Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops?

This is an article from the Associated Press:  I thought you might like it.

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops?


NEW YORK — Second-graders who can't tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who've never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter "literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else."

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her "kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger."

Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care.

"It's so all laid out for them," said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book "The Winter of Our Disconnect," about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. "Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation — the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we'll take care of it for you!"

The issue hit home for me when a visiting 12-year-old took an ice-cube tray out of my freezer, then stared at it helplessly. Raised in a world where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers, he'd never had to get cubes out of a tray — in the same way that kids growing up with pull-tab cans don't understand can openers.

But his passivity was what bothered me most. Come on, kid! If your life depended on it, couldn't you wrestle that ice-cube tray to the ground? It's not that complicated!

Mark Bauerlein, author of the best-selling book "The Dumbest Generation," which contends that cyberculture is turning young people into know-nothings, says "the absence of technology" confuses kids faced with simple mechanical tasks.

But Bauerlein says there's a second factor: "a loss of independence and a loss of initiative." He says that growing up with cell phones and Google means kids don't have to figure things out or solve problems any more. They can look up what they need online or call mom or dad for step-by-step instructions. And today's helicopter parents are more than happy to oblige, whether their kids are 12 or 22.

"It's the dependence factor, the unimaginability of life without the new technology, that is making kids less entrepreneurial, less initiative-oriented, less independent," Bauerlein said.

Teachers in kindergarten have always had to show patience with children learning to tie shoes and zip jackets, but thanks to Velcro closures, today's kids often don't develop those skills until they are older. Sure, harried parents are grateful for Velcro when they're trying to get a kid dressed and out the door, and children learn to tie shoes eventually unless they have a real disability. But if they're capable of learning to tie their shoes before they learn to read, shouldn't we encourage them?

Some skills, of course, are no longer useful. Kids don't need to know how to add Roman numerals, write cursive or look things up in a paper-bound thesaurus. But is snail-mail already so outmoded that teenagers don't need to know how to address an envelope or put the stamp in the right spot? Ask a 15-year-old to prepare an envelope some time; you might be shocked at the result.

Lenore Skenazy, who writes a popular blog called Free-Range Kids, based on her book by the same name, has a different take. Skenazy, whose approach to parenting is decidedly anti-helicopter, agrees that we are partly to blame for our children's apparent incompetence, starting when they are infants.

"There is an onslaught of stuff being sold to us from the second they come out of the womb trying to convince us that they are nincompoops," she said. "They need to go to Gymboree or they will never hum and clap! To teach them how to walk, you're supposed to turn your child into a marionette by strapping this thing on them that holds them up because it helps them balance more naturally than 30,000 years of evolution!"

Despite all this, Skenazy thinks today's kids are way smarter than we give them credit for: "They know how to change a photo caption on a digital photo and send it to a friend. They can add the smiley face without the colon and parentheses! They never took typing but they can type faster than I can!"

Had I not been there to help that 12-year-old with the ice-cube tray, she added, the kid surely would have "whipped out his iPhone and clicked on his ice cube app to get a little video animated by a 6-year-old that explained how you get ice cubes out of a tray."

Friends playing devil's advocate say I'm wrong to indict a whole generation for the decline of skills they don't need. After all, we no longer have to grow crops, shoot deer, prime a pump or milk a cow to make dinner, but it was just a couple of generations ago that you couldn't survive in many places without that knowledge.

Others say this is simply the last gasp of the analog era as we move once and for all to the digital age. In 10 years, there won't be any ice cube trays; every fridge will have push-button ice.

But Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University who has studied culture and American life, defends my right to rail against the ignorance of youth.

"That's our job as we get old," he said. "A healthy society is healthy only if it has some degree of tension between older and younger generations. It's up to us old folks to remind teenagers: 'The world didn't begin on your 13th birthday!' And it's good for kids to resent that and to argue back. We want to criticize and provoke them. It's not healthy for the older generation to say, 'Kids are kids, they'll grow up.'

"They won't grow up," he added, "unless you do your job by knocking down their hubris."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Family Home Evening

Tonight we had Family Home Evening and the topic was using the DISC Personality Inventory to look at individual personality characteristics and preferences for work situations.  It was a fun way to look at differences and also to talk about how we all benefit by blending our "preferred" styles. 

When looking for topics to cover in FHE it is important to blend from a wide variety of content.  Spending time together and learning from each other is the goal.  So no matter if that is done playing miniture golf, studying some scriptural topic, going on a walk together or going out for ice cream, each activity and experience opens the doors for future communication as it builds patterns to be followed later.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Parenting by choice or by chance

So you are a parent.  What does your parenting entail?  Do you wait for things to happen and then respond or do you seek out opportunities?  Think about it this way.  You are in need of some information.  Your choice is to either go seek the information seek out someone who can help you, or you can wait and hope that the people who know will just happen to sit down next to you and just happen to ask the right question or know what is needed. 

As parents you should be the seeker, the one who builds those connections.  On the other hand we tend to train children out of being seekers and the result is having children who sit next to us and that assume that if new information doesn't pop up it must not be important.

You have the option, be proactive or reactive.  The model you set will be the model your children will follow.

Going on walks

Recently I was asked how do you get preteens to talk.  Part of the problem is the level of disruption that interferes with any communication.  What I am finding is that the disruption comes on both the parent and the child side.  Going on walks and leaving the cell phones at home is a great start.  Turning off the TV during meals.  Limit the amount of time by parents and children on the computer.  Do something that the child likes. 

