TIME

Drunk Mistakes Posted on Facebook Are Forever

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

The price you pay for the ease of social media is its permanence

Let me tell you about the only time in my life I got really drunk. I was studying abroad my junior year of college at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The second night I arrived, all the students were encouraged to take part in a “three-legged pub crawl.” I rarely drank, and didn’t know what that was, but was easily corralled into participating. I was tied, leg-to-leg, to a large Scottish rugby star named Norrie who could drink more beer than I could water, to little apparent effect. We raced from pub to pub, downing a pint of beer in each. Before long Norrie was dragging me, with encouraging shouts of “C’mon, laddie.”

That night was the only time in my life I wanted to die. By the next morning I had learned a valuable lesson about my limitations. But here is the key point—the lesson was mine alone.

That story, embarrassing as it was, would have no life if I never told it. Norrie probably has no memory of me, and I have, to be honest, only the haziest memory of him. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram. No one intruded on me as I bent over in the bathroom to spend the night throwing up. It was the ideal error of youth: committed once, never repeated, with no lasting effects.

I remembered my ill-fated pub crawl last week when a parent came to my office to show me a picture that had been posted on Facebook of her teenage daughter drunk and acting wild. Her daughter—keenly aware of the perils of social media—thought she was safe in a small party with friends. Now, the mother was distraught, and her daughter was nearly hysterical, begging her friends to erase pictures that may not ever be permanently erased. Her “Norrie moment” might never be gone. Twenty years from now an employer could find it in the endless echo chamber that is the Internet.

What should she do? So long as your picture exists anywhere, even on a phone of a friend, it can exist everywhere. She can be grateful that most employers in the future will understand that what one does in high school or college is not representative of the rest of your life. But ultimately the best she can do is to learn that young people no longer have the latitude for the kind of mistakes they once did.

I used to wonder what it meant for children whose early years were recorded by their parents. They no longer had simple childhood memories—they were augmented by film of how they looked, what they said, how relatives and friends acted around them. Now, our lives are recorded far more comprehensively, and the images often tend to the extreme: moments of joy, sorrow, surprise, and embarrassment. And of course, the home movie was designed for those who visited your home. Social media is designed to broadcast your image to the world.

We have heard a great deal about the developing teenage brain, with suggestions that it is less adept at envisioning long-range consequences than the adult brain. The future is less real to those for whom the future is still a long, vast plain of promise. It is our task as adults to continually remind our teenagers that part of the price they pay for the ease of social media is its permanence. In an age when nothing is lost, what was once an error can become a catastrophe.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Books

30 of the Best Parents in Literature

Atticus Finch ranks at the top as one of the great heroes and parents of American literature

It’s hard to find good parents in fiction. A lot of books deal either with the lack of a parent or a parent’s complete unsuitability for the role. But there are a few good ones out there, parents who make you think, “Gee, I wish my parents were like that.” Behold: Parents (or parental types) we wish were ours—or that we wish we could be.

  • 1. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird

    to-kill-a-mockingbird-cover
    HarperLuxe 'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

    The widowed father of Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch is one of the great heroes of American literature. Steering his young children along the path of moral rectitude is hard in the Jim Crow South, and when Atticus, a lawyer, unsuccessfully defends an innocent black man from charges that he raped a white woman, it becomes even more difficult. But his own belief in rightness, morality, and good, even in the face of an unfair world, is communicated to his kids—and to the world. His impact on the legal profession, especially in the South, was also profound: The Atticus Finch Society, part of the Alabama Law Foundation, was founded to serve the legal needs of the poor and named after a fictional lawyer who “epitomizes the type of professional, and person, lawyers strive to be.”

  • 2. and 3. Alex and Kate Murry from A Wrinkle in Time

    a-wrinkle-in-time-cover
    Time Quintet 'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle

    Tesseracts are real, and Meg and Charles Murry’s scientist father has disappeared into one—and it’s up to these two brilliant but socially awkward children to save him. When it was published in 1962, A Wrinkle in Time was a sci-fi gift to all those nerdy kids out there for whom Star Trek hadn’t yet been invented. And the Murry parents—beautiful and smart microbiologist Kate and tesseract physicist Alex—made being scientists seem so cool. Who wouldn’t want parents like that?

  • 4. and 5. The Weasleys from Harry Potter Series

    harry-potter-last-book-cover
    Scholastic 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' by J.K. Rowling

    Harry Potter wanted them to adopt him—and we wouldn’t mind either. Though Harry was already remarkably well-adjusted for a child who’d been forced to sleep in a spider-filled cupboard under the stairs, his friendship with the Weasleys showed him what a loving family really looked like. Mom Molly was kind, fiercely protective of her children—her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange in the final book was immensely satisfying—and knitted a mean jumper. Dad Arthur was slightly bumbling, loved Muggle stuff, and was still a kid at heart. Best of all, they loved each other as much as they loved their children.

