Samantha Boardman: Many Parents are Making One Big Mistake, Out of Love

A lesson on life can backfire.

Samantha Boardman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, frequent guest on The Today Show, and author of the practical, helpful and funny book, Everyday Vitality. On top of all that she is also on the board of Let Grow!

On her Positive Prescription blog, Samantha recently wrote a pithy piece on how and why to avoid the perils of pessimism. Among the wonderful tips for was this one for us parents:

Model Realistic Optimism

According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Positive Psychology, many parents assume incorrectly that teaching their children that the world is a bad place is best for them. In fact, 92% thought that seeing the world as safe to very safe will not prepare their children to navigate the world. Many parents expressed the belief that their children would benefit by being taught to see the world as declining, competitive, fragile, unjust, barren, not funny, and full of physical threats. The findings suggest otherwise. People with more negative beliefs about the world were found to be less healthy, suffered more frequent negative emotion states, were more likely depressed, were much less satisfied with their lives, and enjoyed dramatically less psychological flourishing. As the researchers concluded, parents might consider pausing any well-meaning efforts to inculcate such negative beliefs in their children.

If that’s easier said than done…

Yeah, yeah, look for the sunny side. Not always possible! But one thing that can certainly help is a “news diet.” That is, spending less time watching the news, which is compelled to bring us the worst, most enraging, despair-inducing stories of the day. After all, that’s what glues us to whatever screen we’re on.

And once the world seems disgusting or dangerous, of course we spend even more time inside and so do our kids…often ingesting more negativity from our screens. There’s even a name for this phenom: Mean World Syndrome, defined by Wikipedia as: “a hypothesized cognitive bias wherein people may perceive the world to be more dangerous than it actually is, due to long-term moderate to heavy exposure to violence-related content on mass media.”

No one is recommending heedless disregard of true danger. If you’re in a violent neighborhood, of course you must take care. But no matter where you live, it’s good to remember Mr. Rogers’ famous words: Even in the midst of chaos, “Look for the helpers.” They’re there.

And it does your kid a world of good to know that.