Remember waaaayy back in 2007 when I blogged about a Po Bronson article on the importance of sleep for children? Well Po (and his co-author Ashley Merryman) have a new book coming out; NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. Yesterday Po was on NPR’s All Things Considered in the segment Parenting Tips: Praise Can Be Bad; Lying is Normal talking about the book.
In the book (and the NPR segment) Po said all this praise we’re giving our kids isn’t doing them any good. Telling Jimmy he’s doing a great job even though he just scored the game winning soccer point….for the opposing team by kicking the ball in the wrong goal…isn’t helping our kids grow up to be hard working adults. In fact it’s doing more harm then good.
Po says “only kids under the age of 7 take praise at face value.” As they get older they just expect praise for everything from outstanding achievements to mediocre work. And we wonder why teens today seem to have this inflated sense of entitlement (even greater than our own at that age).
We need to let kids develop their own judgment about what deserves praise and what doesn’t. We need to let them learn the difference between success and failure. And we need to let them learn from their own failures every now and then. With all this praise, failure has become an almost taboo topic. Failing is a part of life, but many of our kids feel like failing is not an option.
When it comes to education kids have become obsessed with the image of looking smart and therefore they don’t take as many academic risks. If they know they can ace the easy math, and look smart doing it, they don’t want to take a risk with algebra. They don’t want to challenge themselves and risk having to struggle through a more difficult course.
Keaton has always been a very smart kid. He greatly exceeds the average test scores in all standardized test (usually in the 90th to 100th percentile). He’s been reading at a college level since elementary school. He’s been in the advanced math classes since the 5th grade. But now in high school I see him shying away from some of the tougher courses because “they’re hard.” He struggled a little in his math class last year and (according to him) it was his teacher’s fault; the teacher just didn’t teach it very well. I asked, “Did you go in before school and ask for help?” “No.” He was just struggling because nothing was ever hard before. Now he had to actually work at something and it was very frustrating to him.
Po also touched on kids and lying. He said all kids lie. And it usually happens by the time they are just 4-year-olds. But Po also says lying is a sign of intelligence. It also shows some creativity. It takes a lot for a kid to remember both the truth and the alternative lie. So lying isn’t all bad.
We need to condition it out of kids by the time they are around 7-years-old. Don’t let it become a pattern or a way for kids to deal with their problems. However, studies have shown that increasing threats of punishment make kids better liars who lie more often. Kids lie to make us happy. They don’t want to get in trouble. They don’t want to upset us. So they tell us what they think we want to hear. Instead we need to signal to them what really makes us happy. Po stops his kids the moment he thinks they may be lying and says, “You make me really happy if you tell me the truth.”
But it’s not just little kids that lie. Adolescents lie too. (Don’t I know that!) In the book Po and Ashley say out of 36 potential topics the average teen lies on 12 of them. Teens lie about things like what they spent their allowance on. What clothes they changed in to after they left the house. What movie they actually saw at the movie theater. It’s just easier if mom doesn’t know you snuck in to that R rated movie when she thought you were going to the PG-13 movie. Then there’s no argument. And she probably will never know anyway.
According to Po, 78% of parents think their teens tell them everything. (Really?!? 78%? Who are these parents?) But most teens disagree. (You think?) Even the teens who lie the least lie on about 5 of those 36 topics. Even the “good” kids lie sometimes.
Po says the best way to curb teen lying is to “set a few rules, consistently enforce them and negotiate occasionally.” Yes, sometimes you need to negotiate with your teen. Make them feel part of the decision-making process. In fact Po goes so far as to say that arguing is a sign of respect. A sign of respect? Well a teen has two options. Tell the truth even though it may lead to an argument or outright lie. The outright lie is probably the easiest option, but telling the truth can be the riskier option and usually the more mature option.
So head over to the NPR website and listen to the segment. Then let’s discuss. What do you think? Is too much praise bad? Is arguing a sign of respect?