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Polly Palumbo, Ph.D.
Polly Palumbo Ph.D.

Forget the Test Prep, the Kumon and Possible Toxins: Teach Your Children Well

Are parentings focusing too much on academic achievement?

A parenting book that actually might benefit your child?

Although this space is generally reserved for the books, articles, official recommendations, etc. that might screw up your life and your kid's; here's one potentially bright and shiny opportunity for optimism (at least if you take her advice) thanks to one busy and one hope's wise clinical psychologist attending to the children who've been messed up by their parents in the lovely though tenaciously affluent Marin County, California.

Madeline Levine, author of the new “Teach Your Children Well" argues this country had better rethink the current hyper achievement-oriented parenting culture that leverages test scores, academic achievement, sports achievement, summers bulking up on internships (i.e. anything that helps get kids into the right schools/college) at the expense of those touchy-feely, elusive and undervalued assets like empathy, happiness and creativity.

In other words parents have lost their minds pressuring their kids into a full roster of Kumon, test prep, AP courses and other enrichment opportunities guaranteed to not only pad their college applications but sap the joy out of learning.

Who are these parents? If any of this sounds familiar take a peek next door or into the mirror (hand partially raised):

These are parents who run themselves ragged with work and hyper-parenting, presenting an “eviscerated vision of the successful life” that their children are then programmed to imitate. They’re parents who are physically hyper-present but somehow psychologically M.I.A.: so caught up in the script that runs through their heads about how to “do right” by their children that they can’t see when the excesses of keeping up, bulking up, getting a leg up and generally running scared send the whole enterprise of ostensible care and nurturing right off the rails. Judith Warner, How To Raise a Child, New York Times, July 30

I'll pay more attention after I sign up my almost 4th grader for travel soccer, download a few "fun" reading Apps for my 1st grader and sit down and break it to my 6th grader that not only does the school recommend she take Algebra in the fall but there's a sheath of worksheets for her to peruse at her leisure this summer...although it's not like Algebra is necessary according to this poli sci professor.

(So who thinks I should make my daughter take Algebra? She doesn't really want to—because there are like 3 girls in the class—can you say Future Math Anxiety—but the schools says she should and frankly she never studies for math anyhow.)

Oh it's not just academic pressures, Levine slaps down the chemophobia too according to Warner:

Here, her insights are fresh. “When apples were sprayed with a chemical at my local supermarket, middle-aged moms turned out, picket signs and all, to protest the possible risk to their children’s health,” Levine reflects. “Yet I’ve seen no similar demonstrations about an educational system that has far more research documenting its own toxicity. We have bought into this system not because we are bad people or are unconcerned about our children’s well-being, but because we have been convinced that any other point of view will put our children at even greater risk.”

Kudos to Dr. Levine but I would also add not breastfeeding to the list of exaggerates worries. Did you read that Michael Bloomberg, aka the Boob-Friendly Mayor of New York City who advocates hospitals lock down formula along side of narcotics.

It's about time the real emotional needs of children don't get dissed in favor of physical health or even more so, academic achievement.

Apparently the kiddie shrink also analyzes why we adults run around like half-crazed idiots perpetrating these wrongs against our children, and I doubt we can blame it on our own parents who must have done something wrong, but it wasn't too much test prep or lack of unstructured time. Don't know about you but in my youth I was sitting around picking my scabs and sunburns and jumping off the top of the swingset or slide or whatever I could find that clearly didn't have rubber mulch or other child-friendly ground covering underneath.

Another discussion: The value of performing, working or "volunteering" (i.e. whatever your parents who didn't care a whit about your future LinkedIn profile expected you to do) in boring, tedious and monotonous jobs (e.g., filing medical charts, painting screen doors, weeding, spreading tar on driveways, babysitting).

About the Author
Polly Palumbo, Ph.D.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D., is a former research psychologist and founder of Momma Data, a non-profit organization that tracks and fact-checks parenting media.

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