3 Things Parents Need to Know About Raising Children
Freedom, boredom, and social intelligence are gifts when wisely given.
Posted Nov 14, 2018
1. If you give children too much freedom, they will destroy themselves.
This is a simple point: Children without constraints can become their own worst enemies. This is because as children age, they learn what other people think and they have the good sense to know when they are doing something wrong. That's good.
But what's bad is that because they know it's wrong, that doesn't necessarily stop them from doing it. Instead, they may just do it where their parents don't see. Plenty of children know well enough that if they're going to take a cookie from the cookie jar without asking, then you do it when no one's looking.
This means they don't get correction or guidance for dealing with more troubling content (usually sex or violence or both). And many forms of modern information technology are downright parasitic on the human mind (Carr, 2010) and children are especially susceptible.
Parents may think they don't need child controls because "my kid would never do that." But let's be honest with ourselves: Pretty much all parents say "my kid would never do that." Check out most any online parenting forum and you will rapidly learn that many children do. The parents who don't say it are the ones who don't give their kids the opportunity, or just don't care.
Many a good parent has regretted giving their children too much freedom. Freedom is good. But too much of it can be hurtful and place your child in a position where they need help but can't tell you what they've done.
2. Boredom is a good thing.
When it comes to our children, we often imagine that we have to constantly entertain them. Boredom has become a dirty word in modern culture and you might imagine that boredom needs to be eliminated.
But this the wrong way to think about boredom. Boredom can be a powerful way to help your child do the kinds of things that will help them to enjoy life more. Boredom is a signal that you need to find something to do. In the proper environment, your child will create things to solve that problem.
By boredom, I don't mean taking away all forms of stimulation. I mean removing the bounty of choice and replacing it with choices that you want your child to have. That may require a little more effort on your part, but it will also require more effort on their part. And this effort increases their will, makes their mind stronger, and gives them the sense they'll need to get on in the world. So instead of supplying them with videos, you provide books. Instead of supplying them with computer games, guide them to pencil and paper. Reading, writing, and drawing are all practices that enlist effortful and creative aspects of the mind.
Modern culture has largely become about consuming what other people create. But most aspects of personal wellbeing having nothing to do with consuming what other people produce. Ryff (1989) lists the factors most highly associated with lifelong well-being: autonomy; environmental mastery; positive relationships with others; purpose in life; realization of potential and self-acceptance. None of these are associated consuming what other people have created and most all of them involve struggle and sometimes even boredom. Boredom often leads directly to inspiration.
3. Kids are not born with social intelligence.
We've all heard parents calling their children rude, mean, or ungrateful. Many people probably think that children learn this from their parents. Some surely do. But it's also the case that kids aren't born with the ability to see things from other people's perspectives. Many never learn. Variations of this are called 'theory of mind' in part because it involves developing a theory about what people are thinking. If a child doesn't know what the right way is to respond to someone giving them something, or someone else complaining, or someone saying they're no good, then they might just do the first thing that comes to mind. That often isn't the kind of thing you want your kids doing in front of grandma.
Being thoughtful, kind, and grateful is something kids must learn. That means it must be demonstrated and sometimes even explained. Parents need to take the time to do that.
Moreover, social intelligence is a tricky concept that is important in a wide range of situations. How do you get someone to help you? How do you handle a breakup? How do you choose a partner who will not hurt you? These are complicated problems that require helping children see the world through other people's eyes. As I allude to above, reading is known to be one of the most effective ways to help people empathize (Mar et al., 2009; Pinker, 2011).
You demonstrate more or less social intelligence every time you interact with your children. If you want your child to do something, how are you going to do that in a way that demonstrates thoughtfulness and kindness? It's not easy. Sometimes you need to see some alternatives, good examples to learn from.
One way to discover these alternatives is to look for resources. There are good books on this topic. Barbara Coloroso's Kids Are Worth It is a book that many parents have found helpful, and it is full of compelling alternatives to the usual parental gut-reaction. So is Becoming the Parent You Want To Be, by Laura Davis and Janis Keyser. There is even an app for that. Mr. Adam is a free app that aims to help parents learn different ways to interact with their children to help develop social intelligence.
Parenting is not easy and there is no silver bullet. But there are tons of resources to help you enlist the collective knowledge of other parents that have gone before you. You don't have to let your own upbringing be your only model, even if your parents were great.
Carr, N. (2010). The shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember. Atlantic Books Ltd.
Ryff, C. D. (1989). Happiness is everything, or is it? Explorations on the meaning of psychological wellbeing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57, 1069–1081.
Mar, R. A., Oatley, K., & Peterson, J. B. (2009). Exploring the link between reading fiction and empathy: Ruling out individual differences and examining outcomes. Communications, 34(4), 407-428.
Pinker, S. (2011). The better angels of our nature: The decline of violence in history and its causes. Penguin uk.
Coloroso, B. (1994). Kids are worth it!: Giving your child the gift of inner discipline. Somerville House Pub..