Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Plan For Summer Planning

We're coming into the summer countdown!"Idle minds are the devils playground." No truer quote applies when thinking about teens and summer. If you haven't yet gotten into the summer mindset, here is your wake-up call! Everybody needs down time, but 10 weeks of down time for teens can spell t-r-o-u-b-l-e, especially if you are a working parent. If you anticipate leaving your house for work at 8 AM with your sleeping teen snug as a bug in a rug, thinking that all is well, get you head out of the sand. The devil will be over to visit.

Regardless of good intentions, too much time = too much potential for temptation. We're talking sex, drugs/alcohol and general mischief. Once boredom sets in, which it always does after the initial bliss of no structure, look out. The planning should start now. If you have a younger teen, 13-15, this is a bit harder. They are too old for day camp, too young for most jobs, and too inexperienced or  not motivated to find something on their own. Many older teens are unmotivated as well, or lack the confidence to find something on their own. So the first thing is to have realistic expectations of how much your teen will do independently to make something happen. Your job is to make your expectations clear, that is step #1. "I get you are looking forward to the summer, and having free time to hang with friends. We want you to have time for that too, but it's also important for you to have other things going on for you as well, either  a job, or a volunteer/educational/internship experience, or camp, something that gives you a feeling of accomplishment and purpose. How would you like to go about this? What kind of help do you need from us?. Here is the deal, the question isn't, do you want to do something or not? but what is it you would like to do?"

This can be a slow, painful process, as mostly you will get a lot of "I don't knows." If you have some extra money, there are many great programs that cater to particular interests of teens. If they want a job, expecting that they will have any idea of how to go about looking for one is unrealistic. Do this together, making a list of the kinds of places that are of interest to them, and then drive them around to pick up applications, and sit with them as they fill them out. If you just say to your teen, go get some applications, and have you filled our those applications probably not much will happen. I worked in a work/study program for 14 years with teens, and rarely did I find a teen who felt confident enough to follow through on expectations. What looks like laziness is actually low-self esteem.

It is important to let them know that if there don't seem to be any jobs, then volunteering or interning is the fallback, that you will provide them with some kind of stipend. But, and this is important, if they choose to be idle, and do neither, then you will choose  not to provide them with any summer spending money or phones to keep up their snap streaks. Being on their phone day and night or 24/7 fortnite is not gonna happen without some kind of engagement in something! Sitting around with both nothing to do, no phone, no video games, and no money is not fun, and will get old really really fast. So provide incentive and reward for those idle minds, and keep that devil at bay.

Contact me for parent coaching services or to present to your school, business, or community organization. joani@joanigeltman.com 781-910-1770

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

It's Prom Season!!! Be Prepared!!

With Prom night looming, its time to talk about the safety issues of prom night. A parent called me recently with this prom night delemna. Her 15 year old daughter had been invited to a prom. The kids in this group had decided to rent not just a limo, but a party van which seats 20+ kids. The plan was to all go in the party van to a restaurant for dinner, sans adult supervision and then head back on the van to the prom. Sounds like fun!!!! Except the sans adult supervision. Though it is verboten to drink on these party buses, where drivers are trained to make sure kids get on the bus as alcohol and drug free as possible, the stop at the restaurant would be a perfect opportunity for some pre-party alcohol/drug prep. No watchful eyes of limo driver or parents. I'm guessing mulitple visits to the restrooms provide ample opps for quick and dirty booze/drug comsumption.  Not safe!!!! This is drinking at its least safe. With a small increment of time teens will power drink so that they can reach the desired "highness" before re-boarding the bus. This is a prime-time for kids drinking potentially lethal amounts.

Expectations, expectations, expectations. This is night that has been planned for months, down to the most finite detail. Not least of which is how to sneak, hide, and invent new ways to party so the adults won't catch them. A few years ago it was water bottles. Teens, feigning dehydration, brought in their innocent looking water bottles into the prom party. No need to even hide their drinking, it was "just water". It didn't take long for the chaperones to figure out that ploy as kids vomited all over the dance floor, and passed out.

Moving on, last year, a few students ate some brownies, a lovely gift from mom to snack in the limo. Only these brownies may have come from mom's oven, but not mom's recipe, being full of pot. The kids still throwing up on the dance floor, (must have been some pretty strong pot) were sent by ambulance to a local hospital. Let's just say, there will now be no food or drink allowed into the prom. So much work, such creativity, all in the name of getting high.

