Why the kids aren’t growing up

Do less for your kids. Give them rules and discipline and love. Don’t be their friend. Be their parent. Let them be bored, let them screw up. Teach them no, please, thank you and table manners. An industry of psychologists and gentle parenting help on the margins but likely cause more damage than help.

That’s from conservative author Abigail Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up.

The book starts off with a big, wide criticism of therapy and mental wellness, of which I was skeptical. But as Shrier turned to its impact on parenting styles, my interest grew — especially as a parent of young children myself. In the end, I found it to be a welcome contribution to Jonathan Haidt’s high-profile Anxious Generation.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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Ban smartphones from schools

Parents and schools should treat social media like they do cigarettes — unhealthy addictions that are distracting from learning and development.

That’s the big argument in “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,” a new popular book by psychologist Jonathan Haidt that has gotten widespread media attention.

“Social media use does not just correlate with mental illness,” he writes: “It causes it.”

Haidt has written several books on living healthier and happier, and he has researched social media use for years. But it’s this book at this time that met the moment: I’ve seen him interviewed by countless national media and at conferences. His advice marks one set of strategies for how parents and wider society can respond to the mounting evidence that algorithmic feeds of addictive content is especially challenging for children to overcome.

Below I share a few points I’m taking into my own parenting.

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Is American leadership ‘Adrift’?

The United States remains the central leader in one of the most economically dynamic periods the world has ever known. We lack an organizing principle and shared vision.

That’s the overall argument from Scott Galloway, the business-school professor and pundit, in Adrift, his 2022 book centered around 100 charts on economics, culture and life. It’s a thoughtful, fun and breezy read for heavy material. It reads a bit like a textbook for the digital age.

Below I share my notes for future reference.

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I Never Thought of It That Way: notes on having difficult conversations

Our whole lives bring us to each opinion we hold.

Or, as Mónica Guzmán puts it: “We don’t see with our eyes after all but our whole biographies”

Guzmán happens to be an old friend from early in our journalism careers. She has since joined a movement for more civil discourse. Her latest step in that work was publishing last year her book I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times.

I’m inspired by Guzmán’s work and her approach. The book reads as a kind of manual for engaging across the political spectrum, and is part of a movement of advocates, nonprofits and organizations intending to improve civil dialogue. Guzmán advises us to pursue INTOIT moments, or “I never thought of it that way.” When do those moments confirm or challenge our beliefs?

To get there, she guides us to ask good questions that follow CARE (curious, answerable, raw and exploring). Examples includes asking “How did you come to believe?” rather than why do you believe this. Another one she likes: What am I missing? Most generally I appreciated her guidance: “The most important thing about bridges is not It to cross them but to keep them.”

Below I share my notes from the book for my future research.

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Happiness Hypothesis

Understand your disposition as both an elephant and a rider.

Our default state of happiness is largely in our genes – upwards of 50% of our general disposition. We make snap decisions about the world (the elephant) and only afterward rationalize those instincts (the rider). We can learn and train ourselves to reduce and adapt to these patterns, but only to lessen their impact.

That’s one of the big themes around happiness that appears in Happiness Hypothesis, the 2006 positive psychology book from Jonathan Haidt. Though 15 years old, it’s part of a library of positive psychology books that I’ve been making my way through. It still offers a good foundation, and so I recommend it. (I also recommend the Happiness Equation, and this essay)

“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire or achieve directly,” Haidt writes, pulling from extensive research. “You have to get the conditions right and then wait“

Those right conditions for happiness are love, the right goals for flow and engagement. Happiness doesn’t only come from within, then, and certainly not only from without but from between. He even shares his Happiness formula: H Happiness = S (Set Point, genes or temperature range) + C (conditions of life that can’t change as easily) + V (voluntary activities we do)

Below find my extensive notes for my research purposes in the future.

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Why do people believe such strange things?

A person who can hold unbelievable ideas that become true is also a person who can hold unbelievable ideas that never become true. Put another way: Smart people can convince themselves of almost anything.

That’s a big theme from the 2011 book The Believing Brain: From Spiritual Faiths to Political Convictions – How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, written by science writer Michael Shermer.

Like other books from Shermer, this references lots of brain research that is enlightening and fun to absorb. Generally this book’s theme s that belief comes first and reason comes second. Or as he puts it himself: “People believe weird things because of our evolved need to believe non-weird things.”

He explains this by arguing our predilection toward “patternicity” (we crave patterns) and “agenticity” (we crave meanings into patterns). As he wrote: “This research supports what I call Spinoza‘s conjecture: belief comes quickly and naturally, skepticism is slow and unnatural and most people have a low tolerance for ambiguity.”

Below find my notes for future reference.

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