I’m sure you know someone who started their career with minimal resources and over the years, accumulated wealth. Author Malcolm Gladwell writes about an immigrant who now lives in Southern California. He came to the United States with almost nothing in his pocket and worked hard enough to become one of the most powerful men in Hollywood.
When he spoke to Gladwell, however, he confessed how difficult it is to raise good children once they become aware of their family’s money. He explained it this way: “My own instinct is that it’s much harder than anybody believes to bring up kids in a wealthy environment. People are ruined by challenged economic lives. But they are ruined by wealth, as well, because they lose their ambition and they lose their pride and they lose their sense of self-worth.”
He paused and then concluded. “It’s difficult at both ends of the spectrum. There’s some place in the middle which probably works best for all.”
This is the big idea I’d like to discuss as it relates to building good kids. What is too much and what is too little? What’s the balance in almost every category that, when we strike it, produces secure, well adjusted kids who are ready to graduate and become leaders in society?
The Answer Is in the Middle
For instance, money makes parenting easier until a certain point. The fact is, families who are poor have difficulty providing enough resources for their kids. The ones who are rich have difficulty providing enough boundaries for their children. For example, the parent who has little can easily refuse to purchase the latest iPhone for their child, saying, “We can’t afford it.” An affluent parent cannot say that without lying. So, to offer boundaries, they must move from saying, “I can’t buy that” to “I won’t buy that.” It’s a different response inviting an emotional debate from a teen.
For what it’s worth, the scholars who research happiness suggest that more money stops making people happier at a family income of about $75,000 a year. After that, economists say “diminishing marginal returns” set in. The kids continue to think that more money, more possessions, more gadgets and more clothes will make them happier, but they don’t. In fact, they can have an adverse affect. The more resources a young person has, the less resourceful they tend to become.
The Inverted U
Psychologists Barry Schwartz and Adam Grant argue that nearly everything of consequence follows the “Inverted U.” The diagram below illustrates that experiences have desirable limits on both extremes. Too much of a good thing can be as dangerous or counterproductive as too little. Just the right amount results in parents raising children who are “well-adjusted” as young adults.
So, what areas do we need to strike a balance where we don’t do too much or too little for our kids?
The Parental Engagement Scale
The list below represents 16 issues I believe we must balance in our parental approach. If it’s helpful, I encourage you to click the link, watch the video and take the Parental Engagement Scale.
Finding Balance Between Disengaged and Over-Functioning:
1. Activities: Parent is present but allows children to navigate their involvement.
2. Emotional Support: Parent is both supportive and demanding.
3. Technology: The home environment makes technology a servant, not a master.
4. Time: Parent shows love without making the child the focal point.
5. Belongings: Parent provides resources but cultivates resourcefulness in child through budgeting.
6. Nutrition: Child eats a balanced diet in moderation.
7. Training: Parent equips the child to do things independently.
8. Work: Child learns to work a job or develop a work ethic and earn an income.
9. Relationship Example: Parent demonstrates healthy relationships with family.
10. Social Media: Child learns to use social media but is not enslaved to it.
11. Table Time: Child enjoys regular time with family around a table.
12. Problem Solving: Parent equips the child to problem-solve.
13. Social Interaction: Child has balanced time on screens and in person.
14. Ownership/Responsibility: Parents encourage child to prioritize and own their responsibilities.
15. Future Plans: Parent works with the child to create a future plan that fits him/her.
16. Preparation for Adulthood: Parent prepares the child for the path—not the path for the child.
If these issues seem relevant, watch the brief video and take the Parental Engagement Scale, to self-assess whether you’re doing too little or too much for your children. As they become adults, it will become clear where they were under-resourced and where they were over-resourced. But beware. Both outcomes can stir emotions, positive and negative. I met Liz Murray in 2009. She was the “Homeless to Harvard” student, who literally went from the streets of New York (as a homeless teenager) to become a Harvard University graduate on a full scholarship.
She recalls being stunned as she entered her dorm laundry room for the first time. She stood gazing at a washer and dryer that were hers to use to her heart’s content. She told me she stood there next to another Harvard freshman, both of them crying as they looked at the appliances. Liz, of course, cried tears of joy because she’d never had access to such luxuries. Her fellow student was crying tears of desperation because she was forced to use them for the first time. Mom had always done her laundry for her.
Let’s strike a balance for our kid’s sake.
Download Assessment & Get Access to Free Video
Find out how your parenting measures up with our brand new Parental Engagement Scale. This scale is a simple tool enabling you to evaluate your parental approach. The hope is that none of us are guilty of moving to either extreme on the scale, but your reflection and subsequent marks will enable you to see where improvement is needed. This is only helpful as you respond as honest and accurate as possible. Place an “X” on each dotted line, indicating where you believe you’ve set the example for your children. Afterward, discuss your answers.
Fill out the form below to access the Parental Engagement Scale and watch the free bonus video.