The message here is that teens are extremely motivated to find new and different methods of partying before the party. I remember a community drug/alcohol committee I served on many years ago. Around prom time, the committee met with the group that included a number of high school students. When asked about a "sober prom" all the students said that kids would almost rather not go to the prom if they couldn't party before fearing they wouldn't have fun if they weren't drunk. That just made me so sad.

There is work to be done here. Below are some tips on helping your teen have a safe prom night:

"I Get It" Opportunities:

  • I am so excited for you.
  • I know how much fun you are going to have.
  • I know there will be some situations that you have never been in before, lets figure out what they might be and put a plan together. 
Prom proofing your home:
  • Lock up all alcohol and prescription drugs
  • You drop off your teen's backpacks and sleepover bags to houses they will be going to either pre-prom or post-prom. (This helps with the hidden contraband kids pack in their backpacks)
  • If kids come to your house to pre-prom. Supervise. This is when a lot of kids try to imbibe since they can't drink in the limos anymore. 
  • If kids come to your house to post-prom, be the keeper of the backpacks and bags. Stay up all night if you are having an all night sleepover. One parent I know made it a requirement that all parents whose kids were coming to her house after the prom had to call her personally to let the parents know the rules of the house. No cars, parents were responsible for picking their kids up in the morning. This guarded against any kids sneaking out and possibly driving to get booze or drive drunk. Any teen caught with alcohol would have to be picked up by the parents immediately. 
  • For those parents who think it's ok to let kids drink in your house to celebrate prom night as long as you take their car keys thinking you are now the "responsible parent" Listen up. First of all it is not your right to make a decision about kids that are not your own to drink. That is every parents right and responsibility to make their own rules and expectations about alcohol and drug use for their own kid. Also just because you are giving them "permission" and may have purchased the booze, don' think that means that kids will drink responsibly. That just means kids are going "yippee" we can get trashed! Getting trashed also means getting sick, passing out, getting alcohol poisoning, falling, tripping, get the picture? Also what happens if one of those kids you have given"pemission" to drink has a medical condition you don't know about, and alcohol exacerbates it and there is a medical crisis. And finally, IT IS ILLEGAL TO GIVE MINORS ALCOHOL.
Prepare and help your teen plan for:
  • Getting in a car with someone who is buzzed.
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Drinking and drugs at a house party
Strategies and scripts for getting out of unsafe situations:
  • Make an "escape plan" using text message code word
Provide scripts:
  • I'm allergic, alcohol makes me sick
  • My boyfriend/girlfriend wouldn't want me to fool around with anyone else
  • My parents drug/alcohol test me
  • Thanks I don't need a ride, I'm going with someone else
  • I feel like crap, I'm going home
If things get out of hand, and a friend is out of control and wants to drive:

  • Get a few friends together and grab the keys from the kid who shouldn't be driving.
  • Text the parent in the house that there is a problem in the basement, or outside
  • Go to the bathroom....for a long time. Text me, and I will meet you around the corner
Proms are fun and are memory makers. Really, don't be scared with everything I just wrote. I just want you to be prepared, and for you to prepare your teen. When you "get" that this night can be full of surprises, and that the awesomeness of it all can make it hard to stay safe, you are being smart. Be excited with your teen, and help them to be safe. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Must See Video About Juuling

How is this happening? I thought your kids had dodged the bullet with the whole smoking issue that plagued my generation. We all worked so hard to teach the next generation of the ills of smoking and it worked!!!! Just like teaching a new generation to wear seatbelts and that worked!!! Now we have to work really hard again to teach our kids that vaping and juuling is bad!!!

This is a really really tough one. No smelling cigarette breath or smokey clothes. No hidden packs of cigs in their coats or backpacks. This juul thing is a tiny, harmless looking piece of hardware that looks like a zip drive which you may think holds your kids final project for chemistry!

This is going to have to be one of these conversations that you have to have regularly with your teen, ignoring the eye-rolling and sarcastic grunts and annoyance that will be directed towards you.
Did you know that kids are ordering their juuls and vape pens on Amazon and then having them  delivered to the Amazon lockers at Whole Foods away from parents prying eyes! Oh yes they are!!!

You may have to monitor how your teens are spending their money. These smoking devices don't come cheap. Someone has to pay for them. Beware of giving your kids cash, get them a debit card and if it seems like they are going through a lot of cash withdrawals start asking for receipts and limit the amount of cash they can withdraw.

