More than twenty years ago, I attended a lecture at one of the Claremont Colleges. I do not recall the speaker’s name but he was a successful journalist that wrote for major publications such as The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
He had published a memoir of raising his normal, above average daughter and a younger son with an IQ of eighty. The lecture was about how his wife and he raised the son to graduate with honors from high school and be accepted to Harvard where he earned a degree in engineering.
I wish I could remember this journalist’s name and the title of his memoir, but it has been too long. However, I have not forgotten his story. If anyone reading this post knows the title of the memoir, please tell me in a comment.
When this journalist’s son was old enough to start school at age six, the parents agonized over how to raise him so he could live a normal life and compete for jobs in the marketplace as an adult.
Job hunting and earning a living is not without its challenges and competition (on July 6, 2012, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 12.7 million Americans were unemployed, while the number of Americans living in poverty was more than 47 million and many go hungry daily).
For the journalist’s family, to achieve their goals as responsible parents, it was decided to retire the family television to the garage and read books every night with a family hour before bedtime to discuss what each family member read.
Twelve years later, the son with the eighty IQ earned a perfect score on the SAT and the high school principal claimed he had to have cheated. The father argued that his son had not cheated, so the school made the son take the SAT again in a room without any other students, and he was monitored by three staff members. The son earned a second perfect SAT score. Soon after that, the son was accepted to Harvard
This brings me to a post I read at clotildajamcracker (a Blog) called What’s the Matter with Kids these Days?
The post is worth reading—specially the comments. However, the problem is not kids—it’s parents.
In fact, I read one comment from the Headless Coffee Guy that said, “Hey, I hope my daughter will grow up to be a super genius who will find the unified theory in physics, solve world hunger, save the whales, and write her first symphony at 4. … But alas, I think ultimately, it’s really not up to the parent to decide what their child wants to be. We can only nurture and suggest, but it’s really up to the child to make up their own minds. All I really want for my daughter is to be happy.”
Is there anything wrong with Headless Coffee Guy’s concept of parenting as expressed in that previous quote?
When I read, “All I really want for my daughter is to be happy“—that was, in my opinion, a possible excuse to shirk responsibility.
There so much more to parenting than a parent wanting his or her child to only be happy.
What does happiness mean? I’m sure that most everyone would have a different answer. I have several answers depending on the circumstances. I’m happy when my monthly CalSTRS retirement payment is deposited in my bank account, watch a good movie, read a good book, eat a tasty meal, finish daily exercising, have no pain and especially when my wife is happy since that makes life better for me.
However, many today seem to think “happy” means you have to avoid being bored even if that includes not doing homework, classwork, reading or drinking water.
“Teenagers and young adults consume more sugar drinks than other age groups (ages 2-19 years).”
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.org
You might say, “What, drinking water?” Dr. Michael Dedekian, a pediatric endocrinologist at Maine Medical Center, says, “I have children who come to me, and they are being absolutely honest when they say, ‘I can’t drink water. It tastes disgusting to me.’ (They say) that water has become unpalatable.” Source: Minnesota Public Radio.org
The answer comes from Track Mom.com, who said, “Surveys have found that parents are major role models for their kids’ eating habits, even more so than their peers. … Almost one-third of the children surveyed drank soft drinks daily, and most drank ‘regular,’ not ‘diet,’ drinks. … Virtually all of the respondents liked or ‘strongly liked’ the taste of soft drinks.”
Like most parents, my wife and me wanted our daughter to be happy too. However, we felt it was more important that she be happier as an adult than a child and that meant making sacrifices.
Yes, my wife and me felt it was more important that our daughter be happier as an adult than during her childhood, which is why we left the TV off, no video games, no social networking (at least until her second year in high school), limited the number of school dances she attended, no mobile phone for personal use and focused on her reading books, doing homework, learning ballet, piano, how to change a flat tire, install a toilet, change a lock, install drywall, tile a floor, etc.
And last but not least, we never bought or drank any brand of soda. There was water and then there was water (sometimes there was fruit juice such as apple or orange juice).
