Thursday, March 22, 2018

Are You On The Lecture Circuit?

Are you a lecturer quiz?

1. Y N Do you feel like you absolutely know what is best for your teen?

2. Y N Do you regularly expound on this to your teen?

3. Y N When your teen comes to you with a problem in his/her life to you jump into problem solver mode?

4. Y N Do you find it hard to take questions from your "listening audience"

5. Y N Do you like to be right?

I am guessing that we all got 100% on this quiz. Only this 100% probably won't get you an applause and a congrats from your teen. Problem solving comes very naturally to parents. We see our kids making mistakes, we see our kids in pain, we see our kids about to do something that is unsafe and it feels natural to want to protect them from all of it. Unfortunately your teens do not want your protection, they actually want the opposite of your protection. Which is weird, because they come to their parents with their problems, and as soon we go to give them our worldly advice, they respond with a rejection and a "you never listen!" And that is the crux of the matter. Your teens come to you because you love them, and know them better than anyone else. Their fantasy is they will tell you something and you will just listen. That's it, just listen. Here is the miscommunication. You think that when they come to you, they want you to tell them what they should do. But really they just want you to listen, maybe show some empathy, "oh honey, that must be so hard, or I'm sorry that must be so frustrating." But instead they get a "here's what I think you should do....!" And their eyes go dark.

Giving your teen the gift of listening is maybe your greatest gift to them. Unless they actually say the words, what do you think I should do?Go for a good nod, a hug, and some words of comfort. They are probably doing the work of figuring it out, and just need someone to bounce the words off and reflect back. Don't we all? This work of figuring it all out is what gives them the confidence they will need as they move into adulthood. If you do that work for them, they will never be prepared for they future that most assuredly is ahead for them.

PS: For anyone who lives in the Wellesley metro west area I will be interviewing The Boston Globe Love Letters/entertainment/columnist and author Meredith Goldstein about her new memoir "Can't help Myself" at Wellesley Books on April 11th @ 7 PM. Come have a glass of wine and some cheese and hang with me and Meredith!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Becoming Our Children's Moral Compass

“Boys will be boys, you know those hormones!” “I was so drunk I didn’t know what I was doing!” “She wanted it!” This is what is often said by and about young men caught in the act of sexual assault. The case of Brock Turner, the Stamford student who several years ago brutally raped a young woman, was sentenced to the minimal sentence of 6 months in county jail and probation. In all actuality, he will probably be out sooner. He used these excuses to rationalize his violent attack on this unconscious woman. But as heinous as this attack was, the reaction of Brock’s dad Dan was equally as atrocious. In a statement to the court on the day of his son’s sentencing he said: “ This is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”

Parents are supposed to provide the moral center for their children. Human beings are not born with a moral compass, they must be taught, and it must be modeled. There is no other way. In my work as a parenting coach, I have come across many situations in which teens have made bad and unsafe decisions. Some parents react with appropriate anger, and provide reasonable consequences as well as a roadmap for their teen to grow and learn from the experience. But there are also many parents, Like Dan Turner who do the opposite. Rather than holding their kids accountable for their actions, they look for ways to manipulate the system, becoming confrontational and on the offensive. They look for any way possible for their teen to avoid assuming responsibility for their actions.

This can happen at school when parents confront teachers when they are not happy with their child’s grade in a class. They blame the teacher for being unfair, rather than looking objectively at their child’s performance. It happens when teens are caught at a party with alcohol and drugs. Rather than making their teen face the music, which might mean losing the ability to continue playing sports at their school, or having to do community service, parents often “lawyer up” and look for legal loopholes to get their teen off.

Mistakenly, parents fear that owning up, means giving up, on the imagined future success their child has ahead of them. The truth is actually the opposite.
Growth and success in life comes from overcoming and working through the hardest and scariest challenges in life.  Make sure that you practice and teach that lesson to your children.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

College Acceptances and Rejections: It's That Time Of Year

Tis the season.....For all of you who have high school seniors, the college acceptance and rejection season is upon you. You are in high anxiety, and your teen is in higher anxiety. This feels like a defining moment for everyone, even though is not. Admission to college is a little like a shell game these days. Sometimes kids get into the colleges they did not expect, and sometimes they get rejected from a school they thought was a sure thing.  Sometimes kids get into what they thought was their dream school, and by the end of the first semester they are miserable, disillusioned, and can't wait to transfer somewhere else.

