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.
The paper of record’s inaccurate reporting on a nonexistent criminal investigation was a failure that should entail more serious consequences.
I have read The New York Times since I was a teenager as the newspaper to be trusted, the paper of record, the definitive account. But the huge embarrassment over the story claiming a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton for her emails—leading the webpage, prominent on the front page, before being corrected in the usual, cringeworthy fashion of journalists who stonewall any alleged errors and then downplay the real ones—is a direct challenge to its fundamental credibility. And the paper’s response since the initial huge error was uncovered has not been adequate or acceptable.
This is not some minor mistake. Stories, once published, take on a life of their own. If they reinforce existing views or stereotypes, they fit perfectly into Mark Twain’s observation, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” (Or perhaps Twain never said it, in which case the ubiquity of that attribution serves to validate the point.) And a distorted and inaccurate story about a prominent political figure running for president is especially damaging and unconscionable.
A newly discovered artifact buried with one of Jamestown’s most prominent leaders suggests he could have been a crypto-Catholic.
After 400 years in the Virginia dirt, the box came out of the ground looking like it had been plucked from the ocean. A tiny silver brick, now encrusted with a green patina and rough as sandpaper. Buried beneath it was a human skeleton. The remains would later be identified as those of Captain Gabriel Archer, one of the most prominent leaders at Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America. But it was the box, which appeared to be an ancient Catholic reliquary, that had archaeologists bewildered and astonished.
“One of the major surprises was the discovery of this mysterious small silver box,” said James Horn, the president of the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation. “I have to say, we’re still trying to figure this out. You have the very strange situation of a Catholic reliquary being found with the leader of the first Protestant church in the country.”
The agreement doesn’t guarantee that Tehran will never produce nuclear weapons—because no agreement could do so.
A week ago I volunteered my way into an Atlantic debate on the merits of the Iran nuclear agreement. The long version of the post is here; the summary is that the administration has both specific facts and longer-term historic patterns on its side in recommending the deal.
On the factual front, I argued that opponents had not then (and have not now) met President Obama’s challenge to propose a better real-world alternative to the negotiated terms. Better means one that would make it less attractive for Iran to pursue a bomb, over a longer period of time. Real world means not the standard “Obama should have been tougher” carping but a specific demand that the other countries on “our” side, notably including Russia and China, would have joined in insisting on, and that the Iranians would have accepted.
Orr: “Sometimes a thing happens. Splits your life. There’s a before and after. I got like five of them at this point.”
This was Frank offering a pep talk to the son of his murdered former henchman Stan in tonight’s episode. (More on this in a moment.) But it’s also a line that captures this season of True Detective so perfectly that it almost seems like a form of subliminal self-critique.
Remember when Ray got shot in episode two and appeared to be dead but came back with a renewed sense of purpose and stopped drinking. No? That’s okay. Neither does the show: It was essentially forgotten after the subsequent episode. Remember when half a dozen (or more) Vinci cops were killed in a bloody shootout along with dozen(s?) of civilians? No? Fine: True Detective’s left that behind, too. Unless I missed it, there was not a single mention of this nationally historic bloodbath tonight.
Has the Obama administration’s pursuit of new beginnings blinded it to enduring enmities?
“The president said many times he’s willing to step out of the rut of history.” In this way Ben Rhodes of the White House, who over the years has broken new ground in the grandiosity of presidential apologetics, described the courage of Barack Obama in concluding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with the Islamic Republic of Iran, otherwise known as the Iran deal. Once again Rhodes has, perhaps inadvertently, exposed the president’s premises more clearly than the president likes to do. The rut of history: It is a phrase worth pondering. It expresses a deep scorn for the past, a zeal for newness and rupture, an arrogance about old struggles and old accomplishments, a hastiness with inherited precedents and circumstances, a superstition about the magical powers of the present. It expresses also a generational view of history, which, like the view of history in terms of decades and centuries, is one of the shallowest views of all.
The former secretary of defense lobbied for the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and has now ended the Boy Scouts’ ban on gay scoutmasters.
Eagle Scout. Young Republican. CIA recruit. Air Force officer. CIA director. Secretary of defense.
It’s not the resume of a radical civil-rights campaigner, but Robert Gates has now integrated two of the great bastions of macho American traditional morality—first the U.S. armed forces, and now the Boy Scouts of America. In both cases, Gates pursued a careful, gradual strategy, one that wasn't fast enough for activists. In both cases, he was careful to take the temperature of constituents. And in both cases, once he was ready to act, he did so decisively. In the end what seemed to matter most was not Gates’s personal feelings but his determination to safeguard institutions he cared about and his deft skills as a bureaucratic operator.
This is the third in a series. Readers are invited to send their own responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will post their strongest critiques of the book and the accompanied reviews. (The first batch is here.) To further encourage civil and substantive responses via email, we are closing the comments section. You can follow the whole series on Twitter at #BTWAM and read all of the responses to the book from Atlantic readers and contributors.
Several years ago, Ta-Nehisi Coates took his son, not yet 5, to see a movie on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As his son made his way off the escalator, a white woman pushed him and said, “Come on!” Chaos ensued. There was a black parent’s rage and a white man’s threat to have the black parent arrested. Coates narrates the incident in cool, steady prose. Ultimately, he writes of the regret he carries: “In seeking to defend you I was, in fact, endangering you.”
How a radical epilepsy treatment in the early 20th century paved the way for modern-day understandings of perception, consciousness, and the self
In 1939, a group of 10 people between the ages of 10 and 43, all with epilepsy, traveled to the University of Rochester Medical Center, where they would become the first people to undergo a radical new surgery.
The patients were there because they all struggled with violent and uncontrollable seizures. The procedure they were about to have was untested on humans, but they were desperate—none of the standard drug therapies for seizures had worked.
Between February and May of 1939, their surgeon William Van Wagenen, Rochester’s chief of neurosurgery, opened up each patient’s skull and cut through the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that connects the left hemisphere to the right and is responsible for the transfer of information between them. It was a dramatic move: By slicing through the bundle of neurons connecting the two hemispheres, Van Wagenen was cutting the left half of the brain away from the right, halting all communication between the two.
Companies that overvalue alpha-male behavior need to change—both to retain female talent and for the bottom line.
When it comes to gender equality in the workplace, the research on its economic benefits is clear: Equality can boost profits and enhance reputation. And then there’s also the fact that it’s more fair. But the progress of women in the workplace is so far inadequate: Women are woefully underrepresented in executive positions, the pay gap persists, and the motherhood penalty is very real.
Barbara Annis is the founder of the Gender Intelligence Group, a consultancy that works with executives at major firms (including Deloitte, American Express, BMO Financial Group, and eBay) to create strategies to transform their work cultures into ones that are friendly to both men and women.
I recently spoke with Annis about her work and the challenges to achieving gender parity. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for clarity.