Needless to say, many of our daughter’s peers in middle and high school felt sorry for her, because she wasn’t having as much fun as they were. However, our daughter graduated from high school with a 4.65 GPA and was accepted to Stanford University (the only student from her high school that year) where she is starting her third year majoring in biology with goals to pursue a medical degree.
Contrary to popular opinion, she’s happy and loves to dance and play the piano and enjoys reading books. She has a boyfriend at Stanford she loves too and the two share many similar interests. She might want to be happy every waking moment and have loads of fun but she learned as a child that there is a difference between work, happiness, entertainment, bring bored and depression.
To achieve a better chance at adult happiness, her mother and me had to say no to many things leading to boring hours doing homework and studying in addition to reading books to fill the empty hours.
After all, according to the law in California (it varies by state ranging from age 14 to 18), one is a child until his or her eighteenth birthday. Then the child becomes an adult with a life expectancy of at least 84.9 years (on average) if he or she has a college education and earns an above average income. You see, education and income has a significant impact on health and a higher life expectancy and the average college graduate earns much more than a high-school dropout or high-school graduate.
Science Daily reported, “New findings from Harvard Medical School and Harvard University demonstrate that individuals with more than 12 years of education have significantly longer life expectancy than those who never went beyond high school. … Overall in the groups studied, as of 2000, better educated at age 25 could expect to live to age 82; for less educated, 75.”
In addition, The Economic Policy Institute discovered “While life expectancy has grown across the United States between 1980 and 2000, the degree to which people live longer has become increasingly connected to their socio-economic status.” The average life expectancy of the least well-off in 2000 was 74.7 years while it was 79.2 years for those that were most well off—meaning they had more money and usually a better education.
However, if left up to most children in the average family that does not live in poverty, happiness means not exercising, eating lots of sugary foods swallowed with gallons of sugary sodas, watching TV, listening to music, social networking, playing video games, hanging out with friends after school and on weekends, sending daily text messages by the dozens—and according to surveys and studies that is what the average child in America is doing ten hours a day.
Where are the parents?
Then there is this thing about parents blindly encouraging kids to follow their dreams without a realistic backup plan.
Kids are immature, lack knowledge and a sense of reality—at least those American children that are sheltered from the harsh realities of life and competition.
Therefore, many childish dreams are totally unrealistic, such as becoming President of the United States. My wife and me know a family where the oldest son, now a graduate student at Stanford University, dreams of becoming the governor of California one day, yet he hasn’t joined a political party yet.
Anyway, for children dreaming of becoming president of the United States, the odds are almost impossible. After all, there is only one position for that job and since April 30, 1789, when George Washington took the oath of office as the first President of the United States, there have only been forty-four presidents counting President Obama.
Then there is the requirement that one be at least 35 years of age to qualify. With 310 million Americans and two major political parties, competing to become the president of the United States is a long shot with a tough road to follow.
How about professional sports (another popular dream job)? Over the years, while I was still teaching, many of my high school students, mostly boys, told me that it was a waste of time for them to study because they were going to be pro athletes and did not need an education.
However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are only 16,500 jobs in competitive sports and the median pay is $43,740. Most professional athletes do not earn tens of millions of dollars. Only a few earn that kind of money, but those few are all we hear about in the media. From 2010 – 2020, only 3,600 new positions will open up in pro sports or 360 a year (on average). The competition to land one of these positions in pro sports is fierce but not as fierce as president of the US.
How many plumbers are there in the United States? According to the BLS, in 2010, there were 419,000 plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters working in the US with medium annual pay of $46,660 per year. Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters install and repair pipes that carry water, steam, air, or other liquids or gases to and in businesses, homes, and factories.
Using the BLS Website, we may quickly discover that the number of jobs held by accountants in 2010 was 1,216,900 and there would be 190,700 new jobs coming available between 2010-20 or about 19,000 a year, while the average medium pay for actors (another popular dream job) is $17.44 per hour with new openings numbering 260 per year (on average)—a ratio of 73 accountants to each actor.
I read once that about 40,000 aspiring actors flood into Hollywood each year to compete for those 260 potential positions that pay $17.44 per hour (on average).
