Author Q+A: Tricia Ferrara, MA, Look Both Ways: 9 Evolutionary Parenting Principles

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A conversation with licensed psychologist and parenting strategist, Tricia Ferrara about her new book, Look Both Ways, in which she examines the deepening responsibility of raising children in a world marked by perpetual crisis, and provides parents with a blueprint for connecting to, and guiding, children in an impactful way.

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Author Q+A: Tricia Ferrara, MA, Look Both Ways: 9 Evolutionary Parenting Principles

  1. 1. PARENT WITH POSSIBILITY IN UNCERTAIN TIMES Author  Q+A:  Tricia  Ferrara,  LOOK  BOTH  WAYS     In  Look  Both  Ways:  9  Evolutionary  Parenting   Principles,  licensed  professional  counselor  and   parenting  strategist  Tricia  Ferrara,  MA,  examines  the   deepening  responsibility  of  raising  children  in  a  world   marked  by  perpetual  crisis,  and  provides  parents  with  a   blueprint  for  connecting  to,  and  guiding,  children  in  an   impactful  way.  Over  the  next  several  months,  she  will  be   participating  in  book  signings  and  presentations  in  and   around  Philadelphia  with  the  intent  of  getting   “necessary”  information  into  parents’  hands  and  making   a  difference  in  kids’  lives  NOW.  Though  every   generation  has  its  struggles,  today’s  families  have  an   even  greater  financial  and  social  burden,  and  increased   performance  expectations  in  every  area  of  life.  Add  in   over-­‐  (and  overly  early)  exposure  to  sexual  content,   volatile  politics,  superstorms,  a  technology  surge,  and   random  acts  of  violence…  It’s  hard  for  anyone  to  sustain  a  sensation  of  being  grounded,   or  being  empowered.  With  a  norm  of  two-­‐income  families,  also  playing  a  role  in  the   time  we  get  with  our  kids,  addressing  issues,  large  or  small,  on  a  meaningful  level  is   harder  than  ever.    Whether  you’re  a  parent,  an  aunt  or  uncle,  grandparent,  teacher,   medical  practitioner  or  caregiver,  this  is  a  book  you’ll  want  to  tune  into.       What  prompted  you  to  write  this  book?   When  I  initially  started  my  practice,  it  was  clear  to   me  that  many  of  the  more  difficult  cases  coming  in   were  the  result  of  parents  not  really  understanding   childhood  development.  Their  responses  were   making  situations  worse,  and  I  realized  they  needed   help  minimizing  problems,  rather  than  what  I  saw   them  doing,  which  was  amplifying  them.  Parents   also  started  bringing  new  issues  in  that  even   professionals  were  just  beginning  to  wrap  their   heads  around—I  started  a  workshop  called  “Parents   in  the  Know,”  where  parents  could  come  in,  ask   questions  and  take  notes,  and  explore  new  ways  of   connecting  to  their  kids  through  the  good,  the  bad   and  the  ugly.  They  were  hungry  for  information,  and   I  was  eager  to  get  it  to  them.  
  2. 2. What  are  the  most  important  messages  that  you  hope  readers  will  take  away?     1)  The  role  that  parents  play  in  a  child’s  life  is  critical.  Despite  competition  for  their   attention  and  influence,  parents  still  leave  the  most  lasting  impression.  Hold  onto  that   and  feel  empowered.  2)  Our  changing  environment  demands  that  children  be  equipped   differently  psychologically,  mentally  and  emotionally  than  they  have  been  in  the  past.   3)  Children  need  to  have  a  good  script  when  the  chips  are  down,  more  valuable  than   knowing  what  to  do  when  things  are  good.  4)  More  than  stopping  bad  behavior,   cultivate  what  you  want  to  see  in  your  children  when  they  launch  into  the  world.       Have  you  spoken  to  your  own  parents  about  how  parenting  has  changed  over  the   years?     I  have,  but  in  stilted  way.  It’s  hard  for  them  to  comprehend  that  today’s  kids  have   power.  Times  were  different;  there  was  very  little  competition  for  kids’  attention.   Adults  didn’t  really  even  talk  to  kids;  certainly  not  exploring  what  they  thought.  And,   there  were  no  marketing  campaigns  aimed  at  children  making  them  feel  like  they   “rock.”       What  do  you  think  kids  are  looking  for  in  terms  of  guidance  and  support?     This  varies  by  to  age,  but  generally,  it’s  listening.  Not  judging,  but  guiding.  By  doing   this,  parents  can  help  children  uncover  and  articulate  internal  emotions.  This  is   essential,  because  many  kids  stay  quiet  about  things  that  are  bothering  them  and  act   out  instead.  Helping,  without  pushing  them  to  put  words  to  what  they’re  feeling,  is  a   life-­‐long  investment.  Whether  you’re  4  or  40,  if  you  can  control  your  internal   experience,  you  can  better  control  you  external  experience.       