There’s often a disconnect between what we want for our kids and how we act.
That’s part of what motivated New York-based science journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer to look at research and write a parenting book about how to raise kids who are not selfish, who have good self-esteem and who — as the title of her new book suggests — aren’t a-holes.
“I don’t think I would have written this book if I didn’t have science to fall back on because I think I’m certainly not a perfect parent,” Moyer, who has a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old, told Alberta at Noon host Judy Aldous on Wednesday.
But her skill set of being able to find and understand relevant research, and translate it to a broader audience, made Moyer confident in giving people evidence-based guidance about how to raise good kids.
It’s an idea she felt was missing from many parenting books.
“I think there’s a lot of people who … think, ‘But if I raise my kid to be kind, isn’t that going to put them at a disadvantage? Like, aren’t they going to get walked all over? Aren’t they going to get taken advantage of?'” said Moyer.
What she found is that kind and compassionate kids and young adults end up being more, not less, successful later in life.
So how do you get them there?
“It used to be that psychologists would recommend that parents just let kids figure it out, just let them fight, because then they’ll learn how to problem solve. They’ll figure out a resolution somehow,” said Moyer.
But researchers found that, when left alone, siblings would use physical means to resolve arguments, with the bigger and stronger child winning by default.
Instead, a different approach — one that is more labour-intensive, warned Moyer — can work better to develop conflict-resolution skills.
“Essentially [what you] want to do when your kids are fighting is to act like a mediator.”
Calm them down enough to have a conversation, ask each child to give their perspective of what happened and give both a chance to air their feelings. That helps build a skill called theory of mind, said Moyer, or perspective taking — putting yourself in another’s shoes. It takes a while to develop.
“The more that we as parents can show kids other people’s perspectives, the better they will be at being able to take those perspectives,” said Moyer. “Then they become more helpful, more generous.”
Moyer said there are blind spots when it comes to bullying. Parents worry a lot about it, but “they’re almost always worried about their child getting bullied” — not if their own child is the bully.
“The other thing is, I think parents often [think] of bullying as kind of like a black-and-white phenomenon where your kid is either a bully or they’re not,” said Moyer.
The ideas that bullies are cruel all the time and know they’re hurting people aren’t true, she said.
“There are kids who will occasionally engage in bullying behaviour or who will one day be bullied and the next day bully. And there’s a lot of ways in which kids can sort of participate in bullying without being the instigator,” said Moyer.
Kids sometimes just don’t understand how what they do affects other people.
“It seems so obvious to us that, of course, you would know when you’re saying something hurtful. But for kids, they really sometimes can’t connect those dots. And so the implications for parents here, then, is that we should be talking to our kids about what kinds of behaviours can be hurtful,” said Moyer.
“It never hurts to just have that conversation and share your values and share your expectations.”
Screen time is ruining our children and turning them into terrible people. These alarmist claims, said Moyer, are largely not well-founded.
Instead, screen time is an umbrella term. Kids can keep up with friends or be creative with their devices.
“I think as parents, we know our kids best. And so if we are seeing that screens and our kids do not interact well, then, yes, we need to limit them,” said Moyer. “But I think we don’t have to go into it with a complete overwhelming sense of fear.”
She suggests that instead of being a monitor, be a mentor: use screens with your kids. Play games, look at the terms and conditions of a new app and explore it together.
“The kinds of conversations you have with your kids as you’re using screens and technology together, you are sharing your values, you’re sharing your concerns, you’re maybe talking about privacy,” said Moyer. “All of these things are really important for kids to be able to use screens safely.”
With files from Alberta at Noon.