The conversations you have with your teen must always start with" I Love You and this julling and vaping thing is scaring the hell out of me!!! I know you don't think it's dangerous, and the fruit taste and vape is cool but honey this is massively addictive!! (see video) I get many of your friends may already be addicted, and who knows maybe you are too, please please let us help you to strategize how to be with your friends and choose not to take a hit. I get that that will be really hard. But lets' work on it together."

You must watch this video with your teen. The story of this young man is compelling and I think in the short term they will be interested. But this is going to be one of those conversations that happens over and over again. The bug you put in their ear about this has to be constant so that when they are in situations when juuling and vaping is present they will hear your very loud voice in their head. It's the only way!!!

If you have friends with teens, chances are they have tried juuling and vaping, please share this blog and help them help their kids!!

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

What Can You Expect From Your Graduating Senior

What should you expect from your graduating senior before they are off to college?NOTHING!!!! No really, I mean nothing! Here you are, feeling all warm and fuzzy with graduation approaching. Nostalgic for your little girl or boy, all grown up and off on a new post-high school adventure. You pull out all the old photo albums and gaze longingly at the years that have whizzed by, and try to prepare yourself for life's next stage, having a child move away from home. You find yourself welling up with tears, as you do your son's/daughter's laundry, or pick up the dirty dishes they have left on the floor of their room or in the family room, knowing that in just a few months their room will no longer have that whiff of dirty laundry as you walk by. Everything annoying and maddening your  almost graduate did before this pending graduation, now seems sweeter and memorable.

OK, so maybe that only lasts a few days. Because, the expectation that your now almost high school graduate will suddenly become equally as nostalgic as you is blown to pieces by the seemingly instant sense of entitlement he/she seems to be exhibiting. Where is the thanks for the wonderful party and gift you will be giving him/her?  Where are the thank you notes for the generous gifts that will be given by the cast of thousands that will come to your graduation party and includes their friend's parents, your friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else who has ever known them. Suddenly, your  almost graduate is nowhere to be found. You are left in the dust, with "bye, won't be home for dinner, maybe sleeping out, don't know when I'll be home!"

You are dumbfounded, thinking that their last summer home will be filled with family dinners, cozy family movie nights, a family vacation,  and shopping trips to Bed Bath and Beyond. If only they would stay home long enough to make some plans. Well, kiss those plans goodbye, because all their nostalgic moments are being saved up for and with their friends. The friends they will be leaving in only a few short months, maybe never to be heard from again, or at least until Thanksgiving. Prepare yourself.  Your graduate will be glued to their friends this summer. They will take top priority over everyone and everything. And if you don't understand the importance of "the last summer before college," your feelings will be hurt over and over again. My advice, don't take it personally. The drama of and the process of saying goodbye to high school friends takes these next four months. Of course they will miss you too, but you never really go away, and truly, many of their friends will. How many of you still have close relationships with high school friends, that is before facebook brought everyone right back to you.

Your teen's absence in these coming months will feel like a betrayal. Don't let it become a source of anger between you and your teen. Use "I Get It" conversations to help them to understand what you are feeling by understanding what they are feeling. " I get saying goodbye to your friends is hard. I know how much you will miss them, and probably worry that you won't find anyone as wonderful as (fill in the blank with some real names) I get you want to spend as much time as you can with them this summer, and I want you to do just that. But honey, your old ma/pa is gonna miss you too. I hope that we can find some time together as well before you go. Let's figure out how best to do that"

Your teen is also hiding away a lot of anxiety and worry. Worry that they will not be happy, worry that they will be homesick (yes they really do worry about that even if they aren't saying it), worry about keeping up with all the school work without you around to keep them on task, worry they won't know how to deal with money issues, laundry issues, and all the other millions of things they know they can depend on you for. And you know how your graduate will deal with all this worry? By being a big pain in the ass! They will seem like they are irritated with you, bothered by you and will set up all sorts of fights with you. Don't bite! Rather than looking and feeling like a needy little child, they will behave "as if" they don't need you at all, and will set up all kinds of arguments to prove that point. It's easier to leave angry than sad.

Also your graduating teen may now feel that rules no longer apply to them. After all they are 18 and all grown up. In some ways, they are right. In only a few short months they really will be on their own. So rather than having a bunch of rules this summer that they will flaunt. Take it day by day. Let them know that you "get" that they want to be independent this summer, but you still need to know that they are safe. Set up a system (not rules) so that they can keep you posted and in the loop so that you won't need to be checking up on them. The rules they will resent, but a system seems less controlling. They are teaching you to let go. Let them!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Do As I Say Not As I Do!

