Self Control + Focus=Success (Pedcast)

Topic Introduction

I think you can guess at the topic for today’s pedcast– the title tells it all. We are going to break down this formula that I believe is at the core of why some children succeed and others do not. So crank up the mp3 player and listen to a discussion of a conversation that I think you will find relevant for your family.

Ever wonder if childhood is different today than it was when you were growing up? I think most people would answer that question with a big yes.  It just feels like the “kid ” experience of growing up is different than it was when we were young.  And no wonder, here are a few changes that have occurred to family life just during our lives.  In today’s America, there are, on average, fewer children per family, families generally have more disposable income than they did in the past, families are much more likely to be headed by a single parent, families are more likely to have been touched by divorce and experienced a blended family lifestyle, children today are living a mostly indoor existence, parents are much more involved in their children’s day to day lives, free playtime has been replaced with adult supervised goal focused play, teens are less likely to have a job before HS graduation, and children have exposure to a far wider array of adult worldly things by way of digital technology than we did during our childhoods.  I see all these trends as negatives for the childhood experience and healthy personality development.  These social trends that characterize many families today has fundamentally changed the relationship between parent and child.  Parents have more ambivalence today about setting clear limits for their children. Many parents simply feel guilty when they put restrictions on their children and, consequently, don’t treat them like children. Parental ambivalence toward consistent limit setting results in children all to often not being held responsible for their actions.  I think we can we all can agree; this cannot be good for children.

Musical Introduction

The Increasing Incidence of ADD

Additionally, a childhood dominated by the digital virtual world is downright dangerous. Many psychologists blame screens and the effect of electronics for the dramatic rise in children exhibiting a lack of self-control and inattentive, ADD behavior. Recall that ADD is characterized by a lack of self-control and lack of focus. I believe there is a direct link here. Think about how many kids you know who meet the criteria for a diagnosis of ADD these days.  It’s frightening.  We have talked about this a lot of on in the past and I have dedicated a portion of my book, Can Doesn’t Mean Should to this subject as well.  While the 21st century childhood may be equipping today’s children with some advantages like faster acquisition of knowledge, multitasking, and a facility for mastering the digital world that seems miraculous to their parents, I am afraid it comes with a heavy price.    I fear that a lessening of self-control skills and the inability to sustain attention on relatively boring tasks will not help them in the long run. Let me explain further.

Does Parenting Influence a Child’s Self Control?

If we accept that parenting has an influence on the development of a child’s self control skills and ability to concentrate, we must ask, what does a parent do or not do that allows a child to develop these skills?  In essence, what is good parenting?  What I have noticed in the most successful children I have cared for during my pediatric career is that they seem to be the ones whose parents had high expectations for them, the ones whose parents didn’t shield them from their failures, but were the ones whose parents were there to help them through the difficult times. Raising a confident, mature, resilient child doesn’t just happen–these traits are cultivated, nurtured, tended, and taught.  Holding children accountable for their mistakes, letting them fail and learn from their mistakes, insisting on a high level of self-control and expecting that they always give their best effort, especially with their academics, is the recipe for growing a successful child. As the title says, Self-control + Focus= Success.


Failure is Your Child’s Best Teacher

So as your children go through the ups and downs of childhood, making mistakes and having failures, love them, support them, and by all means forgive them when they mess up, but make sure you hold them responsible for their actions. Help them learn from their mistakes. Don’t make excuses for them. Make sure you enroll them in what I call the, “School of natural consequences”. Only by doing this, will they learn good judgment and self-control?  And for the focus part of the formula, I feel it is very important for you insist on activities that require good concentrating ability, the opposite of what video games, TV, texting, and smart phones offer them. It is essential that you limit these activities, especially when they are young. I think you will be glad you did.


As always, thanks for joining me and helping to make one of the most successful parenting blogs out there. If you have comments about this post, take a moment and send them into my blog at You can also weigh in on Facebook, twitter, iTunes, or google+. I love hearing from you. And if you enjoy talking about parenting topics, go ahead and get a copy of my new book Can Doesn’t Mean Should, Essential Information for 21st Century Parents available online at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or iBooks as well as many fine bookstores. This is Dr. Paul Smolen, happy to extol, the virtue of teaching your kids self-control. Until next time.