Archive for the ‘add’ category

Made to order: “Kids these days”

February 21, 2007

I blamed Hollywood

The one resounding lesson I took away from my four high school years as a proud underachiever was this:

Hard work is for suckers.

While the “smart” kids were working hard, studying, and doing their homework, I was staying up all night playing computer games (on my Commodore 128, yes I am that old).  The homework that I did complete usually came into the world during a horribly long morning bus ride.  I graduated with a 3.0001 GPA by showing up and “winging it” on exams.  I stayed up until 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning, and slept in all but computer classes.  I thought I was better than everyone else.  What suckers they were, actually doing their homework.  Bah.

I’ve been paying for that mistake ever since.

In real life, the people who are diligent, conscientious and hard-working are the movers and shakers.  They are the people who get things done.  They are the ones who write a novel every year (I’ve written 0.34 novels in 33 years).  They are the ones who finish college in 4 years (I dropped out).  They stay in the Navy for 20 years and retire (early honorable discharge here).  They are the ones who set—and break—records.

I blamed Hollywood for my lack of follow-through.

It makes sense.  You never see the hero of a movie get to the climax and save the day at the last minute by doing six months of hard work.  He always saves the day at the last second by being clever: he had a gun taped on his back, or he used *69, or he tricked the bad guys with sleight-of-hand.  If there is ever–EVER–hard work, it gets covered up by an 80’s style montage.

So who are you blaming?

Who are you blaming when you complain about “kids these days”?  Kids these days don’t know about hard work.  They don’t want to learn.  They won’t make an effort.  They just don’t care.  If you haven’t heard or said something like this yourself, ask the nearest public school teacher.

Then along comes Po Bronson (author of “What Should I Do With My Life?”) with a phenomenal article in New York Magazine, “How Not to Talk to Your Kids:  The Inverse Power of Praise.”  You have to read this article.  Parents and teachers, this is an order!  The article is here:

Read this article.  That’s an order!

The essence of the article is this: praising children for being smart, as opposed to working hard and being persistent, stunts their growth.  Praising children for making an effort, trying hard and not giving up can improve their performance in school and in life.  Children praised for hard work, work even harder.  Children praised for being intelligent avoid challenging tasks that might ruin their “smart” self-image.  Teaching high school students that intelligence is NOT innate, that the brain is like a muscle–the harder you work it the stronger it gets–raises math scores in underachieving minority students.

My wife is a biology teacher.  She doesn’t know it yet, but she will be teaching a segment on how the brain is like a muscle, soon.

Have you read the article yet?  What are you waiting for?  Go!

It is so easy as parents, teachers, mentors and friends to want to make kids feel good by heaping them with praise.  This is a mistake.

“I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.”

“…for college students on the verge of failing in class, esteem-building praise causes their grades to sink further….”

Kids are wise to insincere flattery–that’ll only work until they’re about 7 years old.  Then they can tell when you are full of it.  In fact, sometimes kids think that criticism is the real compliment, since the teacher wouldn’t tell you you can do better if they didn’t think you could handle it.

A personal favorite of mine, Nathaniel Branded (of Ayn Rand fame), is mentioned as the father of the modern self-esteem movement.  If you’re going to blame anyone for “kids these days”, it might as well be him.  He started it, and we as a society ran with it.

There is solid science backing this up (see the article for all those details), and I am a HUGE fan of science.  However, the rest of this entry is conjecture.

I look around and hear complaints about “kids these days” and also about “The Greatest Generation.”  Could it be that the self-esteem movement was adopted by our social institutions, and propagated throughout the population, and as a consequence we have squelched the stick-to-it-iveness of Generations XYZ?

It makes me think about Everybody Loves Raymond (my brother is Robert to a T.  You know this because he will tell you I am Raymond to a T).  Frank, the Dad, is a hard-a**.  Ray and Robbie have a problem?  “Suck it up.  Stop crying like a girl.”  If ever anyone had no regard for their kids’ self-esteem, it is Frank.  I know it is fiction, but it sure seems like The Greatest Generation didn’t molly-coddle their kids, and their kids came out alright.  Did their kinder, gentler parenting–served up with dollops of unconditional love and positive messages–squelch the fierce, can-do spirit of their kids?

The (scientific) evidence says that it did.  And what worries me is that the positive self-esteem culture is running the show now, and producing kids who don’t care, won’t work hard and just plain old aren’t trying.  And I bet a whole heck of a lot of them are getting diagnosed as ADD and ADHD, and instead of getting the training that they need in life, they are getting pills.

On a positive note, this is easy to treat.  With just 50 minuts of training, Math scores for underachieving High School students increased in just one semester after a long trend of sliding.

Take up the torch in your home, school, neighborhood and family.  This is a vital skill that kids need, can be taught, and will pay off for the rest of their lives.

Good Luck!

Allen Dobkin


Great news for parents: it’s not on purpose.

February 14, 2007

It is 7 o’clock and your child still hasn’t done his homework, or taken out the trash, or cleaned up his room. For the umpteenth time, you remind him as politely as possible. He promises to do it before bed.

The next morning undone homework, full trash bins and messy rooms are scattered all over the country, along with fistfuls of parental hair.

Is your kid trying to drive you crazy on purpose?

No. Well, not on purpose, anyway.