  • 6. Marmee from Little Women

    little-women-cover
    Penguin Books Australia 'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott

    Marmee is the glue that holds the Little Women together through the Civil War and their father’s long absence. Kind and charitable, she’s their moral compass, their comfort in troubled times. Without her, the four girls—Jo, Meg, Amy and Beth—are lost.

  • 7. and 8. Mr. and Mrs. Little from Stuart Little

    stuart-little-book-cover
    Harper & Row 'Stuart Little' by E.B. White

    Interspecies procreation is typically cause for concern, but not for Mr. and Mrs. Little. When their son, Stuart, was born a mouse, the kind (though perhaps a bit dense) Littles treated him just like any other member of the family. A member of the family who had a long tail, whiskers, slept in a cigarette box and could climb up lamp cords.

  • 9. and 10. Ma and Pa Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie

    little-house-prairie-cover
    HarperCollins 'Little House on the Prairie' by Laura Ingalls Wilder

    Though Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of growing up in the Indian Territory, now Kansas, in the mid- to late-19th century are actually autobiographical, the books tend to be found in the children’s fiction part of the bookstore, so they make the list. Pa was a true pioneer with a serious case of wanderlust: He could build a house by hand and skin a rabbit, but still remained a gentleman, kind, courteous and upstanding. Ma Ingalls, a true pioneer wife, instructed her children to treat others with care.

  • 11. and 12. Mr. and Mrs. Quimby from Ramona Series

    ramona-collection-cover
    HarperCollins 'The Complete Ramona Collection' by Beverly Cleary

    Ramona Quimby, age 8, is a bit of a handful. Her imagination—and she’s got lots of it—often gets her into situations, like the time she went to school with her pajamas under her clothes because she was pretending to be a fireman. Or the time she put her doll in the oven. Or the time she squeezed an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink.

    Her parents, Bob and Dorothy, meanwhile, are real parents, who have to deal with real things like quitting smoking, having children young, getting laid off, and 8-year-olds who accidentally dye themselves blue. And they even get in fights, like real parents do. But throughout it all, they manage to remain patient and affectionate with their children; they’re not perfect, but they’re pretty good.

  • 13. – 16. Baloo the Bear, Bagheera the Black Panther, and the Wolves from The Jungle Book

    jungle-book-cover
    Dover Publications 'The Jungle Book' by Rudyard Kipling

    After they save him from becoming tiger Shere Khan’s meal, Father Wolf and Mother Wolf raise the hairless man-cub Mowgli as one of their own. But it’s up to Baloo the sleepy bear and Bagheera the panther to teach the boy the Law of the Jungle—thereby becoming the coolest godparents in the world.

  • 17. and 18. The Gilbreths from Cheaper by the Dozen

    cheaper-by-the-dozen-cover
    Crowell Co 'Cheaper By the Dozen' by Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

    So, the Gilbreths were actual people, not fiction, and this charming book, published in 1948, is a biography written by their children. But—and we mean this as a compliment—the parents are so lovely as to almost seem made up. Frank Gilbreth and his wife, Lillian, are world-famous efficiency experts whose studies in time and motion changed the way people worked. If Frank had his way, they would have also changed the way people raised children, especially after their incredible fecundity produced 12 kids. Having an even dozen children meant that the Gilbreths could apply some of their expertise in their Montclair, New Jersey, home. Hilarity ensues, as does an overwhelming sense of warmth and happiness.

    The two children wrote a follow up book, Belles on Their Toes, recounting what happened after Frank’s death in 1924, which left Lillian with a house full of children, the youngest just 2 years old, and a business to run. Mother Lillian managed to keep it all together, with good humor and warmth, and the book manages to stay away from the maudlin.

  • 19. and 20. The Cuthberts from Anne of Green Gables

    anne-green-gables-cover
    Random House Children's Books 'Anne of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery

    In L.M. Montgomery’s series about the red-haired orphan Anne Shirley, the Cuthberts are a brother and sister who, living together alone on their Prince Edward Island farm with no prospective children, decide they need to take in an orphan to help out with the work. They’d wanted a boy; they got Anne—spirited, imaginative, dramatic Anne. The two grow to love and care for her deeply in different ways: Where Matthew quietly encourages Anne’s flights of fancy and frivolity, Marilla offers a steely structure and hidden warmth. Matthew’s death from a heart attack at the end of Anne of Green Gables, the first book in the series, is eye-wateringly tragic, but Anne’s devotion to stern Marilla is a testament to the strength of their relationship.

