October, 2003

The Kids Are All Right

By Lisa De Nike

Los Angeles clinical psychologist and educator Wendy Mogel has a message for parents “Don’t try so hard to protect your children. If they are going to grow up to be independent, self-reliant people, they need to learn to take care of themselves.”

That’s just one of the central themes of Mogel’s book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, which is now in its 12th printing and a hit with parents and educators across the county.

Mogel brings her message to Baltimore next week, as guest speaker for The Bryn Mawr School’s annual Cornelia Donner Lecture Oct. 28 at 7 p.m.

Cosponsored by Bryn Mawr and the Parents Council of Greater Baltimore, the talk will be held at Bryn Mawr’s Centennial Hall, 109 W. Melrose Ave.

“Every day since my book was printed more than three years ago, I have gotten an invitation to come speak at a school or synagogue or other group,” Mogel said in a telephone interview last week.

“I’m heartened that so many people want to talk about what I brought up in my book, which is how in this world of competition and materialism, we can raise optimistic, compassionate and resourceful children who are not spoiled,” she said. “I think the book hit a nerve because parents and teachers are hungry for this kind of information and discussion.”

Mogel discovered her Jewish faith as an adult and bases her book on Jewish teachings. But she believes the book resonates with parents and teachers everywhere, regardless of their faiths.

“I have taken my talk to private schools, both religious and secular, some Jewish and some not,” Mogel said. “For example, I have spoken to 1,200 Episcopal school administrators about the same things. Though Judaism is the foundation I based the book’s principles on, I think they are pretty universal. As parents, how can we raise great people who can stand on their own two feet and make a contribution?”

The first step in successful parenting, Mogel said, is recognizing and truly accepting your children for who they are.

“I found as a clinical psychologist that parents wanted their children to either be gifted or learning disabled,” she said. “They couldn’t seem to tolerate the idea that their child might be ordinary or normal. There is so much emphasis on being special and perfect in our society. And it puts so much pressure on our children.”

Parents also seem to expect their children to excel in every area.

“I think this impulse comes from several things, and one is a genuine desire to make sure a child succeeds in what we view as a harsh and competitive world,” Mogel said. “We try to inoculate our (children) against failure by giving (them) all kinds of lessons and expecting perfect grades in school.”

But she said parents also need to be wary of what some psychologists call “achievement by proxy syndrome.”

“Some parents use their children’s achievements to reflect glory on themselves or to fulfill a dream the parent had but never achieved,” she said. ‘`This is not fair to the child or healthy. I try to remind parents that childhood is the only time people are expected to be great at so many things and skills.”

Mogel also thinks children would be better off if parents stopped being so protective.

``Children learn about the world by being out in it and doing things and finding their way. That’s common sense,” Mogel said. “But many parents today are so afraid of what’s out there, on the streets or in the media or even at school, that they micro-manage every aspect of their children’s lives.”

Mogel tells parents that if they really want to protect their children, they will help their children manage risks on their own.

“Not only is so much close attention bound to make children nervous and anxious, but it also produces children who are self-centered and often incompetent,” Mogel said.

“People in today’s culture often confuse self-esteem with being self-centered, and that’s a dangerous thing,” she said. “No one aims to make their child self-centered, but that is often what happens. Parents need to realize there are perils to their children being so privileged.”

October 22, 2003