The second book of the Parenting Tweens and Teens Book Club is The Parent Compass by Cynthia Clumeck Muchnick and Jenn Bowie Curtis. This book is a mix of real-life examples and advice on how to better parent your kids during their tween and teen years. You can view and respond to the discussion questions on the @pttbookclub Instagram account post on 2/28.
Interview with Jenn Curtis and Cynthia Muchnick
Me: Which recommendation in your book for parents do you think is the most challenging for parents to follow? Why do you think that is?
Cynthia: I think it is really difficult to deeply listen, and especially to listen without jumping in to “fix.” It takes energy, focus, and separation from all other distractions to really listen to our tweens/teens. We owe them our respect and willingness to absorb what they want to express. And we always should assume they just want to be heard and not necessarily seeking our opinion or solution if it is a concern or problem they are sharing. Sometimes they just want to vent, unload, and download to someone who is a safe recipient that they trust. Ask permission if they want your advice or thoughts on what they share before just dolling it out and stepping in to “steal” this fixing/solution seeking process from them. The author Kelly Corrigan put it best when she shared with us: “the very basic simple directive of saying ‘tell me more’ . . . is a way of stopping yourself from jumping in so quickly with your big, juicy, shiny solution.”
Jenn: I think refraining from playing the comparison game might be the most difficult challenge–or, in other words, the challenge to appreciate the child we have in front of us rather than the child we want to inauthentically mold them into (for our own gain and not necessarily theirs). Our culture has become hyper obsessed with trophies, recognitions, shiny gold stars. We use a term in The Parent Compass that we borrowed from a colleague: competitive parenting. What that refers to is the idea that somehow, if your kid achieves more or goes to a higher ranked school, somehow you’ve been a better parent. So really, when we engage in competitive parenting, we are operating off of what we think our child’s achievements say about us–not them. But what can then get lost is a focus on instilling citizenship, development of self-advocacy skills, normalizing mistakes, and learning for learning’s sake.
Me: Which recommendation in your book for parents do you think teens/tweens have the greatest resistance to? Why do you think that is?
Cynthia: I think tween/teens resist limitations or restrictions that parents may try to put on social media. Chapter 7 of our book needs to be read with a bit of a grain of salt during these unprecedented times of Covid-19. Devices right now are more important than ever in connecting teens socially and academically, so we need to be more flexible in this area for the time being and not restrict usage as much as we may have attempted to before. (Obviously look out for the usual concerns of teens who may be up all night on social media, exhibit irregular sleep patterns, inability to separate from devices when asked, etc. and at that point do step in and find a place to remove computers/phones/Apple Watches from bedrooms so teens can get enough sleep and also converse face to face with family members.)
Jenn: I agree that it would probably have to do with technology, whether with drawing up a family technology agreement or engaging in a “tech diet” or using our flip phone idea. Being left out is always difficult, but in this landscape–where even our at-home lives are broadcast to the world for public consumption–being left out is all the more painful, so restrictions on technology, while important, probably meet the greatest resistance.
Me: What has been the most interesting feedback you’ve gotten from the book from your friends or relatives who are parents?
Cynthia: Truly, book clubs! Like these! We are so pleased that parents want to self-improve and want to get together with like-minded parents to chat about it. We have received wonderful reviews from readers who had positive take-aways and could relate to the stories shared about students and families. We created a book club guide out of requests from readers which is available to be downloaded free from our website www.parentcompassbook.com.
Jenn: I agree with Cindy. We have gotten the opportunity to sit in on some really thought-provoking book club conversations, so beyond the book clubs being the greatest surprise, I would add that the fact that readers are putting our advice to work immediately upon reading The Parent Compass is so fantastic to hear. We heard from a woman who learned about goal setting with her teen; the two started to set goals together, and their experience brought them closer while giving the teen a sense of direction. We learned from another mom who learned how to help her child find some purpose and who found that, once her child got involved in and started to love wrestling, the child’s grades also improved dramatically. We’ve heard from other parents who have started holding one another accountable after their book club discussions, and we’ve heard from parents who have really pulled back on social media as a result of what we discuss in The Parent Compass. We wrote this book to initiate action, to bring about a movement of sorts, and it is so fantastic to see that those things are happening and that people are really connecting with their teens in a more productive way.