Recently I attended a talk on raising resilient children and how neuroscience has some interesting points for parents on what helps with that. I was not too excited about it but I was very pleasantly surprised
Firstly, I liked it because it is a topic that not too many people talk about there sure as heck is a lot out there on 'over-parenting' all of epic things you need to be doing day in day out and the responses you should give and everything you need to do so that you don't 'mess them up' all good stuff, but its got a bit OTT if you look at the history of parenting and that we might just be in a micro-management context. An interesting book on this is "All Joy and No Fun" for a sociological perspective.
Back on track. So ill pop this in a nut shell. The development of the brain is sequential and a model called the neurosequential model of therapeutics (NMT) is very apt at discussing the levels, the sequences of development and what happens to top layers of brain development (that happens in the teens and up to 35 years old if there are gaps in the bottom levels). That is a very bastardised hash at a summary! But I was trained in the model as was this presenter who does a much better job banging on about the neuroscience.
Much of what children do, is done 50,000 times over the years. An example she gave was playing peek-a-boo and what the brain is practicing is being scared, feeling apprehension, suspense, shock, surprise, and whether it will repeat. The brain loves this so much that the child says "more more more" we surprise our children all the time with playing boo, hiding and jumping out etc. however we would not necessarily think we scare our children all the time. The brain takes these moments and this develops capacity in the child. Not only in sequence, planning and logic but also in the emotions and ability to tolerate them and regulate.
So here is the key point. An adult does not just wake up as an adult and have the ability to manage difficult situations, challenging contexts, personal and professional stress and all the associated emotions. I could go on and name a huge number of difficult things us adults do day to day and as we all know , some times are VERY difficult. And this is where we see that the brain works like a gym...
At a gym you start with your small free weights, you practice, do repetitions, slowly move up and carry larger and larger loads until you have built a heck of a lot more power than you had at the start. And this takes a long time and you can't skip to the end. The work has to be done.
So lets just Segway in here with the new notion of a "lawnmower parent" this means that the parent is trying to mow down potential upsets, obstacles, challenges, distresses for the child. Of course there are times that this is required, however, the social observation is that more and more parents are doing this and intervening within contexts to smooth the path for their children.
The presenter I went to, quite rightly said we are all , or most of us lawnmower parents. I agree. Socioligally things have changed drastically. There is a theory that in the early 90's a large number of child abductions in the USA meant that there was a large change in the bounds of what was considered safe for children. Talk to any child of the 1970's and they would tell you that they'd go out in the morning play on the farm, parks, friends houses, on the road and come home for dinner, and of course there was no electronic communication. A book that suggests this theory and the change in nature of parenting is "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure"
Now, kids will often text their parent if a child is teasing them, or if they are having an uncomfortable social challenge or time at school. Now here, the danger is that over-parenting will reduce children's capacity to problem solve and develop resiliency. The presenter was very clear that teasing should be okay and joling. Of course with the distinction from bullying. Teasing builds resilience. It is a form of communication that we all remember and it would invite person problem solving, how to deal with it, thinking about why it happens, how to manage it, who can help. This is lifting the "little" weights in the gym. Other instances where kids have to work it out themselves has them then being slowly and surely set up as a resilient human being.
If all challenges are smoothed over or the parent agrees with the child's stance and tries to make it go away, the impact can be detrimental. Clinically, I have seen it. In the most extreme cases, teenagers can have a very limited ability to mange issues that arise to the extreme that they need to be pulled out of the school environment. I only say this to highlight that there are all sorts of outcomes.
PgDip. (Endorsed in Ch and Fam Psych), MEd (Endorsed in Child and Fam Psych), BA