Archive for the ‘Autonomy’ Category

Generation Text – Important Things to Consider

November 19, 2010 Leave a comment

It is probably pretty typical for every generation of parents to be shell-shocked by the culture that their kids are growing up in. It is a fairly subjective topic, but I personally think that our kids are living in a new era with greater challenges than we faced growing up. It is not far-fetched to imagine that the technology that we have at our fingertips is significantly changing our brains, as some have argued. I am currently reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. As I read interesting parts, I will share it here since I think it can be relevant to raising kids today. But as far as I can tell, no one has done any research on the effect of today’s technology on the brains of children. Let me know if you know of any studies.

I have, however, read a very good book on the general topic called Generation Text by Michael Osit. The main message that I got out of this book is, that as a parent, we need to help our child navigate this new world rather than complain about its challenges. Keeping the technology away from them is not the answer, but neither is unbridled access. Just as we slowly give children more freedom to venture out into the real world on their own while teaching them how to do so, so we should look at the internet and other elements of the current culture. We need to develop a working knowledge of popular technology in order to teach kids how to use it safely (and this is always evolving – MySpace used to be the forum used by most teens, and now it is Facebook and Formspring, among others. In ten years, it will be something else we can’t even imagine right now). Dr. Osit provides many interesting guidelines and ideas in his book that are too detailed to consider here. But one of his discussion points that caught my eye is the importance of teaching your child sound decision-making.

It is clear that no matter how diligent you are about supervising your children with regards to technology, they will still need to deal with tricky situations when you are not around. Setting limits that reflect your values and good communication are of course key to ensuring that your children develop the necessary self-discipline and decision-making skills to stay away from unsafe, unhealthy, or otherwise harmful material on the internet and elsewhere. To quote Dr. Osit:

Whether they come to you with information about an Internet site, a movie, or peer pressure, the idea is to praise your children for talking to you about the issue, educate them with accurate information about whatever they experienced, and have your children then make their own judgments about it.

In essence, good decision-making skills are more important than ever due to the often unbridled access to the virtual world. You can’t always be there, so the better your child is at making good decisions, the better equipped they will be to handle anything that comes their way. Dr. Osit lists the following suggestions to improve your child’s decison-making skills:

1. Be open to discussing tough subjects with them.
2. Help them clearly identify the problem s/he is experiencing and the goal of their final decision.
3. Think creatively about solutions. Make list of pros and cons and have them brainstorm about options rather than you lecturing about what they can do. This way they learn how to do this on their own when you are not around.
4. Help them act and follow through on a decision so that they benefit from the experience, even if the consequences are negative
5. Have them evaluate the outcome of the decision and possibly reevaluate their approach
6. Prepare your child to make quick decisions. Consider practicing lines with them such as “is this good for me or bad for me” or “go with your gut feeling” or “if Mom or Dad were watching with me, what would they say”, etc.
7. Rehearse specific scenarios and practices lines that allow a child to disengage from a potentially harmful situation
8. Frequently confront your child with quick decisions to make about their normal routine so they practice this skill.
9. Help your child focus on his or her values and goals so that they have a strong conviction to these, making decisions less stressful and less conflicted.

As an aside, a website that helps you monitor media content for children is It tells you exactly what might be objectionable in various media so that you and your child can make an educated decision on whether it is appropriate or not.


How to get kids to do boring but necessary tasks

November 10, 2010 Leave a comment

The week is getting super busy so I have not done much reading to talk about. I would like to continue posting, so today I am sharing an article that I found some time ago from the Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley entitled How to Get Kids to Do Boring but Necessary Tasks

The best part of the article I think is the final conclusion (based on this one and several previous related articles):

“Rewards work in the short-term because they provide us with a nice feel-good Dopamine hit. But unfortunately, rewards tend to have a negative effect on kids’ motivation over the long-term. The answer is to motivate kids to do those not-so-fun things that are necessary in life with the particular kind of encouragement described above. That way, their brains deliver those feel-good chemicals in response to their feelings of mastery and autonomy (intrinsic motivation) rather than in response to receiving a material reward (extrinsic motivation).”

Based on other things I have read, this means rewards are helpful when you want to make a change in a temporary behavior, for example, sleeping without a pacifier. But when it comes to long-term behavior, such as working hard in school or instilling honesty, it is better to motivate using the strategies discussed in the article above.

Negotiating and parenting

November 5, 2010 Leave a comment

About 6 months ago, I was researching the renowned developmental child psychologist Jean Piaget, and I came past this article:

Intellectual and Moral Autonomy: Operational Implications in Child Development. Aids to Programming UNICEF Assistance to Education. June 1984.

While many parts of the paper were great food for thought, I liked this piece the most:

“Children who thus negotiate mutually acceptable solutions day after day develop their ability to think logically because they have to make sense to others if they are to be convincing. This ability to think logically is an important foundation for learning to read, to do arithmetic, and to organise every other kind of knowledge in and out of school.”

I loved this paragraph because it is definitely a core belief of our family to allow negotiation and to always listen to a child’s viewpoint. However, sometimes I am (very) worn down by the negotiating done in our house (especially at the end of the day, simultaneously by all 3 kids!). However, it helps to remember that it is useful developmentally and this reminds me to stick to our belief.