If you want your teen to do something, anything, then do it yourself. I am not talking here about cleaning their room, or resistance to emptying the dishwasher. I am talking about all those things you tell your teen to do or not to do like drink and drive, text/talk on your phone and drive, get out and get some exercise, read a book for fun, do some community service, mow the lawn etc etc etc.

Yesterday while driving on a major highway I was tailgated by a an enormous Hummer, driven by a  person anxious to get around me. I was already going 70 mph by the way. After I pulled over to the next lane, I readied myself to give this person a dirty look as they passed me and what I saw floored me. In the passenger seat was a teenaged girl texting away, but in the drivers seat was her mom, elbows on the steering wheel, head down, texting furiously away on her cellphone driving at least 80 mph!! I was aghast. Forget about giving a dirty look, I wanted to call the police, the highway patrol, Child Protective Services. The danger this mom was putting all of us in and especially her own child was mind boggling. What on earth could be that important!! This teen, probably only months away from getting her learner's permit, is learning a valuable lesson. Texting and driving....no problem, just learn to drive with your elbows. This trick not included in conventional driving schools, only at selected mom and pop locations.

If you don't want your teen to text/talk on their cell phone while driving, then start with not doing it yourself, at least when your kids are in the car. Don't wait for your kids to be teens before you start modeling this very important and safety enhancing behavior. If your kids grow up with you driving and talking and texting while they are in the car with you, that will become their norm of how one drives a car. I am sure at nursery schools everywhere,  3 year olds are sitting in their little play cars holding plastic phones to their ears as they pretend to be mommy or daddy driving the car. Get the picture! Be deliberate about this. Say to your kids/teens when you all are in the car, "hey honey can you make sure my phone is off, I don't want to be distracted by the phone while I am driving." You need them to hear you take this intentional step for safety.

No drinking and driving. This is another popular missive given to teens everywhere by parents worried about their teens safety as they hit the roads with their friends on weekend nights. Yet at dinner out with the family at restaurants, at friends homes, or at parties, teens watch you throw a few back before you get in the car to drive everyone home. If you don't want your teen to drink and drive, then show them. At dinner, say to yourself or your partner, out loud, and in front of your kids: "who's/I'm the designated driver tonight, and whoever that is waits for their glass of Chardonney until they are safely home.

If you worry your teen never gets off the phone/computer/video game/TV,  do a self-check. Do you? Do they ever see you cozied up on the couch with a blanket and a book, TV off, phone off and charging in another room, computer screen blank. Creating an image of what it looks like for someone to just be...is a powerful one.

Do you bug your kids to do chores, as they watch a myriad of hired helpers do most of the work in your house: house cleaners, landscapers, snow plowers, handymen, peapod. Just saying.....

Do you strongly suggest to your teens to get on the community service train? It looks good on college apps, and will make you a better person. Do they see you do more than write a check to support your favorite charity?

Children learn best not by telling them what to do, but by showing them. You are the most powerful model in their life. If you want them to lead a safe, productive, full and loving life, show them how it's done.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

What To Do With A Sneaky Teen

I got a wonderful e-mail recently from a parent who is struggling with "sneakiness" from her teenage son. Do I hear a chorus of "me too". This is a classic parent-teen struggle. You work hard to set reasonable rules, and your teen works just as hard to wrangle him/herself around them. Here is what this parent wrote: "I believe he senses me becoming "paranoid" and questioning things because I don't trust...and he then becomes sneakier. How do I break that cycle and how do you convey confidence and trust when they have broken that trust?"

Let's play this out. You make a rule. This mom had a rule about no food in the basement. She goes down the basement and finds cans and wrappers stashed behind furniture. This a relatively minor infraction but a great example of how these small things build up, create niggles of doubt, until full out distrust and paranoia develop. Fill in the blank here with the smaller rule breakers that your teen challenges you with. 

Here is your "I Get It" moment: "Hey honey, I just found (fill in the blank) wrappers and cans in the basement. Clearly you think this is a rule worth breaking. Give me an alternative. I'd rather we come up with something together, that we both can agree on, rather than you disagreeing with something and sneaking around to do what you want anyway." The work is always to encourage truth-telling. When you include your teen in the rule-making, at least you get them to have partial ownership of the problem. Here is how you can do this. Using the above example, 

Your teen will probably say: "its stupid that I can't eat downstairs where I hang out."