What  are  the  biggest  issues  parents  present  to  you  at  your  practice?   Probably  the  biggest  challenge  is  that  children  do  not  respond  to  them  the  way  they   responded  to  their  parents.  This  can  leave  them  feeling  fearful,  and  like  their  family  or   children  are  out  of  control.  The  good  news  is  that  these  contemporary  parenting   challenges—teaching  kids  to  reflect,  helping  them  cultivate  resilience,  and  inspiring   critical  thinking—will  prepare  kids  for  the  world  that  awaits  them.  We  are  being  called   on  to  parent  with  language  and  concerns  that  past  generations  never  heard  of  or   imagined...but  it  can  be  done.       How  do  you  think  TV,  24/7  news  exposure,  mobile  technology,  economics,  etc.,  are   impacting  children's  behavior?     Outside  factors  have  and  will  continue  to  influence  children’s  behavior;  in  the  same  way   they  influence  adults’.  The  difference  is  that  adults  have  more  life  experience  to  better   make  sense  of  these  and  adapt.  Kids  are  still  trying  to  figure  things  out,  especially  what   will  gain  them  acceptance  and  what  is  acceptable—two  very  different  things.  If  the   adults  in  charge  do  not  deliberately  counter  random,  exploitive  messaging,  kids  will   pick  up  what  they’re  being  exposed  to,  as  behavioral  cues.  As  for  mobile  technology,   it’s  difficult  to  say  what  the  verdict  will  be  on  our  kids;  the  generation  who  will  most  
  3. 3. impacted  is  just  coming  of  age  now—  kids  who  were  given  devices  as  pre-­‐adolescents.   The  most  significant  thing  I  am  seeing  with  kids  and  mobile  technology  is  that  it   behaves  like  a  drug  dealer,  doling  out  little  hits  of  reward  that  interfere  with  what   would  otherwise  be  a  brilliant  mind’s  ability  to  reflect,  and  to  concentrate  and  critically   think  about  what  is  going  on  around  them.  Whether  these  competencies  are   recoverable  is  hard  to  say.     How  did  you  use  the  information  and  stories,  gleaned  while  working  with  parents  in   your  practice,  to  build  out  the  9  principles?     Oddly  enough  it  was  simple:  Almost  without  exception  every  adult  case  I  encountered   had  a  story  that  contained  an  event  or  belief  that  transformed  into  a  growth  obstacle,   and  that  essentially  ran  the  show  for  decades.  The  outcome:  adults  relying  on   childhood  coping  mechanisms  to  navigate  their  evolving  life  situations.  Helping  adults   and  children  gain  a  clearer  understanding  of  how  a  life  can  go  off  track,  or  how  a  person   becomes  limited  in  terms  of  their  overall  potential,  is  how  the  core  elements  came   about.  My  conversations  with  parents  made  it  clear,  which  elements  needed  to  be   crystallized  in  order  to  learn  something  new  and  grow.       How  does  modern  pacing  impact  families,  and  by  proxy,  children  and  teens?     Pace  is  everything.  In  the  book  I  highlight  pace  as  a  core  consideration  when  working   with  kids.    Real  learning  takes  time;  ignoring  the  pace  at  which  we  live  our  lives  has  a   profound  impact  on  outcomes  for  our  children.  Additionally,  speed  creates  a  feeling  of   being  “stressed”  and  out  of  control.  Being  in  control  of  the  pace  of  your  life  is  a   fundamental  requirement  to  wellbeing.  Kids  who  never  experience  the  sense  of  “being   in  charge”  of  their  schedule  are  at  very  high  risk  for  all  kinds  of  maladies.  Increased   stress  also  has  a  direct,  measurable  correlation  to  a  rise  in  problems.           What  do  you  think  parents  could  do  better  in  relation  to  their  children?     To  borrow  a  phrase,  I’d  say,  “lean  in”  to  their  future.  Be  aware  of  the  enormous  power   we  have  on  how  our  children’s  lives  unfold.  Think  beyond  your  own  childhood   experience  and  relate  to  theirs.  It’s  also  crucial  to  get  beyond  the  metric  that  says,  “I   turned  out  OK,”  just  because  you  have  a  job  and  avoided  jail,  teenage  pregnancy  or  any   other  “standard”  derailing  life  happening.  With  all  our  children  are  exposed  to  these   days,  they  must  get  in  tune  with  who  they  want  to  be  later  in  life,  and  align  their   behavior  with  their  goals.  Relationships  will  require  more  than  just  a  wedding  ring,   mental  health  will  matter,  and  getting  a  job  will  morph  into  creating  a  skill  set  with   value.  This  is  why  core  principles  that  contribute  to  growth,  and  that  teach  kids  to   anticipate  a  rollercoaster  ride,  will  be  life-­‐saving  and  life-­‐giving.      

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