A Parent Perspective: 2021

As part of the District 181 Foundation Board I volunteer for, I have been asked to write a series of articles as a parent reflecting on the talks given by authors who have been invited to speak in our community’s school district. All the articles for this past year are shared here in the hopes that they support the concept of keen living within the context of parenting:

A Parent Perspective June 3, 2021:  District 181 Foundation Board Speaker Series Presentation from Nicholas Epley

To capstone the District 181 Foundation’s Speaker Series for 2020-2021, the Board invited, Nicholas Epley to speak to the parent community recently on his research that is current and topical for parents and students: “Type Less, Talk More.”

The talk touched on many effects of the pandemic, and emphasized a key need today:  connecting via talking in person or over the phone or video chat as opposed to texting or email or other more socially-removed forms of communication.  His points are well-taken from a parent perspective in terms of connecting not only with our children, but also in the ways we choose to communicate with friends, colleagues, and family.  Overall his points were current and informative.  One of my main takeaways as a parent is that I need to apply these concepts in order to model for my children how I want them to behave with technology. 

His main point of removing the isolation caused by the pandemic is important.  In essense, he was espousing the, “Tend and Befriend,” theory of social interaction.  For more information generally, see: https://thriveglobal.com/stories/tend-and-befriend-to-break-down-the-pandemic-wall/.  The scientific theories he included are interesting, and I wondered where does that leave us as parents?  How do I take what he gave as research and apply it in my own parenting practice? 

One instance I see as applicable is found in his inclusion of the train ride studies from the University of Chicago.  The overall findings lean toward the maxim – “kindness matters.”  The interactions he described where a person reached out to talk to another train rider resulted as a success as measured in contentment or happiness regarding the interaction.  It seemed to boost the mood of the rider who was befriended.  The discussion seemed to be a better, more valuable, more memorable use of the time riding the train than other non-social alternatives like reading the paper, checking email, texting, etc.  Check out the recording of the talk for more details. 

The kindness it took for the research participant to attempt to talk with another train rider may be intimidating for most people.  For example, striking up a conversation out of the blue with a stranger especially on a confined train ride is not something that a lot of people like to do.  However, I admire those who don’t hesitate in being kind.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be a full conversation for a whole train ride, but people who will say to a stranger – excuse me, did you drop this?  Or to a friend, Oh! That looks so nice on you.  Small interactions fueled with kind intent can have a way of making another person’s day brighten up.  The impact left is greater than one thinks. 

One example I can think of in terms of a person sharing kindness without hesitation is my son’s 5th grade teacher at Madison school, Mrs. Melonie Jackson.  She shares kind thoughts and stories about her students and has shared kind remarks about my son with me without hesitation.  She exudes kindness and thoughtfulness in her personal interactions as well as her written communications.  What a wonderful world it would be if there were more people like her brave enough to be kind without hesitation.

Overall, Nicholas Epley’s talk taught me more than just to make a phone call instead of texting.  His research and advice boils down to the fact that trying to be kind and considerate as parents, friends, neighbors, and even strangers can create a greater sense of connectedness. 

Thank you again to the District 181 Foundation Board Speaker Series Committee for this great talk and all the talks this past school year.  I look forward very much to the announcement of all the speakers for the 2021-2022 school year!

A Parent Perspective March 11, 2021:  Julie Lythcott-Haims

Another speaker through the District 181 Foundation’s Community Speaker Series, and another great educational parenting presentation.  I find that after every speaker I listen to through the District 181 Foundation’s Community Speaker Series, I take away another piece of the parenting jigsaw puzzle.  Listening to the presentation by Julie Lythcott-Haims shifted my mindset yet again about parenting.  This time, I think my perspective on parenting shifted in the sense that she reminded me of the disciplined parenting style that allows children to learn and fail on their own.  Like Jessica Lahey, a speaker many years ago for the District 181 Foundation and author of, “The Gift of Failure,” Julie Lythcott-Haims is teaching parents to let go and let children fly as well as fail. 

I anticipated the presentation because I listened to her book, “How to Raise An Adult,” last summer coincidentally after seeing it in the Hinsdale Library app for audiobooks, “Libby.”  I decided to download it to listen as my family drove cross country to Colorado for a summer vacation.  My husband and I listened as our children enjoyed movies using headphones in the backseat.  I found that her book compiled current research on child and adolescent development and made honest points about what not to do as a parent.  For example, one of her personal stories she shared in the book and shared during the presentation was that one night she sat down for dinner with her family and began cutting her 10 year-old son’s steak.  She stopped herself when she realized that she was so bothered by how inept children are coming of age as freshmen in college and yet here she was cutting her son’s steak for him when he was perfectly capable of doing it himself. 