Parent says;" What do you think I am worried about when you ..........." 

In this case kid will say: "that I will trash the basement." 

Mom can say: "Yes that's right, so what will you do to assure me you won't trash the basement, and get rid of your trash."

 Now the owness is on the teen to come up with a plan that makes you happy.

Final question from parent: "What will the consequence be if you don't follow through on your plan."

The consequence is in place. If you aren't satisfied with the consequence your teen comes up with, offer one up yourself. Maybe in this case, you are banned from the basement for 24 hours if I find trash down there. 

As your kids get older, they will disagree with you more and more. Your choice is to set your rules, and watch your kids dance around them, or engage them in the process so they feel a part of the process. They want to manage their life, they are driven to manage their life, even if they don't do it well. It's called practice! It is up to you to give them opportunity to practice, by including them in the process. They will screw up. But I think it is less about trust, and more about temptation. Teen''s are impulsive, and don't think things through for very long. They need help in that department. So when you find the beer can in the basement, what you want is use that to open conversation. So rather than getting angry, and going with a "how can you betray my trust like this" You might say" I was surprised to find this beer. I know we don't have any in the house, so either you or one of your friends brought it in. What are you going to do to make me feel OK about being in the basement and sneaking in beer or booze.?" Again, using the words trust can be loaded. Teens are tempted by all the fun stuff teens want to do and try. They need your help to stay safe and trustworthy, not just your anger.  

Have you seem my new short film about the power of understanding:

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

An Amazing Model For Raising Caring, Loving, Socially Aware and Passionate Kids

This weekend I watched Ethel, a fantastic documentary on HBO about Ethel Kennedy, which was directed by her daughter Rory, a wonderful documentary filmmaker. ( I have seen other films she has done) Anyway, I had many takeaway's from this extraordinary family of 11 children. I hyperventilate just thinking of raising and having that many bodies and personalities all in one household.

First and foremost, Ethel and Bobby Kennedy loved, loved, loved children. I don't just mean that they loved their children, I assume most parents do. I mean they loved children, hanging with them, talking to them, playing with them, eating with them, going away with them, and seeming to prefer their company to anything else in their life. I'm not sure all kids would say that their parents love being with them. I am reminded of a dinner out a restaurant recently. We were with friends at a lovely, grown upish restaurant, on the early side for dinner. Next to us were two tables, one with 5 young children and two nannies, and at the other, the moms, enjoying a glass of wine while the nannies were hanging with the kids. And did I mention it was one of the kid's birthday?????? See this is what I mean about Ethel and Bobby, dinner with the kids was sacred, playing with the kids was a priority. As these now middle aged adults reminisced, they all individually talked about this as an important part of their lives. Though their dad was obviously engaged with important and serious work, and often away from home, he spoke with them regularly and lovingly even during a crisis moment during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those kids knew without question they were loved and the most important people in their parents lives. I have worked with many families where parents have long work hours or travels regularly for work, or parents are separated or divorced, and was surprised at how infrequently they talked to their children. Teens especially need to feel connection to their parents, even if it seems like they are not at all interested. If you are not the custodial parent, or you work late or travel often, make time every single day to connect with your kids.

Another striking element of this family was how important Ethel and Bobby felt it was to make sure that their kids knew that the privileged life they led was NOT how most families lived. When Bobby Kennedy was doing work on the  Civil Rights Act, the kids went with him(all 11) to the South, so he could show them make them understand what it meant to be discriminated against. When Bobby Kennedy was fighting with Joseph McCarthy in court about blacklisting, Ethel took the kids to sit in that courtroom, day after day, even the young ones, so they could learn and understand discrimination. These parents did not protect their kids from the evils of the world, they exposed them, and taught them what the world had in store for them.

Dinner time was a protected time, and a time for conversation. The kids were expected to read the newspaper and to be up on current events, and be ready to share their opinions at the table. What an exciting dinner table that must have been, 11 children, 2 parents all fighting for the floor! I am always surprised by how little most teens know about the world. Granted they are not much interested, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't help them to stay informed. Watch the national news together, on a real TV not online, read interesting news stories at the dinner table and generate discussion. Stimulate them, excite them about the world they will be joining!