Another popular dream job, mostly for girls, is to become a fashion model. According to the BLS, the annual medium pay in 2010 was $32,920 with about 200 openings per year (on average). On the other hand , median pay for barbers, hairdressers and cosmetologists (beauticians) is $22,500 per year and there are 10,000 new positions opening annually (on average)—a ratio of 50 barbers or hairdressers for each fashion model.
My son, who is currently in his thirties, refused to have a backup plan. Last I heard he was a waiter/bartender. The median pay for waiters/bartenders is $18,130/18,680 annually. He wanted to be an actor/singer.
I was a public school teacher for thirty years and the median pay in 2010 was $53,230. In 2004-2005, my last year in the classroom, I earned more than $80,000. There are 3,380,000 teachers working in the US public schools. Teaching was my back up plan. My dream was to become an author and there are about 145,900 working writers and authors in the United States and the median pay in 2010 was $55,420—a ratio of 23 teachers for each writer/author.
The odds favored teaching.
Just because you can dream, that does not guarantee that the dream will come true. I never gave up on my dream and after I retired from teaching in 2005, my dream became reality in 2008 with the first of three novels of “The Concubine Saga”. My dream was born in 1968 and became reality in 2008—it took forty years.
I’m glad I had a backup plan.
However, I can still hear the average American parent telling his or her child how proud they are that he or she is going to be president of the United States or a famous pro athlete, or actor, or fashion model one day, and then the TV is turned on to watch a popular reality show such as American Idol where the odds of winning are sixty-thousand to one but no one tells us that.
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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga.
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July 23, 2012 at 13:05
Epic post, Lloyd. I fear you’re banging your head on a brick wall as far as persuading the majority of parents in the US (or UK, for that matter) to change their parenting priorities but good on you for trying and for succeeding with your own children.
I am a little concerned that a long-term teacher of English should at least twice use ‘my wife and me’ as the subject to a verb, however.
July 23, 2012 at 17:44
I used “my wife and me” instead of “my wife and I” on purpose to see if anyone would notice. Thanks for noticing. I’m not going to change it because I want to see if anyone else points it out.
If I were to use something similar to “my wife and me” in one of my novels (except in dialogue), I’d get roasted by critics. However, I think I may be able to get away with it on a Blog.
I agree. I doubt that anything I say or write will persuade the majority of parents in the US and UK to change their parenting priorities. However, I’m not the only voice and recent studies by reputable researchers are revealing how damaging the most popular method of parenting since the 1960s has become.
One expert that is also a consultant for the US Army says the self-esteem movement has raised a generation of narcissists and many narcissists grow up to become sociopaths. I wonder if this might be one explanation for the recent lone-wolf killer in Colorado or for that matter many of the other lone-wolf mass murderers in the US since 1991.
July 24, 2012 at 01:20
A deliberate mistake to see if anyone notices! That’s different. In that case I’ll leave it to another reader to comment on what else I noticed 🙂
From the time our son was three, while I was at work, my wife would have regular lesson-times with him; reading, counting etc. It certainly didn’t do him any harm and now he’s a proud and loving father of three himself and people say he’s just like me, which I’ll take as a compliment.
I suspect the short answer to your question is that good parenting is hard work.
July 24, 2012 at 08:03
Yes, it is hard work and parents do not need to be a Tiger Parent such as Amy Chua, the author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, a memoir, to be good parents.
The most difficult word for the average American parents to use these days seems to be “no” and of course there is this political correct movement to boost children’s self esteem along with raising them to have as much fun as possible.
Did you see the news this morning? “3 arrested in separate ‘Dark Knight’ incidents”
How many more of these sociopath are there out there that will be willing to kill to get even with the world that deceived them as they were raised to feel as if they were perfect and that any dreams they had would come true?
I want to return to something you said in your first comment. “I fear you’re banging your head on a brick wall as far as persuading the majority of parents in the US (or UK, for that matter) to change their parenting priorities …”
Since the politically correct self-esteem movement had its start in the late 19th century and then became a major force for parenting in the 1960s, it’s safe to say that it is too late to convince most parents that raised or are raising their children the politically correct way to change. However, if enough people keep the discussion alive that started with Amy Chua’s memoir, eventually enough future parents may break the cycle of this movement and raise their children to have normal self-esteems and not feel as entitled.