Your first job is to monitor your own emotional temperature, and manage your own expectations. Where your senior gets in or doesn't get in does not define him or her or YOU. It does does not make them a genius or a loser. It is a moment in time. I have seen kids go to the school of their dreams and fail miserably, and I have seen kids go to their bottom of the list choice and end up happy, and very successful. Once the initial shock, excitement, or disappointment wears off, as it does by summer when you are in buying for the dorm mode, all will be forgotten except for the excitement of starting college...any college!  If you are more excited than, or more disappointed then your teen, you need to tone it down. Your teen is not in the business of having to meet or not meet your expectations and dreams for them. They have enough to contend with dealing with their own feelings. Talk to your partner, talk to your mother, talk to your friends, but don't impose your emotional agenda on your child. That will truly be the best gift you can give them for graduation!

What you can do is that will be helpful to your perspective college freshman is validate whatever feelings they are having. You don't need to try to make it all better, or tell them what you think they should do or go, you just need to understand and be in THEIR moment with them. As In: "I get this must be exciting for you, or disappointing for you,or frustrating for you, etc, etc" Remember that your teen lives in the emotional part of their brain. So whatever the outcome of this college decision process is, your teen will feel first, think later. Give them the time to do that. There are alot of factors that weigh in on the college decision, $$, location, course offerings, distance from home, but there is time to think about all those things later. Give your teen the time to process, and sit with the results. Maybe even a few weeks before you even start talking about it. You might say;" I get how hard this decision will be for you, I know you have a lot to think about. I want to give you time to just digest before we have to really get on the decision making stick. I am happy to talk with you anytime, but I want you to know that I respect your need to think on it. Let me know how I can help."

And finally, please respect your teen's privacy when it comes to sharing the acceptances or rejections. Maybe your teen could care less who knows and will give you permission to tell the world. But some kids are VERY sensitive about this whole process and absolutely do not want their business shared with the masses. Case in point: I was at my gym last week and over heard a discussion between two moms who were spin class acquaintances, not best friends. Both were going down their teen's list of where they were accepted or rejected. I wondered why that seemed so important to two women who didn't even know or care about each other's kids. I know parents are proud when their kids get into schools that make them proud. Often I see those parents starting off the conversation, just so someone will ask them about their kids. Try not to get into the " My kids better than your kid" state of mind. All of our kids are wonderful, and where they get in or don't get in will not change that!

This is a wonderful op-ed Frank Bruni wrote for The Times this weekend about this subject:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Secret To Fixing A Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day

You might be surprised to know that according to the theory of the worst offenders in the stress category, it is the "daily hassles" rather than a major life crisis that causes one to feel the most stressed on any given day. Traffic, being late, pop quizzes, demanding bosses, irritating teens, irritating parents, lines at the supermarket, no parking spaces, speeding tickets, parking tickets, dirty laundry, over scheduled, being rushed, etc, etc, etc. I am sure that you and your teens can build on this list forever. It's not that the big things like report cards, college stuff, financial difficulties, family illness or crisis, marriage and partner issues don't cause us stress, that would be a ridiculous thing to say, but it is the smaller stuff that happens on a daily basis that makes us the most crazy.

The good news is that there is an anecdote to these daily hassles. It is called "uplifts." An uplift is an unexpected pleasant surprise (for me, after a crummy day of hassles, it is stopping by my favorite frozen yogurt store for my fix and finding out that Black Raspberry is the flavor of the day. Honestly that changes everything for me.) Or, an uplift can be something that you know will change the course of your day, and availing yourself of it.

Uplifts can be powerful stuff in the stress relieving department. It can be especially effective to lift your teen out of a particularly bad mood. Two reasons this is important. First, if your teen is in a crummy mood, they will make your life miserable. Just being the supportive, "hey honey, what's wrong" parent usually backfires with a "just leave me alone!" Secondly, it is a good way to teach your teen about managing stress.

