Parenting teens with love and logic (book review)

Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster Cline is *checks Amazon* the #44th ranked book in the Parenting Teenagers category. I read it because it counts as volunteer hours for our school. And I kinda liked it.

One idea around here is don’t just do something, sit there. Our default thinking is: action = good. But that’s not always the case.

Rather, like Ike, we can find reasons for not doing things. So we can ask: am I doing something that matters or am I just doing something?

This, in part, is the case with helicopter parents. Fay and Cline write, “Other moms and dads sometimes regard helicopter parents as model citizens. After all, look how involved they are.” This rings especially true. As a stay-at-home-dad it wasn’t enough that I was a good parent for my daughters but that I was perceived as one too.

However “helicopters can’t hover forever” and helicopter parents restrict the feedback loop. There’s a lot of analytics about finding more accurate markers about how the world works but helicopter parenting moves in the opposite direction.

The second thing Fay and Cline do well is replace helicopter with consultant. Just as ‘helicopter’ is a great analogy, ‘consultant’ is too. “Consultants don’t dictate,” the duo write, “They advise. They say things like ‘I’m wondering if it would be more effective for you to…'”. And much of the book is to the effect of: what would a consultant say here?”

Like Goodhart’s Law, the goal isn’t to be a consultant or not be a helicopter, but to get teens reps with real life. “Self-esteem doesn’t just ‘happen’ by making teens feel good or happy. It begins when children assert their independence and try to show their families and the world that they are their own persons.”

That means failing, and failing means feedback. Which happens when parenting with love and logic.

Part of the reason this book resonated was because I’ve been a helicopter. Not being one is scary in the short term but not being a consultant is scare in the long term.

Overall this book was helpful. A couple of times it felt like Fay and Cline went to straw man attacks and sometimes their examples resolved themself too easily but there’s only so much ground they could cover in the context of a book. If the transition from helicopter to consultant sounds helpful, consider Parenting Teens with Love and Logic.

Cold War incentives

“We’re mostly pretty right,” I told my daughters (13/11). The gist was that our diet is pretty good, but some of what we do will be wrong, we just don’t know what. Even though we shifted to eat slightly less meat, thinking like Bayesians even in the kitchen, I’m 100% sure we are not 100% right.

Related is the idea of incentives. We think our current incentives are aligned, and they may be, but they too need occasional updates. Hopefully exposure and examples tune us in to them a little more.

To set the scene, it’s 1983. The Berlin wall has been up for two decades. Ronald Reagan has been president for three years and he’s rattling the Soviet Union. The U.S. is conducting war games, which is exactly the pretense the Soviets planned to use to disguise their first strike. The Soviets have an information problem. They need to orient themselves.

“They (the Soviet Union) started an operation to look out for indicators that the Americans were preparing to launch a nuclear attack. Are the military mobilizing? Were blood banks being stored up in case the casualty rate increased? Eventually it became completely absurd. Agents were told to count the lights on in the Pentagon in Washington or the Ministry of Defense in London. If there were more than a certain number, this would clearly conclude they were plotting away at night. And, if they came up with ideas they would get promotions. The agents in the field didn’t get promotions for saying nothing. You only got promotion for finding evidence that, yes, they are planning something.” – Taylor Downing, September 2021

This is the opposite of the don’t just do something principle (part of the Favorite Ideas Daily Email), which notes that sometimes the best action is not to act. But it’s hard to reward inaction that leads to a good outcome. That’s just not how we see the world.

The seeds of the ’80s were laid in the post-war alignments. A few favorite bits: Dan Carlin has a great podcast episode about the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). Konrad Schumann jumps over (1961) the barbed wire wall, and it’s fascinating to think that this thing basically showed up overnight. There is also a documentary on YouTube about building a tunnel, maybe the first reality TV?, under the wall to save some college friends.