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Five Minutes with Mike Bradley

Author GreatDad Writers
Submitted 17-02-2009

Mike Bradley has written
several books on parenting, including When Things Get Crazy with Your Teen: The Why, the How, and
What to Do NOW (McGraw Hill, 2009)
; The Heart and Soul of the Next Generation (Harbor Press, 2006);
Yes, Your Parents ARE Crazy! A Teen Survival Guide
(Harbor Press, 2004); and the bestseller Yes,
Your Teen IS Crazy! Loving Your Kid without Losing Your Mind
(Harbor Press,
2003).

He talks about
his experiences.

What is the one thing you think
parents should know about your work?

That as an author I write thoughts from my brain that
are colored by my heart, a thing that’s been defined first by my family, and second by the thousands
of families with whom I’ve worked. In that light, I think that my words take the cold, impersonal
research about teens and families and colors it with the emotional context of parenting reality: the
pain and hope, the failure and success, and the fear and joy.

What are your feelings about the role of the father in child development?
In our
culture the father’s role has traditionally been disserved in many ways, although we’re beginning to
remedy that a tad. Stated simply I think we somehow decided that the emotional sides of fathers
should be kept away from their kids, that what fathers have best to offer has to do only with
disciplining and materially supporting. That distorts who most fathers truly are and deprives
children of an incredibly rich source of growth and wisdom.

What is the best thing dads can do in the raising of their children?
I hate the
hate mail I get when I say this but my answer is to love their other parent. A healthy (loving,
vibrant) parent relationship serves as the “sun” around which the children can orient themselves,
basking in the warmth and light of that love. When the parental relationship starts to go bad, that
light starts to dim. The children start to get cold and begin to spin out of orbit. We do many
wonderful things for our children by just loving our partner.

What is the biggest error dads can make in raising their children?
Thinking that
our job is to control our kids, versus teaching them to control themselves. Controlling kids feels
natural to many dads, is relatively easy to do and is terribly short-sighted. Since today’s world
overwhelms any chance we have at keeping insanity (drugs, sex and violence) away from our kids we
must instead teach them how to safely navigate those dangerous shoals, and not just steer their
boats for them. We dads need to use our brains to inspire wisdom, not our muscles to inspire fear.
At a teen booze party, fear might buy you “If I drink my father will kill me.” That just becomes an
easy game called “how-to-drink-without-the-old-man-finding-out,” a game we all played.  Using
respect-based teaching might get you “Um, no thanks. I don’t drink.” Which teen would you hope to be
yours?

It’s been said that the greatest regret aging men have is that they didn’t spend more time with their kids.   How do you feel about that statement?
Horrible, since I know I don’t invest nearly enough time with my kids. But I’ll
share my personal trick that helps me to prioritize a bit better. Whenever I’m about to short change
my children I think ahead to being on my death bed and thinking about how I will feel then about the
choice I’m about to make now. That cheery thought usually helps to radically improve my nearsighted
view of life’s priorities.

Every generation worries that their kids aren’t strong enough to handle the real world.  Do you feel kids need to be “toughened up” by experiencing rough times? 
My reading of research (and history) suggests
that exposing kids to rough times does not in itself strengthen them in ways that help them to
tolerate stress later on in life. In fact, those experiences can weaken them. I believe that our
ability to cope with challenges is based more upon how complete we are as individuals, how well we
know and accept ourselves. A large part of that growth process is to allow kids whenever possible to
make decisions for themselves and to then be required to accept the consequences of those decisions.
For example, manipulating things to make a kid fail in school teaches little good. Allowing a teen
to make unwise homework choices, fail, and then have to go to summer school might teach lessons that
last a lifetime.

Or conversely, do you think kids need to be smothered with love to give them a storehouse of good feelings with which to deal with the inevitable challenges of life in the real world?
The research also shows very clearly that
“smothering” kids with love does not give them the “storehouse” we would hope, but can instead
actually cripple kids if that definition of smothering includes giving them false praise and
unconditional statements about their worth (“Honey, you’re the best player on the team. It’s your
coach’s fault that you haven’t scored.”) We must love our children enough to give them real feedback
which praises real effort, not false outcome (“Honey, I think you worked hard at practice and that’s
a terrific thing. But if you want to score more then I think that you’ll need to practice more. You
decide about that. I’ll love you the same no matter what.”) Providing decision-making practice,
loving acceptance and praise for a kid’s effort (not outcome) builds the adolescent resilience and
motivation that almost always predicts adult happiness and success.