It’s parent night at Perfectly Pleasant Elementary School. Ms. Pamela Positive, Perfectly Pleasant Principal, gives her parent night speech. Perfectly Pleasant parents listen politely even though all bottoms are pressed painfully into children’s desk chairs.
Ms. Positive’s speech over the intercom is exactly the same every year with one exception. Each year Ms. Positive recommends a brand new speaker who will present the latest, greatest, new and improved parenting practices, evidenced-based of course. Ms. Positive books each new speaker a year in advance to coordinate with the start of school.
Embarrassingly, upon hearing about this year’s speaker, Perfectly Pleasant parent, Jenny Johnson, loses it. Poor Jenny Johnson begins throwing math manipulatives at the intercom while screaming most unpleasantly at the top of her lungs, “MS. POSITIVE, DO YOU VET THESE SPEAKERS? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA EACH NEW SPEAKER CONTRADICTS THE PREVIOUS ONE? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA THEY ALL CLAIM TO BE EVIDENCED BASED YET THEY REACH DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT CONCLUSIONS BASED ON THE EXACT SAME EVIDENCE? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE MS. POSITIVE?”
Jenny then lets loose a stream of expletives never before heard on Perfectly Pleasant Elementary School grounds. June Brown, Ashley’s mother, turns ghost white and raises her hand for the bathroom pass.
You see, Jenny Johnson, who is Evelyn, Jordan, Josh, and Wendell’s mother, has signed up to listen to each and every speaker through the years. Ms. Johnson has also read every parenting and psychology book in the town library and two local bookstores. She has scoured the internet for scholarly articles on psychology and parenting. She has sunk thousands of dollars into ‘How to Be a Good Parent’ seminars.
Despite her copious research, Jenny Johnson has run out of options to help her youngest son, Wendell, cope. She has literally tried every psychological solution ever suggested in the known world to help him achieve mental health and happiness.
Jenny Johnson, painfully aware she will never have a non-awkward moment in this town again, decides to just keep screaming at the intercom until Ms. Pamela Positive answers her questions.
Ms. Positive, to her credit, realizes she has a situation on her hands. She walks hurriedly to Room 301, Wendell’s room, and says sweetly, “Jenny, please come to my office and we can work this out.”
Jenny, a normally reserved and dignified woman, picks up some of the manipulatives she had just thrown at the intercom, clumsily puts them away, grabs her purse, apologizes with the most agonizing awkwardness imaginable, and follows Ms. Pleasant to the office.
Ms. Positive, used to dealing with all manner of behavioral issues, launches into her speech about appropriate classroom behavior and the importance of indoor voices. This is NOT what Jenny was expecting and she screams, “I AM NOT A CHILD SO STOP TREATING ME LIKE ONE!!!!!!!”
Jenny has never spoken to another human being this way, let alone a perfectly pleasant principal. Jenny is fully aware she is losing it but can’t seem to get a grip.
I am writing a book for all you Jenny Johnson’s out there who are parents and/or teachers and on the brink of losing hope for how to best raise and teach your children and students in ways that can optimize their mental health and minimize needless mental suffering.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many contradictory and differing parenting and teaching methods when all those methods supposedly derive from the exact same psychological theories of personality, emotion, and behavior?
Do you wonder why there are so many unhappy, depressed, addicted, mentally ill, violent, and anxious children and adults even though we have zillions of books, articles, and videos on how to nurture, raise, and teach our developing children with alleged competence? Do you worry your children or students will become one of the 1 in 5 individuals who develop a mental illness each year?
Nora Gallagher, the teacher and mother in the book I am writing with my neuroscientist colleague, hit a breaking point just like Jenny Johnson did. Nora Gallagher’s story starts out with the desperate sadness and loss she and her husband experience.