Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A Nation of Wimps

Thought I'd start doing a few book reviews now that the intensity of work in the garden has died down.

I have just finished reading "A Nation of Wimps - The high cost of invasive parenting" by Hara Estroff Marano.
This book has the potential to turn you into a much more relaxed parent, and save the sanity of yourself and your kids.
The crux of the argument, and it is well researched and documented, is that to grow into successful, independant & happy adults, children actually need to separate from their parents, they need to be allowed to take risks and to fail as this is the most effective way to learn, they need to face challenges, not have them removed, and they need to be allowed to discover their own passions.

So - go out for the evening with your partner & leave the baby with another trusted adult, they will learn that you will come back and will experience the sadness of you leaving & the joy of you returning.  They will learn to regulate their own emotions using the picture of you in their head.  If you are always present they don't ever need to develop the mental picture, because they have the real thing.  What a great excuse for time out!  Worked with my kids.
Childcare isn't evil!

Help them with their homework, but don't do it for them.  Answer their questions by asking another to help them think, and if they get a lower grade than you think they are capable of - it's their low grade not yours.  Help them work out what they can do to improve.
Let them climb at the park, and fall occasionally, they will learn to assess the difficulty against their ability.  They'll learn to stretch themselves, but not too far, to problem solve and ask for help when needed.  They'll take calculated risks, not ridiculous ones.  They'll build their abilities gradually, themselves.  This doesn't just apply to the physical either.

Build their confidence by helping them work out how they can achieve something themselves, rather then doing it for them.  So if they have climbed the tree but are scared to get down, help them place their feet, or work out the best route, rather than just lifting them.  Explain the maths problem, and help them work through it, don't give them the answer.

These are my examples, rather than the books, but they fit the picture.
It is your job to grow your kids into adults that can face the world on their own, not protect them from every difficulty.  Happiness comes from facing challenges and working towards overcoming them.  From making mistakes and learning from them, not from having a free ride.  Life needs purpose.
And our society needs kids that are going to be able to face the challenges of a fast paced changing world, they won't be able to do this if they haven't built up the problem solving skills and emotional resilience gradually over time.
I highly recommend this book to anyone with children, thinking of having children, or just interested in education, society, brain development and psychology.
It is not an easy read, but it is a good one.



  1. What a great post Ravs, it sounds like an interesting book (even to me, childless and definitely not planning any soon!). It reminded me about a documentary I watched a little while ago about the decline in 'free-play' (unscheduled mucking about climbing trees etc) kids of the noughties have, and some of the results. You can see a trailer for it here here. It also reminded me of this chick who had massive criticism for letting her son catch the subway! Ha!

  2. Thanks for the link Reanna. The programme sounds like it might even be based on the book!
    Would you believe that some US Schools are even scrapping recess?
    I don't think things are as bad here, but many people would not give their kids even as much rein as I do. On Tuesday I sat by the beach with two other mothers while the three 4yos played on the sand & went to the playground - within sight on the beach, out of sight in the playground. For about 3 hours. They checked in occasionally, usually when they were hungry or thirsty, and everyone had a lovely day.
    The main thing that stops me giving my kids quite as much freedom as I had is that we live in the city, and I lived at the edge of a country town - in short - traffic, and the fact that they genuinely don't have the capacity to judge speed yet, or the concentration.
    I listened to the subway debate at the time too - at least that, and this book & the programme you found, indicate that there is a backlash against the fear & invasive parenting starting to happen.

  3. CareerusInterruptus27 May 2011 at 13:07

    See, now my problem is that my kids are too both phenomenally attached for this sort of thing, much as I might agree with the philosophy. That semester I taught one afternoon a week, leaving 7-10m old Thing 1 with his doting dad? He screamed. (Thing 1, not his dad.) All three hours, all 12 weeks. 2yo Thing 2 is marginally better, but frequently has to shove her hand down my cleavage (head on shoulder, thumb in mouth) to recharge. All attempts to encourage independence have been furiously resisted. Play out of sight? I jolly well wish!