I always considered Jerry Seinfeld a good comedian and a well-known TV personality but not much else. The last I heard of him was when his show ended and he got married. Naturally, I assumed that he had probably already divorced, like most celebrities, and perhaps had been in and out of relationships for the past decade. I mean, even us normal folk tend to witness the demise of our marriages more often than not.
But boy was I wrong. He even has kids!
A recent Parade article ("No Place Like Home," by Harlan Coben) opened my eyes. Jerry Seinfeld sounds like a great dad! His insightful comments were a revelation to me, especially considering that his show was about a single male living in New York, seemingly without a clue regarding how to raise kids, let alone maintain a stable relationship. This is the guy who, on television, portrayed kids in a negative light or not at all throughout a decade of Seinfeld. As rich as he is, I thought that if he ever had kids, they would be spoiled like Paris Hilton, accomplishing nothing and living off the family name.
When I read his three rules of parenting, what he calls "The Poison Ps," I became an instant post-Seinfeld Seinfeld fan.
His first P is Praise- "We tell our kids, 'Great job!' too much," he says. Boy, do I agree. Parents come into my office (I am a pediatrician) and brag about their kids' grades even though they are barely passing. They look pleased as they tell me that a "C" means that their children are eligible for athletics.
Seinfeld's second P is problem-solving- "We refuse to let our children have problems. Problem solving is the most important skill to develop for success in life, and we for some reason cannot stand it if our kids have a situation that they need to 'fix.' Let them struggle -- it's a gift."
Very well put. Countless times, I witness parents overstepping their bounds in an attempt to resolve a situation in which their children have placed themselves. A very common one, for instance, is not allowing children enough time to finish a school paper or project. The parents step in and finish the paper and the students get "A's" that they did not deserve. Even in the more mundane aspects of life, however, parents still go over the top and prevent their children from attempting to resolve the mysteries of life without being spoon-fed the answers in advance.
Jerry's third P- "Giving your child too much Pleasure," is one that pretty much explains a key element in the childhood obesity epidemic. We feel guilty and will stop at nothing to make our children's lives as perfect as possible. We interfere in their play activities in order to prevent them from getting hurt. We never allow them to experience physical or mental pain. We will wait in line for hours and pay top dollar for the latest toy or electronic gadget in order to avoid having our children face disappointment. We refuse to allow them to play outdoors and climb trees or rocks for fear they might hurt themselves, get wet, get cold, get sick, get into trouble, and instead we, in essence, encourage them to stay inside and play video games. We do not allow them to interact with strangers or other kids unless we vet them first. (Heaven forbid, the new neighbor might be a child molester, or the new kid might have germs and we certainly do not want our kids to get even the mildest cold.) We are wrapping our children in a cocoon of protection, and while we protect them from catastrophe, we lessen their experience of life.
Reading this article about Jerry Seinfeld made me realize that not all celebrities are bad role models for parents and children. Now, when we see countless cases of bad behavior in sports figures and movie stars, it is nice to have a major celebrity, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, emphasize the importance of not over-indulging your child and controlling every aspect of their lives.
So folks, learn the Three Poison Ps from Mr. Seinfeld. You will be a better parent for it, and your children will grow up appreciating the gift you grant them: freedom to experiment, freedom to fail, and freedom to succeed, all on their own.