So here is how it might work. When you "get" that your teen has had a crappy day, for whatever reason they don't feel like sharing, think about what might be an "uplift" for them and surprise them with it. Maybe it is stepping out to Starbucks at 8:00 PM and bringing them a mochachino latte that you know might put a smile on that face. Or maybe their room is a disaster area, and you surprise them when they get home from an evening practice with a nice cleaned up space. Maybe after a particularly stressful day, you gift them a stay home fake sick day to mellow out and veg. Don't ask what they want, and don't expect anything in return. Those are the rules. The whole point of an uplift, is to give an unexpected "gift" that breaks the negative mood, and then lets them move on.

PS: Do it for yourself too!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Learning From A Teen Survivor Of Sexual Assualt

Chessy Prout, the victim of a 2014 sexaul assault at St Paul's school, has just pubished a very brave and honest book about her experience as a naive, vulnerable 9th grader. I have attached the interview with the Boston Globe about her new book. I think this is a must family read. What better to address this very real and present danger than to read and talk about this book with your teens. Below is the blog I wrote when this assault first came to light and strategies for parents to use to keep both their teen sons and daughters safe from engaging in or protecting them from sexual assault.

Over the last week, an alleged sexual assault case has been the one of the top news story. A 15 year old freshman girl has accused a then 18 year senior of rape. Graduating senior boys at this school have a tradition called Senior Salute, where the goal is to bed a freshman before graduation. Feeling flattered by the attention this girl agreed to meet up with this boy. I think she expected to do some fooling around, but she alleges that he become intent on having intercourse, despite her saying no quite clearly. He says they did not have intercourse. And now they are in court in a very public trial that has been picked up by the national media, and two young lives have been altered forever. Talking about sex and sexual assault with your teen is a delicate matter. As a parent you want your teen to understand the moral, legal and emotional consequences of participating in a sexual encounter that may or may not be consensual. But if you present your lecture on the “Moral, Legal and Emotional Consequences Of A Non-Consensual Sex Act” to your teen, you will have lost a valuable opportunity for opening communication on a subject that is uncomfortable to talk about especially with your parents. Your teen will clam up, roll their eyes, and tell you that they would never ever do anything like either of these two teens. End of conversation!!

Here are some strategies for opening up this conversation:

1. Start from a place of understanding not judgment: “ I get that this girl must have been flattered by this attention from an older boy.” And I get how this boy could get caught up in his school tradition of seniors hooking up with younger girls, even if he knows on some level that it is not right.”

2. Don’t lecture: In theory your teen understands that this boy took advantage of this girl. They don’t need you to tell them that. What they need is a safe haven to explore their own feelings. You might say to your daughter: There may be a situation that you’re in when you’re getting attention from a boy you have a crush on. I totally get flirting, but lets figure out how you can flirt without sending out the message that sex is on the table.” And with your son you might say: “ Understanding and knowing how far a girl really wants to go can be really hard to know sometimes, but it’s really important that you think about this. Lets come up with some cues from a girl that you should really pay attention to.”

3. Help them to develop the scripts and language that will help them out in situations that make them feel uncomfortable and/or unsafe. Most teens end up doing things they don’t want to because they don’t know what else to do. They can always use the “I need to go to the bathroom” excuse. It gets them out of the room without getting into a whole thing. Or, check the time, and say” my friends are waiting for me, and if I don’t show up, they’ll think something’s wrong.” For boys who are getting pressured by their friends to do something they don’t want to do: “It’s just not my thing!”

4. Remember that your teen is being led by their emotional brain, not their thinking one. Before they leave to hang out with friends, your parting words to them should always be: “What is your safety plan for tonight?”

5. Download circle of 6 app on your teen's phone: I know I'm usually telling you to delete apps, but this app is a must. It allows your teen to program 6 people, you should be one of them, so if they find themselves in an unsafe situation, any unsafe situation they can press one button which will send text and location to all 6 people, who can then get to her or him.

PS: Getting my speaking schedule up and running for the spring. Email me at or call 781-910-1770 if you are interested in having me come and present one of my seminars at your school, company, church, temple, community group or on a street corner in your neighborhood!!   Or book an Ask The Expert Party. Invite your friends, or the parents of your teen's friends to your house and I'll spend two hours giving you all tips and strategies, geared specifically to your needs.

Do You Know The Apps Your Teen Is Using, And Who They Are Talking too??

