Sometimes a viral video lives up to its name -- "viral," as in virus, as in something that can make you physically ill.
That's what happened to me when I saw that footage of a four-year-old Chinese boy running through the snow in his underpants, shivering and crying as his laughing parents kept on filming. According to the video's back story, the father designed this little exercise as an effort to toughen up his son -- but, really, how can there been any reason to expose a child to a blizzard, then stand back and watch him freezing and crying?
A lot has been said in recent months about the intense pressure being brought on kids by this new wave of so-called "Tiger Moms" and "Eagle Dads." Supporters of this kind of parenting theorize that it makes the children stronger, more self-reliant and, ultimately, more successful.
As far as I'm concerned, the only thing it will do is ensure a boon for psychiatrists 20 years from now, as they try to help a whole generation of young adults reconcile childhoods in which they were pushed too hard and too far. It's time we changed the conversation and stop accepting the tactics of these parents who are shoving their kids to the brink in a misguided effort to help them achieve the successes they could not find for themselves.
If we are going to look to the animal kingdom for role models, why rely solely on the ferocity of tigers or the swooping strength of eagles to give us guidance? Wouldn't we do better to instill in our children that other kind of strength -- the one that comes from the inside? I've often seen films of elephant moms and penguin dads caring for their offspring, and it's a touching thing to watch. They keep their litter warm. They nurture them. They teach them. They protect them.
Or maybe we should leave the jungle behind and get back to our living rooms and kitchen tables, where we can have real conversations about the complex challenges facing parents and their children today. Kids are being bombarded by high expectations like never before, and along with them, unbearable stress. They're pressured to perform well in school; to fit in socially; to be smart about sex and drugs; to cope with the perils of bullying and cyberbullying. For kids today, trying to navigate it all has never been harder.
This is why what happens at home is more important than ever. I am certainly as driven to succeed as the next person, if not more so; but I credit that not to some boot-camp kind of tough love when I was growing up, but rather to a more generous kind of parenting. My Mom and Dad weren't perfect, but if I had to pinpoint the one thing they did that instilled lifelong strength and self-confidence in my sister and brother and me, it was the fact that they listened. At face value, that seems kind of simple; but it was vital to me as a child. I knew I always had my parents' ear -- whether I was sitting on my bed, talking to my Mom about some drama I'd had in school, or getting one of my father's routine calls when he was working out of town, and reading him my latest English paper. Both of my parents were entirely focused on listening to our thoughts and feelings. That, to me, is the North Star of parenting.
So I offer for discussion on these pages a different approach to parenting. It's time to teach our children that success -- true success -- is about how we look out for each other as a community, how we protect the weak and needy; how we care for the planet; and how we come to seek -- and love -- a lifetime of learning.
It is not all about short-term success. It's long-term happiness that makes a life.