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San Diego Psychologists Explain How To Teach Kids To Solve Problems
April 16, 2015 1:09 p.m.
San Diego Psychologists Write Book On Teaching Kids To Solve Problems
Darlene Sweetland, clinical psychologist
Ron Stolberg, clinical psychologist
You are listening to Midday Edition KPBS. I'm Tom Fudge. Modern parenthood is full of realities and expectations that parents 75 years ago might not have recognized. Parents these days hover over their kids like the proverbial helicopter parent. They feel obligated to find things for their kids to do, to watch them constantly. In some ways, they expect to little of their children and other ways too much. Joining me to talk about the modern parent are two people who have spent time thinking about the subject. Darlene Sweetland and Ron Stolberg are husband and wife, the parents of two kids and they are both clinical psychologist. They are authors of a book called Teaching Kids to Think, raising confident, independent and thoughtful children in the age of instant gratification. Darling, thank you.
Ron, thanks for coming in.
They could, Tom.
Darlene, why did you title your book teaching kids to think? Inc. about what?
[Laughter] As clinical psychologist, we work with children and families in our private practice and we are frequently on school campuses talking to teachers, educators, administrators uncoated than hearing about their concerns with students they work with. What we found, is a predominantly, a lot of the issues over the last five to seven years are centered around instant gratification.
In what sense are they not thinking? What do they need to think about?
So much as immediate for them. They want to get an answer to a question, they just Google it. If they have a problem, they text their parents and they are immediately there to help them solve their problems. Essentially, kids are not getting the essential practice to think critically, to solve problems. We wrote the book to help parents be able to identify what situations are preventing them from learning to think and helping them do it differently.
Ron, instant gratification is in the title of the book. Where does that come from and why is it a problem?
It's a problem because kids today need everything done quickly as Darleen mentioned in what we have found, as clinical psychologists in our office, is that children, when they don't get things quickly, they become anxious and as parents, we like to reduce anxiety and see them happy and doing well. The instant gratification piece is that children today need things right now. If it is in right now, they struggle.
Now, you all must be a fan of Hayley mills because you right about the parent trap. What are parent traps?
Parent traps, we identify parent traps than what we found is that there are situations when parents feel the need to jump in and solve and fix problems when they see their kids struggle in any way. We identify them as traps because they are so alluring. What can seem like jumping in to help a child or support a child or ease anxiety your frustration, actually, in turn, robs them of the opportunity to learn how to develop problem-solving skills on their own. And, how to deal with frustration.
I know you have a lot of stories in your book. Are their stories you can tell about that very thing? Ron?
We do have a lot of stories. Thank you for noticing that. Without one of the best ways to convey these examples to parents was to use these real-life examples. I had a family come in, was having difficulty getting their child motivated to do -- to take care of responsibilities, to do homework, to really take care of their personal needs. They started punishing them. They took away electronics, took away video games, put him on restrictions. Became to my office later without his parents, the young man did, and giggled and laughed and told me as long as he had his phone he was going to be all right.
I said, I thought your parents took their phone away.
They took all my electronics but left my phone in case of emergency. He started laughing. That phone is the conduit for anything right now.
Is the message that take away screens all screens? Is that what we need to do?
Not at all. We actually talk about, in the book book, that lots of kids can use this technology in positive ways. Some of the solutions we have involved kids in family issues that might get them to use their technology, to use their screens, as he mentioned. If a family goes on vacation or out to dinner, have the children investigate where you are going and what other act remedies might be nearby or what the hours are of the restaurant, even.
Modern technology, I have to say, is wonderful. It's wonderful you can go on your phone and immediately find something out. There might be some people who look at your book, Darleen, and think that maybe you are averse to new technology. What would you say to that?
That is a great point. The difference between kids and this generation and passed generations, kids have always wanted instant gratification. This out -- they've always been relatively impulsive. The difference, kids in this generation have known nothing but instant access to information. Technology can be used in amazing ways. I'm not giving up my smartphone. It's so convenient and helps me feel safer with my kids being out and about, knowing they have more access to safety. Technology can be used in amazing ways. The problem, kids are becoming dependent on it and not learning how to solve problems in the absence of it.
Darlene Sweetland and Ron Stolberg are husband and wife and clinical psychologists and authors of a book called Teaching Kids to Think. Are we to is protective of our kids? Are we coddling them? Is that part of the message of the book, Ron?
That's one of the points of our book. I actually think we address both sides of the pendulum. The parents that over do it with their children. They provide too much pressure on them. We have pressure trap, hadn't -- parents over schedule and hover and make all the decisions for the kids in the children's best interest to keep them safe and make sure they are the best reader in their kindergarten class but we know the pendulum slides to the other side, too, with children that don't have interactions with their parents in a given a lot of freedom. Free range children.
Let's talk about that. We just got news this week that a couple in Maryland say they will sue the authorities after their six and 10-year-old children were picked up by the police, taken into custody because they were walking home from the park. Darleen, is this part of the problem? What do you think of that case?
I think every neighborhood --
Not the problem they are suing, but this expectation that you will always be there with your children.
Every parent needs to you -- needs to look specifically for their environment. This many opportunities for kids to be more independent than parents allow them to be. In our premise, for the book, what we advocate is stand back and watch. If that means drop your kids three blocks from the park and have them walk by themselves, sit across from the park and let them play so they can interact socially and figure out those peer relation problems on their own, that is what we encourage. There are many neighborhoods -- and parents know their kids and neighborhoods and where the safety is. Kids need to have the opportunity to be more independent and figure out how to solve problems on their own.
Ron, what do you want to add to that?
It's an interesting dilemma because it is a sign of the times. We spent time with families and parents and uncles and aunts, we tell stories of when they roamed the city's as young children.
People my age and even younger tell the same stories. My God, I went wherever I wanted to when I was a kid.
We heard stories of seven euros getting on barked in the Bay Area and getting on cities. Things like that raise the suspicion of the Police Department. There were common 30 or 40 years ago. At the time -- it's a sign of the times that we believe children need to be watched more.
We are almost start of time, but is there a way to boil down your message to one thing? Is that what you talked about when you said stand back and watch?
Exactly. Parents and educators need to be aware that kids in this generation no nothing but instant gratification. Technology is not going away. Things are only getting easier or quicker, pressure getting more. Parents need to be aware and stand back and allow the kids to make mistakes and to fix their own mistakes. Don't jump into rescue them. Don't jump in to save them. Those are the opportunities that allow them to develop skills they need as adults and off in college.
My guess have been Darlene Sweetland and Ron Stolberg. Their husband and wife and the parents of two kids and authors of the book, Teaching Kids to Think, raising confident, independent and thoughtful children in an age of instant gratification. Darleen, thank you and thanks, Ron.
I'm Tom Fudge. You are listening to Midday Edition on KPBS.