If the description of the average parent changes over the next few decades, then Western civilization might have a chance to survive for a few more centuries instead of self-destruct due to the average population being narcissistic sociopath.
Not all narcissist become sociopaths that kill but what kind of workers, parents and bosses do they become? We may already be seeing the results of that?
As for unintentional grammar and mechanic errors you may have discovered, I’m sure they are there since we first create/write from the right side of the brain. As a former English teacher, I’m well aware of the writing process. While writing a rough draft, the author uses the right side of the brain, and most writers will make spelling, usage, grammar and mechanic errors.
However, for the process to work properly, most writers must gain distance from the writing and set it aside for days or weeks then return to it later so the brain has time to shift to the left side of the brain for editing and revisions, which is probably why newspapers and magazines have editors. The reporter writes the piece then turns it over to editors to edit before it is placed on the page it will appear on the same or next day. Most writers have no time to shift from right to left, but the trained editor is already programmed to work from the left side of the brain.
For example, it took me several years to complete my first novel. The manuscript went through many drafts while I edited and revised and even then there were errors. At that point, for my final edit, I used two editing programs (one from Serenity Software designed to be used with university papers) and then I used a ruler and edited from the bottom up without software. After I did all I could, I turned it over to two other English teachers to edit. Both found errors that were corrected. After the first edition of that novel came out, a few readers found other errors and lambasted me in reviews as if I had done nothing to edit it yet three English teachers had edited it and the manuscript was run through two editing programs.
Even books published by mainstream publishers have errors in them if one looks hard enough, and those books are often edited by more than one editor. As for newspapers, they are usually filled with errors even after trained editors go over copy.
Very little is perfect in this world and for a Blog that costs nothing but time to read, I doubt we will find very many people that will spend that much time editing for perfection—the perfectionist is not going to get much written and posted. As for me, I use a spell checker after I finish the rough draft of a post and then read through the copy one more time to catch any other errors I can. The day a post appears, I go over it again and usually catch a few more, but I expect there are still unintentional mistakes that slip through.
I’m not going to lose sleep over it.
As a teacher, we were trained to grade student papers using a rubric and the rubric included grammar and spelling. If the errors that we found were few and not enough to distract from reading the paper, then we did not mark the paper down.
On a scale of one to five, a paper with very few errors would earn a five of five for the spelling, grammar and mechanics. If there were so many errors that it distracted from the reading, then that portion of the rubric score would earn a 1, 2, 3 or 4 but not a 5 depending on how distracting the errors were.
I suspect that Writer’s Digest’s judges and the reviewers at the Midwest Book Review operate the same way since both of my novels, even with a few errors (a neighbor recently found sixteen in the 250,000 word manuscript of The Concubine Saga), still earned a five out of five for grammar from a Writer’s Digest judge and was reviewed by the Midwest Book Review which has a policy to not review books that are not up to industry standards. Midwest Book Review receives, on average, 1,500 books a month but less than 500 are reviewed. And Midwest has reviewed all three of my novels. Midwest’s policy is so stringent that if the cover is not up to industry standards, the book is rejected before looking inside.
Since I will only edit for spelling in this reply to your comments and read through it once, I’m sure this comment is riddled with grammar and mechanic errors—maybe even some spelling since spell checkers cannot catch every mistake just as the human eye can’t. In addition, there are so many rules to grammar and mechanics, that it would take a perfectionist with an incredible memory to remember them all. I have several texts that I use for resources while editing. One is “Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition, Fourth Course” (546 pages) and the other is The “Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference” that has 354 pages. In fact, I also resort to Google and use grammar resources on the Internet to check a few odd rules when I run into something that doesn’t sound quite right.
I only taught high school in a barrio with multi-generational street gangs. Since we did not track our students, I often had students reading at second grade level in the same class with students that read above grade level that were already ready to start college. Since I had to teach to the average, which was fifth/sixth grade level, I seldom covered the more complex elements of grammar and mechanics. It was challenging enough to most of my students (and some were known killers) to write one page essays with only simple sentences using punctuation let alone expect them to know all the complexities of English grammar and mechanics.
