On January 17, clinical psychologist and New York Times
best-selling author Dr. Wendy Mogel
had parents, faculty members, and guests alternately laughing out loud and nodding in agreement throughout an hour-long talk in the Trustey Family Theatre. Mogel shared parenting insights drawn from her latest book, Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen,
and offered wit and wisdom on the topic for which she is best known: protecting and promoting self-reliance, resilience, accountability, and exuberance in children. The special event was made possible through a continuing partnership between Shore and the Essex County Community Foundation
(ECCF); previous events have brought New York Times
columnist Ron Lieber and Peter Buffett, the Emmy Award-winning son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, to Shore. Additional support for Mogel’s visit came from the school's Sarah M. Devens ’89 Memorial Fund.
Welcoming Mogel to the stage, Head of School Clair Ward admitted, “I have been a devotee of Dr. Mogel’s since the early stages of my career as a school administrator, which began just south of San Francisco. There, in the culture of Silicon Valley at that time, children were the highest-stakes startup their parents had ever ‘invested’ in. This was the exact moment that Dr. Mogel’s classic book, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, arrived on my desk. The author—who wrote with incredible warmth and humor about raising self-reliant and compassionate children in a world where entitlement and competition abound—immediately became one of my professional heroes. I can assure you that my colleagues and I are star-struck having such an icon of education and parenting here on our campus tonight.”
As she began her talk, Mogel shared how much she’d enjoyed waiting in her backstage “green room,” theater arts teacher Sarah Carlin’s drama classroom, before taking the stage. “There were a couple things in Mrs. Carlin’s room that I wanted to point out to remind you of the delight of being an adult in the world of children.” The first was a t-shirt inscribed for Carlin by students, one of whom had written, “Thank you for the most fun class at Shore. I had the time of my life.” Observed Mogel, “What’s so great about that quote is you know that person’s life hasn’t been very long yet, but they’re already so enthusiastic about it.” She continued to quote from the t-shirt: “I will miss the class and you so much. I love you.” “This is what kids are like,” Mogel explained. “They are so candid and passionate when we take the time to stop and listen to what they have to say.”
Mogel went on to emphasize the inherent richness of children’s lives, and to encourage listeners to do their best to value and protect the diversity of children’s experiences, rather than stifle them with pressure about grades, over-scheduling, or worry. Unfortunately, she explained, parents’ anxiety about their children not being perfect in every way has reached an extreme; this may be because of the unique historical moment in which today’s parents find themselves. “We are the first generation whose children will not necessarily be more successful than their parents,” Mogel reminded listeners. Sensational news media and political divisions only exacerbate a widespread sense of insecurity. Consequently, lamented Mogel, today’s children have little freedom to experience childhood, and they are more and more frequently affected by anxiety inspired in part by their own parents’ behavior. At the same time, children—over-protected and over-managed—can fail to acquire the basic life skills and social skills that are so vital to success later in life.
“Mogel’s philosophy of parenting,” says Clair Ward, “is all about helping children become independent of us by allowing mistakes and encouraging them to learn self-advocacy. This is exactly what Shore holds most dear in terms of our goals for children upon graduation.” As Mogel argued in her talk, “The most important preparation for college we can provide young people is teaching them how to have a conversation, how to be engaged in the world, and how to be independent.” When children are over-scheduled and constantly under their parents’ supervision, without the opportunity to explore the world in an unstructured way, they can’t learn basic life skills, Mogel pointed out. “They can’t learn wayfinding, for example, or how to deal with aggression or unkindness,” she said. “We need to be outside, we need to use all five senses, we need to take risks—it’s no wonder our kids want to play Fortnite,” Mogel observed. “It’s thrilling, there’s danger and community, and it gives them a sense of purpose.”
“The event was an engaging, very practical presentation with lots of takeaways on how to better communicate and relate to our children,” said Derek Reed, a parent and ECCF Trustee. “Dr. Mogel was relevant, entertaining, and so sincere in how she delivered her strategies and suggestions. You can easily tell how deeply she cares about the relationship between our maturing children and the adults who guide them.”
Beth Francis, President and CEO of ECCF, explains that Mogel’s work aligns well with the approach of ECCF’s NextGen initiative, which seeks to make an impact on the next generation of philanthropists in Essex County. “Our partnership with Shore for the past three years has allowed us to bring to the stage leaders focused on the issues that most engage those next-generation donors. Mogel speaks directly to the parents in our NextGen audience, who not only want to make an impact in their community, but also hope to raise children who will continue to support causes in our region. Millennials and Gen X’ers will wield more philanthropic power than any generation before. ECCF wants to ensure that NextGen donors have the knowledge, tools, and support necessary to ensure long-term philanthropic impact.”
Shore’s Director of Advancement, Jody Johnson, adds, “In the third year of our partnership with ECCF, we were so pleased to hear from Wendy Mogel, who shared her 'voice lessons' that resonate for all of us—educators, parents, and funders alike. As a community, we are raising the next generation of leaders, preparing them to make a difference in our region and in the world.”
Concluding her talk at the end of the evening at Shore, Mogel underscored the importance of parents’ efforts. “It’s wonderful that you’re here, but it shouldn’t end here,” she said. Afterwards, many attendees voiced their agreement. “Hearing Dr. Mogel’s humorous and compassionate descriptions of over-protective parents made me realize that I can be one at times,” one audience member admitted. Another affirmed, “I was struck by Dr. Mogel’s understanding of the simple power in listening to our children, and giving them the freedom to experience childhood. Who doesn’t want that for their kids?”