Archive for the ‘ Must Read ’ Category

Hands Off, Eyes On: Letting Kids Take Risks They Can Handle

Friday, March 21st, 2014

There is a consensus brewing that we are depriving this current generation of young kids a chance to do what they are not only equipped to do, but need to do – take some risks. And we’re not talking about trivial ones, either. Chrisanne Grise raises the issue that kids may need to learn how to handle “dangerous” things like power tools, make fires, and derive the benefits that occur from “playing with knives.” These kinds of opportunities used to be a part of growing up, but some worry that kids are being sheltered from these key learning experiences – done of course with adult supervision – because of excessive and inappropriate fear.


Hanna Rosin focuses on some of the misguided reasons we are raising “The Overprotected Kid” in the Atlantic. She details our preoccupation with kids’ safety that goes beyond the actual risks. For example, while many parents don’t want their kids to wander in their neighborhoods alone because of fear of abduction, a review of the statistics suggests that abduction by a stranger is a very rare occurrence, and that the rate has not increased over the years. What’s changed is simply the perception. The same goes for injury. She describes a new kind of playground that is filled with all kinds of potential “dangerous” objects and opportunities for calculated risks – in some ways, one that looks more like a junkyard than a playground. It’s been suggested, by Rosin and others, that we need more of this for our kids, because our playgrounds have become designed to prevent injury rather than promote appropriate risk taking – assuming that kids even go there because of overriding safety concerns.

In principle, I agree with this emerging perspective. For many kids growing up today, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to practice risk taking. Risk taking is an important skill – every kid needs to learn how to stretch themselves, how to do something that they are a little scared of doing because they haven’t done it before. Part of the reason for “overprotection” is certainly the parental gravitation to fear. This is certainly evident in terms of the physical environment as discussed by Rosin, Grise, and others. The solution is somewhat straightforward – providing what I describe as “Hands Off, Eyes On” opportunities for kids. While you might not want to send your kid to a camp or playground that champions fire making, the broader idea is certainly a good one. We want to know they are in an environment where they can take a supervised risk, and we want to let them have a chance to fall and risk getting hurt.


I contend, however, that much of the parental mindset that inhibits risk taking isn’t driven by fear of injury – it’s more about concern with success. While many kids aren’t wandering around playgrounds and playing in junkyards, they are doing structured physical activities that carry plenty of risk of injury. Think about the current concern about concussions in football. Have a look at the risk for serious injury that comes with being a cheerleader. We’re quick to dismiss these risks because we see the link with potential for achievement. We don’t see the same connection for unstructured play. “Play” may be in fact less dangerous than our structured sports – yet we focus more on the risk because we don’t see the benefit. This is the case even though the physical, social, and cognitive virtues of exploration have been well articulated many times in both the academic and popular press. It’s just harder to see the immediate deliverables of that experience as compared to watching a kid hit a home run. And this broader concern with success is not limited to the playground or sports field. “Overprotection” certainly happens in the social and academic realms as well, as phrases like “helicopter parent” have become not only mainstream but cliches. There is plenty of social and academic risk taking that can also be inhibited because of the perception of risk (e.g., a bad grade) as opposed to the benefit of pushing oneself in a new direction (e.g., a child taking a class in a new area of study that will eventually lead them to doing something with that experience even if they don’t get an “A”).


So where do we take all this? Gail O’Connor suggests that we all – parents and kids alike – benefit if parents become less “hands-on.” It’s a healthy perspective and one worth considering. We can, of course, be “eyes on” though, to make sure we are exposing kids to risks that they can handle. For some, this may mean letting them walk around their neighborhood. For others, that may not be the case. Parents can define for themselves what life skills they want their kids to have and how to let them begin to acquire them. What’s important is that we embrace the idea that risk taking is a part of childhood, and it’s more about the process of learning how to take meaningful risks – rather than the immediate payoff – that will serve kids best in the long run.

Kid in Snow via

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Pertussis: Celebrities Talk About The Vaccine For Parents

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Pertussis (Whooping Cough) continues to be a serious health issue for babies, one that can lead to death. One the primary ways to reduce the risk for babies is for adults to get the vaccine. Not just parents – but any adult who has regular contact with the baby.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, the current Sounds of Pertussis campaign ambassador, offers clear and heartfelt advice for parents and other adults in a babies life in a current goodyblog post that I encourage you to read.