I’ve read that English is considered one of the most complex languages on the planet to master. If anyone expects grammar, mechanics and spelling perfection from me just because I taught English, which includes reading and writing, in the public schools for thirties years, then he or she will be sorely disappointed.
It was enough of a challenge to get many of my students to bring a pencil and paper to class let alone pay attention, read or do homework. For some students, it was impossible to get them to even write their name on paper and do the work. Where I taught, weekly shootings and killings between gangs and drug dealers were common. A few times, I witnessed drive by shootings from my classroom doorway as school let out. I taught at five schools in the same district for thirty years and spent the last sixteen at the high school teaching mostly ninth grade English. The first grade school where I taught in 1976 was in a neighborhood so dangerous that the school had razor wire on the roofs to keep the gangs from chopping through into the buildings. It was common to arrive at work to discover the custodians filling in bullet holes in the classroom doorways before they painted and painting was a daily process due to the graffiti that appeared every night. One time, I arrived to discover that all the lights in the teachers parking lot had been shot out. The local police often did not bother to patrol the neighborhood around this school at night because they didn’t want to be shot at from rooftops and this was in Southern California.
August 6, 2012 at 11:52
I found this a very meaningful and interesting article. While teaching at the college level here in Israel, I had quite a number of exchange students from the US, any of whom were of above average intelligence, and fairly well educated. But it was amazing to me, that almost all of them were self indulgent and immature when compared to our local students. It became something of a riddle for me. Reading about this issue of self-esteem seems to point to a solution to that riddle. I don’t think any of my regular students worry about self esteem. It is enough to have self respect. And the accent is on competence. If a student is thorough in his studies, he usually gains self assurance.
August 7, 2012 at 07:07
What you say is true. However, even though recent reputable long-term research from experts in this field of study show how damaging the self-esteem obsession among parents is, the average American parent, if confronted with this information, will explode inciting acrimonious debates.
For example, last year an Asian-American born author names Amy Chua, a professor at Princeton, wrote a memoir called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” that inferred the Asian/Chinese mother was better than the average American mother, and the outcry was horrendous. Chua even received death threats.
All Chua did was raise her two daughters similar to how her Chinese-born parents raised her. In fact, in China, or all of East Asia, the average parent raises his or her children similar to Chua.
In addition, studies that gather data show that among all racial groups in the United States, Asian-Americans have the lowest self-esteem, the lowest prison ratio, the highest graduate rate from college, the lowest ratio of drug users, the lowest ratio of teen pregnancies, one of the lowest ratios of mental illness, the lowest ratio of teen STDs, the lowest unemployment rate, the highest marriage rate, the lowest divorce rate, and the highest average annual income when compared to all other racial groups in America.
However, Asian-Americans are one of the smallest minorities in America. Caucasians are the majority with Latinos/Hispanics and African Americans being the two largest minorities.
White or European Americans make up 72.4% of the population and I suspect that the vast majority of self-esteem obsessed parents come from this racial group and are at last third generation American.
Hispanic or Latino represents 16.3%
Black or African American represents 12.6%
Asian-American represents 4.8% and is not significant enough to influence or offset the average method of parenting in the US.
But even when all of this is known, the average American parent is still obsessed with the child’s self-esteem, happiness and that the child never knows boredom, which I’m sure explains these figures gathered by media sources: The average child in America spend about 10 hours a day dividing his or her time watching TV, listening to music, playing video games, social networking on the Internet, sending text messages or hanging out with friends while the average parent talks to his or her child less than five minutes a day and during those few minutes most of what the average child hears is praise, endless praise of how smart and talented and beautiful the child is.
The most common excuse from students in America’s public schools is, “I’m bored” or “the teacher is boring” or “this class is boring” and those students, supported by parents, shut down and refuse to learn—this was my experience as a public school teacher for thirty years and as the years went by more and more parents and students used this excuse to avoid the drudgery that often comes with learning mundane but essential subjects.
Instead, teachers are blamed for not making every subject, every lesson, exciting and interesting every day. The child must not be bored and must be motivated from the outside in not the inside out.
