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The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development Paperback – September 3, 2010

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The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development + How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character + Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547248032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547248035
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 4.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #255,657 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Harvard psychologist Weissbourd (The Vulnerable Child) delivers a direct, digestible wakeup call about the need for better moral instruction for children. Enlisting a battery of researchers to conduct interviews with students, teachers and parents mostly in the Boston area and the South, Weissbourd asserts quite forcefully and repetitively that by abdicating moral authority to popular culture and children's peers, by shielding children from their destructive behavior, by letting fathers off the hook and by insisting on children's happiness rather than their goodness, adults are failing their own children. Weissbourd looks at the role of shame in engendering children's destructive acts, and how it can result from parents' excessive expectations and fears of their children's emotions. Promoting an elusive notion of happiness sacrifices important lessons in empathy, appreciation and caring, while parents' self-interest continually erodes the basis for community. The author advocates checking parents' overweening drive for achievement in our children, refraining from wanting to be their best friend and cultivating a healthy idealism. He cites a woeful lack of self-awareness by parents and the need for building alliances with teachers and other parents. His chapter on the morally mature sports parent is a sober reminder of why we want our children to play sports. Moral strengths and failures among different cultures are particularly explored in this strongly worded work that barely grazes the tip of the iceberg. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In this ardent and persuasive inquiry, Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist, warns that “happiness-besotted” parents do children a disservice by emphasizing personal fulfillment over empathy. (A high-school English teacher laments the difficulty of teaching “King Lear” to students who “can’t engage suffering in any way.”) Parents worry about their children’s confidence, but constant, preëmptive praise can turn kids into cynics; studies show that playground bullies (and, later in life, criminals) exhibit high self-esteem. Drawing on extensive field research, Weissbourd makes the case that parents, as models of behavior, must be vigilant about their own moral choices. If we’re afraid to risk our kids’ ire by criticizing them, how can we expect them to resist peer pressure? Of special concern are parents who try too hard to be their kids’ friends. Weissbourd explains, “Children have no incentive to become like us, because the message we’re giving is that they already are.”
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 23 customer reviews
The book was an easy read as well.
It will help you make growing up together the rich, rewarding experience it should and can be.
Eugene H. Pool
I highly recommend it to any parent, or caregiver.
Collin Stoll L.Ac.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Nancy French on July 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Think Britney Spears, peer pressure, and Twitter are making modern kids sullen, detached, and generally rotten? Think again. Richard Weissbourd's book about modern parenting trends places the responsibility for kids' moral well-being squarely where it belongs -- on the parents. In his book, The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development, the lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education talks about popular parenting techniques such as being "positive parents," focusing on self-esteem, and praising our kids excessively.

And the shock is? He's against these things.

Weissbourd's countercultural parenting advice suggests that parents' intense focus on their children's happiness actually makes kids less happy, that excessive praise stunts character development, and that "over-parenting" can turn children into "fragile conformists. Additionally, he challenges the "self-esteem" craze -- the belief that if parents bolster their kids' sense of self, they'll invariably turn out to be good people. This is the first time in history that people have succumbed to this backwards idea about morality and explains that bullies, delinquents, and gang leaders often have the highest self-esteem.

I was fully prepared to read his book to figure out why other people's kids were throwing popcorn in the movie theater, but every chapter challenged my own parenting.

It's a meddlesome book, in other words. One you should definitely pick up.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
It's easy to sum up this work as previous reviewers have; harder to delve into the details in "soundbite" format for this forum. I'll try to give a more comprehensive overview of each chapter to provide needed detail for readers to make up their minds about this book's relevance to their own moral challenges as encountered by parents, children, teachers, and coaches. Being a decent, respectful, compassionate person today seems harder than ever in a "big-box" culture demanding it all now.

Weissbourd surveyed students, and had students conduct surveys of their peers, and gathered what he finds is an alternative argument to those who demand tougher moral accountability without dismantling the self-esteem and self-important folderol that in the wake of the 1960s-70s pop psychology movement has invaded classrooms, Little League, parent-teacher conferences, and the insanely inflated competition for elite college admissions. Weissbourd advises a less strained, more balanced attitude that allows kids to fail more, to grow up without demanding parents, and to learn morality from how parents and other authority figures model it themselves-- no easy task.

Chapter 1 deals with "Helping Children Manage Destructive Emotions." Shame and self-hatred often emerge from over-coddling children to the extent they cannot form their own values. Chapter 2 "Promoting Happiness and Morality" urges parents that both can be attained, and that true satisfaction need not come from an Ivy League matriculation. Again, parents gain blame here for pushing kids to succeed despite the cost to their psyches at the degrees, possessions, and egotism that earlier generations never could have had, or failed to achieve.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By an apt word on May 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I caught Weissbourd's NPR interview with Terry Gross and was intrigued enough to get the book. Although Weissbourd hooked me with his sage advice to parents, he gave me an unexpected insight into my own childhood. He says, "It's less the severity or duration of parents' destructive moods than how children understand them" that is the problem. Among the destructive moods discussed is depression, and he tells Matt's story: "I used to think my mother just hated being my mother, that she wanted to be doing something else. Now I'm looking back over all those years and seeing them differently and I'm feeling a lot better. I'm seeing that all that anger was coming from something inside of her head. She was depressed. It was about HER. It didn't have anything to do with me." As can be typical of hurting children, both Matt and I told stories that reflected poorly on ourselves and reflected even more poorly on the truth.
Get the book for more than a mini psychoanalysis, however. Weissbourd knows how to turn a phrase. Here are a couple: ...the million paper cuts an adolescent can inflict...and wading into the muck of ourselves. He's got his finger on a contemporary problem. Parents are trying too hard to be their kids' friends and don't think often enough of how they can influence their kids to be moral human beings. They may be morally underdeveloped themselves. Parents can emphasize their kids' happiness and self esteem over against their kids' ability to empathize with others and contribute within the greater community. Parents can pile on the pressure by giving global praise (you're terrific, that's great, etc). But who better than a kid can spot hypocrisy in a parent?
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