One morning, Day 6 of our Walkout, one of my teenage daughters told me she was going out to breakfast with her boyfriend. She’d been out a lot that week: There were pre-prom activities, “The Prom,” and then post-prom outings.
As a recovering Tiger Mom, I’ve bitten my tongue when I want to ask about tell her to do her schoolwork. I’ve backed off (been over a year now), because I wanted to go from Tiger (ferocious and unforgiving) to Owl (wise and patient).
Since my own transformation, her grades have improved dramatically (4.1 GPA), she’s obtained her driving permit license, played violin at All-State and she’s noticeably happier.
But that morning, I voiced concern about her responsibilities. Inwardly, I judged her social calendar. She’s going out too much. She’s not working hard enough. How will she get a college scholarship?
Do you hear the fear?
Her smiling face turned dark. “I’m communicating to you my plans. Why do you want to pick a fight?”
And I answered confessed, “I am struggling inwardly. I know I should not say this. You know what? I trust that you know what you need to do and that you will do it.” Ah! Good catch!
And we were fine.
I chose love over fear.
People (who are “people” anyway?) might argue: “You are her parent. It’s your job to get on her about her responsibilities. You can’t let her run all over you like that.” But she’s not running all over me. She’s living her life. She is her own person and she knows what she’s doing. She’s not putting herself in danger. She’s not putting others in danger. I would say (and do) something if that was the case.
Too many Tiger Parents make the same mistakes over and over again. They communicate to their children that the outside is more important than the inside: grades, colleges and achievements are more important than knowing who you really are…more important than having fun with friends and learning how to navigate social waters. I’ve had several 5th and 6th grade students cry and tell me that they are receiving oppressive pressure at home.
Thus, I continue to choose love over fear. It’s challenging at times. Fear can look like caring, or “good parenting” or “discipline.” But it doesn’t feel quite right. Love always feels true.
The author of this book, Paul Tough, did NOT graduate from college!
Tough does not fit the demographic of college dropouts: He came from a well-to-do family; and got admitted to (and briefly attended) Columbia University.
However, he was rebellious after high school (where he did very well). Inspired by Jack Kerouac, he wanted to travel and do something uncertain, unsafe…something he felt uncertain if he could succeed at. Believe he would learn more on the road than on the campus.
Steve Jobs’ famous graduation speech at Stanford (2005): Job told graduates that dropping out “had been one of the best decisions I ever made.”
allowed him to take classes he was interested in (calligraphy, typography)
this led to his creative typography in personal computers – distinguished Mac from all other computers
Biggest failure – being fired from Apple – a very public failure
allowed him to reorient himself and his work that led to his greatest successes: buying and transforming Pixar, getting married, returning to Apple rejuvenated
“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything.”
Paul Tough: became a magazine editor and journalist. Twenty-four years after dropping out of Columbia, Tough quit the New York Times and wrote this book.
2. LG Parenting
Remember the high and low level Licking and Grooming experiment with rats?
Paul Tough thinks about that often now that he has become a new father.
Realizes that the most reliable way to produce and adult who is brave and curious and kind and prudent is to ensure that when he is an infant, his hypo-pituitary-adrenal his functions well. How?
Protect him from serious trauma and chronic stress;
provide him with secure, nurturing relationship with at least one parent, ideally, two.
provide lots of comforting, hugging, talking and reassuring;
also provide discipline, rules, limits, someone to say “no”;
help him to learn how to manage failure;
“More and more graduates from prestigious colleges are going into investment banking and management consulting and far fewer become artists, entrepreneurs and iconoclasts. Why? Because Wall Street decision is easier…they are driven by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything in particular.” p. 184
3. A Different Challenge
Liberals and conservatives differ greatly on how the government should aid families in poverty, but just about everyone agrees we need to do something.
“The government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep.”
In 2012, the child poverty rate was 22%. This means between a fifth and a quarter of American children are growing up in poverty. (From 1966 to 2010, the child poverty rate was 15%.)
Unsurprisingly, children who grow up in poor families in the United States do very poorly in school.
If we can help poor children escape the cycle of poverty, we can help them improve their academic skills and academic outcomes.
Conclusion: We could replicate on a big, national scale the accomplishments of the schools outlined in this book and make a huge dent on poverty’s impact on children’s success.
