Guide by listening, not hovering

We’re a world of One Percenters. As a society and world swimming in information, we reward people who are expert at the right things. And we all want to position our children to be in that One Percent. It’s what we stress about in raising our kids to succeed: if you haven’t chosen a sport you can excel in by the age of 6, forget about playing Division I water polo at Yale. If you don’t take up the French horn in Kindergarten, don’t bother to apply to Julliard. Getting your three-your-old into the right preschool may mean the difference between turning out a Rhodes scholar and a high school dropout.

The stress over future success has CIMG0266created a class of anxious Super Parents who aim to do right by their kids. Among the educated classes, these are memes for our time: everyone knows the helicopter parents—or is one. We all want our kids to win in the game of life.

But I believe we have been hovering needlessly, that our kids are the best guides in what we need to do to ensure their success. If we can tune in and hear them.

Writing Out of Time, I was worried that my own children would not have the time, space, and encouragement to play and explore. To find safe outlets to express their passions. To become who they are meant to be.

Out of Time grew up organically out of listening in on backseat carpool conversations where the kids think the driver isn’t listening. What did I learn by listening in? Who did what to whom. Who the mean teachers are. How unfair the coach is. The dork in gym class. The brainiacs.

And along the way, I got to hear their dreams and fears, ambitions and boredom. It was an honor to be the carpool mom and capture the tween-teen ethos.

As a social marketing guru, I have capitalized on this interest—learning and writing about the new science of adolescent and what neuroscience is confirming about teen brains (teens=11-25). I learned what resonates with them and what turns them off. I read all the experts’ findings. And what I’ve figured out is this: our children themselves may be the best experts on what they need to grow up healthy, smart, resilient and successful.

If we just listen to them.

I’m passionate about the idea that there is genius in all of us that needs to be cultivated and tended—just as much as encouraging a toddler to walk we should be encouraging preteens—whose brains are undergoing much the same branching and pruning process as babies’ and toddlers’ brains are—to explore, branch out, play and discover their world and the world around them in whatever way they are most likely to get started.

In many ways, writing the story Out of Time has been a lesson in what matters in raising kids: balancing security and independence, when to listen and when to intervene, when to stress over how to best “prepare” them for life, and when to let them prepare themselves. It’s a balancing act, for sure. And not without its own anxieties.

Now, in advising clients how to market to preteens and teens, I tell them:

  • Take a step out of the scene to get some perspective.
  • Breathe before you reprimand, yell or punish. What’s really at stake?
  • Don’t be afraid to show your own vulnerabilities: share your fears and failures as well as your successes.
  • Empathize. You were 13 once.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, tune in to what your kids care about. They may be your best guides to growing their own genius. At least in my experience.

What do you think?

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