  • 21. and 22. Caractacus and Mimsie Pott from Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car

    chitty-chitty-bang-bang-cover
    Candlewick 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang' by Ian Fleming

    To be clear: this is not the Disney film Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang featuring Dick Van Dyke (although having most any character Dick Van Dyke has ever played as a father would be pretty great, from Rob Petrie to Bert to Mark Sloan). In Ian Fleming’s 1964 children’s book, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, there are two Potts, mother Mimsie and father Caractacus, a Royal Navy Commander and crack-pot inventor who comes across the magnificent car with a rich inner life of its own. Potts is a fun dad, one who tells his children, “Never say ‘no’ to adventures. Always say ‘yes,’ otherwise you’ll lead a very dull life.” When their twin 8-year-old boy and girl are kidnapped by gangsters with a dastardly plan to rob a Parisian chocolate shop, the Potts and their loyal car set off to rescue them. International intrigue and gadgetized cars are pure vintage Fleming, but the love between an adventurous father and his children speaks to the Bond author’s softer side—he wrote the book for his own son, Caspar, but died before seeing it in print.

  • 23. Carson Drew from The Nancy Drew Mystery Series

    nancy-drew-mystery
    Grosset & Dunlap 'The Secret of the Old Clock' by Carolyn Keene

    Nancy Drew, the great girl detective, wouldn’t have been quite so successful if it hadn’t been for both the encouragement and neglect of her father, important River Heights lawyer Carson Drew. The elder Drew’s attitude towards his daughter changed as the book series continued, possibly due in part to changing parental attitudes—leaving your 16-year-old daughter to her own devices while you’re away on business is the kind of thing that seemed like a good idea before Facebook and hashtag parties. But throughout, he remained a supporter of his sleuth daughter, encouraging her exploits, helping her figure out clues, and even relying on her when he needed help himself.

  • 24. and 25. Ben Moore and Cillian Boyd from The Knife of Never Letting Go, Chaos Walking Series

    the-knife-of-never-letting-go-cover
    Candlewick 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness

    Raising a child right is hard enough; raising him right when everything around you is so incredibly wrong is even more difficult. In Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in the masterful Chaos Walking trilogy, Todd Hewitt, nearly 13, is the last boy in Prentisstown, a damned settlement on a new world where the women and half the men were killed nearly a decade before. The remaining men are afflicted with “the Noise”—the constant cacophony of the thoughts of almost every living thing around. Ben Moore and Cillian Boyd are Todd’s adoptive parents, who took him in when his own were killed. But since then, while they’ve raised him, loved him, literally listened to every thought in his head, and instilled in him a sense of morality, they’ve been secretly plotting his escape … even though it almost surely means their own deaths.

  • 26. Sam Gribley’s Dad from My Side of the Mountain

    my-side-mountain-cover
    Puffin Books 'My Side of the Mountain' by Jean Craighead George

    Talk about free-range parenting. When Sam Gribley gets tired of living in his large family’s overcrowded New York apartment, he does what any self-sufficient 12-year-old would do: Teaches himself wilderness survival from a book he found in the public library and sells magazine subscriptions until he can afford a bus ticket to the Catskills, where he plans to live off the land at his family’s abandoned farm. And his dad lets him. No, really. But what could have become a tale of terrible parental irresponsibility is, in fact, a story of one boy’s self-reliance and passion for nature and the parent who trusted him enough to let him dive off the grid. In the end, Dad Gribley, inspired by Sam, decides that living in the city is no place for a family and moves the entire brood up to the abandoned farm. Fresh air for all!

  • 27. Mame Dennis from Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade

    auntie_mame
    Broadway Books 'Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade' by Patrick Dennis

    The flamboyant, eccentric, wonderful Auntie Mame of the 1955 book of the same title is absolutely the kind of accidental parent we’d love to have. In 1928, 10-year-old Patrick Dennis becomes the ward of his father’s unflappable flapper sister, Mame Dennis, after his parents’ deaths. Hers is a boozy, glamorous world populated by artists, poets, and bohemians that, to conventional types at least, would hardly seem suitable for a little boy. Yet Mame carves out a place for Patrick—involving a truly avant garde nude elementary school, among other things—and their tender relationship endures Mame’s scandalous society and wild whims, her rich husband who fell off the Matterhorn, and even Patrick’s atrocious fiancé.

    The book was a sort of quasi-fictional memoir and “Patrick Dennis” was the pseudonym of the enormously witty Edward Everett Tanner III, who based Mame on his own aunt, the self-described “ultimate Greenwich Village eccentric” Marion Tanner. Tanner’s own life was no less a study in eccentricity: He was an ambulance driver in World War II, wrote numerous best-selling books under pseudonyms, led, as his Random House biography says, “a double life as a bisexual man and a conventional husband and father,” and was a character of some renown in New York’s bohemian scene until financial ruin led him to spend the last years of his life as a butler in Palm Beach.