4. A Different Kind of Reform p. 189
For a long time, educational reform was focused on teacher quality and they way teachers are hired, trained, compensated and fired.
Whatever your stance, research on teachers remains inconclusive in some important ways:
we don’t know how to reliably predict who will be a top-tier teacher in any given year;
variations in teacher quality accounted for less than 10% of the gap between high and low-performing students.
The only official indicator of the economic status of an American public-school student today is his or her eligibility for a school-lunch subsidy.
If you qualify for subsidies, you probably can’t afford adequate shelter, nutritious food, new clothes, books or educational toys. Statistically, you are likely being raised by a poorly educated, never-married single mother.
5. The Politics of Disadvantage
The biggest obstacles to academic success that poor children, especially very poor children, often face: a home and a community that create very high levels of stress, and the absence of a secure relationship with a caregiver that would allow a child to manage that stress.
Character matters: grit, resilience, perseverance and optimism.
Perry Preschool – 128 children in poverty randomly chosen to attend high-quality preschool program. Experts believe that the school gave a return between $7 to $12 for each dollar spent.
The website displays data that starting quality education for the very poor at an early age has lasting effects (through the participants’ 40s)!
Here is a continuation of my notes on Paul Tough’s research regarding “grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character” as it pertains to children:
Grit p. 74
“Duckworth realized self-control has limitations. She believed that a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission are more relevant when it comes to inventing something new or creating an award-winning (movie)/project. She called this characteristic grit.”
She created a 12 (now 10) question survey that turned out to be a remarkably accurate predictor of success.
It was more accurate a predictor of graduation rates for West Point than their own assessments.
Levin, Randolph, Seligman and Peterson narrowed a set of strengths that were indicators of life success and happiness:
They then created a “character report card”
Much confusion among educators regarding “character” – is it moral? Is it “performance character?”
Wealthy families may have “helicopter” parents (parents who hover over their kids as they do homework, sports, etc) but that does NOT mean they are spending quality family time together. In fact, many high-achieving, wealthy families are not closely bonded.
Madeline Levine, psychologist in Marin County, says that wealthy parents are more emotionally distant than any other parent from their children
Intense feelings of shame and hopelessness in their kids
Levine was inspired by Suniya Luthar, psychology professor at Columbia Univ who did a comparison study between low-income and high-income households.
Found 22% of wealthy kids suffered elevated rates of depression and clinically significant symptoms
35% of affluent kids tried all four substances (alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and harder illegal drugs
15% of poor kids tried all four
Dan Kindlon, assistant professor of child psychology at Harvard, also found an emotional disconnect between wealthy kids and their parents
These parents were overly indulgent in their children’s bad behavior
Parents making more than $1 million said that they were far less strict than their own parents
A little hardship – discomfort – is good for children!
This is an issue in private schools – telling parents they are not parenting properly means you are criticizing your employers (clients)
A school like Riverdale (expensive, private – graduates include Chevy Chase, Carly Simon, etc) is not meant to help raise the ceiling, but to raise the floor = give kids a high probability of nonfailure.
They do not develop grit
Discipline p. 86
KIPP used to practice a lot of disciplinary action (some of which Levin regretted)
SLANT – stand up, listen, ask questions, nod, and track – taught at KIPP 5th grade
Code-switching – you must learn and practice proper behavior for the museum, college interview and nice restaurants
Rich kids at Riverdale wear casual clothes and slouch
Kids at KIPP are taught to have good posture and track teachers…formal speech
The administrators of both schools disagree on this point – what should students be taught?
This post is designed mainly to hold myself accountable for research. I hope you can glean something from it at the same time. The following are my notes from Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed”:
Simon p. 19
Data has shown (for a long time) that executive function correlates with family income
Childhood poverty affects executive function (Cornell Univ., Gary Evans, Michelle Schamberg)
Working memory – ability to keep a bunch of facts in your head at the same time
“Simon” – children’s game
Kids in poverty for 10 years did worse than kids in poverty for 5
Evans and Schamberg also measured biological stress (They created their own allostatic load data) – BP, cortisol levels, body mass index, etc). Of kids when they were nine and then thirteen
When they factored out the allostatic load, poverty factor disappeared. Thus, it is not POVERTY that compromises exec-function abilities, it’s the STRESS that went with it!
Why is this important? Because in high school, college, and the workplace, life is filled with tasks where working memory is crucial to success.