A new study reported this week in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology reveals that there is an unconscious, automatic process by which teens—and adults—resist the efforts of people who they perceive as trying to control them. What child or teen doesn’t feel like his parents are trying to control him?

(In all fairness, I found this information at one of my favorite sites: )

All people resist being controlled: kids, teens, adults and seniors.

How many “bosses” does your child have? A child with a Learning Disability (LD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Aspergers Sydrome, or other issues has tons of bosses. Family Therapist, Social Worker, Occupational Therapist, a dozen teachers, private tutors, 1-4 parents, older siblings, School Psychologist, bus driver, you name it! To the child, every one of those people is out to run his life and nobody is asking the question, “Is Johnny having enough fun?”

The study showed that even when there is an unconscious, subliminal connection between a request and a controlling figure, the reactance occurs. Literally, when you ask your child to do his homework, his subconscious turns that into a desire to goof-off!

What the heck can you do about that?

Performance improves when the requestor is seen as wanting the requestee to have fun.

Science to the rescue! If the person making the request is perceived as wanting the subject to have fun, then the reactance is lessened or eliminated.

That is exactly what we are all about at Sparks of Genius!

Our computer lab is called The Playground. We have fun at work. We juggle in groups with our students. We talk about having fun and incorporate as many fun activities into what we do. That isn’t so hard, considering our training consists almost entirely of playing video games. The result? Our students are cooperative, look forward to their sessions, and do not see us as trying to control their lives.

Let your child have more control to lower reactance.

What this means to parents is that if reactance is high in your child, there are two things you can do to ease the tension. First, look for areas in which you can let your child have more control. Give them choices, even if the choices are stacked, like, “Do you want to go out on Saturday and do homework on Sunday, or vice versa?”

Relate requests (what you want) to what your child wants (to have fun).

Second, phrase requests in terms of what the child wants, especially in terms of fun. For example:

“I want you to have fun with your friends and not have to worry about the garbage. Can you take it out now, so you don’t have to remember when you get home?”

“I know you want to play X-Box. I’ll tell you what. Let’s get the dishes done as fast as we can and I’ll extend bed time an extra ten minutes so we can play together.”

Now I know you want to go play pinochle with your friends, but if you practice this skill right now, you’ll have more fun and less frustration.

Get started using this skill right now and save up to $100 per year on aspirin!

Good Luck!

Allen Dobkin

Parenting as Alternative Therapy for Learning and Attention Issues

February 14, 2007

The New York Times has a great article about parenting as an alternative or supplement to therapy for Children’s Mental Disorders. What I liked about the article is how well this idea applies to the families we work with every day here in Boca Raton, FL. Take a look.

Parenting as Therapy for Child’s Mental Disorders
“But like most other parents, the couple preferred to avoid drug treatment, if possible. Instead, with the guidance of psychologists at the University of Buffalo, they altered the way they interacted with Peter and his younger brother, Scott. And over the course of a difficult year, they brought about a transformation in their son. He still has days when he gets into trouble, like any other 10-year-old, but he no longer exhibits the level of restless distractibility that earned him a psychiatric diagnosis.
”People are so stressed out, and it’s so much easier to say, ‘Here, take this pill and go to your room; leave me alone,’ ” Lisa Popczynski said….”But what I would say is that if you are willing to take on the responsibility of extra parenting, you can make a big difference.”

The way families interact can bring about a transformation in a child. The catch is that the transformation can be a good one or a harmful one. A chaotic, confrontational home life can cause any child to develop attention and behavior issues. Children with Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Aspergers syndrome (commonly misspelled Aspbergers or Asbergers; humorously as Assburgers) are especially sensitive.
The lesson here, I think, is that regardless of what treatment plan or educational plan is in place for a child, a faster, greater, longer-lasting transformation can be achieved if an emphasis on improving parenting is made.

Parents face a real challenge in altering their parenting styles to suit their individual children. Here are some suggestions that may help:

  1. Make the decision to ignore harmless “odd” behavior. Save your energy for the situations that count the most.
  2. Cut yourself some slack. Make time, as few as ten minutes a day, to sit quietly in a still room and relax with deep breathing.
  3. Avoid anxiousness-generating thoughts.
  4. Phrase requests in terms of what your child is really interested in. They may not care about school or homework, but they’ll climb the walls if they miss their favorite TV show.
  5. Keep the focus on empowering the child to get what they want. “You better do your homework or I’m going to take away your computer,” doesn’t work for a child with attention issues. He or she just can’t keep that thought in mind. Instead, try, “As soon as your homework is done, you can watch TV. Isn’t your show on in half an hour? Let’s get started.”
  6. Children with Attentional issues need lots of reminders. Post reminders all over the house: on doors, the fridge, bathroom mirror, backpacks, etc. Use checklists to empower the child to responsibility.
  7. They will get off-task. Practice judgement-free redirection. “Quit goofing off and do your homework,” is harmful. “Focus on your homework, please,” or “Only 15 minutes until your show is on. How’s that homework coming?” Try not to take it personally: your child really wants to do well, they just need help.
  8. Don’t react to negative behavior. Ignore what you want to go away, and praise like crazy when they do something you like.

Feel free to chime in with your own suggestions.

Good luck!
Allen Dobkin