In addition, I include here a video interview with Jeff Gordon, who has also championed the mission of the Sounds of Pertussis campaign. Please note that this interview also includes the heartbreaking story of one brave mom who has shared her own tragedy to help others.

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Baby Sports Stars: Can A Toddler Be A Sports Prodigy?

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

How early can you see extraordinary sports ability? Well, consider that, in Europe, toddlers are being signed to professional contracts as footballers (soccer players). For example, last fall a 20-month-old was scooped up after his father had posted a YouTube video showing his ball handling and kicking skills.

While sports signings have gotten younger and younger over the years, this story is intriguing to say the last because, well, it’s really hard to tell what toddlers are going to be like when they grow up. We could dig up examples of many athletes who showed promise at an early age, or advanced abilities. You can watch a clip of a toddler named Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball on national television when he was not yet three years old. And of course, the discussion doesn’t have to be limited to sports – similar stories could be found about musical prodigies.

We will have to wait more than a decade to find out how these toddlers fare as professional athletes. They may in fact turn out to become professionals and maybe even excel. But before we see a surge of YouTube videos of kids demonstrating their sports skills, let’s keep a few things in mind.

First, it’s really hard to figure out who’s going to be great even when athletes are turning professional at the normative ages. Think about the extraordinary time, effort and expertise that goes into drafting professional football players. Think about the careful decision making that results in a player being selected as a first round draft pick. The assumption would be that they all become stars. In fact, over the last decade or so, only about 30% of all the first round draft picks have been selected as Pro Bowl players.

Check out the list of Heisman Trophy winners (“the most prestigious award in college football”) and see how many have become stars. Think about who’s not on that list, players like Tom Brady. Consider his career trajectory. He was a backup quarterback for his first 2 years in college, and was drafted in the 6th round with the 199th pick. Yes, 198 players were drafted before the player who is frequently called the best football player ever. Have a look at the 6 quarterbacks drafted before Brady and see how their careers compare to his.

The point is that it’s hard for decision makers to look into that crystal ball even when athletes are of age and have gone through all the requisite training before turning professional. There are certainly objective benchmarks that are measured as they do in the NFL scouting combine. Interviewing is done to assess character and motivation. There is no shortage of performance data and video. Yet it’s still a probabilistic process at best.

All of this is offered because many of us want to put our children in a position to excel at earlier and earlier ages. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But the problem becomes when the stakes get raised when kids should just be growing up and learning to love the things that they are doing. Excessive pressure to achieve is not to be confused with support and encouragement to do their best. There’s no need to document this pressure. You can see it at any age. Certainly not all parents, not even the majority of parents. But that feeling is palpable. Kids aren’t just playing a game. They are performing with a lot riding on it, well before an age where that should be a relevant concern. And that fact is kids are most likely to succeed when they invest their time in something that they like and learn to love.

Some “prodigies” do in fact go on to experience great success as professionals. Many don’t. We often hear about the “numerator” in that fraction – the number who achieve that level of success. We don’t typically hear as much about the “denominator” – those individuals plus all those who don’t reach that ultimate level of greatness.

So when you hear about prodigies, or see other kids who look like they are going to be stars, don’t up the pressure on your kid. Make sure they are getting the most out of their experiences – their successes and their failures. Encourage their effort and enthusiasm and determination and their growth. Let them find their passions over time, even if it takes some time. And in that process they will define their own success.

Also check out the following blog posts on “success”:

Success and Character

Authentic Success

The Triple Package

What career will your child have? Take our quiz to find out!

Hoop It Up Cake
Hoop It Up Cake
Hoop It Up Cake

Boy Kicking Ball in Field via

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Success and Character and Parenting

Monday, March 10th, 2014

In recent years, the word “success” has been batted around in parenting culture. This series of blog posts considers a number of views of what “success” might mean – and how that influences how we parent. 

In prior blog posts, I’ve discussed typical benchmarks of success that we may (or may not) prioritize for our children, including academic, professional, and financial achievement. I’ve also highlighted alternate perspectives that argue for more balance in our goals, in order to make sure our kids are also happy and lead psychological fulfilling lives.