I found that her presentation was very forthcoming in terms of her personal experience as a mother.  I remember there being personal stories of her experiences raising her own children in the book, but during her talk she shared many more stories about her son and daughter.  It seemed to me that her parenting has evolved over the course of the six or so years since the book was published.  Her children have grown up and are now 21 and 19.  She has gone through many struggles with parenting, and her openness is refreshing and inspiring.  Her story of her son taking so many advanced classes in high school that she sat down with him and offered for him to drop a class was a striking example of her struggling with her ideals and her values as a parent.  She ultimately let him decide what he wanted to do, and he dropped Spanish class.  

The anti-helicopter parent author may be a good way to describe Julie Lythcott-Haims.  She does not represent herself as a parenting expert or a psychologist.  In fact, she is a former corporate attorney and former Dean of Freshman Students at Stanford University.  But from her experiences both as a Dean and as a parent, she has gained great perspective on how we as parents can cripple our children’s development.  She shared that she found that students seemed disconnected from their achievements when they arrived to live and learn on campus.  She questioned when these students would desire to be in the driver’s seat of their own lives?  She summarized the situation well:  there is a lack of agency and resilience in most children and young adults.  She openly declares that we as parents need to get back in our lane, live more of our own life, and let our children take ownership of theirs.  Specifically, she shared many illustrations of how this can look in our own lives including how we need to teach our children to advocate for themselves with teachers, peers, roommates, etc., and stop intervening for them.   In addition, she advocates for taking a step back from academic involvement with our children.  Her presentation has so many thought-provoking stories in it.  I would encourage listening to the whole recording including the questions and answers at the end. 

After listening to her presentation, I took to heart a lot of her advice.  I feel very similar to how I felt after listening to Jessica Lahey’s, “The Gift of Failure,” speech and reading her book after she signed it for me following the presentation at the Community House.  I am inspired yet again to give my children more independence and responsibility.  I need to give them more chores and more opportunities to fail even if it is a soft fail at their ages of 10 and 8.  Something I took immediate action on is her call to cleanse.  Basically, as recommended in her section of the Program Book sent via email to all registered participants, I sat down with my older son, and went through her advice in the cleanse.  I told him I know I ask him a lot, a lot, a lot about whether he has done his schoolwork, what he got on a test, etc., and that I realize that may make him feel like I think he doesn’t care or can’t do it himself.  I promised that I would not ask him about academics for a week, and we shook on it!  I told him I know he can do this.  He can be the pilot.  He can fly the plane, drive the bus, whatever it is, and I will be here for him.  Let’s see how this goes!  It’s a start!

Thank you to the District 181 Foundation Board’s Community Speaker Series committee for organizing and having Julie Lythcott-Haims as a speaker.  She was direct, open, and insightful, as well as inspiring. 

A Parent Perspective, February 12, 2021: Speaker Series Presentation:  Madeline Levine, “Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World”

On February 10, 2021, I hastily ran to our nook office and zoomed in for the speaker series presentation one minute before 6pm.  I knew I had a limited amount of time to sit at my desk before I had to drive to pick up my daughter from dance class.  At which point, I anticipated listening to the zoom meeting while driving and then returning to the office to engage via video zoom for the remainder of the presentation.  Phew!  What happened to attending the speaker series at the Community House?  I suddenly missed that outing and experience as a parent.

Today, so many meetings via zoom are being juggled in our rapidly changing and uncertain world – the world our children face as well as the world we face as parents.  Listening to Madeline Levine, PhD., speak about her latest and certainly presciently written book: “Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World,”(https://madelinelevine.com/books/ready-or-not/) made me think, how did she know to write this?  What was she anticipating that she could have written this before the pandemic? 

From her talk, I gathered that after writing her other successful books, “Price of Privilege,” and “Teach Your Children Well,” and starting the Challenge Success center at Stanford University, she felt frustrated with the lack of parental changes she saw being made.  She advocates for broadening our parental definition of success for our children.  She defines this new meaning to be outside the scope of name brand colleges attended and high GPAs.   Instead, her definition of success includes valuing kindness to family members, valuing strength to overcome fears as well as valuing unloading a dishwasher. 

To make this book different and induce more changes, she decided to back off her typical sources for her books: her fellow psychologists researching children and parents’ behavior as well as educators researching in the field.  Instead, she chose to look to the military and business leaders.  Why?  These fields deal with rapid changes all the time.

What I was impressed with was her ability to recognize that something isn’t working in her own research and writing, to admit it, and change her own approach.  She feels so strongly about the need for change in how we parent and our children grow up, that she seemingly is putting herself on the line.  She even included that because she believes she and the other authors in her area of research are not making “adequate impact on our audience,” she choose to make this book.  

