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All Talked Out This comes into focus as she navigates her double stroller through the Natick Mall food court, near the brightly colored, heavily padded play space that is overflowing with stocking footed kids on this rainy day.
The slim mom, who has short, feathered hair, parks the stroller at a table and begins to unpack the lunch items she has collected from three fastfood outlets. The 4 year old decides on a change of plans. "No, Mommy," he says, pointing to a nearby bench. "I want to eat here." Within seconds, both boys are on the bench. She puts where sells kate spade the slice of Sbarro pizza next to her older boy and crouches to feed his brother McDonald's french fries, surgically dispensing a squirt of ketchup from a plastic packet before handing him each fry. The older boy runs off. After she corrals him, she says, "Honey, you should eat. Aren't you hungry? It's important that you eat." Minutes later, he knocks his pizza onto the floor. He laughs. She sighs before picking it up. "Mommy, I want it in bites," he says. As she cuts his pizza into tiny pieces, the 2 year old grabs her chowder crackers and dashes off. "Sweetie, do you want to go back into the stroller?" she calls to him with a threat so subtle and soft it might as well be an offer of another french fry. The older boy, after taking a few bites of pizza, walks toward his mother, looking as though he is going to nuzzle in for a hug. Instead, he wipes his tomato smudged lips on her shoulder and walks away smiling. The shame of this scene is how hard the mother is trying to do the right things. She is not the blithely oblivious woman sitting on a bench, clutching her Kate Spade handbag and yapping on her cellphone as her 4 year old jumps around with a pacifier in her mouth. Nor is she the cold, verbally abusive parent screaming at a child for minor infractions. This mother is caring, intelligent, and involved. And, still, what she is doing is not working not for her, not for her boys, and not for the rest of us. EVERY GENERATION OF parents has its prevailing form of excess, and this is ours: Too many of us are trying too hard to reason with our kids... "), we've convinced ourselves that if we're attentive and appeal to our child's intellect, everything will turn out right. ("Don't you think those jeans ride a little too low, honey?") But before you join the AARP crowd in throwing up your arms and lamenting, "Kids today they're out of control," consider this: That complaint is, in fact, as old as dentures. Dust off the volumes from turn of the century commentators and psychologists, and you'd swear you were reading transcripts from current day talk radio. kate spade outlet online official The groan then, as now, was about kids growing up too fast and parents becoming too soft. It would be hard to make the case that today's parents are more permissive than their counterparts in, say, the 1970s, when the fashionable thinking was to let children "self regulate," making all the decisions for themselves. But there is something decidedly different about parenting today, particularly within the educated, professional class. It's the degree to which many parents are struggling to persuade their kids to see things their way, and how they often end up simply talking too much, negotiating matters that probably shouldn't be negotiable, and failing to say "no" very much at all. This is true for kate spade online shopping parents of toddlers. It is true for parents of teenagers. Last month, a Haverhill mother was ordered to serve six months in jail for allowing teenagers including a 16 year old who later died to drink alcohol in her home. In August, a Danvers couple were sentenced to 18 months' probation for allowing teens to drink in their home at a prom night party. Parents in Hopkinton and Holliston have been charged with similar offenses within the past year. These cases spring from a new reality: More parents are letting their teenagers have their friends over to drink on the condition that the friends turn over their car keys upon arrival. In this negotiation, parents are rationalizing that this is the best way to protect their kids in the dangerous high school world of drinking and driving. In school districts that ask parents to sign a "Safe Homes" pledge not to allow minors to drink alcohol under their roof, organizers have found that some parents decline after being lobbied by their teenagers, who fear it will make them look uncool. Considerable research has shown that it makes all kinds of sense for parents to do a certain amount of reasoning with their children. The problem is knowing when enough is enough. Parents often lose sight of that line, mistakenly believing their kids' brains work the same way theirs do. Deborah Yurgelun Todd, director of cognitive neuroimaging at McLean Hospital in Belmont, has conducted pioneering MRI studies suggesting that adults and teenagers use different parts of their brains to make decisions. Teens rely more on the "emotional" part of the brain that controls their gut instincts, while adults rely on the "executive" part that governs functions like planning and judgment. "If teens feel they've been given permission to drink in the family home, what does that say about outside the home?" she says. "These kinds of gray zone decisions are the toughest for teenagers to make. So you're making the gray zone even grayer." This misplaced faith parents have in the ability of their kids to think like adults starts early. Trained in the art of negotiation at a young age, accustomed to being spoken to with far greater complexity than previous generations of children, today's kids have become expert in talking the talk. But no matter how articulate a 4 year old is, his brain is not built for adult concepts like abstract reasoning and delayed gratification. "Just because they can verbalize something," Yurgelun Todd says, "doesn't mean they really understand how to weigh decisions and process information." Parents are understandably frustrated when they see their child agree to one of their carefully explained directives and then, moments later, disregard it completely. Or when negotiations with their little one grind on endlessly. In fact, these kids quickly learn that