Monday, June 22, 2009

The Parents We Mean To Be

The Parents We Mean To Be by Richard Weissbourd

This book focuses on how we teach children to become moral beings, defined by the author as people who ask moral questions, see perspectives that are not their own, feel responsibility for others and maintain good relationships.

Weissbourd's prescription for how we teach children morality is two-fold: teach by example and exercising moderation in all of our parenting behaviors.

The best way to teach is by example, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who has changed his behaviors in some ways upon becoming a parent. Some important points in the book are that we should recognize our children's moral development as fluid and not get fixated on "bad kids" or feel like the teenage years are the end point in that process. Similarly, we should acknowledge that our own moral development is a work in progress and occasionally give voice to that, explaining our choices, right or wrong and showing that we as parents can also experience growth.

As for moderation, I think this is one reason I like this book so much. Instead of veering in one direction or another -- touching is good, therefore never let go of your child! -- Weissbourd points out how various behaviors that seem positive -- praise, an emphasis on children's happiness and self-esteem -- can backfire if they are excessive. Children become egocentric and selfish if they think their own happiness is paramount and they become paralyzed with failure if they never encounter it until their twenties.

The chapter on sports was one of my favorites. On the one hand, there are crazy sports parents who live through their kids. On the other hand are parents who downplay competition and try not to care at all. Weissbourd points out that competition is fun in context and teaches kids that opposition is contextual (if their best friend is on the opposing team, for example). Of course, getting too caught up in the game is unhealthy for lots of reasons, too.

There is plenty of advice for parents, teachers, coaches and just adults in general on what they can do to help children grow up to be better people. (One I liked was to make a pact with other parents to be honest with each other so you have a warning that you're going overboard one way or another.)

The most compelling reading in the book came from the anecdotes that begin each chapter, from parents, coaches, and especially from children themselves (who see through all sorts of hypocrisy and "parenting techniques"). The explanations of academic studies are fine and lend weight to the arguments presented. Although, I have to repeat myself and say that the most compelling part of the argument was that it was not extreme in any way, but rather thoughtful and reflective.

Well worth reading.

No comments: