Kids who understand gratitude have better grades and are less likely to get depressed. This was the conclusion of a recent story in the Wall Street Journal that struck a chord with both my husband and me.
Both of us hail from immigrant families who arrived to the U.S. in the 1970s. Both of us grew up poor. When I was a kid, everything we owned was either a hand-me-down or picked up from the curb. My husband and I share stories of being shaped as latch-key kids with no toys and high-water jeans.
I hesitated starting a toy-review website because I knew my kids would be testing and playing with most of the toys. New toys. Lots of them. I feared too many toys would make them ungrateful or, as others might say, “spoiled.” The idea of spoiling kids is incongruous to the parent I want to be. And yet, I still give them toys because I love them (the toys and the kids) so much.
So parents like me face this dilemma: We want to give our children everything we didn’t have. But we don’t want them to forget where they came from either. The truth is, though, that I learned gratitude because it was forced on me: My parents simply didn’t have material things to give me so I learned to be thankful for the little we had. So by giving my kids what I never had—toys, snow boots, fashionable jeans—would they be destined to become ungrateful?
The question has consumed me for much of the last year, and so, the Wall Street Journal article was timely. It encourages families to make their children do chores and express thanks for their meals and other gestures. But I have young kids and those tactics felt too abstract.
And so, I turned to the best tools I have to make my kids understand: toys. Kids do not know how big or little your paycheck is. Kids do not understand what income tax or health insurance deductibles are either. However, they do know how much a Nintendo DS game cartridge costs. They know how much a Wii costs. Or a slice of pizza or a bottle of Gatorade. This is their vocabulary—their understanding of values in our material world. We can work with that. And to get our kids to understand the meaning of gratitude, we must.
If Kids Cut the Veggies, They Will Eat Them
The two areas I wanted to most impart gratitude: food and play. With food, my kids were horribly picky and wasteful. It was getting out of hand and so I sought help from Susan Roberts, a pediatric occupational therapist and author of My Kid Eats Everything. She told me kids eat horrible diets today because they are just being “fed.”
“It is such a passive process now,” she says. In the past, until about the mid-20th century, kids joined families in the kitchen, helping to prepare food, setting the table, clearing the table, and washing the dishes. Among the, as Roberts terms them, “multi-causal factors that have contributed to the decline in children being involved in meal preparation and clean up” are: changes in agriculture making it easier for restaurants to sell food cheaply, the increase in convenience stores, and more women at work. “People eat out much more often,” she said, so kids are not eating what’s available, they are ordering what they want. Roberts actually tells families that even if they go out to restaurants, the parents should still order the food for the child. “We have to put the parents back in charge of food. Right now, it’s the children who are in charge so of course, they’re going to eat gummy bears and goldfish crackers.” Long ago, Roberts reminds, children even caught their family’s food.
For my eldest son, a 9-year-old, we laid out a mission: to grill our July 4th barbecue cheeseburgers. As we began our very first step—buying food–I suddenly understood how this could work. In the butcher shop, my son asked me where the “round circle” hamburgers were. He had no idea what ground beef really looked like or how it was made. I was ashamed. And then I showed him.
At home, he donned his personalized apron and got to work, cracking eggs and kneading the meat with his bare hands. I thought he would be grossed out but he was beaming with pride. He formed and grilled the patties, sliced the tomatoes, and babysat his burgers, feeling scared occasionally from the heat on the grill. I don’t think I have ever seen my son eat a burger so fast in his life. He watched all of us eat ours, too. He was so grateful, he even washed the dishes.
Lego Lessons on Money
Teaching my children to be grateful for their toys was very challenging because they just have so many. So I decided to challenge them with the one they love the most: Legos.
I had noticed that my children were expecting me to buy them one set after another. They are often gorgeous and elaborate, ranging from remote- controlled passenger trains to majestic models of famous buildings like the Burj Khalifa and the Eiffel Tower. This year, Lego launched a Disney Princess line with a set that resembles Cinderella’s castle at Disney theme parks. Even the smallest details of a set, like wine goblets, roast chickens, antennae, almost always connect with a signature, satisfactory Lego snap. Kids like mine are infatuated with those details and, thus, with Lego overall. The problematic part I noticed was that when my kids tried to make something using solely their own creativity, they became quickly dissatisfied with their attempt and then they would start asking me to buy them more sets.
