Julio C. Rivas, CS
Today’s rat race to get ahead and be successful starts before pre-school in most driven families. There are expensive, tutoring sessions for parents to get toddlers into the best pre-school program. From pre-school to high school, children will experience exhausting levels of homework, training for test taking, private tutoring, success-focused summer camps, and endless pressure from perfectionist, ever-hovering, over-bearing parents (“helicopter parents” and “tiger moms”).
University of Chicago economist and Nobel Prize winner James Heckman says that this anxiety-pressure-loaded behavior is driven by the well-established, but errant belief that developing children’s cognitive skills is foremost for success. The predominant approach is to stuff children with academic information and train them to regurgitate it well. This is how families and schools expect children to succeed.
Contrary to this hypothesis is the expanding argument among neuroscientists, psychologists, educators and economists, that non-cognitive skills, like self-reliance, self-control, persistence, adaptability, creativity and curiosity are primal to a child’s healthy development. Children develop character via creative and intellectual experimentation, by struggling through failure and adversity, and by adapting and starting again.
Studies have shown that excessive praise and pushing by high-charging parents is counterproductive to a child’s development. It diminishes children’s self-reliance, confidence, curiosity and the willingness to experiment and fail. Hands-off parenting is not the answer either because children without a life-compass will get lost. It takes a balance between authoritative parenting and promoting independent thinking and actions.
By the time teenagers enter high school, many are depleted. The parents do not see it because they are blinded by their materialistic version of success. But their teenagers suffer from emptiness, self-loathing and despair. Some will turn to prescription drugs, alcohol, uncommitted sex, cheating, and, sometimes, suicide. More often than not, they will put up a good front, and continue to try hard to please and fulfill their parents’ success-focused wishes.
Adoring, well-educated, high-achieving, and wealthy parents do not perceive that the materialistic culture at home and school are tearing apart the soul of their children. Madeline Levine, an author of two books on this subject, and a clinical psychologist who treats the teenagers of affluent families in Marin County, California, is a personal witness to the anxiety and disconnectedness they suffer. “The cost of this relentless drive to perform at unrealistically high levels is a generation of kids who resemble nothing so much as trauma victims;” and “Our current version of success is a failure,” Levine writes.
We need to re-define success so that it is not so weighted by wealth and power. We are healthier and happiest when we’ve forged deep, trust-rich relationships, and when we are pursuing goals that reward our soul.
Raising children with character and wisdom prepares them for the demands of a rapidly changing economy and world. Character qualities like integrity, gratitude, empathy, joy, originality, experimentation, resilience, and determination compound fulfillment and success.
As a spiritual therapist who has worked with children and teenagers, I know from experience the importance of nourishing a child’s character. Because my starting premise is that we are first and foremost infinite Love’s spiritual beings, I see character as rooted in a person’s spiritual selfhood.
One’s spiritual selfhood is limitless, brilliant, complete and healthy. It represents the continuous unfolding of infinite Love-Mind.
Insightful theologian, Mary B. Eddy, defines the incorporeal essence of children as “The spiritual thoughts and representatives of Life, Truth, and Love.” It is also a definition that describes everyone’s transcendent nature.
I’ve witnessed how these concepts liberate parents and their children from the harmful effects of aggressive materialism. One particular case involved a dangerous loss of weight by an intelligent, high-achieving, teenage girl. She had parents who adored her and was being raised in an educated and privileged household. The doctors consulted had not been able to correct the problem.
Our sessions together, and our prayers, generated new insights and perspectives for all. It restored the young girl back to complete health. She obtained the courage and skill to communicate with her parents more clearly. The parents realized the importance of giving her more choices and independence. In turn, the girl used her new independence to thrive in areas of her choosing.
Children raised in religious households can suffer the same oppressive, suffocating involvement experienced by those in secular households. Loving parents -- religious and secular-- need to back off and examine themselves. They may find that their well-meaning, but over-bearing parenting is not helpful but toxic.
I’ve often encouraged parents to think about what parental changes this biblical verse, which describes Jesus’ early development, might induce: “The little child grew and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God's goodness was upon him.”
Love’s wisdom induces us to wrestle with and eliminate bad parental habits. It ameliorates anxiety, fear and possessiveness. It encourages and assists children to discover their innate, Soul-given, spiritual attributes.