Friday, September 25, 2009

The World's Most Important Job - And You Failed

"'Nurtureshock' is an explosive new book which has already sparked a fierce debate in America by challenging many of our most basic assumptions about children and parenting.

At its heart is one of the most fundamental questions of our time: why, after decades of caring, progressive parenting and education, do we have so many social problems with children and teenagers from all backgrounds?

Based on a massive review of the latest scientific studies, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman  -  who are established writers on social issues  -  insist that much of what we think of as being good parenting is actually wrong.

They argue that many of our strategies for nurturing our children are backfiring because we haven't properly understood the science of how children think or develop.

This isn't, they say, a stick to beat well-meaning parents with, but an opportunity to change family life for the better.

While they are not advocating a return to Victorian parenting, with children seen and not heard, or beaten when they're naughty, what they do argue is that the touchy-feely brand of modern parenting, where parents are too weak to criticise and discipline, will actually damage our children in the long term.

One of the biggest failures of modern parenting, say the authors, has been our belief in the importance of instilling high self-esteem at all costs. We praise our children constantly and indiscriminately. A simple drawing is 'brilliant'; getting a few ticks on their homework earns a delighted 'you're so clever'.

We have 'star charts', where children earn rewards for good behaviour. At sports days, no one is allowed to come first, so other children will be protected from feeling like a failure.

The theory is that this will build confidence and self-esteem in all the children  -  attributes which have been linked to happier, more successful lives and relationships in later life.

But new research from Dr Carol Dweck at Colombia University, who studied groups of children over ten years, indicates that the opposite is true. It suggests we are producing a generation of brats and 'praise junkies' who can't cope with the inevitable set-backs and failures of everyday life.

There is no evidence, say the authors, to show that high self-esteem has any effect on improving academic performance, or reducing anti-social behaviour.

In fact, over-praised children become more unpleasant to others and make poorer team players. Their prime goal becomes a kind of image maintenance, and they will do whatever they can  -  including criticising and dismissing others  -  to make themselves look good.

While parents who can't or won't be tough on their children when it's required come under attack in Nurtureshock, there is also an unpleasant surprise for all those men who think they are doing the right thing in being very hands-on dads.

Over the past two decades, there has been a huge rise in progressive dads - the kind of man who is an active presence in his child's life from birth onwards, who has no truck with traditional gender roles, and who is just as likely to wash and dress their child or to take a day off work when their child is sick.

This has generally been considered an overwhelmingly positive thing, and the kind of 'new' parent that both women and children want.

However, new research from parenting expert Dr Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan shows that while 'co-parenting' has some benefits, it also leads to more arguments over parenting decisions, and to more conflict in the marriage.

Progressive fathers rate their marriages as less happy, and rate their families as not functioning as well as those with traditional fathers where gender roles are more defined, and where the father is the main earner/protector and the mother the main nurturer.

Progressive dads are also weaker at setting and enforcing family rules. They are very clear about ways they don't want to discipline their children (such as hitting or shouting), but confused and inconsistent about what to do instead.

As a result, the children of progressive fathers who are proud to be hands-on are almost as aggressive and badly behaved at school as the children of fathers who are either absent from the home, or play very little part in their children's lives.

Research shows that teens who have moderate conflict with their parents enjoy better relationships with them generally, tell fewer lies, and are better adjusted.

Many of the findings in Nurtureshock are not what we parents expect or want to hear, but we have to hear it. The authors, one of whom admits to being a softlysoftly parent, and who says they have made all the same mistakes, believe we have, quite simply, become scared of our children.

We need to take back our authority, stop being friends with our children, and re-think everything we thought we knew about what's best for them, and for society in general."

-- Maureen Rice, once more being called on to deliver the great news - that those "nice" NewAgers have blown it again - but, if there was any justice in the world, we wouldn't need these items because that fact would be scrawled on every piece of The Daily Mail.

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