Your kid’s teacher is terrible? What not to do

Your child has a terrible teacher? Angela Stockman lists 10 Things Parents Should Never Do on Brilliant or Insane.

First, don’t rush in till you’ve showed your child how to define the problem and raise it with the teacher, Stockman writes.

If that doesn’t work, then approach the teacher “directly and respectfully.”

Don’t just let it go, she advises. “Parents who fail to speak up often set the stage for increased frustration, and as kids become more unhappy, they do too. This is when they start doing things that no parent should ever do.”

No ‘participation trophies’ for NFL player’s sons

When Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison discovered his sons had been awarded “participation” awards “for nothing,” he sent the trophies back and explained his actions on Instagram:

“Everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best … cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better … not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy.”

A walk-on at Kent State, Harrison went undrafted in 2002 because he was considered to be too small for the pros, reports ESPN.  Harrison “played a season in NFL Europe and was cut by the Baltimore Ravens before latching on with the Steelers and becoming a force.”

Let ’em fail — or they’ll never succeed

“Out of love and desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way,” writes Jessica Lahey in The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed.  “The setbacks, mistakes, miscalculations and failures we have shoved out of our children’s way are the very experiences that teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of the world.”

Writing as a mother and a veteran teacher, Lahey repeatedly admits her own mistakes to soften her message:  Let your kids (and students) take responsibility, accept consequences and grow up.

In writing recommendation letters, she’s seen “extensive accounts of the students’ commitment to service — time spent serving up dinner in homeless shelters, sorting donated clothing, building latrines in Costa Rica — yet I know for a fact that the child in question has never done her own laundry.”

Tell your kids that they’re expected to make “family contributions” — not “chores” — such as cleaning and cooking, Lahey advises. Don’t reward them for meeting their obligations. Competence is its own reward.

In early adolescence, children must develop “executive function,” learning how to “manage our time, resources and attention in order to achieve a goal,” Lahey. It’s not an easy process. Kids will make mistakes. But they’ll learn, if parents let their kids fail and “feel the pain and inconvenience of their mistakes.”

Parental pressure can backfire, she writes in The Atlantic. Earning straight A’s to please Mom can erode the student’s internal motivation to learn.

“One of the reasons kids love video games is because it is an environment with a much higher tolerance-threshold for failure than the average classroom or household,” says Jordan Shapiro in a Forbes interview with Lahey. “Kids learn the complex rules of the video game world by trying, failing and then iterating their approach.”

The kind of thinking is “a key part of the innovation and entrepreneurship narrative,” says Shapiro. “Fail hard, then get up and try again.”

Teachers also need to try, fail and improve, says Lahey. “I can assess students more frequently, use the information . . . about their mistakes and failures – and importantly, on my mistakes and failures as a teacher – to determine how I help my students learn skills.”

Can schools teach social skills?

Kindergarten teachers’ assessment of children’s “social competence” — cooperation, helpfulness, “understanding feelings” — predicted their future education, employment and arrest records, according to a long-term study.

The researchers had statistically controlled for the effects of poverty, race, having teenage parents, family stress and neighborhood crime, and for the children’s aggression and reading levels in kindergarten, writes David Bornstein in a New York Times blog.

Madison Reid, a student in Mrs. Neal's 2nd and 3rd grade combined class, leads a discussion on what is good listening during a morning session at Wade Park Elementary in Cleveland, Ohio on May 20, 2015. —Dustin Franz for Education Week

A Cleveland elementary student leads a discussion on good listening. Photo: Dustin Franz, Education Week

Helping children develop “core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness” would have big payoffs, he argues.

But how much can schools do to improve children’s social competence? If parents aren’t doing their job, can schools make a difference?

The Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (Casel) is working with school districts across the country, writes Bornstein. A 2011 meta-analysis of studies on school-based social and emotional learning programs found significant gains in students’ social skills, attitudes, behavior and academics.

Cleveland uses Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies to teach children “how to recognize, communicate and manage their emotions, read others’ emotions, solve problems and change patterns of negative thinking.”

School suspension rooms have been replaced with “planning centers,” where students work through problems or practice how to better handle conflicts. Schools have staff teams to lead social and emotional learning efforts and work with families.

Three years ago, graduating seniors said safety was the number one problem in high school, says CEO Eric Gordon. Two years ago, safety fell to second place. Last year, it dropped to number three.

I have mixed feelings about social and emotional programs. Schools should teach students how to behave in school, which includes self-control, cooperation and resolving conflicts peacefully. But emotional strength comes from being raised by good or good-enough parents. I don’t schools can do much there. For good or ill, it’s the parents.

Too cute

If Your Kids’ Lunches Look Like This, You’re Probably Creating Monsters, warns Paula Bolyard on PJ Media’s new parenting blog. At the very least, “you’re setting your kids up for future disappointment and practically ensuring that their future spouses will hate you.”

Character matters, but what can schools do?


“Character skills matter at least as much as cognitive skills,” writes James Heckman in the lead essay of Brookings’ new book, Does Character Matter? Policymakers should look for opportunities to shape both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, writes Heckman.

Other essays deal with parenting, conscientiousness, grit, the effects of chronic adversity and creating “schools of character.”

“The journey from good idea to good policy is a minefield,” writes Robert Pondiscio.

