Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why we were never meant to do it for them (Review of a book review)

I'm fascinated by Annie Kate's review of Smart but Scattered Teens by Guare, Dawson, and Guare. Books like this say a huge amount about our culture, and the healing that parents may need to initiate if their teenage children have become infected with "do it for me" syndrome.

Check out the list of "executive skills" that the authors feel teenagers may be lacking:
"working memory, planning/prioritization, organization, time management, metacognition, response inhibition, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, goal-directed persistence, flexibility."
 Do you see a connection between those skills? Every single one is something that Charlotte Mason would say we must not do for children who are capable of taking it on for themselves. And yet, so often, we do...just because we do. We try so hard and worry so much, like Aunt Frances, when we should be  letting them take the reins, like Uncle Henry.

The sad thing is that the teenage years may be almost too late to change some of those lifelong habits, although the point of the book is that there's still time. (I haven't read the book, just the review.) If you have younger children in your care, these are the things you should be doing, or rather, not doing. Letting them begin an activity and encouraging them to stick with it for a reasonable amount of time, to get some "goal-directed persistence" (see Charlotte Mason's "Inconstant Kitty"). Teaching them to be prompt and orderly (organization, time management). Using learning methods such as narration (working memory, sustained attention). Dealing with tantrums and other emotional disruptions (emotional control, response inhibition). I would add, seeing a situation from the other person's point of view and deciding to do what benefits another person, or the larger group or community, rather than yourself; developing empathy. As I've discussed here and elsewhere, I'm with those who believe that one of the best ways to gain empathy and flexibility in thinking is to have a very good store of stories.

That is what we can do for our children: give them that store, train them in habits, and allow them to develop their wills. What we can't or shouldn't do: think for them, remember for them, rob them of their initiative.


Kathy W. said...

I've just finished the book, and really the point is NOT merely to not do it for them. If you merely withdraw, kids with executive skill problems will simply not carry out the needed task. I find myself frustrated with the crowd who rants on and on about parents who "do to much for" their kids. What these well meaning, even boastful parents, are communicating is that we underestimate our kids and that they will magically do things for themselves if given the right motivation. If a child is struggling, no motivation or incentive will work, as these parents have found out. The child will do without the reward. The book, in fact, pulls out all the stops to show what can be done to train the teen, even to the point of "doing for." The point is to do as little as necessary for the teen to be successful, and then gradually withdraw the support. You may have to "remember for them" for a time, you may have to "think for them" for a time, not to replace their own thinking but to prompt them, or "think WITH them" if you will. So, for example, a teen who suddenly must remember appointments and who struggles to do so may need your support to create a white board reminder system, and then prompting to put those appointments on it.

Yes, you need to step back, but not necessarily all the way until the teen is capable to take on the full load. The point is not to congratulate yourself if you've trained your child from youth to be a certain way - because the teen brain is busy rewiring itself, and the expectations laid on a teenager often increase beyond their capabilities. The point is not to dangle an incentive and then just shrug if the kid doesn't meet the goal. Or worse, have the "natural consequences" of continual failure (in school, on the job, etc.) teach the lessons. The point is to provide "just enough" but not too much support, to adjust your expectations so that they are high but not beyond reach, and to find that balance between doing too much and doing too little. That's what training is about. Some kids just don't "figure it out" on their own, and some don't have the drive to independence that we are told they all have. You can't rob a child of initiative if they don't have it, you have to find what it takes to build it. The natural consequences of success are just as powerful as the consequences of failure.

And now I've ranted a bit too much. As you can see, this is a sore point with me. I am seeing the failures of helping too little, and expecting too little, and letting failure stand alone.

Mama Squirrel said...

Thanks for the additional material--there is lots to think about there. I agree, it isn't about just throwing them in and saying "swim"--at any age.