Ultimately, There’s Only One Thing that Really Motivates Children (And Adults)

What will motivate Molly to do her homework?  Her inherent love of mathematics?   Probably not.  In general, we don’t first love mathematics and therefore do mathematics.  It’s just the opposite:  We come to love mathematics when we get good at it. What will motivate Molly to do her homework?  The promise of prizes from her mother?  Perhaps.  But only as long as the prizes keep coming.   And only as long as Sally is interested in the prizes.  And then, she’ll be motivated to get the prize, … [Read more...]

Don’t Be Shameless! Why Good People Feel Shame

by Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D. We tend to have ambivalent feelings about shame.  On the one hand, no one likes shame.  Shame among the most painful emotions we can experience.   We tend to think that shame is a harmful emotion.  As a result, many parents try to protect their children from feelings of shame.  Shame is painful that we even shy away from talking about it.   On the other hand, shame is a moral emotion.   Feelings of shame help shape the moral behavior of children and adults.   Our … [Read more...]

Is Vulnerability a Form of Weakness?

by Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D. What is your Achilles heel?   According to the ancient Greek myth, the warrior Achilles was destined to die in battle.  His mother, the Goddess Thetis, dipped him in the River Styx, which produced powers of invincibility.   However, in order to dip Achilles into the river, she had to hold him by his heel.   As a result, the heel was unprotected, and Achilles later died in battle from an arrow to his heel. When we are vulnerable, we are open to being wounded.   … [Read more...]

An Open Letter to Teens (and Parents) About Sex

By Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D. The following is a letter to teenage children about sexuality.  This letter is for all teens, regardless of their age, sexual orientation or political persuasion.  It was written in a spirit that I hope will be seen as free from any particular political agenda, liberal, conservative or otherwise.   My hope is that the values expressed in this letter will be something that many of us can agree upon.  However, if we differ, my hope is that it will at least lead to … [Read more...]

The Circle of Virtues: How to Cultivate Character Your Child

We all want our children to be moral.  However, in a society made up of so many different groups of people, who gets to define what is moral?  Whose morality?  Whose values? At first blush, this seems like a difficult question.  That is because there really is diversity when it comes to values and virtues.  People and social groups differ.  And we need to find ways to respect these differences.   But this is where the conversation should start, not where it should end.  The mere fact that we … [Read more...]

“I’m Relaxed, Laid Back, and Without a Care in the World!” (You say that is if it were a good thing…)

By Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to conduct research in India.  My research compared the sense of self among American and Indian adolescents.  I asked adolescents to describe how they experienced themselves in relationships with different people.  I also asked them to describe how they experienced themselves when they were “just being me”. The results were illuminating.  I had always been told that adolescents and adults in Asia thought of themselves in … [Read more...]

How to be Happy

If you ask people what they strive for in life, many people will say that they wish to be happy.   Of course, this makes good sense.  But what do we mean by happiness?   And how can we attain it?  The answers to these questions are not so clear. So we want to be happy.   How can we make this happen?    One way to live a happy life is by continuously asking ourselves what I like to call “The Most Important Question”.  What is that question? “Is what I am doing good?” This is an easy … [Read more...]

Our Culture of Narcissism: Has it Affected Your Child?

by Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D. My door is open. A student comes into my office. She walks in and says, “I’d like to drop one of my classes”. I smile, and as welcoming as I can be, I ask, “Do we know each other?” Another student failed two courses during the previous semester. He had good reasons – a series of serious emergencies had emerged and he couldn’t complete his work. He was too ashamed to talk to his professors about his situation. I urged him to write to them. Knowing that he would … [Read more...]

How to Make Children Care about Learning

By Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D. It’s summer. It’s the time to take time off from learning! Why should I care about how to make my children care about learning? We learn what we do. Period. What does this mean? Question: When are we not doing something? Answer: We are never not doing something. We are always doing something. If this is true, then we are constantly learning. Every action is a source of learning. There is no such thing as a time for learning and a time off from learning. … [Read more...]

Acting Out of Care: Why Self-Interest and Caring for Others are Not Incompatible

by Michael F. Mascolo, Ph.D. Becoming a moral person doesn’t have to mean we have to sacrifice ourselves. When we come to identify our life projects around contributing to the good of others, doing the right thing becomes a source of self-satisfaction. We often think of morality in the negative. We tend to imagine a big finger shaking at us, saying “don’t do this” or “do that”. We tend to think of moral rules as restrictive – as something that constrains our freedom. So, “don’t do that” … [Read more...]