Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Observer Effect and Parenting

The Observer Effect: (From Wikipedia)
  1. In science, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on a phenomenon being observed. This is often the result of instruments that, by necessity, alter the state of what they measure in some manner.

I've always been intrigued by the observer effect - the idea that looking at something, measuring something, somehow changes  what is being measured.

And then I had kids and the observer effect took over all sorts of pieces of our lives. Our newborns didn't sleep. And so we wanted sleep and watched their sleep. And the more closely we watched it, the worse it was. This same phenomenon comes time and time and time again. Food. Attitudes. Television consumption. Cleaning.

We plug in and suddenly everything feels like it's going to hell in a handbasket. But we observe, because there's some deep and abiding belief that observing is what makes us good parents.

But what if, sometimes, just sometimes, the observer effect is making everything worse? What if our oversight - of eating, sleeping, homework, and relationships puts added outside stress on our kids when they can least handle it or when they'd benefit most by being ignored.

To be fair, I'm not talking about radical rejection of my kids' lives. I'm talking about a bit of benign neglect - times when looking the other way allows them the frustrations and opportunities for growth.

At the playground, for example. Maybe reading a book or checking my e-mail on my phone isn't so bad, as my 4 year old struggles to climb the rock wall. Maybe making my pre-teen negotiate her own academic relationships with teachers is what's important, rather than checking the gradebook constantly.

Maybe just maybe one of the hardest aspects of parenting is not watching.

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