Prefrontal cortex is more responsive to intervention than other parts – stays flexible into early adulthood.
Early childhood – bodies and brains are most sensitive to effects of stress and trauma
Adolescence – can lead to most serious and long-lasting problems
The reason teenage years are most perilous: incentive processing system reaches full power while the cognitive control system isn’t matured until early 20s.
Thomas Gaston (“Mush”) kicked out and sent to Vivian E. Summers Alternative HS
He didn’t like it, but he did well
Until he carjacked someone
Potential sentence of 21 years was changed to 8 months of boot camp
Mush took his allostatic load and turned outward with violence (fighting, acting up in class). Some kids turn it inward (fear, anxiety, sadness, self-doubt).
Mush decided to “not care” after his 14 year old brother was shot and killed.
Social, economic and neurochemical factors are at play. A 10 year old vs. a 14 year old: we sympathize with the 10 year old.
There is an antidote to the ill effects of childhood stress!
It is biochemical.
Michael Meaney (McGill University)
Rats and mothering – some were nurturing, others not.
“LG” – Licking and Grooming (High vs. Low)
It is not necessarily the biological mother, but the REARING mother’s behavior that counts.
“Methylation” – the way certain chemicals are affixed to certain sequences on DNA
Showed that subtle parenting behaviors had predictable and long-lasting DNA-related effects
Researchers studied brains of suicide victims – some had childhood abuse, some did not
Showed that childhood abuse affected DNA
Clancy Blair (NYU) is reinforcing the finding that high-quality mothering can act as a powerful buffer to abuse
Regular good parenting – being helpful and attentive – can make a profound difference for a child’s future prospects.
“Attachment Theory” (Bowlby and Ainsworth) 1960s and 70s – The Strange Situation: mothers would bring a child into a room, and then leave and then return. The children who greeted their mothers warmly and enthusiastically were “securely attached”. Those children who reacted with tears or anger were “anxiously attached.”
Ainsworth: Reactions were directly related to degree of responsiveness in first year of life.
“Early attachment created psychological effects that could last a lifetime.”
Waters and Sroufe – set up a Child Development Institute with Egeland
The Development of the Person – book is fullest evaluation of long-lasting effects of parental involvement on child’s development (2005)
Found: attachment theory was not absolute – sometimes anxious babies could overcome, BUT it is highly predictive of outcomes later in life
Anxiously attached children are more often labeled mean, antisocial and immature
Lieberman (Child Trauma Research Program at UCSF)
Believes two important ideas missing from Sroufe and Egeland study:
Plainly difficult for some mothers to provide secure attachments in overwhelming life circumstances (poverty, violence, mother’s own childhood history)
Parents can overcome their own histories of trauma and can change their approach but most will need help.
Lieberman’s work focuses on strengthening bond between parent and child
Dante Cicchetti used Lieberman’s work and took 137 families with histories of child maltreatment. Half were given a year of parent-child psychotherapy the other half given the standard community services. When children were 2, 61% of the children in psychotherapy formed secure attachment.
His study proves that attachment-promoting therapies work.
Dozier, of ABC, shows that even if just the parent receives the therapy, children benefit
Makayla – a study in focusing on mother/child attachment.
“There is a very direct correlation between family issues and what the kids present in school.” The focus on creating family attachments where there are none (in Roseland, for example), have many setbacks, but inspirations form and lead to success.
Father was a “player” and mother addicted to cocaine.
Sexually molested in sixth grade – didn’t tell mom, afraid mom would blame her
Got angrier and angrier and took it out at school – caused fights
Got a mentor in Lanita Reed, a hair salon owner
Developed a “big sister” bond with Keitha – teaching her about manicures, pedicures, hair…
“My whole outlook on life changed” Keitha said
Instead of fighting, asked Reed what to do about girls picking on her at school
They arranged a talk and it worked – everything was resolved.
Sexual molester started touching Keitha’s sister and Keitha felt guilt – did not want her sister to be removed from home.
Reed arranged to have the man removed from the home.
Mother was not supportive (lost $300 in rent)
Keitha: “I’m not going to let my past affect my future.”
Determined to graduate, she took night classes five days a week
June 2011, she graduated and attended Truman College, a community college
“Five years from now, I picture myself in my own apartment with my own money…and my little sisters, they can live with me.”