their running down the clock tactic usually works in their favor. Parents of these preternaturally articulate children often say, with a smile, "My future lawyer!" or "She's the boss of our family!" This is nothing to smile about. Deep down, most kids take comfort in knowing that, at the end of the day, someone else someone far more qualified is in charge. But that doesn't mean they won't take advantage of the hand they're dealt. Stop by any playground and listen to the parents giving their kids 20 minute explications on why it's time to leave. If you close your eyes, you'd swear they were talking to children who were 13, rather than 3. "OK, Isabel, sweetie, we have to go now.... Yes, I know you're having fun, but I have to get home and start cooking dinner.... If we don't go now, we'll all fall behind and get to bed late, and then you won't be able to get to school on time tomorrow." Three year old Isabel, attorney in training, responds with rejoinders identifying the loopholes in her mom's argument ("We can stay longer and just warm up some chicken nuggets in the microwave"). Isabel gets more time to play, while her mother half impressed by her daughter's precociousness, half exasperated by her intransigence never closes down the negotiation and instead continues to talk away, like those droning, indecipherable adults from the old Peanuts specials. This aching effort by parents to be understood is built on the best intentions and motivated by sound research. Diana Baumrind, a research psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has spent decades studying the effectiveness of parenting styles, tracking children as they progressed from preschool to high school. These kids are more likely to perform well academically and have good relationships with peers and less likely to be anxious or depressed. They understand that warm is better than cold, structure better than chaos. They go heavy on negotiation and encouragement but fail to impose limits or make demands. Baumrind, who at 77 is still plugging away at her research, is aware of this. "Many parents don't feel they have the right to say no," says Alexandra Harrison, a child psychiatrist who teaches at Harvard Medical School. She sees a thread running through these interactions, from the toddler to teenage years, where parents don't say no because they fear they won't be able to get past the tiny yet inevitable ruptures in their relationships with their children. "Think of the child who wants the toy in Toys 'R'Us at age 3 and looks so crestfallen. And all these things go through the mother or father's mind, and so they get her the toy. Skip forward 10 years, and the kid says, 'Everybody else's parents do it. You're making me so different,' and the parent has the same feeling," says Harrison. "If they had said, 'No, honey, no toy now' at age 3 and progressively all the way along, maybe the two of them would believe, 'Yeah, we'll get over it. The kid will get really upset, but she'll get over it.'" BEFORE GOING ANY further, an admission. Critiquing parenting styles is something I do with considerable caution and a family sized helping of humility. I am no expert, and, quite frankly, I'm thankful to be able kate spade department stores to say that. The more I read about the troubled family lives of many of America's most popular parenting experts, the more I understand why none of the fawning blurbs on the jackets of their bestsellers ever come from their own kids. As I reported this story, in search of struggling parents to talk to, there was a running joke in my family. If one of our daughters began to act up in public, my wife would quip, "Well, you can always interview us." To be sure, we're grateful we started early with our kids in establishing firm boundaries and getting comfortable with saying no while also trying to encourage their sense of exploration and self confidence. But there's probably not a day that goes by when we don't make some kind of parenting mistake. The truth is, parenting is one of life's most difficult and elusive exams, and none of us will know if we passed until it's too late to do anything about it. Many of us can point to cases where loving parents who seemed to do everything right saw their child grow up to be a drug addled felon. Or perhaps we know an upstanding, well adjusted person who emerged from a family headed by hideously unfit parents. When it comes to our parenting decisions, we may have less of an impact on our kids that we would like to think. But even if we're just working at the margins, it is worth examining the ways in which today's dominant "child centered" approach to parenting stressing self esteem, negotiation, and two way streets is falling short. Many psychologists and educated parents dismiss the movement that has arisen in reaction to the child centered orthodoxy, the "because I said so" crowd, which advocates the return of unapologetic parental control marching along one way streets. They sensibly see this crusade led by people like syndicated columnist John Rosemond as overly simplistic and pining for good old days that have been conveniently whitewashed of all their defects. But you don't have to buy into Rosemond's bumper sticker bromides to admit that some of his criticisms of the excesses of the childcentered approach are, in fact, quite accurate. He says that at his talks, he often hears from mothers wondering how to respond when their sons, ranging in age from 4 to 10, repeatedly hit them in frustration. "This is abominable," Rosemond says. "Women have been so intimidated by this psychobabble that instead of taking action to make sure it doesn't happen again, they interpret it as a psychological event. They ask, 'What is it that I'm doing that is making him so angry?'" Conservative commentators aren't the only witnesses to the problem of overly entitled children. George Farrell is the soft spoken, goateed director of The Cambridge Ellis School, a progressive, well regarded preschool near Harvard Square. He speaks warmly about the school's parents and their level of involvement in their kids' lives. But it pains him to see some parents letting their children call the shots.
"Sometimes," he says, "I just want to shake them and say, 'Get your act together! Be firm. You're the adult.'".