Fast forward to 2021, and her presentation adapted her advice in the book to the changes caused by the pandemic.  For example, before the pandemic she cited to the fact that one-third of children may have been diagnosed with anxiety.  She has found that due to the pandemic the numbers for anxiety in children have grown to three times what it used to be.  The group most affected by the pandemic she pointed out, is the teen to young adult group.  She explained that the restrictions set in place for the pandemic provide the exact opposite environment that this group needs to develop.  Not having the ability for them to hang out with friends in person, take risks, dating, etc., is in opposition to their brain’s natural inclination.  Her advice on how to deal with this situation was insightful and helpful – help kids find something purposeful.   An antidote of anxiety and depression is contribution.  She even stated her best success cases during the pandemic utilized this technique. 

Another impactful discussion point she had related to a quote she said is commonly used in the psychology community: “Genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.”  Given statistics to illustrate, she shared that anxiety has been found to be 30% genetics and 70% environment.  So that while we can’t change eye color, she explained, we can change mental illness.  I thought this was a hope-filled and empowering professional opinion.  One way that she has found success in providing an environment that reduces the risk for anxiety is by giving kids control over certain decisions.  Letting them pick the twenty minute timeframe when they practice an instrument or whether they start with math or reading during remote learning seemed like good starting points.  In addition, she emphasized how important it is to teach kids to have a good attitude.  This may seem like an intrinsic skill, but according to Dr. Levine, this can and must be taught.  Some ways to teach would seem to be by role modeling, teaching optimism by asking questions, or talking to them about the bigger picture when they are down about the little things. 

Dr. Levine segued into several stories that I found enlightening and impressive that she felt open to share with a larger audience, especially because they were about her own experience parenting her sons.  First, she shared the importance of cultivating and valuing emotional intelligence.  Her story of her son coming with her to apply for a mortgage at a bank served to illustrate how powerful emotional intelligence is and can be valued in the workforce.  She shared that her son, who was a senior in college at the time, asked her if he could go with her for a meeting at the bank in which she was applying for a mortgage.  During the meeting with the bank branch manager, she said he listened and noticed that she would need to feed the meter so he offered to go outside and do that.  Then, he noticed her voice wearing down and asked if she would like for him to make her a tea out in the lobby, followed by asking the branch manager as well.  At the end of the meeting, they were finished, and out of nowhere, the branch manager asked her son if he wanted a job.  She had noticed his perceptive and sensitive actions.  She said she could teach skills, but that he is the kind of person she would want in her office. 

Dr. Levine’s story supports her theory that we as parents are looking to the wrong indicators for success.  Society tells us to look at grades and standardized test scores to measure our children’s success and thereby our success as parents.  Instead, she emphasizes looking to their behavior.  How do they treat others?  Are they likely to stop and help a friend or just keep running? 

Even more revealing, she shared stories about how her sons got in trouble for drinking under the legal age and throwing a party at her home.  She opened up about how the experience affected her personally and professionally.  In particular, the incident at the school dance for her son resulted in a great parenting moment.  Her husband’s reaction to the three-day suspension for their son was, “This is the greatest thing that could happen!”  Not understanding at the time, but able to reflect now years later, the suspension served as a kind of deterrent for her son.  This spoke to me as a parent because being able to step back and look at seemingly negative situations as a learning opportunity for the children and teachable moment as a parent is a great perspective to have.  The stepping back technique is a tool to practice with and be able to reach for at any time with my children.

Related to her discussion of emotional intelligence, she emphasized how important self-regulation is for children and ultimately parents.  She explained that we as parents are the environment for our children most of the time, especially now during the pandemic.  We need as parents to take care of ourselves and our well-being to reflect back to our children a healthy, loving environment.  How do we teach self-regulation though?  I had to wonder myself.  This seemed to me to relate to the, “name it to tame it,” theory in that we as parents need to model expressing our feelings to our children ranging from happiness to frustration to help calm our emotional surges.  I thought she emphasized the need for children to practice self-regulation so much so that I made note to follow these steps more often and model to my own children the “name it to tame it” process.   

Dr. Levine had so many fantastic opinions and illustrative stories during her presentation.  I definitely agree with her stance that we need to broaden our definition of success.  I found her Stanford University affiliated organization online to learn more: www.challengesuccess.org.  I especially recommend listening to the District 181 Foundation’s recording of her presentation’s Question & Answer section toward the end of her presentation.  So many of her answers were on the spot and yet thoughful and again personal in nature from time to time which helped bring her point home even more.  The topics ranged from how to prepare your child for college to educating children that they are being manipulated by social media.  She even gave permission – a little – to parents to ease up on the screen time limitations during the pandemic.  Check out her explanation in the recording.

Overall, I would highly recommend listening to Dr. Levine, checking out her websites, and reading her books.  I know I have now added her top three books to my list.  Thank you to the District 181 Foundation Community Speaker Series committee for engaging Dr. Levine to speak again (2nd time speaking to our community) for this year’s program.  A timely and validating presentation.   

To learn more about the District 181 Foundation and all the wonderful programming the Foundation provides please go to: http://www.d181foundation.org/

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