The Worst Advice Parents Give To Kids

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Parenting is tough. Obvious statement. There is no one parent manual; there are literally thousands of books out there to guide us. Just type "parenting" into the search bar on Amazon, and over 60,000 results pop up.

The ultimate goal as parents is to launch self-sufficient young adults into the world to lead productive, fulfilled lives. So, how do we do that with a gazillion parenting theories being thrown at us? One's upbringing can be a template for how and what to teach one's children. Meshing multiple approaches together based on family values and the specific personalities and needs of a child. Yes, it is overwhelming.

Researching the increasingly competitive world in which children are growing up along with the uptick in anxiety and depression in adolescents, many sources deliver a few principles that are worth adding to the manual.

Current Advice: Focus on the future.

Proposed Advice: Goals are important, but be present.

It is indisputable that teaching children and adolescents to set goals is essential. Using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-limited) goals system makes sure the goal is appropriate for the person setting it.

That being said, it’s hard to stay intensely focused for long periods of time. Research cited in Psychology Today shows that our minds tend to wander 50 percent of the time. And when the mind wanders, it can ruminate over the past or worry about the future , which leads to negative emotions like anger, regret, and stress.

A mind that is continuously trying to focus on the future (from getting good grades to applying to college) is susceptible to increased anxiety and fear, especially the adolescent, developing mind. 

While small amounts of stress can serve to stimulate us (hello fellow procrastinators out there!), long-term chronic stress impairs our health and brain function, specifically attention and memory. Consequently, focusing too hard on the future can actually produce the opposite result and reduce our performance.

This also aligns with the Hobbs Principles on which Necco has modeled much of their mode of therapy. Nicholas Hobbs was a celebrated American psychologist who made significant discoveries and strides in the mental health field, particularly concerning children. His twelve principles are still relevant today. Principle One states: “Life is to be lived now, not in the past, and lived in the future only as a present challenge.”

Parents can model positive stress management by putting down the caffeine and taking moments to pause. Mindfulness and meditation are gaining in popularity, not just because they are “popular” but because they work – and have worked for thousands of years. By taking a few moments every day to focus on the breath and still the mind actually trains the brains to handle stress and anxiety better!

Children and adolescents do better and feel happier if they learn how to stay in the present moment. When people feel happy, they're able to learn faster, think more creatively, and problem-solve more easily. Furthermore, a calm mind and positive emotions make them more resilient to stress, helping them overcome challenges and setbacks more quickly.

Current Advice: Stay Busy!

Proposed Advice: Be Bored!

An increasingly competitive environment can lure parents into over-scheduling their kids for fear they will miss out on learning a new skill or miss being placed on the highest team because they didn't practice as much as their teammates. The list of reasons is endless. There's nothing wrong with exposing our children to new experiences, fun, and excitement in and of itself. The problem is that too much excitement or over-stimulation exhausts our bodies.

Research shows that people are more likely to come up with brilliant ideas when they are not focusing; the proverbial a-ha moment in the shower or right before falling asleep.

So instead of over-scheduling their kids, parents should be making time for them to be, well… bored. In tolerating a few whining moments of “I’m bored,” children will find a way into a world of creativity and innovation. Whether it is a calming activity like reading a book, or lying under a tree and staring up at the clouds, or something more active like taking the dog for a walk or jumping on a trampoline—all allow them to go about the rest of their lives from a more centered, peaceful place.

This is not to say that parents should never challenge their kids or that they should prevent opportunities for learning. Merely be aware of overscheduling and overcommiting them to the point where they don't have opportunities to learn independent play, to be comfortable being alone, to daydream, and to learn to be happy just being rather than always doing.

Current Advice to our Kids: Focus on your strengths.

Proposed Advice: Make mistakes and learn to fail.

A recent article interviewing a successful entrepreneur asked for life lessons contributed to her success, she responded that as a child her father asked her every night at the dinner table how she failed that day. (You're thinking that's crazy, but hang in there!) He did this to teach her that mistakes and failure are a part of life and learning to handle them and learn from them is fundamental to becoming a successful adult.

Parents, tend to label our children by their strengths and the activities that come naturally to them.

They may say our child is a “science kid,” a “baseball player,” or “an artist.” But research by Stanford University’s Carol Dweck shows that this mindset creates a fixed way of thinking, and instills a hesitancy to try anything new. Furthermore, instead of bolstering confidence this can make them anxious and depressed when faced with failure or challenges.

The human brain is wired to learn new things, especially during this critical time of development. Contrary to popular belief, the best time to make mistakes is as a child and adolescent. So instead of focusing on a child’s strengths, teach them that they actually can learn anything—as long as they try. Further research by Mindset author, Dweck, shows that children will be more optimistic and even enthusiastic in the face of challenges. Let them be bored, and who knows, they may just be the next Bill Gates!

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