Q & A With Dr. Michele Borba, Author & Child-Care Expert:

What trend disturbs you most about parenting in the year 2013?
Dr. Borba: Stress levels. The stress levels of parents is rising. Mommies in particular aren't taking care of themselves... It's starting to really impact the kids. In fact, studies are showing that even 90-percent of our kids are saying they're stressed. And 70-percent of moms don't realize that their kids are as stressed as they are. So number one is: take care of yourself and take care of your kids.
What classic parenting missteps would you like to see go away?
Dr. Borba: Overprotecting. We are so concerned about them -- and rightly so because we love our children so desperately. A big fear is that we rob them of the opportunity to learn how to be resilient or bounce back. The only way you learn that is through a child knowing that "I made it. I did it. I blew it, but I was able to get through it." If we are too quick to hover in or solve the problem for them, we're really holding our kids back.
What age are our kids truly paying attention? When does it start?
Dr. Borba: Here's the scoop that's absolutely mindboggling: It starts a lot sooner than we all give ourselves credit for. Last month the research was moms and how they talk to their babies ... If you emphasize the effort ... five years later when that child goes to kindergarten, [they're] motivated. They are watching and are thinking more than we give ourselves credit for. They're mimicking us.
How much screen time is too much? i.e. iPhones? iPads? iWhatever?
Dr. Borba: I think what we may not be doing early enough is tracking how much your kid is plugged in -- and by the way, it's how often you're plugged in as well. If you can at least get a base track on 'how much is it?' -- [i.e.] are they on the TV, looking at their voicemails, how often are they on the cell phone and how often are you on it -- then you can at least say 'alright, let's start to cut back.' I think it's safe to say your kid's should only be on a half hour a day. Your key is: what are they on for? What are they doing? Sometimes it's legitimate, they're actually doing something profound called homework.
Where could kids be spending more time instead of amassing Facebook friends?
Dr. Borba: Anything that calls for face-to-face interaction. I'm mostly concerned about kids losing empathy 'cause you don't learn it by looking at a screen. On a Facebook or Twitter account, you also can't get voice tone or understand the message of what the person's saying. So what they're really minusing is social skills, playing, getting along with others. Children's creativity is also going down for the first time, three or four years earlier than it used to. 'Cause they're not engaged in their passionate things, their strengths or what drives them -- which may not be the piano lessons or the Mandarin lessons that we're subscribing the kids to.
Tell us about the trend of over-praising? Too much "Great job, Johnny!" not a good thing?
Dr. Borba: Yes, clearly. And it's really interesting because first we've been told that we should -- and have to -- in order to boost our kids' self-esteem. We do it out of love and we do it because we think it's the right thing to do. But the science is telling us watch out, they are dangers to it and it can backfire. The wrong kind of praise, for instance, emphasizing too much of the 'what did you get?', or the end product, lowers your kids motivation and effort. If you praise instead "oh, you're hanging in there, good job", you'll stretch it.
Should there be a 12-step program for praise-a-holics?
Dr. Borba: Yes, hundreds. Here's the problem, once we start looking, we realize it's not the kid we need to wean from it, it's us. Because we've gotten ourselves into such a habit of it ... What we fail to do sometimes is push the "pause" button and say 'hey, what's goin' on ... how am I responding currently to my child? And is it working?' If not, stop doing it and come up with a different technique.
How much of how parents behave with their kids is passed down from their parents?
Dr. Borba: A lot. Interestingly enough, it's mothers who get caught up in that style more even though we swear we'll never parent like our mothers. What we've discovered actually is that fathers are able to turn their parenting style around faster than a woman. You very often end up doing and reverting back to what you swore you'd never do. You end up copying your mother's own parenting style.
Not to generalize too much, but how's the self-esteem of America's children right about now?
