4 Ass-Backwards Parenting Trends

I’m no psychologist, doctor, or parenting expert. I’m a father of four who’s sick of the bullshit.

So weigh what I’m about to say against your own observations and values.

Let’s get in the shit.

When it comes to back-asswards parenting trends, there are, unfortunately, many to choose from. Here are the four I find most destructive and widespread:

1. Praising traits over actions

You may think telling your child she’s a smart, creative, special little snowflake is a good way to build her confidence.

But you’d be wrong.

The research on this one is clear: praising a child’s inherent traits increases fear, anxiety, and risk-aversion.

When you praise traits (“You got an A! You’re so smart!”), you bring focus to a success factor that is largely out of the child’s control. You imply that your child’s success or failure is largely pre-determined: either your child is smart enough to achieve the desired outcome, or she isn’t.

As a result, she comes to see her success or failure as a measure of who she is, rather than as a result of what she does, which is deeply disempowering.

On the other hand, when you praise ACTION (“You got an A! Your hard work paid off!”), you bring focus to a success factor your child CAN control: her own level of effort.

As a result, she comes to believe she can succeed at nearly anything, provided she puts in the work required.

I believe this is one of the most important things to get right as a parent. For that reason, if I could recommend only one parenting book, it would be the definitive guide to this topic, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck.

2. Over-protecting the body

Shielding your child from every scrape and fall doesn’t do him any favors.

All it does is:

a. Rob him of the opportunity to develop good body mechanics and spatial awareness

b. Communicate to him that he is weak and frail and in need of babying

At some point, your kids will fly the nest and face the world on their own.

You’ll no longer be there to pad the sharp edges and blow up their floaties.

So stop kicking the can down the road. Start toughening them up now.

3. Under-protecting the heart and mind

It blows my mind when I see a parent bend over backward to keep their child from skinning a knee or bashing a shin…

…but then give that same child unregulated and unsupervised access to TV, movies, and internet.

As one of my childhood heroes Mat Hoffman said of physical injury, “bones heal… and chicks dig scars.” But injury of the heart and mind are a different matter.

At this very moment, millions of kids around the world are seeing things they will never be able to un-see, burdened now with knowledge and images no child should have to contemplate.

Who cares if “all the other parents” are lax, leaving you the standout.

YOU are the gatekeeper of your child’s mind and heart. Everyone else can fuck off.

4. Lying about the nature of the universe

At some point, your kids start asking questions about the murky and confounding aspects of life: prostitution, discrimination, addiction, violence, infidelity…

In my experience, kids have far more capacity (and appetite) for ambiguity and complexity than parents realize.

When you speak in euphemism and give glib answers to their hard questions, all you’re doing is communicating that:

a. You’re out of touch with their level of awareness, or

b. You think they’re too fragile or too stupid to handle the truth

Our job as parents is not to “spare” our kids the hard truths, but to give them the knowledge and tools to understand and navigate them.

I’ve heard parenting described as the act of letting your heart go walking disembodied and unguarded out in the world.

There is certainly an element of terror to parenting.

The right response to that terror is NOT to put our heads in the sand and pretend the risks and dangers are not there, or to kick the can of risk and discomfort down the road…

…but to look upon the world with eyes wide open and parent accordingly, with all the courage, love, and strength you can muster.

You may agree with what I’ve said here. Or you may think I’m full of shit.

Either way, if you’re in the trenches, raising children as best you can, then you have, dad to dad, my utmost respect.

Keep on, brother.


  1. I agree with praising actions over traits. Do you have daughters? How do you handle the…Does this dress make me look beautiful? Questions? Thanks.

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