"No hats on the bed!" A woman screams at a visitor. "Get that hat off the bed! Now!"
"OK," says the man. "But, by the way, why? Why must I take my hat off the bed?"
"Hats on the bed are bad luck! Terrible bad luck! Years and years of bad luck! Get that hat off the bed!"
"OK," says the man. And walks out of our scenario to appear in another blog post somewhere else.
"My mother taught me that hats on the bed are bad luck just as her mother taught her. Everyone knows that hats on the bed are bad luck!" The woman shouts at the retreating figure.
Ignoring for a moment the silliness of all superstitions in general, why this particularly silly superstition--no hats on the bed--in particular? Some religious traditions--don't eat pork--are said to originate in an evolutionary adaptive imperative--trichinosis is unpleasant. Could there be a REASON why this woman is hysterical about a hat on the bed?
I have been unable to trace this "No hats of the bed" belief to any specific country or culture. And I want my gentle readers to know that I Googled "Hats on the Bed" and spent over two full minutes on what can only be described as "Internet research."
Why did this woman's parents communicate so emphatically that hats on the bed are bad luck? Why will this woman tell to her children that hats on the bed are bad luck? Because in previous generations, hats on the bed spread head lice; there was good reason to forbid hats on the bed.
Today, with fewer hats and fewer head lice, this superstition could probably be put to rest. But what about the ANXIETY that goes with it? Clearly, in our evolutionary adaptive environment, it was in our ancestors interest to feel and express concern for their progeny. Anxiety was a good thing. If Percy T. Australopithecus was allowed to "go play in traffic" and got trampled by galumphing wildebeest, he was less likely to produce grandchildren than was Stacey who had to stay close to the home fires listening to why grandma was having trouble with her email.
The other evolutionary adaptive strategy, of course, was to give your kids calories in addition to information. As unfortunate as it is, no one ever got a chance to say, "OK, I'll have the mastodon burger and fries and gimme a couple McArchaeopteryx combos for the kids." (C'mon, admit it. Don't YOU wish you could have had the chance to say that?) If you already had kids, then the imperative was to feed them so that they would have kids. Feel the kids first makes sense. That way the kids survive and your genes get passed down. Let the kids have those yummy fat-rich mastodon burgers.
Fast forward a passel of generations and we have a problem: Kids in my office have too many calories and too much anxiety.
There used to not be enough food. A great gift to children was extra calories. Not the nicest thing we can do for our kids is to discourage them from absorbing every fat and sugar calorie in sight. Thirty percent of Americans are overweight with concomitant health concerns--higher risk for heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
Kids are getting too many calories and kids are getting too much anxiety, neither or which is helpful any longer. It's time to cut back on the extra calories and rein in the anxiety.
"But if he doesn't study more, he won't go to a good college, and he'll end up living at home in the basement forever before going on to drink wine in the gutter."
But if your anxiety hasn't allowed him to make any decisions for himself since the day he was born, if you haven't allowed him to learn from failure, if you haven't given him the gift of figuring things out on his own, then why would he be able to make good decisions now that he's a teenager? You haven't communicated how to make sensible choices. To the contrary, you've communicated that the world is an unsafe place and that, without you poking him in the side so he can stay awake, he will fail and that the Earth (one of my favorite planets) will stop spinning. (Seriously, I work with parents who feel obligated to continually poke their 17 year-old children in the side so that the kids will stay awake in our meetings. Wouldn't you hope that, by the time a child is a senior in high school, she could be responsible for regulating her own sleep cycle?)
Whoever said, "Kids learn from overcoming failure, not from avoiding failure" got it right. In 2013, we need to communicate to our children that the their world is basically a safe place, that--for now at least--there are enough mastodon burgers to go around.