What’s interesting is that these two orientations are not mutually exclusive and the idea of “balance” in fact supports success in the long run. It’s worth revisiting the premise of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. The book suggests that, if we take a long-term view on child development, character traits are often critically important factors for fueling the pursuit of achievement across developmental stages. So if we want to nurture “success,” we can’t just focus on skill development, but also the development of character.

There is a good deal of research on the importance of resilience, optimism, and the like in development. We could add to the list the downside of stress and depression and anxiety. From the perspective of parenting, pushing kids relentlessly to pursue success (e.g., extreme pressure to get good grades or achieve in a sport) can backfire. But this doesn’t mean you just let kids be and hope for the best. Focusing on fostering psychological investment in the process of working hard, having goals, and handling setbacks positions kids better for evolving the many skills they will need to chase after “success.”

What career is your child destined for? Take our quiz and find out.

Manners & Responsibility:  3 Manners Toddlers Should Know
Manners & Responsibility:  3 Manners Toddlers Should Know
Manners & Responsibility: 3 Manners Toddlers Should Know

Also in this series:

The Triple Package

Authentic Success

Little Girl in Roller Skates Getting Back Up via


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Does Playing With Barbie Limit Girls Career Choices?

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

“Playing with Barbie dolls can limit girls career choices, study shows.”

Well, let’s take this one step at a time.

What Did This Study Do?

From the press release:

Girls ages 4 to 7 were randomly assigned to play with one of three dolls: a fashion Barbie with dress and high-heeled shoes; a career Barbie with a doctor’s coat and stethoscope; or a Mrs. Potato Head with accessories such as purses and shoes. Mrs. Potato Head was selected as a neutral doll because the toy is similar in color and texture, but doesn’t have the sexualized characteristics of Barbie.

After a few minutes of play, the girls were asked if they could do any of 10 occupations when they grew up. They were also asked if boys could do those jobs. Half of the careers were traditionally male-dominated and half were female-dominated.

One important thing to keep in mind: a total of 37 girls were studied.

What Did This Study Find?

Again, from the press release:

Girls who played with Barbie thought they could do fewer jobs than boys could do. But girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head reported nearly the same number of possible careers for themselves and for boys.

There was no difference in results between girls who played with a Barbie wearing a dress and the career-focused, doctor version of the doll.

What Was The Conclusion From This Study?

Once more, from the press release:

Childhood development is complex, and playing with one toy isn’t likely to alter a child’s career aspirations … But toys such as dolls or action figures can influence a child’s ideas about their future …

What Is The Take-Home Message From This Study?

Well, much less than the headline “Playing with Barbie dolls can limit girls career choices, study shows” might imply. The conclusion summarized above is a reasonable perspective. But let’s face it – this study is quite limited in scope. Only 37 girls were studied and they were distributed in age between 4 and 7 years old. This is hardly a platform for making inferences about the impact of playing with Barbie. To do that properly (and I admit I come from a tradition of epidemiological research which can have pretty rigorous standards), we would want to see a few things. Some that immediately come to mind include:

  • a much larger sample, ideally one that would be shown to be somewhat representative of a specified community (e.g., a given region of the country, so that we have more confidence in the statistical estimates)
  • more attention to potential factors that could influence how the girls responded (e.g., Are there differences by age? Level of media exposure? Prior level of conceptions of sex roles and stereotyping?)
  • additional determination of how long the effect lasted (e.g., retesting 30 minutes later; 2 days later; 1 week later)
  • more naturalistic studies that examined what toys the girls played with in their home environment (e.g., Did it make a difference that the experimenters gave the girls the toys?)
  • inclusion of boys
  • replication of the findings

These are just some ideas to think about. Look, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the study. It was published in a peer review journal. There may be something to the results. But from the scientific perspective the study gets the ball rolling – and much more research would need to be done before we are anywhere close to making bigger inferences.

This is, admittedly, a pet peeve of mine. I don’t like headline “teasers” for research that is in an early stage. Frankly, I don’t like the idea that every study that gets published warrants a press release. Sometimes a study can serve as a platform for discussion, but I think we need to be much more conservative when we use the words “study shows“  because of the inference it carries.  It’s a long way from 5 minutes in a laboratory to the real world.

What career will your child have? Take our quiz to find out!

How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime

Australian Classic Toy Stamp Featuring Barbie via

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