Many years ago a parent said that her children didn't get good grades and that they "couldn't" study.  What I found out was really that there was no culture of sitting down and doing something that was a more sedate activity.  The family activities were all physical outdoor activites and none were things they could do sitting down, playing games, talking with each other.

Turn off the world and go for a walk.  Develop a family culture of doing little things together.  Smile and laugh with each other.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What traits do you want for your children?

There are many traits, characteristics that people "hope" their children have and yet they often seem surprised at their child's behavior.  One of the first questions that I usually ask parents when they tell me something they want to change about their child is, "Which of you is he/she most like?"  Many times the behavior they are wanting to change in their child is something that they don't like in themselves or in their spouse.  Rarely do I get the reply that the child is not acting like one or the other parent.  The answer is clear, work on changing your behaviors and you will see a change in your child's behavior.

Here is an example from a couple of years ago. A mother was complaining that her daughter would not clean her room no matter how many threats or bribes were offered.  I asked her to close her eyes and think of three rooms in the house, her bedroom, the kitchen, and the living room and to tell me what they usually looked like.  She told me that they are usually in disarray because she is a busy mom but that they had a comfortable, lived in feel.  Children use spaces based on how they find them.  If they find them cluttered then they feel comfortable with that.  If they find neatness then they are not comfortable if things are out of place.  What I am saying is that you have to find the right balance for you and your family.  Start with having a family night where you set some goals.  Then have a 10 minute "quick clean" where everyone has to put away or straighten, or clean 20 things each.  It is amazing how fun this can be.  Then let the family know that at the end of every day there will be a 10 minute "quick clean" before bed.  Be consistent.  Some people get out of the habit by making excuses about it being past the child's bedtime or tonight would not be convenient.  Do it anyway.

Additionally, children always need their own money so start special pay for special jobs.  But, if pay is involved then an inspection / evaluation of performance is also required so don't let them off easy.  This will help them distinguish the difference between a job done right and a task to be completed.  Eventually you can even have children serve as each other's job evaluators.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to help children become good readers

I was asked what has the greatest impact on children's future academic abilities.  If we are talking about overall academic abilities I would highlight the following:
1.  Sing with and to children.  It helps with sentence structure, word tone and grammar, it helps with social competence and developing self esteem.  I could go on but this gives you as good start.
2.  Read with and to children.  Also read both at the child's level as well as at levels above the child's level.  This applies for ages 1 - 12.  Reading builds comprehension.  If you can read you can do anything.  If you can't read you can't do math, science, social studies, etc.
3.  Play with children - play is what helps children make sense of their world and process complex information.
4.  Ask children questions.  Young children ask a lot of questions and parents answer some and get frustrated at times.  Turn them around and ask children questions.  If a child says, "Why does the wind blow?" you should ask them why they think it blows.  Find out what they think.  Look for places where you can fill in the gaps in their knowledge.  Don't overfill.  Sometimes adults try to give too much information.  Give information and let them ask the next question.
5.  Help them develop a sense of wonder about their world and look at things in new ways.  How might a bunny see the world?  What would trees see?  What is inside an ant hill?  This will open their minds to their own questions.
6.  Use real words for things and provide labels.  Encourage scientific examination and observation.
7.  Parents have the opportunity to be their children's first teachers.  What you give or don't give is not related to income, or social status.  Anyone can visit a museum, a park, or a store to help explore a child's world.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Video's on relationships

I encourage everyone to watch these clips.  I use them in my class to talk about relationships.
Steve Harvey 1
Steve Harvey 2
Steve Harvey 3

He has a great take on this subject and my students in class always have Aha! moments.

Of course most are not willing to change their behaviors.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What is sometimes not seen

At church this past week I watched a young infant girl (about 9 months) tip over while sitting on the floor.  Her head hit the carpet, not hard, and she looked around from her new vantage point.  After about 15 seconds her father put his hand on her back and asked her if she was all right as he started to help her to sit up again.  She immediately started to cry.  He picked her up.  She stopped crying, took a deep breath, looked around again to see if she had an audience, and then started to cry again. 

Lets look at what was learned.
1.  I tipped over, quick self check, I am okay, wow things look different from down here, look at that man smiling at me, how to I get up, where is my dad.
2.  Dad is saying something to me but I don't know what.  I must be in some kind of trouble or difficulty,  maybe I should cry.
3.  Dad picked me up, I can get more attention if I keep crying, better stop to see if he is still looking at me.
4.  Yup, I have his attention.  Now watch this .....

When young children do something where there is a possibility of getting hurt parents and teachers should consider that the action has already happened.  Rushing over or hugging and attention will not stop the falling.  Therefore the attention should now be to help the child figure out what is wrong and if there is something that is really hurt and needs attention.

Consider this scenario.
Same child tips over and is laying down on the floor.  Dad watches the child to see how she reacts.  Dad moves over nearby and talks to the child.  "You are doing fine, push yourself up.  Wow, good job."

The child continues to survey the scene, realizes she is fine and works to make herself more comfortable.

Children take cues from adults on how badly they are hurt.  In 9/10 times the adult makes more of the situation than is needed and therefore sets the child up for future expectations and learning of what they need to do to get the attention.