Update from the Aspen Ideas Festival: Just back from a really fun panel on the goal of parenting in the 21st century. My co-panelists were: Larry Cohen, Ellen Galinsky, and Amy Chua, with therapist and journalist Lori Gottlieb (from the Atlantic) moderating. Great people and all good writers, too. Here’s the full list of Aspen speakers. (And here was my CNN.com response to the Tiger Mom book last year: The Call of the Dolphin Mother.)
- Parents are blamed for everything! (Ellen Galinsky called it “parentism” and feels it is absolutely rampant and wouldn’t be tolerated if we substituted “women” or “African Americans” for the word “parents.”)
- No false dichotomy between happiness and success, though it often feels that way (We’ve always been inadequate but now we’re reminded of our inadequacies on a minute by minute basis, thank you, Information Age!)
- Kids need to build an intrinsic sense of motivation and passion – what educators call “engagement” – but that doesn’t mean signing your kid up for a hundred activities starting at nine months.
- On the contrary, children need time to slow down and reflect. (Lori Gottlieb said that her son once piped up from his car seat, asking, “Mom, please can you be quiet so I can day-dream?”)
- There’s a boy crisis in schools. But… the differences among boys are still greater than the differences between girls and boys. The “big social science story” – according to Michael Kimmel and Michael Thompson at yesterday’s panel – is the similarities, not differences, between the genders. In other words: we shouldn’t go overboard with our explanations of what girls and boys are ‘really like’ and should figure out how to better engage boys in school when so much of our culture makes them believe that academic success is uncool and out of reach. (Larry shared a study on stereotyping that showed that kids perform worse on an exam when told prior that kids of a different race – didn’t matter which – generally did better on the test.)
- Larry gave us all permission to be average, and to have basically average kids. (What a fount of wisdom and kindness this guy is!)
- Play is still the fundamental building block of human cognition! Always has been, always will be. But we either deny kids’ play or try to over-manage it, allowing a natural process to become another source of parental anxiety and competition. I was kind of a dog with a bone on this point and made my usual pitch for social-emotional learning — which comes largely from play – and its impact on later academic and life success.
- In an experimental study, kids’ performance solving a puzzle improved when their effort was praised, rather than their intelligence. Moral of the story: stop handing out trophies all the time and get your kid to focus on the pride that comes from hard work.
- A wake-up call about what kids really want from their parents: relaxed, focused time. Ellen showed a brief video with priceless comments from kids about their parents. My favorite: “When you’re really tired and stressed, take a little nap. But not a long one.“
I really enjoyed the experience — notwithstanding my initial gulp of anxiety when I spotted my hero, Howard Gardner, in the audience – so much great energy, great questions, and a lot of laughs and some groans of self-awareness. I also really liked Tiger Mom. Amy noted (accurately, I think) that her notoriety came in part from her book’s crystallization of America’s two greatest contemporary fears: childhood and China. She was self-deprecating and gracious, yielding the floor to the child ‘experts’ but also sharing a really great perspective on the perils of her own parenting. We had fun chatting over dinner the other night and really getting into substantive stuff in today’s panel. Discovered our kids are going to be in the same dorm next year, so we agreed to go out for a drink and laugh about all our parenting missteps and misadventures.