Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pinocchio Parenting

I've come across a few news articles about a new book, Pinocchio Parenting: 21 Outrageous Lies We Tell Our Kids .

While I've not yet read the book, I'm inclined to agree with its premise that parents' dishonesty can be a bad influence on kids.

In this news article, the author (Borsellino) states that....

"If we justify white lies, soon we become color-blind, and then we start to change where the standard is," he says. "Our kids watch us move the bar up and down."

Borsellino's favorite parental lie is, "Looks don't matter -- it's what's on the inside that counts."

"This is a great opportunity to not deny the truth and retain your credibility by saying, 'Honey, looks do matter, but it is never more important to me than what's on the inside -- your character. That's what matters most to me,' " he says.

This whole topic reminds me of the self esteem push in schools. The more confident students become the more their performance declines. I find it a little scary when children have such a distorted view of themselves and their actual abilities. As a parent, there is a fine balance between encouraging and deluding a child.

From another article,

Lies set children up for disappointment and failure, he says, pointing to "You can be anything you want to be" as among the most egregious. Not all kids who aspire to play professional football or be a movie star will fulfill their dream. In fact, very few do.

"We want to motivate our kids to dream big and reach for their goals, but this tale goes over the line," says Borsellino, who discourages the use of absolutes - always, never, anything - in much of parenting.

. . . . Borsellino advises parents to talk with their kids about how their aspirations and skills mesh. For example, the child who wants to play in the NBA but lacks athletic ability may have the business smarts to make it in management. It's a parent's job to let him know that he can do the most with what he has and to help him achieve that.

This can be a very painful process. I have a friend whose teenage daughter has a serious speech impediment which makes it difficult for her to be understood. Recently, this girl began seeing a new speech therapist that used video feed back. By watching herself on tape she realized for the first time just how far off the mark she truly was. With a more accurate picture of her disability, she made more progress with this speech therapist than any other.

It was a painful lesson, but her speech has dramatically improved. If her parents and teachers had continued to shelter her from the reality of her condition, she would have had little motivation for improvement. When she saw herself as others saw her, she was willing to put in the work. Previous to this point, this teen had received quite a lot of negative peer feed back about her garbled speech. With so much of peer pressure being arbitrary and unkind, she had disregarded it as garden variety meanness. Thus prior to the video feed back, she was genuinely unaware of the severity of her disability.

I've seen problems with this sort of thing in homeschooling circles as well. Parents can over shelter their children from all unpleasantness. Because the child has limited contacts outside the home, the child misses the kind of feed back that would motivate a legitimate course correction. Not all peer pressure is bad.

Many times parents use white lies, not to protect the child, but to protect themselves. It takes a lot of time and effort to help a child work through an unpleasant reality.

Hopefully, I can find this book at my local library. I look forward to see what this author has to say.


Karen said...

I'd be interested to read more about what this guy says, too, Janine, but the thing about even little white lies raises a big red flag with me.

This seems to be the kind of reasoning that I have heard from parents who won't let their children believe in Santa Claus (Tooth fairy, etc.). To me, that's a ridiculous extreme. Children NEED fantasy.

scribbit said...

I don't usually find reviews on parenting books interesting, but after reading every word of your post I'm going to check to see if my library has a copy. My husband and I have always rolled our eyes when our kids get the "you can do anything you dream" speech from teachers, mentors and other adults in general. A very thoughtful book and a good review. Thanks.

Janine Cate said...

We do Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but we tell our kids it's a game. Mom and Dad do fun surprise things and try not to get caught. We all know it's a game, even the little ones. We do tell our children not to tell their friends about Santa (or where babies come from), because that's the parents' job.

That is also how my parents did it. My father would do fun things like ring bells, say "Ho, Ho, Ho" and sneak back into his bedroom and pretend to be asleep on Christmas morning. We were always trying to catch him at it.

We had the fun of the experience without the lie. We called it "playing Santa." We would also do it for others, by delivering anonomous surprises on Christmas.

I'm ok with a "don't ask, don't tell policy." But, I would not tell my child Santa/Tooth Fairy was real, regardless of their age.

Janine Cate said...

My library doesn't have the book, so I think I will break down and buy it.

I don't like the "you can do anything" speeches either. So, I think I'm going to like this book.

Momma Duck said...

Thanks for the review. I think that over-concern for "self esteem" is part of the reason that kids are afraid to take on challenges and therefore end up staying home so long after they become adults. I know that sounds like a big jump, but if you think about it, doesn't that make sense? If they only want to feel good about themselves, then why would risk failure by leaving a secure and familiar environment, that is, their parents' home?

Here via carnival of family life.

Holly said...

So much of what you said is right on target. My daughter has always responded best to any teaching moment when I tape it so she can SEE what I'm trying to explain. I feel the same way about movies and entertainment on the lie topic. While there are some common sense factors related to age and material, in general I follow the guideline that if they shouldn't see it neither should I. It's the "what shouldn't be heard by little ears shouldn't be spoken by big mouths" type of thing. Great post!

Holly's Corner
Here via the Carnival of Family Life ;o)

Janine Cate said...

>I think that over-concern for "self esteem" is part of the reason that kids are afraid to take on challenges and therefore end up staying home so long after they become adults.

Interesting thought. Along the same lines, since they already feel so "good" about themselves, they have no need to prove themselves. Why work when you can feel good and do nothing.

Janine Cate said...

>in general I follow the guideline that if they shouldn't see it neither should I.

We agree.

kailani said...

That sounds like an interesting book. I may have to check it out since I know I'm guilty of it at times.

Here via Carnival of Family Life.

Mert said...

I would also like to check this book out, it sounds interesting. Here form the CFL.

Anonymous said...

sounds like a good book - I'll have to check it out too.

the whole self esteem thing bothers me... teachers/ parents or whomever should not have to be "teaching" this... the kids are born loving themselves, and ideally learn when they do good things (are kind to people, learn to do something new etc etc etc) they will feel better. and it's not necessarily about accomplishing something, but in being a good person .. that will naturally bring them their own self-esteem.
hope this makes sense.. hard to explain in a quick note...