Not Raising A Jerk

A few days ago between making breakfasts and packing lunches I turned on the TV and heard the anchors mention an upcoming story “How Not to Raise a Jerk.” My interest was peaked. First, why in the world would it be necessary to describe ones’ own children as a jerk. But also, yet another reference to how good parenting is becoming catch phrases.  Is it really possible that all kids need from their parents can fit into a 90 second spot on the morning news. Despite my skepticism, the headline peaked my interest and when the story came on I listened.

As it turned out, they were discussing a wildly popular Ted Talk from Tedx called, “The Expectation Gap,” where Dr. Deborah Gilboa talked about kids and chores. I’ll save you the view (although the title is linked above if you want to take a moment to watch), 82% of adults say they had chores growing up and only 28% say they give their kids chores that require similar levels of responsibility.

As we increase expectations on kids achievements, we are willing to accept less responsibility from our kids and do whatever we can to help them succeed. Kids need to be given more responsibility and opportunities to earn respect. They need to learn to solve their own problems and not to have everything handed to them.

Here is the part I love – problem solving for life isn’t the same as college admittance criteria (high SAT scores, athletics, etc.). Problem solving in life comes from responsibility and failure and character. Cores are essential to teaching character. Taking out the trash teaches them to be part of the team and that they have responsibility to people other than themselves. Chores also teach them happiness – for solving problems from themselves – not just from being handed a candy bar and their favorite TV show.

We have to teach kids and teenagers to solve problems for themselves. And. Instead of constantly solving problems for them – let them solve problems that they are capable of solving on their own. This can be achieved in three steps. Three.

  1. What problem do you want to solve?
  2. Listen
  3. Step back and encourage them to solve the problem on their own.

I was a skeptic, but maybe it is that simple. But also that complicated. And maybe. Maybe you should watch this Ted Talk for yourself. Its worth it.


Sarah is a working mom, graduate student – and most importantly – the mother of two young children. Her daughter is quickly transition into the tween years and her son is enjoying his last year of preschool before heading to kindergarten.

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