  • 28. Katie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

    a-tree-grows-in-brooklyn-cover
    Harper 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn' by Betty Smith

    In Betty Smith’s 1943 coming of age novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, protagonist Francie’s favorite parent, the parent who seems to get her, isn’t her mother, Katie; it’s her creative, sentimental father, Johnny. But after Johnny’s alcoholism consumes him, making it virtually impossible for him to hold a job, it’s Katie who keeps the family afloat. Katie’s grit and determination that her children should have a better life than she had is the kind of tough love that gives Francie the tools she’ll need to survive.

  • 29. Mrs. Frisby from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh

    mrs-frisby-rats-nimh-cover
    Aladdin 'Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh' by Robert C. O'Brien

    Sometimes being a parent is about doing things that absolutely terrify you for the good of your children. Mrs. Frisby, heroine of Robert O’Brien’s 1971 children’s book about the wonder and horror of scientific experimentation, is kind, sweet, and, when it comes down to it, tough as nails. Though the titular “rats of NIMH” had the benefit of laboratory experimentation that made them super smart and super strong (although possessing a somewhat questionable moral compass), Mrs. Frisby is just a regular field mouse. Still, it’s her bravery – drugging a cat! – and selflessness that saves her family and the rats themselves. Hats off to you, Mrs. F.!

  • 30. The Man from The Road

    the-road-cover
    Vintage Books 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy

    Like much of his work, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is grim. Really, really grim. But the post-apocalyptic travelogue is also a testament to the love between a father, the unnamed man, and his son. The Man is the kind of parent we’d like to have in the aftermath of some cataclysmic world event. We just desperately hope we wouldn’t ever need him.

    For the most interesting parenting stores of the week, sign up here for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter.

    This article originally appeared on Mental Floss.

    More from Mental Floss:

TIME Parenting

How to Talk to Your Kids About Bruce Jenner

13th Annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational Gala At ARIA Resort & Casino
Ethan Miller—Getty Images Bruce Jenner attends the 13th annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational gala at the ARIA Resort & Casino at CityCenter on April 4, 2014 in Las Vegas, NV.

Experts say it's important to get informed first

After Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer, which aired on April 24, he became the most visible transgender person in the country, if not the world. It’s nearly impossible to go to the grocery store or CVS without seeing his face plastered on every tabloid cover. And if you’re seeing him (he is continuing to use male pronouns) everywhere, that means your kids are too, especially because of his connection to the Karadashians.

But how do you explain Jenner’s transition to your children when they ask why a man is becoming a woman? Here, experts weigh in on the best way to have the conversation with your children of all ages.

To start: Michael LaSala, associate professor of social work at Rutgers University and a family therapist, says before you talk to your kids about this, you need to think about it yourself. “Parents need to do a self-inventory as to how they feel about the topic and to get straight in their minds what their feelings and thoughts and ideas are about transgender issues in general,” he says. “It behooves parents to become as educated as possible on the topic before talking to their children about it.”

Elementary school: With elementary-age children, it’s best to keep the explanation very basic, says Dr. Elijah Nealy, a clinical social worker who specializes in the transgender community. “Sometimes children are born in little girls’ bodies but they know in their hearts that they’re really a boy,” Nealy explains. “And sometimes as they grow up a doctor can help them become a boy. Young elementary age kids don’t need any more explanation than that.” In fact, Nealy says that the conversations with the young children may actually be the easiest – “My experience has been that they are able to comprehend that often much more easily than adults.”

Middle school: Nealy says parents should approach the conversation with middle schoolers the same way they might with their elementary school children: sometimes people are born in the body of a boy but feel like they’re a girl. But to add more detail to the explanation, parents can start to teach their kids of this age about the difference between sex and gender. In general, sex is biological and gender is a personal identity. Nealy says you can explain this difference and the trans community to adolescents by saying, “For most people, the way they feel about themselves matches the sex that was assigned at birth, but for some people their own internal sense of themselves doesn’t match. Those people are called transgender, and they often transition so they can live in a way that fits.”

High school: If your kids are a bit older, around high school age, it may be the actual transition that they’re curious about, the ‘how’ of Bruce Jenner becoming a woman. In that case, Nealy says you would need to make sure you had “accurate information in terms of transgender people being able to take hormones that help them look more like a man or a woman, or that they also might have surgeries.” LaSala cautions that kids of this age are more socialized and might be quicker to judgment or ridicule when they hear about a transgender person: “With older kids it may be important to have a talk about people and differences and trying to understand them rather than judging them and putting them down.”

