Raising Self-Reliant Children In A Self-Indulgent World by H. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen

Read: 26 June, 2012

The title is rather self-explanatory. Raising is about how to empower children to exercise their own judgement and to accurately predict the consequences of their choices. The book focuses on the comparison between the old social model (multi-generational families, kids are predominantly interacting with people of diverse age/maturity, children – and their ability to work – are an integral part of the family’s survival) and the new social model (kids are primarily interacting with their peer group, parents provide for kids, kids have few responsibilities). The idea being that the new model provides for children, rather than integrating children into the provider network of the family. This leaves children feeling helpless, lacking in self-confidence, and feeling unnecessary or burdensome.

I have an acquaintance with Huntington’s Disease who will often say that our primary need as social animals is to feel needed. He believes that when people with Huntington’s lose enough of their faculties that they are made into recipients of care rather than providers of it, their condition starts to degenerate much faster. Rather, the best way to prolong the life and wellbeing of someone with Huntington’s is to keep giving them ways to feel useful. For example, whenever he goes to see his specialist, he will make a point of asking a question of one of the sick people in the waiting room (such as “what time is it?”). In his experience, when people who have been made vulnerable are given the opportunity to help someone else for a change, even if only in such a small way, it dramatically raises their spirits.

And that’s the message that I got from Raising. Like Huntington’s patients, children are often seen as weak, vulnerable, and in need of care rather than capable of providing it. Glenn and Nelsen’s solution is to seek out opportunities to allow children to step up and provide for the family (in whatever way they can – whether it’s doing chores around the house, mowing lawns to raise money for small trips, or caring for a garden to provide food for the family).

I enjoyed the message, and it’s something that my friend has greatly impressed on me over the years. The problem with Raising is that the authors spend a great deal of time describing the perceived problem, and very little discussing possible solutions. There are occasional anecdotes (“true stories” given in horribly insincere dialogue), but that’s about the extent of it. Perhaps I am already sold on the concept of being needed as humans’ greatest need so I wasn’t the intended audience, but I would have appreciated much more of a focus on brainstorming age-appropriate responsibilities for children.

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