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Random advice to parents Random advice to parents
by Joseph Gatt
2020-07-17 08:43:16
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From the bohemian-lifestyle French foster mother I had to the crazy Korean parents who mistake their children for robots that I've met, no one's a perfect parent. But there are a few tips that I would give parents that in my experience, could help.

-First thing that comes to mind. A lot of parents fill the house and the children's rooms with books. In my personal experience, smaller libraries incite a lot more reading than the larger ones.

The great Sheena Iyengar did a study where she found that people were a lot more likely to buy jam if they had the choice between 6 flavors than if they had to choose from 50 flavors. In my experience libraries kind of work the same. When I lived in Mozambique, our school had a small library that probably had 500 or so books in it. I used to borrow books rather frequently, and some of them were great reads.

paret001_400When I lived in Colombia, we had a school library that probably had thousands of volumes in it, and that just felt overwhelming. I probably borrowed a book three times from that library, and reading them was no so much fun.

In sum, if your child's room has 50 books in it, in my opinion, your child will be a lot more likely to read than if he/she has 500 books in their library.

-The minimalism rule: the fewer distractions, the more likely they will be to focus.

The same rule applies for books than applies for toys, games, board games, television channels, and Internet activities and so on.

Here's an informal study I did. It's informal because I never had the means to turn it into a scientific study, but here's what I observed.

Children who had “too many” toys and games in their rooms tended to be more distracted. And the distracted mind lingers on in adult life.

What I found was that children who in the 1990s had too many video games, too many toys, too many TV channels and so on, tended to, in the 2000s and 2010s:

-Start too many projects and not finish them.

-Get (too many) tattoos, piercings and sometimes engage in other destructive behavior.

-Poor hygiene.

-Act impulsively.

-If they inherit a lot of money, they tend to try to “build empires” and lose a lot of the money. If they don't inherit money, they tend to opt for “easy” jobs, the kind of jobs that will not punish them for being too distracted and incapable of focusing.

So, to sum up:

-When using the Internet, make sure children focus on one or two websites. If possible, don't allow them to “surf around” too many websites.

-The fewer TV channels, the better. Children should probably choose between the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon (don't know if those channels are still around) and teenagers perhaps focus on two channels.

-The fewer toys and games, the better. Make sure your kids' rooms don't have too many toys in them.

-Same applies for stationary, and don't fill the fridge with too much stuff. Same rule also applies to their wardrobe. To paraphrase Golda Meir “I have a small wardrobe because I spend too much time focusing on government.”

Finally (before this gets too long) education is three things: it's tests (and testing). But it's also learning. And it's also networking.

A lot of parents (and teachers) don't realize that education is not just tests and testing, and leave out the learning and networking part from the equation.

For a lot of children and teenagers, striking the right balance between testing (acing tests), learning and networking can be complicated. Some teenagers focus so much on networking that they forget to learn and study for tests, while other children focus so much on acing tests that they forget to learn and network.

There's no clear way to divide time between the three activities (studying for tests, learning and networking). But there are a few guidelines:

-Getting excellent sleep and good hygiene tends to clear up the mind and leads to better networking, learning and acing tests in many cases.

-Of course you have to be imposing the habit of studying for tests and learning. Parents should keep track of test dates and get a general idea of what the children are learning. Children might throw tantrums the first couple of tests they study for, but then they'll get used to studying for tests.

-Networking is largely a matter of personality and environment and other factors. Some children and teenagers feel more comfortable hanging out with a closed clique, I personally, for some reason, always felt more comfortable being a “guest” than being a “good friend” (you go ahead and psychoanalyze me for this one).

-Leisure is important of course, and again, applying the minimalism rule tends to help. Rather than doing a different activity every week or every weekend, setting up a group of three or four activities usually does the trick. Example: Sunday is movie theater and ice-cream day; Saturday is going to the lake and fishing day (or whatever).

-To conclude: there's some neurological explanation for this: when we do something fun, we get a dopamine rush in our brain. That causes “euphoria” of sorts. But if you inject your brain with too much dopamine, the brain no longer feels satisfied with the “fun” activity, and “fun” becomes an addiction.

Addiction is often misunderstood. People tend to think that addictions are dangerous, but that people are happy being addicted. They are not. Those who are addicted to drugs tend to need the drugs for survival, but the drug addiction makes them depressed, even when ingesting the drug. Same goes for alcoholics. Sex addicts derive very little pleasure from sex, if at all, and are just satisfying a craving. Food addicts derive no pleasure from eating.

So the general idea is: a limited choice of activities will lead to a more balanced, happier, healthier life among children. A huge choice of activities tends to lead to children constantly needing new activities to satisfy cravings for new activities.

Bottom line: don't spoil your children. Limit their choice of activities, and they will thank you for that later in life. 

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