Weekly Meetings for High-Functioning Families, with Bruce Feiler

Happy families combat the stress of the modern age by always adapting. The system out of which this adaptation occurs is the weekly family meeting.

Bruce Feiler: Number one problem in families — our lives are chaotic. Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute asked a thousand children, “If you could be granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” The parents predicted the kids would say spend more time with them, but they were wrong. The kids said they wanted their parents to be less tired and less stressed.

So how do we become less stressed? The number one thing that I found in looking at high-functioning families is that they adapt all the time. I thought as a parent, "I’ll make a few rules, I’ll stick to them; it’ll be easy." Turns out it doesn’t work that way. You need a system to adapt, but you can’t adapt all the time. If you’re fighting over the broccoli on Tuesday or trying to get the mittens on to go to school on Thursday morning, you don’t want to have the conflict in that actual moment.

And so we have adapted the system that many families are doing and it’s called a family meeting. And we meet 15-20 minutes every Sunday night. And we ask three questions taken from agile development, which is a system that began in the software world that has now taken over management. And the three questions are what worked well in our family this week, what didn’t work well, and what will we agree to work on in the week ahead.

And here’s the key to the whole thing. We actually allow our kids, with adult supervision, help pick their own rewards and punishments. It sounds crazy. Anybody who’s not done it thinks the kids will be incredibly lax. Anybody who’s done it knows the kids are very, very strict. In fact, our girls are like little Stalins. We constantly have to dial them back. So let’s take this week. We’re working on overreacting — a common problem that parents have. We say to our kids, “Okay, get me a reward.” And one says, “If we get five minutes of overreacting this week. If we get under that we get a sleepover. If we’re over that we have to do one pushup for every minute over five minutes.”

First of all, I would never have picked that reward and punishment. Secondly, it’s actually that thinking that I’m really after here. And then my other daughter says, “Is that one five-minute overreaction or 10 30-second overreactions?” I loved that. I could never have created that sense of involvement. The latest research is showing the kids who plan their own schedules, set their own work actually evaluate their own progress, are actually building up their brains. Their cortexes are getting bigger and they are taking more control over their lives. And this is really the point. Nothing is top-down in the world anymore — not business, not sports, not government, not religion.

You can’t just get your kids to 16 and say, “Go off and make decisions and enter your lives.” You need to give them the practice that they need in order to become independent. So here’s a way, with parental involvement mind you, we’re still setting the rules here — let your kids practice. So the key point is here to reduce stress, actually offload some of the responsibility to children. Empower them wherever possible and you’ll help prepare them to be the adults you want them to be.

So a couple questions about the family meeting. Things that might go wrong. Question number one — how old do kids need to be? Okay. Maybe a two or three year old is not old enough, but we have found by four or five kids are actually ready to engage in this conversation. And one tip to get them to the table is we put the allowance at the end to make sure that they want to stick around.

On the other end of the scale, how old can kids be and still have these meetings? How do you get a 12 or 13 or 15 year old to come to the table for one of these meetings? Sooner or later your teenager is gonna come to you and say, “Can I go to Johnny’s house on Friday night? I know I’m not supposed to.” Or, “Can I extend my curfew.”

And what you say is we’re not gonna have this conversation now when I’m flossing my teeth or where I’m trying to get breakfast on the table. We’re gonna have a time — a safe zone every week. So the point is the message to kids is there’s this safe zone where you’re gonna get to ask the questions. And the message to parents is when you want to be having that fight or when it’s so chaotic there’s not time you simply have got to get to the doctors or you simply have to get dinner on the table so that you can run off to your meeting after work. You say, “I don’t need to have every crisis in every moment.” There is a safe time at the end of the week where everyone’s gonna get to air their ideas. You’re gonna be sitting at the same level. You’re gonna be — your voices are gonna be low and you’re gonna know this is the one time of week that we’re gonna be mindful about what it means to be part of our family.

The number one problem in families, says Bruce Feiler, is that our lives are chaotic. The digital age has us overworked and overstressed. Predictably, the family suffers unless you learn how to adapt to shifting dynamics. What Feiler found when researching his latest book, "The Secrets of Happy Families," was that strong familial units made sure to meet on a weekly basis to check the family pulse. In this video, Feiler walks through strategies you can employ in your own family to promote an atmosphere of adaptation.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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