A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.
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In January 2013, a psychologist diagnosed our 10-year-old son, Jacob, with Asperger’s syndrome. Four months later, the American Psychiatric Association declared that Asperger’s was no longer a valid diagnosis, and removed it from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The about-face stung, not least because my husband and I had procrastinated for so long before having Jacob evaluated. Many parents would have been on the case much earlier. Our son, after all, was growing up during the years when Asperger’s—officially added to the DSM in 1994—was assuming the status of a signature disorder of the high-tech information age. In 2007, the year Jacob turned 4, a pair of Asperger’s memoirs arrived on the New York Times best-seller list. Their authors accomplished what those with the label weren’t supposed to be able to manage: they vividly shared the view from within, and helped to define the type. John Elder Robison’s Look Me in the Eye and Daniel Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day introduced the world to two eccentric but also enviable minds, one gifted with machines and the other with numbers.
The term Asperger’s was becoming shorthand for hyper-focused, often precocious talent and a socially awkward personality—a potential lonely misfit or even, as Nora Ephron once wrote, a “prick,” the kind of guy who might cook up a social-media site in his dorm room to take revenge on some girl who had spurned him. Who needed all that baggage? Not us, I figured, and not Jacob, though it was easy enough to spot the symptoms, starting with his very early and intense obsession with letters, which he seemed to relate to more easily than he did to his peers. Several years later, he was deep into programming languages and still having trouble getting on anybody else’s wavelength. This was obvious to us. What, we asked ourselves at the time, could a label teach us about our son that we didn’t already know?
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The holes in the Tiger Mom’s theory that superiority, insecurity, and impulse control breed success.
Like countless other middle-aged American men, some of my happiest childhood memories involve watching professional sports with my dad. So it was an unexpected delight when my eight-year-old, previously largely indifferent to my New England Patriots obsession, showed sudden interest a few weeks ago. Last Saturday night, he proudly dug out a long-unused Patriots jersey and joined me on the couch late into the night as the Patriots dispatched the Indianapolis Colts.
It was wonderful. And it made me a little sick.
The Disney movie’s dark take on Prince Charming offers what Cinderella or The Little Mermaid don’t: a chance to talk to my young kids about love and relationships.
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Low-income women and single mothers are more likely to live with financial stress and regret, but they’re also more optimistic about their prospects.
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The helicopter parent has crashed and burned. With millennials reaching adulthood it has become clear that this hovering style of parenting results in overly dependent young adults, plagued by depression or less satisfaction with their lives and anxiety, who cannot even face the workplace without the handholding their parents have led them to expect. The literature is now replete with indictments of over parenting and the havoc it creates. In her book Slouching Toward Adulthood, Sally Koslow documented a generation so cosseted that they have lost the impetus to grow up or leave home. The over-involved parent has gone from paragon of caring to a figure of fun.
The pendulum has swung, and as is so often the case, it may have over reached its mark. Parenting pundits now argue for the benefits of natural consequences, for letting the world take it toll on kids as method of teaching them grit and life’s necessary coping skills. Failure has become the new success.
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I closed the door on my wailing toddler and left her standing in her crib, reaching out for me. Her cries intensified, like the siren of an ambulance getting closer and louder until its howl drowns out everything else. I walked away and broke down crying. My daughter was sick, and I desperately wanted to soothe her. But I just couldn’t stand and rock her for one more minute to help her get to sleep. My broken body had reached its limit.
I’ve had back pain for much of my life caused by scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. And that afternoon, I felt my back would break if I cradled my daughter’s squirming 25-pound body any longer. I had to give up. My miserable best was to leave the room.
Because of my pain, I was causing my daughter additional suffering—and if recent research is right, this may be only be a harbinger of what’s to come. Experts from Kent State University in Ohio recently did a review of scientific literature examining how children are affected when their parents are in chronic pain. The results, published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, are, well, painful to read. It turns out that children whose parents experience chronic pain are at increased risk for adjustment problems and behavioral issues, and are more likely to complain of pain themselves. The whole family suffers.
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New fathers are reluctant to take paternity leave for a lot of reasons. One might be sheer terror.
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Some of the biggest stories and debates in the media in 2013 had to do with gender relations—LGBT rights, women in the workplace, parenting styles, and more. Same-sex marriage gained more approval and legitimacy than ever this year, both in public opinion polling and as a matter of federal law. Sheryl Sandberg told women to “lean in” at the office, while the military told women they were now permitted to “lean in” on the battlefield. Bradley Manning became Chelsea Manning. And researchers offered up interesting new studies for individuals seeking a happy home life.
Here are our picks for the most interesting narratives about sex and gender in 2013.
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