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A Nation of Wimps

Speaking to Saint David's parents on Thursday night, January 20, 2011, Hara Marano, author of A Nation of Wimps asked those present a central parenting question: "All parents want their kids to do well in school. But is that all you want? Success in life has a lot to do with curiosity, empathy, and confidence. Just because kids register competence on SATS doesn't mean they feel competent.  Just how much of a whole person are you willing to sacrifice to engineer academic success?"

Coming on the heels of Amy Chua's controversial piece Why Chinese Mothers are Superior in the Wall Street Journal January 8th, Ms. Marano's visit could not have been better timed.  Her interest in issues associated with American parenting began some years ago when she was asked to work on a story for Psychology Today examining why so many college students were experiencing emotional fragility on college campuses.  Her findings concluded that current American parenting practices were in need of dramatic change--that the invasive parenting practices of the last few decades have come at a high price--psychological fragility.

After outlining her reasons for why current parenting practices lead to psychological fragility, Ms. Marano presented four suggestions for better parenting.  Firstly, she suggested parents let children play. Let them engage in free play, both vigorous silliness and fantasy play.  This play should not be directly monitored by adults, and preferably outdoors. Children need totally unstructured time for exploration and play that they create by themselves. No schedule. No agenda. No adult coaches.  Secondly, that families eat dinner together at least five nights a week. All around the same table. All eating the same meal with at least one parent present. Accompanied by conversation in which every family member gets to participate.
  Thirdly, learn to criticize your children the right way--constructive, specific criticism--too much leads to perfectionists; too little and they grow up not being able to cope with any criticism. This is the key factor, she feels, by which your child will assess his or her relationship with you.  Finally, Marano suggests that as an important corollary, parents must learn how to praise their children—and what for.  Praise only when there is something worthy of praise. And when there is, focus on the effort—not on how talented or brilliant your child is. 

Spirited debate ensued as the evening concluded with a question and answer session.


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