Don't book a one-way flight to Paris or start throwing your freedom fries at the notion that we could learn something from the French.
You don't have to be French to assert parental authority. Nor do you need to assume that what you're doing is inherently wrong in the parenting department.
"Saying 'no,' isn't exactly a cutting-edge parenting technique," writes author Pamela Druckerman. Many experts agree.
In a New York Times op-ed, husband-and-wife authors Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang say in any culture, parents would do their kids a big favor by teaching self-control.
"This ability . . ." they write, "predicts success in education, career and marriage. Indeed, childhood self-control is twice as important as intelligence."
Aamodt is a former editor-in-chief of Nature Neuroscience and Wang is an associate professor of molecular biology and neuroscience at Princeton. They wrote "Welcome to Your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College."
Omaha psychologist Pat Friman, who runs Boys Town's Center for Behavioral Health, says a shift has occurred in American families, transferring power from adults to children, "the least competent members of a family."
His prescription sounds French: Establish boundaries, add structure (like regular family dinners together) and make sure Mom and Dad carve out time for themselves to keep the marriage strong.
Jill Brown, assistant professor in Creighton University's psychology department, offers another view:
Don't assume that what American parents are doing is stupid. She said presenting children with choices helps them navigate an increasingly complicated world.
She also pointed out that the Druckerman book focuses on early childhood and that the real test would come later in life.
"I would suspect while our terrible twos might look bad and our threes and fours," Brown said, "we might not look that different from French kids when we're older."
Aamodt and Wang address the early childhood issue in their Feb. 19 New York Times piece.
"Poor self-control in elementary school increases the risk of adult financial difficulties, criminal behavior, single parenthood and drug dependence," they write.
But Aamodt and Wang also say there's a down side to the way the French get that self-control: Schools are rigid and, by age 12, have children tracked into academic paths that reduces their future social mobility. So American parents would do well to harness a child's own drives, back off the hovering and don't be so concerned about praise and self-esteem.
Educators at Omaha's Liberty Elementary School try to do that in extraordinarily complicated circumstances. With a mostly Spanish-speaking population, the school insists that students bring home assignment notebooks for parents to sign and read. Translations are provided. During parent-teacher conferences, students are corrected if they don't give the right answer the question: Who's in charge here?
"Your parents," counselor CeCe DiMasi will prompt.
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