The three best gifts you can give your kids

Equip them to ex­cel in life with these skills

Thornhill Post - - Kids - JOANNE KATES Par­ent­ing colum­nist Joanne Kates is an ex­pert ed­u­ca­tor in the ar­eas of con­flict me­di­a­tion, self-es­teem and anti-bul­ly­ing, and she is the di­rec­tor of Camp Arowhon in Al­go­nquin Park.

What do kids need, re­ally need, in or­der to thrive?

A smart guy at Univer­sity of Rochester did a study on just that, and he, Richard Ryan, iden­ti­fied three psy­cho­log­i­cal re­quire­ments for kids to thrive: Au­ton­omy, mas­tery and con­nec­tion.

One would hope for schools to sup­ply at least the op­por­tu­nity for these to oc­cur. Be­cause they don’t oc­cur by magic. For kids to de­velop the big three, they re­quire adults to set the scene. Or, more pre­cisely, to get out of the way.

This has never been more ur­gent than to­day, for you are the first gen­er­a­tion of par­ents to raise chil­dren who spend 24/7 with a com­puter in their pocket.

The data on how this af­fects chil­dren are just be­gin­ning to come out, and the news is not good. The screen gen­er­a­tion is prone to de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety — thanks to hav­ing to mea­sure up to ev­ery­one else’s on­screen mar­ket­ing of them­selves and also thanks to know­ing just how left out they are of some­thing ev­ery 10 sec­onds.

And thanks also to their ad­dic­tion to “likes” ev­ery time they hit re­fresh. No like = no dopamine = no happy.

We are also com­ing to un­der­stand how badly Google has af­fected kids. I ask a teenager to sweep a floor. They give me a blank look. Or make a grilled cheese sand­wich. Same blank look. Chores? Phys­i­cal labour? Can you Google it? If not, they’re lost.

Mas­tery is what hap­pens when they can do it. What­ever it is. It’s not the spe­cific task that mat­ters, it’s the sense of mas­tery that grows self-con­fi­dence and the abil­ity to take on chal­lenges.

School of­fers am­ple op­por­tu­nity for mas­tery. The prob­lem is of­ten that we, as par­ents, get in the way. I sure did when my kids were young. Help­ing with home­work and call­ing teach­ers when things did not go as planned were my two favourite ways of tak­ing charge of my kids’ ed­u­ca­tion. I thought I was help­ing.

Fast-for­ward: My daugh­ter is do­ing a Mas­ter’s in So­cial Work at Columbia Univer­sity in New York. The first week of school they send her to a place­ment at an in­ner-city com­mu­nity cen­tre in the Bronx. Daunt­ing sub­way ride. Daunt­ing streets. Un­fa­mil­iar kids. I’m scared. I want to call Columbia, to ask in shock how they can send her there with zero train­ing.

A friend talks me down off that ledge. Thank good­ness, for how else could my child have at­tained mas­tery?

The sec­ond qual­ity they need is in­de­pen­dence, in or­der to de­velop au­ton­omy. Au­ton­omy hap­pens when chil­dren are given space to make their own de­ci­sions, mess up and learn. In­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing… for par­ents. Here too we des­per­ately want to smooth their ev­ery path and to pre­vent risk. This rises from our own fear for their safety and suc­cess. In the short term it might raise grades and re­duce skinned knees. Longer term, au­ton­omy suf­fers.

And fi­nally, con­nec­tion, that most ba­sic of hu­man needs af­ter food and shel­ter. Kids to­day are hav­ing a harder time con­nect­ing with each other than any pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion, thanks again to their de­vices. Their dozens of weekly hours on­screen put them in vir­tual con­tact, which is a poor sub­sti­tute for ac­tual face-to-face hu­man con­nec­tion. They don’t get to prac­tice get­ting along with each other, or hav­ing nor­mal tiffs and solv­ing them. This makes them not such great team play­ers.

It also de­prives kids of one of the big­gest up­sides of in­ter­per­sonal con­nec­tion: Val­i­da­tion of who we are. In close re­la­tion­ships, we con­stantly re­ceive mostly sub­tle sig­nals that re­in­force our worth. Ab­sent those stim­uli, more kids are more in­se­cure than ever be­fore. Which means par­ents try too hard to feed the val­i­da­tion beast. Which doesn’t help.

When we, as par­ents, tell our kids how won­der­ful they are, it tends to back­fire. They doubt the ver­ity of our val­i­da­tions, and then ques­tion them­selves more.

How to uptick their self­es­teem? Pro­vide op­por­tu­nity for them to do things that make them proud of them­selves. Most es­pe­cially the big three: Mas­tery, au­ton­omy and con­nec­tion!

Univer­sity of Rochester’s Richard Ryan

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