Overall, Nealy says it’s best “to let the children guide the questions. I often start with the more basic information and then with a high school student would let them set the pace at which they want more information.” LaSala also has an overriding strategy for children of all ages: “Parents of all of those age groups,” he says, “need to be as straightforward and honest as possible.”

For more topical parenting tips, sign up for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most

Regarding the wellbeing of kids with divorced parents, the debate over what kind of custody arrangement is best rages on. But a new study, published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, suggests that children fare better when they spend time living with both of their parents.

That goes against some current thinking that kids in shared-custody situations are exposed to more stress due to constantly moving around and the social upheaval that can come along with that. “Child experts and people in general assumed that these children should be more stressed,” says study author Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. “But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children.”

The researchers wanted to see if kids who lived part time with both parents were more stressed than those who lived with just one parent. They looked at national data from almost 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students—each in either 6th grade or 9th grade—and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy. They found that 69% of them lived in nuclear families, while 19% spent time living with both parents and about 13% lived with only one parent.

Kids in nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, but the more interesting finding was that students who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than kids who lived with only one parent.

“We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” says Bergström. “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.” Having two parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money. “Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don’t live together,” she says.

Girls reported more psychosomatic problems than boys did, and the most frequent problem for girls was sadness. Sleep problems were the most common in kids overall.

In Sweden, joint-custody parenting has risen dramatically in the past few decades; in the 1980s, only 1% of kids of divorced parents lived in joint-custody arrangements, but that number jumped to 40% in 2010. Shared parenting is less common in the U.S., says Ned Holstein, MD, founder and acting executive director of the National Parents Organization, and he estimates the rate is less than 20%. Still, he says that the research in favor of shared parenting for kids is overwhelming. “You’ll hear opponents say, ‘You’ll turn them into suitcase kids; they don’t want to be dragged back and forth,'” Holstein says. “Clearly, taking the suitcase back and forth once or twice a week so that you spend a lot of time with both parents is way better for the kids than the alternative of basically losing an intimate and closely loving relationship with one parent.”

For all the week’s news of interest to families, sign up here for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter.

TIME Parenting

How To Help Your Kids Get Rid of Stuff

stuff-closet
Getty Images

Hint: Don't start in your child's closet.

How do you recognize a house that has kids in it? By all the stuff.

We start collecting stuff for kids before they’re even born. Not long after that that they start collecting stuff themselves. (And leaving it just about everywhere.) But all that stuff doesn’t just get in the way when we’re trying to walk across the living room. It can get in the way of our lives.

That’s what Joshua Becker, founder of Becoming Minimalist and author of Clutter Free with Kids, realized one day, as he spent an afternoon cleaning stuff out of his garage instead of playing with his son.

So he and his family decided to simplify their lives, selling or giving away everything that wasn’t essential. The biggest benefit, according to Becker? Getting all that stuff out of the way gave his family a chance to focus on what really matters most to them.

“We began questioning everything we had allowed into our life,” Becker says. “Is this really benefiting us? Or is it just there because everyone else is doing it?”

He’s not the only one. Marie Kondo, whose bestselling 2014 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up advises people to keep only those things that bring joy, used to sneakily throw away her siblings’ stuff when she was a kid.

But confronted with the tidal waves of stuff in kids’ lives, much of which they claim they desperately need, where can a parent begin?

“Don’t start in your kids’ closet,” Becker says. “Start in your own. Your child sees the example you’ve set, and you’ve explained why you’re doing what you’re doing. So by the time they get to their stuff, they’re prepared.”

With elementary age kids, Becker says, parents can start very simply: by saying, “no.” Parents often want to give their kids everything. But one of the most important things they can give kids, according to Becker, is boundaries. And once those boundaries are set, good conversations can start, with questions like, “What things are important to keep? Why do you want to keep them? What things do we not really need?”

By middle school, kids have started to notice what other kids have. So “envy becomes more prevalent,” Becker says. But, he notes, “we almost never solve the problem of envy by acquiring whatever it is we envy.” Instead, Becker says, the antidote for envy is gratitude. Parents can help kids confront envy with questions like, “How do you think having that new thing would change your life? What things do you have now that you enjoy?”

High school kids are in a place where they can be more self-reflective about the stuff they own, or want. Parents can encourage them with questions like “What makes us want to buy more and more? Why aren’t we satisfied with what we have?”

And, Becker says, parents can encourage kids to dream big not about what they want to have, but what they want to do. Kids “have very big dreams,” says Becker. And that’s one place where it is healthy to try to give them everything: “we should encourage them to do whatever they want to do to help people, and change the world they’re in.”

Sign up here for TIME’s free weekly newsletter for busy parents who just want the good stuff.

TIME Parenting

The Problem With No-Share Parenting

Toy trucks in a sandbox
Getty Images

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the president emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America.

