Dr. Michele Borba is my favorite parenting expert. You may have seen her on the Today show or CNN (or countless other television shows), or perhaps you’ve seen one of her many books on the shelves of your favorite bookstore or library. She is a former classroom teacher with a wide range of teaching experience, including work with children with learning, physical, behavioral, and emotional disabilities. She received a Doctorate in Educational Psychology and Counseling from the University of San Francisco, and is the mother of three grown sons.
For more than a decade, ever since my daughter was little, I’ve appreciated her down-to-Earth, straightforward, positive approach to parenting. When ChicagoNow announced Interviewpalooza and encouraged bloggers to contact people whom they admire, Dr. Borba was the first person who came to mind. I’m very grateful that she took time out of her busy schedule to share her wisdom, advice and encouragement.
Here’s Part I of my interview with Dr. Michele Borba on parenting tweens:
Tween Us: What concerns you most about middle schoolers today?
Dr. Michele Borba: The tween age is absolutely critical. 9 is the new 13.
All the issues we used to assume will happen at the teenage level are filtering down to earlier ages.
Peer pressure is filtering down to younger kids even though they are not cognitively ready for it like teens are. Eating disorders are hitting at 8 and 9 years old. Puberty is hitting earlier, too.
TU: How do tween parents deal with this shift?
MB: First, as parents we need to empathize with our kids. Then, we need to get educated. Don’t be shocked, and instead realize that it is a changing culture. We need to wise up.
TU: So we’re not crazy when we think that parenting today is tougher than in the past?
MB: No! Parenting has changed, and not always for the better.
First, we’re far more stressed. Second, kids are growing up sooner and faster, biologically. Third, it is a racier and raunchier world. Fourth, we don’t have the support system we used to have. Moms say that they’re really lonely. Who are they going to connect with?
Also, we’re being hit with so many variations of how to parent that it takes our own confidence down.
You hear you should be a Tiger Mom, then you hear you should be Free Range. We hear what we’re not doing that we should be and what we’re doing wrong.
That leads to us doubting ourselves, and it takes down the joy of parenting.
MB: Use your instincts. Do what you think works best for your kid and don’t detour from it.
Also, families are not having as much fun together. We have lost the fun. Our culture has become so focused on achievement, grades, and status. We get really crunched for time. Tweens really need time to play and have social interaction, and they need time to decompress.
Tweens are really stressed out because pressures are coming down to them sooner. They used to have time outside and time to do nothing, instead they are plugging in. That takes away from face-to-face time, time that we need to giggle and laugh together.
TU: What’s the best piece of parenting advice you’ve heard in all your years of research, writing and speaking?
MB: The most brilliant piece of advice I was ever given was a junior in high school in Taipei doing a training. It was an upper echelon school with stellar kids. I was getting a tour from an amazing student who was really positive and fun, really involved in sports and a leader in the school. I asked him why he was not stressed out. He smiled and said, “Oh, that’s my parents.” He explained that they used the “baby step” model.
“Most kid get hit with the stress all at once,” he said. “My parents knew that I would be facing stress later on, so they gave it to me at an earlier age in measurable doses I can handle. I can cope because I know I can handle it. They slowly let me find my own way.”
Parents should be working to take baby steps when raising kids. Ask how much you are doing for your child, and then slowly take steps backward. What is my child capable of doing? What should she do more of?
The greatest way to build self esteem is help them see they can do it, they can cope, they can live without you.
You need to figure out what works for your child, and they can take that strategy without them throughout life. For some kids, it’s physical activity. Maybe it’s teaching your daughter yoga, or taking a walk together, or putting up a basketball hoop. Sometimes it’s a hobby, such as music, journaling, or knitting.
Anything that relaxes them is good.
I’m so grateful to Dr. Borba for sharing her wisdom. She answered even more questions, including some from readers, in Part II, which you can find here.
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