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Talk Tells Parents to Tame Their Interloping

She said that children are not bonsai trees to be groomed and controlled, but “wildflowers of an unknown genus and species, and it’s (our) job to provide a nurturing environment.”

Tracey Masella, a social worker with Silver Hill Hospital, a nonprofit psychiatric hospital in New Canaan, led the talk and short question-and-answer session with close to 200 parents.

The program was also presented on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 200 parents in attendance as well.

With taking one’s life representing the second highest cause of adolescent death, and millions of young people experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, Masella described a “public health emergency” traceable — in part — to parental and related peer pressures for success and high achievement.

In the process of trying to cultivate high achievement through various kinds of micromanagement, Masella said parents are simultaneously robbing their children of opportunities to develop life skills, as well as emotional intelligence.

In the video Lythcott-Haims described this “certain kind of parenting,” which is the opposite of neglectful but goes way too far in the other direction.

“Parents feel a kid can’t be successful unless the parent is protecting and preventing at every turn,” she said, “and hovering over every happening and micromanaging at every moment.”

“All of this is done for some hoped-for degree of perfection,” she said. “We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection we were never asked to perform at ourselves.”

Consequently, she said, kids are burned out — “withering” — and some are even wondering if this life will turn out to be worth it.

Masella shared background on brain development of young people, which she noted wasn’t generally equipped for all the weight and responsibilities put upon it.

“Their schedules are like some heads of state … with a CEO that’s not even out of elementary school,” she said.

“All of this is because we want them to be what we consider successful,” she said.

And because it’s what she called a flawed system enveloped in a dream of perfection that the parents maintain, when things go awry as they ultimately must, parents then intervene and attempt to fix all their problems for them, regardless of the cost.

“The kid learns a very valuable lesson — somebody is going to solve my problems for me,” Masella said sarcastically. “If I squeak loud enough, somebody other than me is going to come in and take care of me.”

Masella said it’s never too late to start sending a new message to one’s children, though as they get older it becomes more critical to listen to them, for random “teaching moments” from parents make way for peer influence by their midteens.

One of the key elements, she said, is demonstrating the values you want to instill through action.

“I hear all the time parents say, ‘I don’t care what my kid’s grades are,’” Masella said, “’as long as they try their best.’”

She said, however, that if you really mean that you shouldn’t go on the school website on a daily basis — or multiple times a day, as many parents do — to check grades and homework.

“That’s putting your money where your mouth is,” she said.

Parents, she said, will also do well to express less interest in school and more in their children themselves, showing them love and real acceptance.

“What’s the one thing we talk to our kids about the most?” she said. “School. What’s the one thing they don’t want to talk about?”

Masella highlighted other elements of wellness, including sleep.

“We are depriving our kids, as a society, of sleep,” she said, noting the impact on attitude, including anxiety, is corollary.

She also put in a plug for unplugging, even for 30 minutes a day, and highly recommended letting the whole household become “like a monastery” at least for a small part of each day to augment mental health.

Second Selectman Jennifer Tooker helped introduce the program, noting that she constantly hears questions from constituents about how the community can address various issues facing young people.

“We want you, our residents, to know that these are not easy topics to tackle,” she said, “and really it takes a village.”

Allison Keisman, a co-chair of the PTA committee, said the purpose of the talk was “to raise awareness and spark a new parenting movement in Westport.”

She told parents that if the community at large is able to shift its mindset and rethink the culture as it stands, “maybe you’ll start to watch yourself in overparenting moments.”

She said that children are not bonsai trees to be groomed and controlled, but “wildflowers of an unknown genus and species, and it’s (our) job to provide a nurturing environment.”

Tracey Masella, a social worker with Silver Hill Hospital, a nonprofit psychiatric hospital in New Canaan, led the talk and short question-and-answer session with close to 200 parents.

The program was also presented on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 200 parents in attendance as well.

With taking one’s life representing the second highest cause of adolescent death, and millions of young people experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression, Masella described a “public health emergency” traceable — in part — to parental and related peer pressures for success and high achievement.

In the process of trying to cultivate high achievement through various kinds of micromanagement, Masella said parents are simultaneously robbing their children of opportunities to develop life skills, as well as emotional intelligence.

In the video Lythcott-Haims described this “certain kind of parenting,” which is the opposite of neglectful but goes way too far in the other direction.

“Parents feel a kid can’t be successful unless the parent is protecting and preventing at every turn,” she said, “and hovering over every happening and micromanaging at every moment.”

“All of this is done for some hoped-for degree of perfection,” she said. “We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection we were never asked to perform at ourselves.”

Consequently, she said, kids are burned out — “withering” — and some are even wondering if this life will turn out to be worth it.

Masella shared background on brain development of young people, which she noted wasn’t generally equipped for all the weight and responsibilities put upon it.

“Their schedules are like some heads of state … with a CEO that’s not even out of elementary school,” she said.

“All of this is because we want them to be what we consider successful,” she said.

And because it’s what she called a flawed system enveloped in a dream of perfection that the parents maintain, when things go awry as they ultimately must, parents then intervene and attempt to fix all their problems for them, regardless of the cost.

“The kid learns a very valuable lesson — somebody is going to solve my problems for me,” Masella said sarcastically. “If I squeak loud enough, somebody other than me is going to come in and take care of me.”

Masella said it’s never too late to start sending a new message to one’s children, though as they get older it becomes more critical to listen to them, for random “teaching moments” from parents make way for peer influence by their midteens.

One of the key elements, she said, is demonstrating the values you want to instill through action.

“I hear all the time parents say, ‘I don’t care what my kid’s grades are,’” Masella said, “’as long as they try their best.’”

She said, however, that if you really mean that you shouldn’t go on the school website on a daily basis — or multiple times a day, as many parents do — to check grades and homework.

“That’s putting your money where your mouth is,” she said.

Parents, she said, will also do well to express less interest in school and more in their children themselves, showing them love and real acceptance.

“What’s the one thing we talk to our kids about the most?” she said. “School. What’s the one thing they don’t want to talk about?”

Masella highlighted other elements of wellness, including sleep.

“We are depriving our kids, as a society, of sleep,” she said, noting the impact on attitude, including anxiety, is corollary.

She also put in a plug for unplugging, even for 30 minutes a day, and highly recommended letting the whole household become “like a monastery” at least for a small part of each day to augment mental health.

Second Selectman Jennifer Tooker helped introduce the program, noting that she constantly hears questions from constituents about how the community can address various issues facing young people.

“We want you, our residents, to know that these are not easy topics to tackle,” she said, “and really it takes a village.”

Allison Keisman, a co-chair of the PTA committee, said the purpose of the talk was “to raise awareness and spark a new parenting movement in Westport.”

She told parents that if the community at large is able to shift its mindset and rethink the culture as it stands, “maybe you’ll start to watch yourself in overparenting moments.”

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