A child who is 3 or 4 can be conditioned to share, to empathize, and to be generous

Don’t force your toddler to share. In fact, don’t encourage it all. It’s not even good for your child. Parents who insist that their kids “take turns” and give up their toys to other children on the playground are doing it mostly because they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of other parents. In short, we promote sharing because it’s easier for us as adults and not because it’s the right thing for a 3- or 4-year-old.

Is this parenting theory the future for young American parents? I hope not, but it’s possible. A number of psychologists, religious educators, and conservative commentators seem to have arrived at a consensus teaching our kids that to share is bad for them, and we need to back off. Such advice would seem to be contrary to conventional wisdom and accepted ethical norms, not to mention just plain common sense. Do we really want “stay away from my stuff” to be the governing rule for children in the sandbox? I remain hopeful that the “no need to share” movement will be no more than a fad.

The anti-sharing crowd offers a number of rationales for its approach. Rachel Boldwyn, writing recently on Christianity Today’s website, makes the following arguments: First, kids are incapable of sharing. A toddler is naturally possessive and should not be expected to act beyond his age. Second, forced sharing or mandated turn-taking is not really sharing at all, but simply means that a child is complying with the demand of a more powerful individual — the parent, or teacher, or caregiver. Third, forcing a child to share disrupts the value that he derives from extended play, truncating his ability to concentrate. According to Boldwyn, the Biblical verse“training up a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) means that we must see our children as distinct individuals, separate from their parents, and this means avoiding the notion that they must share because we as parents want them to share.

But Boldwyn misunderstands the passage and the psychology. It’s true that a 2-year-old cannot comprehend sharing and the implications of ownership. It is also true that Biblical ethics cannot simply be imposed; ethical systems work best when a person willingly embraces the values involved. But children are not adults and are not competent to make the range of decisions that adults must make. That is why we are instructed to “train” them in the way they should go.

And this means that a child who is 3 or 4 can be conditioned to share, to empathize, and to be generous. Conditioning will include some mandated turn-taking and forced sharing, but that is what training is about, and what the Biblical text intended. It is also consistent with what child development experts accept as necessary and appropriate. Children are forced to do all kinds of things that are important to their welfare: eat in healthy ways, learn basic manners, and avoid hitting and hazards to their safety. The problem is not the compulsion, but a parent who is harsh rather than firm, or arbitrary rather than caring. A parent who makes a 3-year-old take turns with a toy is not a problem if the parent is loving and models sharing in his own behavior.

Naomi Schaefer Riley, writing in the New York Post, offers yet another reason not to encourage a child to share: It could send a message that all stuff is collectively owned, and that a child is entitled to use it just for being around it. This is absurd. Toddlers by nature are selfish beings; they are concerned with themselves and their own needs. The danger of a nursery school or playgroup, therefore, is not that it will teach our children communism, but that it will fail to teach them the values of love, trust, and generosity that are central to all of the Abrahamic faiths. A major goal of parenting and toddler programs, therefore, is to help children learn the language of “we” rather than “I,” and teaching them to share is part of that.

I recently attended the birthday party of my 3-year-old grandson. When disputes arose over toys, the parents quickly intervened, almost all of them telling their children to take turns and share. The results varied, although the children, despite being “forced” to take turns, in most cases quickly moved on — as children usually do. The parents were of different religious backgrounds, and many of them did not know each other, but it was interesting to see them instinctively and immediately resort to a language intended to promote cooperation and sharing. From what I could see, they reacted as they did not because of their own ego needs or fear of embarrassment but because they thought it was the right thing to do. And it was.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Be a Helium Parent, Not a Helicopter One

David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.

Parenting by panic is damaging to children

When police keep parents from their own children for the crime of letting them walk home alone, something has gone radically wrong.

In Maryland, two children, ages 6 and 10, were held for hours after a 911 call alerted police they were unaccompanied in a park last week. Police had picked up the same children while they were walking home alone in the not-so-wild streets of their neighborhood last December. Their mother has said that parenting is an exercise in “risk management.” That is exactly right. Children once were given the chance to explore, to stumble, to be hurt, and to heal. It is time to reject helicopter parenting and replace it with helium parenting.

We should hold on to our children as a child holds on to a balloon. Let them rise, float on their own, but keep a grasp on the string. In time we will need to release our grip, but in the meantime, instead of hovering from above, we should be holding lightly from below. Think of it as parental string theory.

Most parents now monitor their children so closely with electronics that there is no true escape. We beep, buzz, text, Facebook, Skype and skulk our way around each other’s space, especially that of our kids. We aren’t just helicopter parents; we are helicopter parents with radar.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, my brothers and I walked to school each day. We played football unsupervised in the streets. On Saturday afternoons when we were the same ages as those Maryland kids, we would walk around the neighborhood and visit people. The chances then as now, that a child would be snatched by a stranger were extremely rare.