A true story: A Parent shared with me recently a scary social networking story about her 16 1/2 year old daughter. It seems her daughter left her phone on the kitchen counter open to the app she was on. The app is called Hot or Not. Basically it is tinder for teens. That it is a dating type app for those of you not familiar with Tinder.  The mom was shocked to see that her daughter was giving out personal information to total strangers! Here is the description of the app from my favorite site:


Per its own website, “Hot or Not is the original game that lets you check people out, be checked out, and see the Hottest people around. Hot or Not will show you how popular you and your friends are, as well as a list of the hottest people nearby, wherever you may be; at a music festival, on college campus, or hanging out in the city.” Therefore, the risk of a middle or high school teen becoming overwhelmed by the popularity aspect of this app is very high. Plus who can really trust the pictures you see online?
Once an account is created, there really isn’t anything parents can monitor and control, other than creating an account of their own and following their own child.

Another true story: A dad knew that his daughter had been using askfm, a popular and dangerous site/app that teens use. For those of you who aren't familiar with askfm, here is how it works. You can either go to and sign up or you can download the app. The appeal of this for teens is the ability to post on people's profiles completely anonymously. Here is how it works. I post a profile and ask a question; Do you think I am a good parenting coach?? Some people may write, oh yes your the best or some may post, you suck!!! Whatever is posted I will not know who you are. Sometimes kids ask silly questions and sometimes not. You can post on someone's askfm even if they haven't asked a question. So if I don't like you, I can go to your profile and post all the things I hate about you. As you can see, it is ripe for bullying. Also ripe for complete strangers to post on your profile. That is the story I will tell.

Back to the dad. He had learned about askfm and knew his 7th grade daughter had a profile on it. He made her go on when he was there and delete her account. Done, right??? No way. Of course his daughter could go right back and put up another profile as soon as her dad left the room, which of course she did. This savvy dad had a suspicion that this might happen, so a week later, he goes on ask fm and looks for his daughter's profile. He finds it!! He decides to teach her lesson. He posts to his daughter 's profile: (remember his name and profile do not appear)"hey, you're cute, where do you go to school?" She writes back with the name of the school. He asks, "oh where is that school?' She tells him the town. She has now made herself easy to be found! Then he asks her if she has an instagram account, and she says yes. Then he says"hey I am a really great photo editor, give me your instagram password and I can do some really cool things with your photos." SHE GIVES HIM HER PASSWORD....A TOTAL STRANGER WHO DOESN'T EVEN HAVE A NAME!!!!!!!!!  And if this wasn't bad enough, this whole askfm conversation took place during the time she was in school. The dad was curious to see if he posted during school hours would she respond. And yup...she did. Good case for shutting off your teen's phone during school, and making sure that if his/her school uses phones or tablets during school that they are monitoring what the kids are during. This girl was in a class, not a study when she responded to this!!!!

When the dad confronted his daughter, at the least he expected her to be embarrassed, upset, something to show that indeed it was scary how easily she shared her personal info....lesson learned!!! Instead what he heard from his daughter was: "its no big deal, everybody does it!! Why are you such a worry wort!!!"

I have to admit, I was surprised, I thought what a great way to teach his daughter this lesson. Our teens are immune to fear. We are not getting them to hear the dangers of sharing information with complete and total strangers. This is your job, to regularly educate your kids. Go online, (I found these articles by googling dangers of instagram or dangers of askfm. As part of the PRIVILEGE of having a phone or laptop or tablet, your teen should be responsible for spending time with you REGULARLY to learn about the dangers of over-sharing. They will not learn through one conversation of a "you are not allowed to.....) Learning takes repetition, repetition, repetition!!! And you will have to be their teacher, since there is literally no one else!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Teaching Your Teen About Privilege

Remember when you were little kids and you wanted to stay up later, or you wanted to get your ears pierced, or get a bigger, fancier bike, or wear certain kinds of clothes or see certain kinds of movies, your  parents would say: "When your older you will be able to ........"  As children we looked forward to those "markers" that would signify a move towards "being old enough". Rites of passage, and markers that suggest maturity are important to growth. These markers are becoming fewer and fewer. Just 10 years ago, buying your child their own computer was the high school graduation going to college present. It was a gift that signified achievement and moving forward. It was an important psychological marker. When a teen got their license, it used to be that getting the first car was a symbol of this new move into independence. Just happy to be driving something of their own, the clunkier the better, Grandma's old car was perfect. Now I am still surprised as I drive around the college campus where I teach to see kids driving around in cars I still aspire too, the hottest, newest models on the market. See I am a fuddy duddy, maybe I'm just jealous. Will you be my mother??