Dr. Borba: What we're seeing is a concerning trend. Actually longitudinal studies have been going on for 30 years -- one's going on in Michigan and one's going on in San Diego -- those two universities. They take what's called a narcissism predictor of incoming college freshmen across the U.S. at a number of different colleges ... and what they're finding is that per year, narcissism is going up ... and empathy is going down. So they're a little more self-involved, which means be aware that maybe you're doing too good of a job and what we need to do now is help them realize that there's more to just being special. They need to think about the other person.
Is dodgeball that bad for kids' self-esteem?
Dr. Borba: No, it's absolutely not. As a former teacher, no. What is bad is if it's not supervised. Then it becomes too over-competitive. Here's what's happening: we've removed sandbox from so many of our kids lives where you learn to have a give and take and share and all of those things -- that what we're finding is a lot of children are having less ability to stand up for themselves. And sometimes they can take it out on each other.
Speaking of schools, are they doing enough to keep up with the times to contend with new threats such as cyber-bullying?
Dr. Borba: What we need to keep in mind is that bullying has always been there, but we are seeing it get a little crueler -- and certainly cyber-bullying fuels it. But by nature, the real problem of bullying is the problem of social relationships. So if we can help our kids learn the skills to get along on the playground, it's going to minimize [problems in] cyberspace. But that said, parents still have to realize that [they] need to be monitoring what your kid does on the playground as well as in cyberspace... You need to be where your kids are. If your kid has a Facebook account, so do you. If your kid's on Twitter, so are you. It doesn't mean you should be posting in your kid's Facebook account, that's not a cool thing. If there is a problem, you won't be able to figure out how to help your child because you're not monitoring them.
Why is the children's reward system problematic right now?
Dr. Borba: Because we've over-rewarded. Our goal is to help the children act right without you. What happens with rewards systems, with some kids, it's a way to jump-start them. But if you keep using it, what happens is the kid gets used to it, and it can actually derail inside motivation. The kid then starts to expect it or want it... and the reward system actually starts to go up. So instead of getting the star sticker, he wants the Lexus. Watch out, the ante keeps going.
Do you feel like over-parenting has contributed to the work ethic of college students and college grads?
Dr. Borba: What I feel is what we know. One of the things that's an interesting trend, we're actually seeing that the #1 time that our kids are most likely to dropout, be suicidal or depressed is the first semester of freshman year of college. The book was called 'College of the Overwhelmed' by Richard Kadison. He's the director of Harvard Medical health. He got wind of this from college counselors, who said they'd never seen kids who are so smart ... but ill-prepared to handle life. What we're finding is that because we've done so much for the kid that when they're on their own, they do have a tough time ... All we need to do as parents is realize there's a point where we need to start backing off. There's a great, great motto on that one: Never do for your child what your child can do for himself.
How about some encouraging words for parents. And, go...
Dr. Borba: Number one, nobody is more influential in your child's life than you. Your child also will copy not necessarily your hairstyle and music selections, but your values, religion ... and your educational values. You really do matter when it comes to the long run. And the new research is also saying that your kids like you a lot more than you give yourself credit for. They want you as part of their life. An MTV study says they put us at the top of their role model [list]. What we need to do is make sure we are modeling what we want our kids to copy.
Who's doing cutting-edge research on this topic?
Dr. Borba: Carol Dweck, she's absolutely mindboggling. She's a genius and she's at Stanford. Some of the best in the world is coming out in terms of praise; how to increase efforts. I love Common Good in the Berkeley area, they're doing amazing things on empathy development and altruistic behavior patterns. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) ... also, American Psychological Association (APA), their journal entries and articles continue to come out if you're looking for good research for how some things are impacting our children and their lives.
Dr. Michele Borba Dr. Michelle Borba is an internationally recognized parenting expert, author and regular contributor to NBC's 'TODAY' show, having appeared on the program over 100 times.

To learn more about Dr. Borba or buy one of her books, visit a local bookstore or her website and follow her on Twitter @MicheleBorba.

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