible for their education, and empathetic towards others.  Sounds like an unrealistic ideal right?  You should watch the video in the link to the Humane Connection blog.

Ideas – As Zoe Weil recently said, we all have great ideas for improvement, we just need more people acting on them.

  • I relate to a lot of what Zoe Weil says/writes in her work for Humane Education.

Personal Experience – I grew up in a lower-middle class family in the SF-bay area suburbs, went to a CA state university for my bachelor’s degree, interned with different companies every summer, then started working for a well respected company in the Boston area.  When I came to work, I “had a good education”, but knew very little.  Working beside a group who is so extremely conscientious of their actions and behaviors, and intentional of their impact on work and the world, I learned more in the first few years at work compared to the 17 years (12+5) at school.  How can that be?  What was I doing, why did I waste so much time?

I think we learn from the group around  us, trying to match up with the average knowledge of the group.  The standard of expectation is elevated, and the resources/support will also be elevated.

All Together they tell us that we can improve our society, and we’re learning just how to do that.  The most effective methods are implemented into the culture in the way we treat children.

What ideas do you have for your neighborhood?

How do we learn? Creating Solutionaries, and the Answer to all Problems

A few ideas have slowly been coming together in my head.

  • First, no one is smart enough to do anything on their own – As intelligent we may be as an individual, we rely on the experience and the accumulated knowledge/technology for the past 10,000 years.  So really our intelligence is relative and dependent on our forebearers.  Edison could not invent the lightbulb if the people before him did not discover how to control electricity etc.
  • Second, that people learn from example – We watch our parents and community to learn how to talk, how to act, what to like.  Very few people have a taste/style all their own.  Social influence is a major factor in who we are.  Cultural generalities are proof that we can cause particular behaviors in groups, and reduce particular behaviors.  This makes me wonder why we allow the television program that persists today.  Do we really want our children repeatedly watching those examples?
  • Lastly, my search for a way to solve problems at the root cause  – With the level of developments in today’s “civilization,” how is it that so many crucial problems persist?  The fact that Hunger, Domestic Violence, Genocide, Toxic Pollution, and Slavery persist today makes be question our level of intelligence, or wonder if these characteristics are inherent and unavoidable.

In my last post, I describe how Zoe Weil’s presentation on changing our education system to develop a world of “solutionaries” perfectly embodies the ideal I have for the world, but had not yet determined the method for implementation.  Zoe suggests a little tweak to the existing education system: present to the students the problems to be solved, and guide them through researching and solving those problems.  I imagine this change to improve our motivation for learning, improve our skills for dealing with challenges at work and in our daily lives, and improve the quality of life around the world.  The long term impact of allowing the youth to contribute to our society, and learn in depth the challenges we face, could be revolutionary.  We cannot underestimate their skill and power to be creative and analytical before they are controlled into one way of thinking.

In her speech, Zoe makes an interesting comment: instead of hosting debate competitions for students, lets have them work cooperatively and competitively to research and plan new ideas to solves the world’s problems.  Why not create a national competition where Solutionary teams choose one of the world’s problems to address and compete against other teams?  I add one more idea: at some level of championship, these teams might receive essential feedback from key people in that field of expertise.

Other Resources:

Please respond with your comments and ideas.  What sources for real solutions are you aware of?

My Dream, Perfectly Captured and Articulated – Have you heard of Humane Education?

I have a lot of interests and hobbies.  My skills at math and science developed into a career engineering solutions to problems with buildings.  My interest in community and education and development has guided my volunteer activities in the Boston area, so that I try to have a positive impact on the world around me.  But I find that limiting my positive impact to the hobbies and free time is not the impact I would prefer to have.  Couple that with the fact that to continue in engineering I need to get a Masters Degree, but I don’t want to study engineering any further, and in each of these activities there is something lacking.

With everything I have done to date, I’m left feeling good about the work but feeling like it doesn’t really Solve The Problem.  You would think that as an Engineer I am able to solve problems.  My work is more like identifying root problems such as Manufacturers mislead us to believe in their untested, unproven products.  We have limited ability to educate people of such actions because of legal repercussions from Manufacturers.  A construction industry that controls the design through cost and schedule manipulations to undo the efforts of good design, and therefor increased distrust and reduced fees for the designers who’s primary interest and benefit is the good of the project.  So I have been deeply unsatisfied with my work in not being able to fix the roof of the problems.

Recently I was researching grad programs, I have considered various professions in teaching or counseling as potential careers that actually solve problems.  I had fantasized about creating an after school kids program that incorporates valuable lessons missing from the traditional school curriculum, or somehow becoming a middle school teacher and slyly insert such lessons throughout the year, but I have no idea how realistic these ideas are.  My fear is that I choose a new career path and find myself in the same situation of identifying root problems and lacking the skills and organization to address those issues, resolved instead to try and band-aid the consequences of these problems.  So why leave my comfortable position with a respectable firm to go back to school?

When my boyfriend asked me what I was thinking of studying as a career change, I said that I’m looking for a way “To Fix the Entire Education System.”  He responded “Well that’s a bit ambitious,” and I thought “Yes, that’s the point.”  I am not afraid of a challenge, actually my whole life I have sought them out.

So all of this leads up to my discovery this week.  Thank you to She Simply Made Lemonade for posting about Zoe Weil’s vision and work in Humane Education (not just relating to animal treatment).  Zoe’s speech captured in the TED talks is the confirmation that my dream is not Too Ambitious.  Others are living that dream too.  I also love Zoe’s use of the concept “solutionaries” and plan to read more on her blog to plan my next steps.

Discussion of one Parenting Technique

I love Act 3 of this episode of This American Life.  Although parenting techniques vary according to the child, I do think it’s essential for kids to fear their parents (parents are tools for instruction no friends).  In this last Act, Dan Savage talks about being a parents and describes children as “sociopaths, until you beat it out of them, metaphorically…

Also interesting for people who follow Alec Baldwin’s personal life.

What to teach our children:

Job No. 1 as parents is to recognize and encourage the strengths in each child.  I think it’s essential for children to develop confidence and a sense of accomplishment in something, by encouraging them in their strength they can develop a secure sense of self.  Job No. 2 is to provide opportunity for development of other necessary skills that may not come as easily to each individual.  Many of these skills must be learned at an early age to have a real impact, even before the typical school age of 5.

  • How to Listen
  • Communication skills
  • Respect for others
  • Hard Work results in accomplishments
  • How to Plan Ahead/Prepare
  • Anger Control
  • How to deal with Consequences for our actions
  • To have Pride in doing good work
  • The difference between Love and Lust
  • How to Contribute to our community
  • How to Evaluate information sources
  • How to Adapt to unexpected change
  • How to Fight for what is right, and stand up against wrong doing

I think parents who try to protect their children from consequences and who want to give kids a “childhood” are completely missing the point of raising a child.  Not that all fun should be eliminated, but the priority should be on preparing kids for the future to deal with life.  It will certainly help future roommates and significant others tremendously.