This, I believe, is the harbinger of doom for the culture and civilization of North America because the same problems plague Canada (I’ve known some teachers there that say so.)
April 23, 2014 at 11:51
There must be some good parents. I can’t believe they are all incompetent.
April 23, 2014 at 17:41
You’re right. There are good parents. I think that about 25% are excellent parents; 50% are average and that’s not saying much and the other 25% is dysfunctional. When standardized test scores are dragged down by 75% that will not look good. But if we look at the top schools that are mostly found in communities where the upper middle class lives—mostly college educated—their children tend to do excellent in school.
One example would be Amy Chua who I think is a great example of a parent at the excellent end.However, because many parents in the United States are average or dysfunctional, CHua came under a lot of criticism for her memoir “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. I think most of this criticism came from guilt and parents unwilling to admit they did a sub-par job raising their kids.
June 27, 2014 at 15:53
I agree that there are way too many American parents who are permissive and spoil their children, but there are also good parents who can say no.
June 28, 2014 at 07:30
True, but the average parent—I think that number is between 35 to 40 percent, is as you say, too permissive and spoils their child/ren by not saying no and letting them do just about anything they want while repeatedly telling them how great they are. This is a result of decades of the self-esteem movement driving the engine of parenting in the U.S.
Maybe 20 to 25 percent of parents are tiger parents who practice some form of tough love while another 20 to 25 percent are abusive parents and/or neglect their children and most of these parents probably live in poverty for one reason or another.
July 9, 2014 at 04:15
My parents never beat me but they sure said NO a lot and they paid close attention to what I did in school and expected me to do my homework and study. TV was a reward and not something I could take for granted. They actually made me earn TV hours through my grades. To earn a half hour of TV on Friday, Saturday or Sunday only, I had to earn an A on an assignment. To watch a movie that was 90 minutes long, I had to earn three As and save the time up until I had enough.
However, I could read books all I wanted, and we visited the library as a family whenever I wanted to.
July 9, 2014 at 06:54
I’ve never heard of any parents doing that before. I think that was a good idea—earn the privilege of watching TV through grades earned on school work assignments.
July 20, 2014 at 22:40
Wow, I had no idea that some parents could cause so much trouble for teachers.
July 21, 2014 at 08:49
Some parents can cause lots of trouble and these troublesome parents who want their children to be successful even if they don’t cooperate and do the work have had a negative impact on the success of public education.
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September 12, 2014 at 04:12
Do you think it’s possible that some political or corporate interest was behind the self-esteem movement and might ahve been funding the propaganda that made it sound like the best way to be a parent?
I mean, it seems to me that is another way to sabotage the public schools and make it more difficult for teachers to teach.
September 12, 2014 at 08:28
I admit that I have thought that, because the boost your child’s false sense of self-esteem parenting movement delivered a hefty blow to teachers when they were pressured to give kids high grades who did not deserve it because they didn’t earn the grade. That sent a signal to many children that they could earn high grades without doing the work it takes to learn.
In fact, it was in the 1980s, that I started to suffer from the pressure to inflate grades for the children I taught and make it easier for kids to succeed without actually doing the work. And that pressure grew from both administrators and parents for decades causing a lot of pressure on teachers to cave in.
The stress was intense. If you couldn’t stand the pressure and stress, you left teaching or caved in and did what administration and some parents wanted. There’s a lot of truth that the squeaky wheel gets to grease and these self-esteem driven parents were really loud and mean.
Then the vice or pressure intensified after President G. W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, because standardized tests would measure what kids learned and the growth of learning, but that in no way diminished the pressure to stop inflating grades so children would continue to have that false sense of self esteem.
You can’t have one as long as the other is still there. In other words, as long as the self-esteem parenting movement was one side of the vice and No Child Left Behind was the other side of the vice, teachers could not do their job. They couldn’t win and they still can’t.
September 16, 2014 at 08:04
Parents should stop blindly following the advice of the so-called experts who are only preaching a theory that has never been proven.
September 16, 2014 at 08:43
True, but getting some parents to stop following the unproven, theoretical advice of a charismatic preacher/guru—in other words, a snake-oil salesman who is good at fooling people and causing people to doubt common sense—may be difficult to impossible.