As we are made increasingly aware of each crime, America has become a strange paradox — a society whose fear rises with each advance in security. We are safe and scared. The more medicine eliminates diseases, the more obsessively we put Purell on our hands. The more meticulously we test our drinking supply, the more we turn to bottled water. Almost any risk has become unbearable — but without risk there is no life.

Sign up for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter here.

Human beings have a cognitive bias that overestimates the frequency of dramatic calamities. In his book Protecting the Gift, child-safety expert Gavin De Becker points out that compared to a stranger kidnapping, “a child is vastly more likely to have a heart attack, and child heart attacks are so rare that most parents (correctly) never even consider the risk.” People regularly miscalculate real risk — that is why some who are terrified of planes don’t buckle their safety belts in cars, even though the chances of a car accident are far greater than dying in a plane crash.

This nation was built by immigrants and pioneers. Both take great risks. In our attitudes toward our children, however, we have become a timid nation, making the circle of our children’s lives ever smaller, leaving them in front of a screen to experience the world. Parenting by panic is damaging to children.

Seeing kids walking home from school should lift our collective spirit. Children have walked to and from school for generations. Remember Shakespeare’s “whining school-boy with his satchel/ And shining morning face, creeping like snail/ Unwillingly to school”? Walking to school is an age-old rite of passage. Faced with the admittedly terrifying prospect that something might happen to our daughters and sons, we choose to transmit our terror to them rather than our confidence.

Helicopters are big, expensive, cumbersome, and dangerous. They look down. Balloons are colorful, joyous, and free. Be a helium parent. Look up.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Hundreds Attend 10-Year-Old’s Birthday Party After Mom’s Facebook Plea

ten year old birthday
Courtesy of NBC

At least 500 people showed up to the party Saturday while the Shakopee, Minn. Mayor Brad Tabke proclaimed it "Mackenzie Moretter Day"

A Minnesota mother was so distraught when all of the girls invited to her daughter’s birthday party said they wouldn’t be there that she took matters into her own hands and got an incredible turnout.

Ten-year-old Mackenzie Moretter has a developmental disorder called Sotos syndrome, which causes children to grow at a faster rate but often delays their social and intellectual skills.

“Kids are friendly to her, but she doesn’t have friends. No one calls and talks to her. I’ll show up at her school and she will be playing alone,” her father, Matthew Moretter, told NBC affiliate KARE.

Sign up for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter and get all the best, most interesting, most informed parenting news delivered right to you.

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME Parenting

Why Kids Who Believe in Something Are Happier and Healthier

Johan Ödmann—Copyright Johner Bildbyra AB

Spirituality better predictor of happiness than achievement, says author

Despite more than a decade of widespread attention on happiness and the benefits of positive psychology, there is an epidemic of unhappiness in children and teens. Quite severe unhappiness. Health statistics over the past decade show that beyond the 20% to 25% of teens with major depression are another 40% (yes, that’s a total of 65%) who struggle with intrusive levels of depression symptoms at some point, and often with anxiety and substance abuse as well.

Kids of middle-class and more affluent families—kids who would seem to have everything going for them—have far higher rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and anti-social tendencies than their less privileged peers. Why has the mass happiness initiative failed our kids? Science is bringing the problem into resolution.

An increasingly narcissistic culture and the constant reward for achievement, whether on the playing field, the music stage or the math test, creates what I call in my book the unbalanced “performance self” of the child; a child who feels his or her worth is founded on ability and accomplishment.

We want our children to have grit to persist and win, the optimism that they will be more successful, but where does it lead? Children come to believe they are no better than their last success and suffer a sense of worthlessness when there is loss or even moderate failure. Where love is conditional on performance, children suffer.

Now the antidote. A new study just published online in the Journal of Religion and Health by my lab at Columbia University shows that happiness and the character traits of grit and persistence go “hand in hand” with a deeper inner asset: spirituality, which this study measured as a deep spiritual connection with a sense of a sacred world.

More generally my research of more than 20 years on adolescence, depression and spirituality shows more specifically how putting a priority on performance stunts development of a child’s inner life and the single most powerful protection against depression and suffering, the spiritual self.

What we have learned is that children are born with an innate capacity for spirituality, just as they are born with the capability to learn a language, read and think. But just as it takes time and effort to develop the ability to speak or read, it also takes time and effort to develop our innate sense of the spiritual.

A strong new body of science, developed during the last decade to what we now consider to be a level of certainty, demonstrates, first, that any sort of spirituality becomes a source of health and thriving for kids and, second, that the lack of spirituality in families and youth culture can be a big source of suffering.

