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.

Parenting advice about lacrosse

The best parenting advice for me has been small bits that, like train switches, change the outcome direction. This too shall pass as well as a few deep breaths does wonders. Resetting expecations closer to reality helps too. We’ll add another today.

Todd Simkin wanted to quit lacrosse. He wasn’t quite as good as the other kids, or as fast. It was hard. He was in high school. There were other things to do, not that Simkin knew what they were when asked. So, he told his dad over dinner we was quitting lacrosse. Then, Simkin went to bed. This is what his dad said the next morning.

“Come into the living room, I want to talk to you. I’ve been thinking about it all night and it’s really bothering me. I haven’t heard why you wanted to quit other than you’ve been frustrated with your coach. There’s not enough here. It doesn’t make sense. You have to explain it in a way that makes sense for me to be supportive of this.”

Another bit of parenting advice is to avoid unnecessary ultimatums. Pick that up or else you’re going to bed right now!! Though it’s the mad emoji feeling in the moment it’s the zen emoji we should strive for. That’s kinda what Todd’s father did.

“This was such great parenting. It wasn’t saying: this is what you have to do or, here’s what you can’t do. Instead it was: if this is a reasonable or consistent or rationale choice I’ll back you up on this. If it’s rash and has long-term consequences then there are implications here that require appropriate weight and thought.” – Todd Simkin, The Knowledge Project, September 2021

Todd didn’t have a great answer so he didn’t quit the team, but he also didn’t play the next year.

There’s a lot of empathy in this podcast episode. It’s about understanding where people are physically, mentally, emotionally and meeting them there and it’s fully of helpful advice for our personal and professional relationships.


Give someone a hug today. Digital or physical, doesn’t matter. 🤗

Second Order Parenting

“Perhaps the most important thing is supporting a kid’s sense of autonomy.” – William Stixrud

Peter Attia wants to be an Olympian. When he’s 100. When Attia first explained the idea, he worked backward. What should someone do now if they want to do something else later? If you want to be able to go to Disney World with your grandkids you better be able to walk eight miles now. Or some such thing.

Working backwards is a nice tool for solving problems. I want to get to n so first I need to get to n-1.

A similar approach is advocated in the book, The Self Driven Child. In that book William Stixrud and Neil Johnson ask parents to consider their future eighteen-year-old. Then, like Attia, work backwards and consider what a child needs to do at twelve so they are successful later.

Stixrud’s and Johnson’s ideas come down to four pieces of advice for parents:

  1. Offer help, not force 
  2. Offer advice, it’s their choice  
  3. Encourage children to make their own decisions
  4. Have kids solve their own problems, as much as possible 

It’s not so much about ice-cream for dinner, but it’s about setting some (wide, but safe) boundaries for children to operate within.

This has been hard because parenting is a bit of a wicked problem. There’s a lot of showy things a parent can do but might not necessarily be that helpful. Once a child is mentally and physically safe, what’s the next clear thing?

In the ERE book, Jacob Fisker shares a reverse fishbone diagram to show ‘net’ effects. The aim is to end up above the horizontal line. Eating a candy is a positive first order effect, it tastes good. But a negative second order effect (low nutrients, high sugar), and maybe even more (bad habits).

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Easy decisions, hard life. Hard decisions, easy life.

There are many things with negative first order effects (difficult conversations, certain exercises, working late/early) but which have positive n+1 effects and so they are worth doing. Personal finance follows this diagram for example. Parenting according to Stixrud and Johnson follows it too. It might not feel easy and it might violate the actions=progress maxim, but it’s difficult non-actions that help kids the most.

One personal instance is schoolwork. We’ve been distance learning and I’ve played a large role from checking work to answering questions. And, sometimes just telling my daughters the answers. Like junk food it’s easy at first but it violates both the fishbone approach and the self-driven child advice.

How much to change, I don’t know. But this isn’t baking. Like over-price or over-rated or over-indexed, the direction for gains is clear: my kids have to learn to live their own lives and it’s my job to support them.