How to be a better parent: 3 counterintuitive lessons from science
Fighting in front of your kids is actually encouraged — as long as you resolve the problem later
1) Peer pressure can be a good thing
Myth: Peer pressure is always bad, just leading kids to drinking, drugs, and vandalism.
Fact: The same instinct that makes some kids so vulnerable to peer pressure also makes them better students, friends and, eventually, partners.
The same kids who were very vulnerable to peer pressure turn out to have great grades, do well in high school, and go to college. As they get older in life they have great relationships with their best friends, their partners, and their parents.
It turns out that thing that makes a kid in seventh grade very attuned to the thoughts and feelings of others around them is what makes them feel peer pressure. It turned out that peer pressure was dragging kids toward risk behaviors but it is also dragging them to do well at school, to care what their teachers thought, to care what their parents thought, to care what the school thought, and to care what society thinks.
These kids that are invulnerable to peer pressure turn out to have low GPAs. Their motivation to study just wasn't strong enough. It was entirely based upon themselves because they didn't care what society thought.
2) It's okay — even good — to fight in front of your kids
Myth: It's bad for kids to see their parents fighting.
Fact: It's good for kids to see parents fight — as long as they also see them resolve the problem. This is how children learn to stand up for themselves while also preserving a relationship.
The kids who see conflicts resolved in their homes are ones that are able to do that with their peers, with their teachers. It empowers them terrifically for their life.
Most kids never see their parents making up. Even if that never happens, it's really important for parents to say, "I know you saw us arguing and that's fine." On the ride to school. "I want you to know how we resolved it. Mom said this. Dad said this. We resolved to do it this way. We worked it out."
3) Teens who argue are good teens
Myth: Teens who argue are rebellious and need to learn their place.
Fact: Teens need to learn to negotiate and they need to be rewarded for being reasonable. Parents with zero tolerance for "talking back" teach kids that lying is the only way to get what you want.
We have a generation of parents who were raised on Dr. Phil. "No must mean no." Which is fine if we are talking about a three year-old talking about getting his binky or something. We are talking about teenagers who are mature human beings who need to know how to compromise and reconcile.
Actually, the scientists are the opposite of Dr. Phil: "If your child is negotiating with you in a reasonable way and they are earnest and make a really good point, give in." Giving in rewards them for being reasonable and you will have an increasingly reasonable teenager instead of an unreasonable one. It's when you don't give in even when they are being reasonable that you are denying them the power of reason itself and the power of being friendly. You are not rewarding them for this good negotiating behavior and it leads them to try other drastic stuff.
In families where there is less lying to the parents, there is more arguing. Arguing is the opposite of lying. Arguing is the way the kid decides not to lie. "I could lie to my parents and just do it. Or I can tell the truth and argue it out." Those are the choices the teen has.
What the research taught him about being a dad
Like a lot of parents, I was trying to manipulate my child's perception of the world so that it would be for his or her own advantage. It was still manipulative. I could get caught at one point. I just realized the most important thing was that my children see me as a parent as credible, as telling the truth and being honestly able to help them. Not being full of gas or inflated statements or using scare tactics but to have integrity and honesty to be the rule of that relationship.
Maybe a kid would be asking about something that was much more adult. You don't have to tell them everything. You give them an appropriate amount. Tell the truth. If you tell the kids the truth they will love you for it. You build the foundation of that relationship. That's what is guiding me. I have tried mostly not to lie to my kids. Use honesty first. In the long term that is what has guided me.
Po interviewed about NurtureShock on WNYC:
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