We have left few things for our kids to aspire too. We used to have clothing markers, privilege markers, music markers, etc. Now sex and music, clothes and technology, alcohol and drugs all start with kids too young too appreciate and understand their significance. We are raising a generation of youth who expect and feel entitled to the newest and the best. There is value in understanding that we don't get everything we want when we want it. Somethings are worth waiting for and when they do come are more appreciated and valued. Remember teens live in the moment. It is the adults in their life that need to help them to look towards the future. That old-fashioned work ethic that our forefathers and foremothers taught our parents that nothing is just given to you, if you want something you have to work hard for it, seems to have gotten lost in translation. It is OK to say no to your kids. It is OK to say these things cost a lot of money, and that is not how we choose to spend it. It is OK to say, what you have is enough!

Below is an essay written by a college senior that was chosen by the New York Times as one of the 10 best college essays a few years ago. She articulates quite meaningfully how she sees a sense of entitlement and privilege that her classmates seem to have. Not everyone comes from monetary privilege, as this young woman describes. Some teens come from what I call emotional privilege. Lucky enough to have parents who love them and want to do everything they can to assure their success in the world. Unfortunately, like monetary privilege, emotional privilege gives teens the idea that someone will alway be their ally. Do you find yourself getting your older teens internships or summer jobs with your connections. Do you speak on their behalf to coaches or teachers or principals? Do you "over help" with homework and special projects? When kids don't have to do the work themselves to get what they want, then they never figure out how to do that.... ever. And that is why we have so many young adults suffering from the "failure to launch" syndrome. Make your kids do the hard stuff, put themselves in the position to take responsibility, learn the social skills and the good kind of risk-taking that they will need in the future. If you always do that for them now, they will never learn to do it for themselves in the future!

Erica Meister
High School: Northville High School
College Plans: Stanford University

In 2015, Northville, the place I consider to be my hometown, was named the snobbiest city in Michigan. I prefer to describe Northville as reckless. 
The more enterprising students of Northville High School specialize in the selling of three goods: marijuana, Adderall and test answers, all goods many of my peers don’t think twice about using. We’re from Northville. Most of us know nothing of consequences or responsibility for our actions, because our fathers can cover for us with cash and connections. We’ve been raised in such privilege that we feel enabled to say and do whatever we want, thoughtlessly. 
Several years back, when the rap aesthetic was particularly prominent, most of the males came to school in ill-fitting jeans that sagged below their designer boxers, sporting T-shirts and necklaces that likely cost more than the weekly income for the average person, in imitation of their favorite rapper. They carried themselves like Eminem and spewed out Jay Z verses about being raised in extreme urban poverty and racism, before parroting their parents’ views on the “communist” welfare programs. 
Derogatory terms for gays, the disabled and people of color are shouted in the hallway, right over the heads of people to whom those refer. From experience, I can certify that the administration does little besides halfheartedly admonish reported bullies and send them on their way to continue their reign of terror. 
To my chagrin, I have occasionally fallen into a similar mindset. I once asked a friend, whose family I knew was struggling, what AP tests she planned to take. She replied that her family couldn’t afford any. I had forgotten how bad her circumstances were and had asked my question without thinking. I found myself victim to the disease that infiltrates Northville, the same carelessness I despise. Northville’s gilded bubble caused me to forget that some don’t have the luxury of affording even the reduced price of standardized tests. 
Aside from being potentially harmful, this recklessness creates a sense of emptiness for me. Superficial, materialistic and shallow, we’re all too busy going on to the next thing, focusing on getting an A and not about learning the material, and getting our rib into a conversation without listening to what was actually said. Our sole aim is to keep moving. Where, how and at what cost are irrelevant questions to us, and thus we manage to remove all trace of purpose from our actions. 
My most prominent goal has always been to leave Northville behind, to find a world in which people act consciously, aware that their actions affect others, and choose to delve deeper by asking questions and seeking legitimate answers that may differ from their limited understanding. In the meantime, I aspire to prepare myself by being more thoughtful, informed and, most of all, careful.