Among other things, our research demonstrates:

  • Spiritually plays a significant role in child social, emotional and cognitive development. Kids with a strong spirituality overall have greater grit, higher grades, more optimism and persistence than kids without a strong sense of spirituality.
  • Teenagers who say they have a strong sense of spirituality are 80% less likely than the norm to have unprotected or dangerous sex, and 40% less likely to use drugs
  • Personal spirituality that includes a direct personal relationship with nature, a universal presence or higher power (by any name) has a clear correlation with physical wellness and recovery from depression and disease; indeed, greater spiritual awareness produces the same readings in brain scans as recovery due to medication.

We have found that the natural spirituality of children and young people can be encouraged and fostered by such steps as meditation, prayer, or long walks in nature where a sense of transcendence can be engaged. Parents can demonstrate approval for (and model) such traits as caring for others, empathy or optimism.

Most important, even if it makes them feel uncomfortable, parents must not turn away from questions that children are prone to ask—those difficult “why” questions that go directly to moral issues or to such visceral questions as whether there is a God, how we know, and what that means to us.

In contrast to the performance self, the spiritual self is sturdy and resilient, happy at a win, but not dependent on it to feel worthy as human being. In our excessively competitive culture, with often thin support for spiritual development, parents must actively work to help their children to a spiritual life.

Parents who aggressively push their children to achieve “success” in finding the “right” school, achieving the “right kind of job” should consider the science of the matter. Spirituality is more essential to thriving and success than ability to perform. Spiritual children have a sense of inner worth, a sense of the lasting, higher sacred self, much bigger than the day’s win or defeat. And when they achieve their goals – that better job, or that higher income – the studies show that well-grounded, spiritually engaged young people can actually feel fulfilled by their life choices.

That’s something worth pushing for.

For the most intelligent parenting research on the web, subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, TIME for Parents.

Lisa Miller, Ph.D. is Director of Clinical Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University and author of the forthcoming book, The Spiritual Child; The New Science of Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving

Read next: How Do You Talk to Kids About God?

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY

Why Millennials Are in for a Worse Midlife Crisis than their Parents

senior man in motorcycle gear
Henrik Sorensen—Getty Images

Marriage, it turns out, lessens the dip in happiness that happens in one's late 40s. But most Gen Y-ers have steered clear of the altar.

I’m a happily married 28-year-old with a beautiful wife and son. My life is good.

But if research is correct, I will grow increasingly more dissatisfied with my life over the next 20 years. Which is terrifying.

The midlife crisis is very real.

Studies show that people are pretty happy when they’re young and when they’re older—thank youthful exuberance and not having to work, respectively. But between 46 and 55, folks endure peak ennui.

That happiness ebbs as one ages is not particularly surprising. Careers plateau, dreams are deferred and bills increase in quantity and frequency.

This U-shaped happiness curve has been the focus of a lot of research recently and many nations (from Britain to Bhutan) have shown interest in augmenting citizens well-being with the intent that gross happiness is just as important to the economy as the gross domestic product.

One recent study on the topic—published in the National Bureau of Economic Research—has me feeling just a little bit less sad about my upcoming depression. It found that married folks like myself will experience a less dramatic midlife crisis than their non-married peers.

Authors Shawn Grover and John Helliwell used data from two U.K. surveys and found that while life-satisfaction levels declined for those who married and those who didn’t, the middle-age drop was much less severe for the betrothed, even when controlling for premarital happiness.

Having a dedicated partner, it seems, eases the burden of watching your youth pass slowly through your fingers. Tying the knot can soften the blow, in the other words.

Moreover, people who consider their partner a friend enjoy the most happiness.

“We explore friendship as a mechanism which could help explain a casual relationship between marriage and life satisfaction, and find that well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend,” the authors wrote.

These findings could leave many of my peers in an emotional nadir: According to data from the Pew Research Center, millennials just aren’t terribly interested in the institution of marriage. Only 26% of people aged 18 to 32 were married in 2013—10 points lower than Gen X when they were of a similar age in 1997, and 22 points below boomers’ marriage patterns in 1960.

My generation still has a few years before they hit the bottom of the U curve. And perhaps an improving economy will make the prospect of marriage more attractive to those in my cohort. Here’s hoping.

I didn’t plan to marry when I did—like most of my generation the thought really didn’t occur to me. But my longtime girlfriend and I walked down the aisle after we found out she was pregnant. And from my current pre-midlife-crisis vantage point, I can see why marrying someone I love and with whom I share a common worldview will make the process of aging slightly less pale and ugly.

Life’s hard, but it turns out that it’s nice to have someone you love to complain about it with.

More From the First-Time Dad:

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com