Raising kids the right way
Hey there’s finally been a New York Times column that agrees with me about how to raise kids, so I’m totally going to blog about it.
Seriously, I know that I’m 100% biased, as is anyone who tells you how to raise your kids, but I think Adam Grant has hit upon the perfect explanation of how I think about things in his recent column, How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.
The dumbed down version goes like this: yes, we all know it take a huge amount of practice to get good at the violin. But that doesn’t mean you should force your kids to practice all the time so they’ll become musicians. That’s confusing causation with correlation, the most common of all parental crimes. Instead, ask your kids to be ethical and trust them to find their passion.
The idea is if you give them a strong education in ethics, and then set them free within that framework, they might just decide they love the violin. If they do, then as long as you support their passion, they might just practice all the time and become musicians.
I’ve written a bunch about this exact issue over the years, because although I played the piano as a child, I don’t encourage my kids to play instruments. Because they aren’t begging for it like I did.
To be fair, this isn’t because I’m nervously trying to construct creative kids and want the conditions to be perfect. Mostly it’s common sense. Said plainly, why would I pay for expensive lessons that they don’t want? Why would I set myself up to remind them to practice when they could care less? It sounds like torture for everyone involved, and I honestly don’t understand parents who do it.
I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, a hotbed of striving upperly-mobile parenthood, and I was absolutely surrounded by kids – especially second-generation Asian kids – who were being forced to display precocity in all kinds of ways. These kids were miserable, and they hated their violins and cellos. Not all the time, and not in every way, but let me say it like this: very few of them still play music. (Whereas I do, and by the way my bluegrass band has a gig, stay tuned.)
I know, it’s not a lot of evidence, but I still think I’m right, because it’s parenting and people are totally irrational when it comes to this kind of thing, so bear with me, and read the references in Adam Grant’s piece as well, maybe they’re scientific-y.
Of course, it all depends on the definition of creative, which is of course not obvious and I could easily imagine the result changing depending on how you do it. Not to mention that “creativity” isn’t the only thing you’d want from your children. In fact, it’s not my personal goal for my kids to be creative. If I had to choose, I’d say I want my kids to be generous and ethical.
Here’s a bit more background on this very question. a Harvard Education School report called THE CHILDREN WE MEAN TO RAISE: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values that found the following:
About 80% of the youth in our survey report that their parents are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others. A similar percentage of youth perceive teachers as prioritizing students’ achievements over their caring. Youth were also 3 times more likely to agree than disagree with this statement: “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.” Our conversations with and observations of parents also suggest that the power and frequency of parents’ daily messages about achievement and happiness are drowning out their messages about concern for others.
When I read this report I performed an exceptionally biased poll in my own household and made sure my kids knew what’s up. And they all do, most probably because I am not forcing them to practice the piano.