. . . Third Way policy analyst Lanae Erickson Hatalsky notes in her essay (that) if Democrats talk about character, “it runs the risk of sounding like apostasy, blaming poor children for their own situation in life and chiding them to simply have more grit and pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” (Likewise, the Left dares not invoke the miasma of family structure.)

Character talk may feel more at home in Republican talking points, but it carries the risk of foot-in-mouth disease, “setting the stage for politicians to inadvertently say something that sounds patronizing to the poor, demeaning to single women, or offensive to African Americans (or all three).” Just so.

The book lacks an essay on “school choice as a means of giving educators permission to focus on character development,” writes Pondiscio. KIPP can “worship at the altar of grit” because parents have chosen that model.

Dominic Randolph, headmaster of Riverdale Country School, wants “a comprehensive international effort in institutions and in governments to develop intellectual, character and community standards of growth that can be embedded in the ‘curricula’ of schools, universities, workplaces.”

“Don’t expect Common Core character standards any time soon,” responds Pondiscio.

Too young for Private Ryan?

“When exposing your kids to the deeper, harsher realities, how much is too much, and how young is too young?” asks Michael T. Hamilton on PJ Media’s new parenting blog.

Hamilton’s parents didn’t let him watch Saving Private Ryan till he was in high school. A classmate had watched it 10 years earlier.

That movie can mess you up–it’s supposed to mess you up, in its own constructive way–and it did mess up scores of American veterans who relived their honorable, heroic nightmares at a theater near them. Sure enough, the movie (and many other things absolutely fine for his parents) messed up this kid for a while, too.

“Your kids are going to encounter certain things before you want them to,” he writes. Bubbles always burst. “Converse as much as you can – at meals, in the car – to weave a web of principles, stories, anecdotes, and values” so they can cope when you’re not around.

I think that’s good advice.

To raise an adult, stop hovering

Helicopter parents are raising fragile children, writes Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean. Colleges are seeing a wave of depressed, apathetic students who can’t make their own decisions. In How To Raise an Adult, she tells parents that good parenting means preparing children to take responsibility for their own lives, learn from their mistakes and . . . grow up. 
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In a 2013 survey, 95 percent of college counseling center directors said the number of students with significant psychological problems is a growing concern on their campus, writes Lythcott-Haims. One fourth of students who visit counseling centers were taking psychotropic drugs.

It’s not just a problem for high achievers at elite colleges, she adds. In a survey of nearly 100,000 students at 153 colleges, 84.3 percent said they’d felt overwhelmed in the last year, 60.5 percent felt very sad and 51 percent felt overwhelming anxiety. Eight percent had considered suicide.

When seemingly perfectly healthy but overparented kids get to college and have trouble coping with the various new situations they might encounter—a roommate who has a different sense of “clean,” a professor who wants a revision to the paper but won’t say specifically what is “wrong,” a friend who isn’t being so friendly anymore, a choice between doing a summer seminar or service project but not both—they can have real difficulty knowing how to handle the disagreement, the uncertainty, the hurt feelings, or the decision-making process.

Overinvolved parents deliver a “soul-crushing” message to their children, writes Lythcott-Haims.  “Kid, you can’t actually do any of this without me.”

With her husband, she’s raising teen-age sons in Palo Alto, which may be the epicenter of involved and over-involved parenting. It’s where I raised my daughter, who grew up to be a literary agent for the book.

In Pixar’s world, Joy needs Sadness

Go see Pixar’s Inside Out, writes Greg Forster. In the movie’s portrayal of a child’s emotions,  “Joy is life. Sadness is wisdom.”

Dan Kois, Slate’s culture editor,  has rethought how he talks to his children about emotions since seeing Inside Out.

“Aren’t you a little bundle of joy?” Riley’s dad asks his infant daughter in her first moments of life. Indeed, for the first years of her life, Riley’s defining characteristic is joyfulness, as depicted in the movie by Joy (Amy Poehler)—the wide-eyed, blue-haired chief of headquarters, where the five anthropomorphized emotions work together to manage Riley’s feelings from minute to minute. The other emotions, Anger, Fear, Disgust, and Sadness (Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, and Phyllis Smith), look to Joy for leadership, because there’s no situation so scary or upsetting that Joy can’t find a way to turn it around and find the happy.

But Sadness has a critical role to play. Relentless positivity isn’t everything, writes Kois.

In the U.S. children are expected to be happy, says Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner,who consulted on the film. “That makes it harder to grapple with sadness.”

The movie’s view of childhood is narrow and trivialized, writes Richard Brody in The New Yorker.  He wants more going on in Riley’s head. Where’s her Bullshit Detector? he asks.

Free-range parents win ‘no neglect’ ruling

Danielle Meitiv walks home with her children Rafi, 10, left and Dvora, 6, right, after picking them up at the school bus stop in Silver Spring Md., on Friday, June 12, 2015. After outcry over one family’s “free-range” parenting case, Maryland officials on Friday clarified the state’s policy on how authorities handle cases of children walking or playing alone outdoors, saying the state shouldn’t investigate unless kids are harmed or face substantial risk of harm. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Danielle Meitiv walks home from the school bus stop with her children Rafi, 10, left and Dvora, 6, right. Photo: Jose Luis Magana, AP

Maryland parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been cleared of child neglect charges for letting their “free-range” children play in a neighborhood park and walk home without adult supervision.

Last week, before the ruling in the Meitiv case, Maryland Child Protective Services announced it would not intervene when school-aged children are walking in their neighborhoods or playing at local parks unless there is evidence the child “has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm.”