My first instinct was to swear off Lego, but I have always resolved to be fair and honest with my kids. To pretend to not be able to afford certain things is not a good lesson either and hardly will teach them gratitude. I decided to make them more grateful for their current collection and get them to see them as a strategic investment.
As with our our July 4th cheeseburgers, I brought my children in on the buying process. I decided to physically bring them to an actual brick-and-mortar Lego store and teach them how to shop smart. Now that I shop for everything online, I forget what kind of impact shopping with the kids can have. Kids can never grow up to be good consumers unless I teach them how to recognize value and quality and there is no better medium for teaching kids this than with the subject in which they have the most expertise: toys.
Once at the Lego store, we headed to the Pick A Brick Wall. They watched other children dumping handfuls of bricks into containers that customers could buy for a fixed price ($7.99 for the small and $14.99 for the large). My kids were about to do the same but I asked them to be more mindful about what they wanted to make and how many bricks they could actually fit into the container. This was incredibly difficult for them.
Just like a kid in a candy store, the Pick A Brick Wall can be overwhelming. You can easily get greedy and forget why you are there, that is, to get a lot of bricks and to get the ones you really want. The space within the container is finite and so was our time. I gave the kids two options: get the small container and not be questioned about its contents or the bigger container but only if they followed my lesson on being resourceful. I would pay for only one option. They chose the latter. So to gain the most value for our money, I asked them to snap a row of same-color bricks together and then carefully place them into the container. It was a time-consuming process, best done sitting on the floor of the store.
Once they started, though, it was so obvious to my children that they could put a lot more bricks and pieces in with this method. The store employees smiled and said that they have never seen anyone do that before. Passerby parents asked their kids to do the same; none of them would. My kids started to become embarrassed but I reminded them of that other option—a smaller container and fewer Legos.
After all that hard work of stacking as many as 270 (1×4) bricks into that one container, they poured in their favorite pieces into the many gaps between the stacks. These were tiny translucent studs that they use as “treasures” when they play. Since then, my kids have become more enthusiastic about building and take better care of the bricks they own.
Now, they always go to their favorite bricks first, the ones they worked so hard to get. At least for their beloved Lego bricks, they certainly are grateful. I also constantly remind them that the minute they stop showing gratitude for their toys is the minute I start packing them up to send away to relatives or for donation. Or sometimes, while they are off at school, I will just pack up the toys and games that haven’t been touched and, months later, mysteriously bring them out again.
As parents, despite wanting to give our kids everything, one of the greatest gifts we can give is to literally give less, to force decision-making and awareness among all their choices. We need to have more faith in them and let them be challenged. It’s not easy to watch your kids struggle—but in the end, it does breed gratitude. And there is no question that these lessons are most effective if you start early and consistently through every child’s primary occupation: play.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
We can all agree that Millennials are the worst. But what is a Millennial? A fight between The New York Times and Slate inspired us to try and figure that out.
We can all agree that Millennials are the worst. But what is a Millennial? A fight between The New York Times and Slate inspired us to try and figure that out.
After the Times ran a column giving employers tips on how to deal with Millennials (for example, they need regular naps) (I didn't read the article; that's from my experience), Slate's Amanda Hess pointed out that the examples the Times used to demonstrate their points weren't actually Millennials. Some of the people quoted in the article were as old as 37, which was considered elderly only 5,000 short years ago.
The age of employees of The Wire, the humble website you are currently reading, varies widely, meaning that we too have in the past wondered where the boundaries for the various generations were drawn. Is a 37-year-old who gets text-message condolences from her friends a Millennial by virtue of her behavior? Or is she some other generation, because she was born super long ago? (Sorry, 37-year-old Rebecca Soffer who is a friend of a friend of mine and who I met once! You're not actually that old!) Since The Wire is committed to Broadening Human Understanding™, I decided to find out where generational boundaries are drawn.
One black woman tries to reconcile her faith with the institution’s history of discrimination.
