Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to land your kid in therapy

Lori Gottlieb, the author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough has an interesting piece in the Atlantic entitled "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy." Apparently, in today's society, parent's obsession with their kids happiness is likely to bring a lifetime of adult misery:

The irony is that measures of self-esteem are poor predictors of how content a person will be, especially if the self-esteem comes from constant accommodation and praise rather than earned accomplishment. According to Jean Twenge, research shows that much better predictors of life fulfillment and success are perseverance, resiliency, and reality-testing—qualities that people need so they can navigate the day-to-day.

Earlier this year, I met with a preschool teacher who told me that in her observation, many kids aren’t learning these skills anymore. She declined to be named, for fear of alienating parents who expect teachers to agree with their child-rearing philosophy, so I’ll call her Jane.

Jean Twenge is the co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement and in the article says that kids never really learn how to fail anymore. They are all told they are terrific and everything they do is great.

So where would kids learn perseverance, resilience and reality testing? Even our government officials show few of these traits, particularly the latter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this last week and had to smile. Always trying to pin it on the parents. It's not mom and dad, though. Not this time. It's not because they showered their children with love and devotion and material comfort and protected them from all harm. It's not because when well cared for children grow up and "experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong." It's precisely the opposite. Does this sound like a girl overwhelmed by adversity and unable to cope with the harsh reality of life?

"Imagine a bright, attractive 20-something woman with strong friendships, a close family, and a deep sense of emptiness. She had come in, she told me, because she was 'just not happy.' And what was so upsetting, she continued, was that she felt she had nothing to be unhappy about. She reported that she had 'awesome' parents, two fabulous siblings, supportive friends, an excellent education, a cool job, good health, and a nice apartment. She had no family history of depression or anxiety. So why did she have trouble sleeping at night? Why was she so indecisive, afraid of making a mistake, unable to trust her instincts and stick to her choices? Why did she feel 'like there’s this hole inside' her? Why did she describe herself as feeling 'adrift'?"

She had nothing to be unhappy about, and - just exactly as she said - that was the problem! Everything people say is supposed to make you happy, everything you're supposed to spend your life working to get, she already had or could easily get. She had Arrived. So what was left to do? And what was the point of it all? She was at the end of the rainbow and everything felt like ashes. It was supposed to be gold. And her self-pity and melodrama felt shameful because she really was "privileged".

Privileged except in her therapist, who subscribes to this threadbare meme about overparenting and neglects the ideas of historical giants in her field like Victor Frankl (or even Friedrich Nietzsche for that matter). Frankl named this phenomenon - the "feeling of inner emptiness, a void within themselves" - the existential vacuum, or existential frustration. His insight was that it's created by a "lack of awareness of a meaning worth living for". He drew the conclusion that the primary motive of all human action is the search for meaning; that insight is the basis of his life's work - all of which is fascinating, much of which is brilliant.

We all need to believe our lives have meaning - a worthy purpose to justify our existence. And we all have to discover for ourselves what that worthy purpose is. But it's my understanding that the purpose of therapists is to impart this sort of useful information to their clients.

12:30 AM, July 14, 2011  
Blogger Suzanne Lucas said...

I've just observed and interesting thing about failure. My daughter attends a school that doesn't do letter/percent grades. They either are above, at, or below grade level. I had no real problems with this.

However, she has always hated math. Convinced herself that she's terrible at it. (Her "grades" reflect that she's at grade level in math, however.)

But, my husband (a statistician) and I agree that math is a key to success, so we want her to be above grade level. I signed her up for an online math course (mathletics) and logged her on.

This site has the kids answer questions in groups of 10, at which point they get a score back. If they repeat the section, it provides them with a graph showing their improvement (or lack thereof).

Suddenly, she had real feedback. When she only scored 70% on a section, she redid it until she could get 100%.

She'd never received that kind of feedback before.

The "we can't tell you you're not doing well" approach made her hate math. The "boy, you stink at fractions," gave her drive to not stink at fractions.

You can't know you need to improve if no one tells you.

1:32 AM, July 14, 2011  
Blogger Cham said...

I don't know if this had anything to do with anything. I don't have kids but yesterday I happened to be in a room where there were lots families with teens. I noticed a phenomenon. The mothers seemed to have mouth diarrhea, just babbling on while the kids half-heartedly listened (these were sets where the fathers were not present). Perhaps the mothers felt their role was to talk and the kids should listen.

When it came the dad-only family sets, the dads didn't seem to be saying anything at all. They sat at their tables quietly while their kids entertained each other.

All I could see was that the parental adults weren't very interested in what might be going on with the teen kids.

8:50 AM, July 14, 2011  
Blogger LordSomber said...

Interesting take on the article here:

"Gottlieb wants it to be true that overparenting and artificial self-esteem is causing kids to become narcissists, but that's all defense. Overparenting doesn't cause narcissism, narcissism causes narcissism.
Here's what a therapist should say: "too perfect" parents who coddle and overprotect their kids aren't doing it for their kids, they are doing it for themselves, in defense of their own ego; and that, not the bike helmets, is why their kids end up adrift and confused."

1:37 PM, July 14, 2011  
Blogger DADvocate said...

While I want my children to be happy, I realize that happiness is something that is only approached indirectly. Teach your children to be be productive, to work hard, have good values, and strive for success in academics, extra-curricular activities, careers and relationships. Exhibit those qualities in your own life to help them understand. They will be happy.

Too many of us confuse the feelings of pleasure with those of accomplishment. You feel momentary pleasure when someone pats you on the back and says good job or praises your performance in some way. Accomplishment comes when you work hard and attain goals. What you've done matters more than the praise and recognition. Sometimes there's a fine line, but you know the difference.

Suzuanne Lucas' daughter is a good example. Under the school's system for grading, she couldn't set a clear goal for proficiency in math, the performance measures were too vague. Once able to accurately measure her performance, she set goals, achieved them and became happier with herself because she was proving to herself she could perform quite nicely.

5:24 PM, July 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Put your children into a kick boxing class and volunteer at a soup kitchen. Problem solved.

5:40 PM, July 14, 2011  
Blogger DADvocate said...

Put your children into a kick boxing class and volunteer at a soup kitchen.

Good advice. My 15 year old daughter is taking mixed martial arts lessons, mostly for conditioning for basketball. She's also helping an elderly lady in her antique/crafts shop a couple of days a week.

6:42 PM, July 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the link, Lord Somber. I roared my head off laughing! I've read a lot of take-downs in my time, but I've never seen anyone fillet a writer's psyche with such lethal precision. There's a big difference between a psychiatrist and a dilettant "Marriage and Family Therapy Intern" who writes books like Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.

This psychiatrist also reviews her piece in The Atlantic promoting Marry Him!, with similar bloody results. But then anyone with two wits to rub together could have done that. The essence of The Case:

"My advice is this: Settle! That's right. Don't worry about passion or intense connection. Don't nix a guy based on his annoying habit of yelling "Bravo!" in movie theaters. Overlook his halitosis or abysmal sense of aesthetics. Because if you want to have the infrastructure in place to have a family, settling is the way to go."

No word on whether you tell the object of your lack of affection you think he's smelly and tasteless but will marry him for infrastructure purposes. I guess you just have to buy the book and find out!

6:50 PM, July 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ended up blogging about this:

11:57 PM, July 17, 2011  

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