This summer, I reread Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. This book basically discusses willpower in terms of self-control and self-regulation.The one chapter in this book that is most pertinent to raising children would be “Raising Strong Children: Self-Esteem Versus Self-Control”.
The biggest point that the authors make is that in the 1980's there was a big push to raise children’s self-esteem so that they would succeed better. But as more research was done, it was discovered that high self-esteem did not result in more success and better achievement. This initial assumption had it backwards because what was really at work was that when children experienced success and accomplishment, it raised their self-esteem. In fact all the general praise and recognition that we have given children when success and achievement was not even there has actually caused the societal problem of narcissism. The authors define narcissism as, “the self-absorbed conviction of personal superiority.”
Narcissism has been on the rise in North America for decades. What is the problem with narcissism? This chapter lists some of the big issues such as professors complaining that students feel entitled to high grades without having to study, and employers report problems with young workers who expect to have all the benefits of a high level executive job without actually paying their dues. In fact, news reports have stated that the under 34 age group has the highest rates of unemployment and college professors and teachers have also complained about parents expecting their children to get high grades without earning them. One documentary that highlights the issues of narcissism in today’s youth is CBC’s Hyper Parents, Coddled Kids. Although it does not use the word narcissism, as you watch it you can see that narcissism runs rampant in the examples that it highlights.
In this chapter, Baumeister and Tierney point out how the Asian parenting philosophy actually promotes self-control and results in the youngsters raised in this manner outperforming their peers, even outperforming their peers with higher IQs, which was once thought to be indicative of success. Youngsters raised in this manner do not exhibit high levels of narcissism. Typically, Asian cultures expect a higher level of self-control from their children even at an early age. An example would be expecting toddlers to be potty-trained at younger ages. As well, delayed gratification plays a large role in raising children. Not giving their children a big-ticket item until they have achieved a particular accomplishment. Mothers who emigrated from China most frequently mentioned setting high goals, enforcing tough standards, and requiring children to do extra homework.
Following the discussion on Asian parenting styles and their flourishing children, the authors then bring up examples of low expectations of American raised children that has allowed the nanny reality television shows to boom. These nanny shows typically show a home where the children are running wild and then a nanny comes in and establishes structure and discipline that is consistent above all else but also as immediate as possible. Consistency is the most important rule of discipline. The consequence itself does not need to be over the top. In fact it can be as mild as some firm words. It is good to have the consequence follow the misbehaviour as soon as possible for it to be as effective as possible.
This chapter also points out that “nearly all experts agree that children need and want clear rules, and that being held accountable for obeying the rules is a vital feature of healthy development.” As well, children need monitoring to develop a healthy sense of self-control. It has been found that a lack of adult supervision during the teenage years turned out to be one of the strongest predictors of criminal behavior. Children whose parents keep tabs on them are less likely to use illegal drugs. Parental monitoring helps kids develop self-control when parents remind and expect their children to behave according to standards that have been expressed and taught at home. Controlling one’s attention is also a crucial part of developing willpower. Television, even if it is quality programming does not teach people to control their attention. Reading, role play games, and other games that engage a child’s attention and focus for longer periods of time will help children learn to control their attention. That is a lot of valuable information packed into one chapter for parents, caregivers, and educators, to dig into when improving their ability to raise children with a healthy dose of self-control.