It’s been six years since I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each year has been a lesson in faith and doubt, stretching and engaging what it means to be black, a woman, and Mormon. The decision to join on my own was not an easy one. As the child of a Protestant mother and a father who converted to Islam in his teens, I was doing something unheard of in my family by becoming a Mormon. And as a black woman, I had a heightened awareness of what it means to potentially be the only black person in any given congregation in the United States.
As a child, I watched as preachers in my congregation espoused their deepest beliefs about God. They spoke to the horrors faced by black people in the United States in their dealings in life and death. There was intense power in their sermons, one that was complemented by the soft presence of a “Black Jesus,” a savior who understood the plight of African Americans in word and form. He represented the long tradition of resistance within the black church to white-supremacist theology: Racialized violence in the United States was often supported by white Christians who recognized whiteness as good and blackness as evil. Within the walls of my congregation, blackness was not discounted, but embraced in all its various forms from the pulpit to the pews. Islam also informed my faith; I witnessed the immense devotion in my father’s prayers and the care with which he kept his Koran. These two traditions of my childhood shared a reverence for and recognition of a version of God who is not racist.
Women engage in indirect aggression and slut-shaming, even in clinical research studies. Why?
One day in Ontario, 86 straight women were paired off into groups of two—either with a friend or a stranger—and taken to a lab at McMaster University. There, a researcher told them they were about to take part in a study about female friendships. But they were soon interrupted by one of two women.
Half the participants were interrupted by a thin, blond, attractive woman with her hair in a bun, dressed in a plain blue t-shirt and khaki pants, whom the researchers called “the conservative confederate."
The choice to leave academia does not have to mean life as a barista.
There is a widespread belief that humanities Ph.D.s have limited job prospects. The story goes that since tenure-track professorships are increasingly being replaced by contingent faculty, the vast majority of English and history Ph.D.s now roam the earth as poorly-paid adjuncts or, if they leave academia, as baristas and bookstore cashiers. As English professor William Pannapacker put it in Slate a few years back, “a humanities Ph.D. will place you at a disadvantage competing against 22-year-olds for entry-level jobs that barely require a high-school diploma.” His advice to would-be graduate students was simple: Recognize that a humanities Ph.D is now a worthless degree and avoid getting one at all cost.
Every year, hundreds of people attend the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot, cultivating a love for assault weapons in an era of mass violence.
It was Saturday at the 16th-annual Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show, and I had my thumbs on the trigger of a Browning M1919, prepared to unleash hellacious destruction on an unsuspecting refrigerator.
The Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot is one of several “machine-gun shoots” around the country. For two days in June, hundreds of people traveled to Wyandotte, Oklahoma, for the opportunity to fire nearly every species of automatic weapon from the past century. There were UZIs and M16s, Barrett .50-caliber rifles, WWII-era belt-fed Brownings, and even a Minigun—a giant, chair-mounted cylindrical device powered by a car battery. As of 10 a.m., all 84 firing positions were trained downrange onto a hill stocked with junked cars and dead kitchen appliances, waiting for the starting signal.
According to a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, psychological traits really do vary by region.
Thanks to demography researchers and their love for maps, Americans can visualize where their home states fit in on a national scale of a variety of political, economic, social, and health characteristics. One of the latest maps forgoes these traditional methods of measuring the country and investigates something a little less observable: the personality traits of its citizens.
The map, published in a recent study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, chops the country into three distinct psychological regions based on a range of empirical data. The researchers didn't predict what these clusters might look like (or how many of them there would be), but they expected neighboring states to be, on average, psychologically similar. Geographic proximity is often correlated with human behavior, such as personality traits and lifestyles.
Today in shoesplaining: Until your career is at its height, ladies, maybe you should stick to flats.
It went like this. At a reverse-demo event in New York last night, Jorge Cortell, the CEO of the healthcare startup Kanteron Systems, noticed a female attendee wearing shoes. He snapped a picture of the shoes. He then tweeted the picture of the shoes. This is what he said:
Sexist! the people cried. No, it's not! Cortell responded. His #brainsnotrequired musings were merely protective, he explained, of the health of the shoe-wearer. And, by extension, of the health of us all. Heels are dangerous. Heels are dumb. High-heeled shoes are not, as it were, "sensible shoes."
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.