Ethel and Bobby obviously had a unique life, and were part of a legacy passed down from both their families. But the lessons they teach about family are for everyone. Love being with your kids, stay connected even when it's hard, show them that the world is a much bigger place than your community, and teach them that all people should have rights and dignity. You'll be doing a good thing!

Watch my new short film about the power of understanding!!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

And You Thought Google Docs Was Just For School Work...NOT

I think you should read this article first and then we'll talk!!

So maybe I am late coming to this google doc party, but usually parents give me a heads up about these kinds of things, and I haven't heard a word about it. So kids have found a new inventive way to chat when they are in school, or you are hovering over them to make sure they are doing homework and not snap chatting or instagraming away. I have to give these kids props for creativity and problem solving. Seriously, they are really good at figuring out how to work a system. Let's hope this all translates to a very successful adulthood!! But in the meantime.....

Why is this a problem? It is a problem because it is yet ANOTHER distraction! Some subject areas are just not sexy and interesting, so they need more attentive learners to absorb the material. Distracted learners just cannot retain complex material without attention. I know even when I am doing something that feels hard, I LOVE it when someone calls or I have to answer a text, ANYTHING to avoid confronting something I don't understand or that doesn't capture my interest. In the old days, I guess I just used to eat myself into oblivion, jumping up for multiple snacks to avoid, but at least when the subject was in front of me it had my full attention. There are many research studies now that confirm that our brains just do not multitask the way we wish they would. If you are studying calculus while maintaining a very stimulating conversation through google doc while your teacher is explaining some major concept, your brain will definitely pay attention to the more interesting gossip tidbit...calculus be damned!!!

What can you do? Let your teen know that you know that this google doc thing is the new game in town. Read together this article. At the least give them the information to make an informed decision about their motivation and learning. https://childmind.org/article/kids-shouldnt-use-phones-during-homework/. Though this article is about smartphones, google docs are just another way to connect easily with friends, when phones are not available.

I have to say that controlling this google doc messaging will be almost impossible to, especially if the homework they literally have to do is on google doc. This is going to be an education/conversation, rather than I if I find out you're using google docs in school I'll take away your computer conversation.  As in "hey honey, this is going to be hard to control, staying in touch with friends on google doc during class time and homework. You are going to have to decide what is important to you, and whether maintaining an ongoing "conversation" with so and so is more important in that moment than listening and working in class. What do you think would help?"

At the least your are letting them know you understand all the temptations that are out there, and helping to at least bring their awareness into it. God this stuff is hard!!

PS: I have recently completed this short film. It is an area between parents and teens I think is really important...The Power Of Understanding. It is 4 minutes long and so far parents have found it really helpful. Here is the YouTube link to my film. I would love it if you would share it on facebook or twitter or just send it to a few friends you think might find it meaningful. I hope you like it!

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

When Your Teen Is Left Out

When you're a parent of a teen, one of the hardest and most heartbreaking things is seeing your teen be left out or excluded from events with kids he/she is friends with or thought they were friends with. A parent called me the other day worried about her 13 year old daughter. Like most girls her age she had her posse of four "besties." After school it seems a delegate from this elite group was chosen to deliver the message. No mincing of words here, "we don't like you anymore." There is no more brutal assault. The daughter was bereft, sobbing and humiliated vowing never to return to school. The mom, feeling every bit as much pain as her daughter wanted to do something, to fix it. "Should I call the school, should I call the parents of the other girls, what should I do?" she asks feeling desperate to make it "all better."

There is a simple answer. Nothing. There is honestly nothing a parent can do to make this better. Best friends on Monday, enemies on Tuesday, best friends again by Friday. There is no rhyme or reason for this fickleness. Kids in middle school are especially susceptible to this jockeying for friends. They are in the midst of going to what I call the "buffet of friends." In elementary school, friends are often chosen by default. Perhaps your best friend has kids the same age, and by default your kids become "best friends." Or maybe your neighborhood is full of kids the same age, and since kindergarten they have been hanging at the bus stop together, taking the bus together, and getting off the bus together and by default end up at each others' house after school, so easy. Think of this like taking your kids to a Chinese buffet. When they are young and overwhelmed by the options, you make their plate up with those things they will eat, chicken wings, fried rice and spare ribs. Now as they get older, they go up to the buffet themselves and are astounded and excited about all the choices, and are anxious to give them a try. Choosing friends in middle school and again in 9th and 10th grade is like going to the buffet for the first time. Wow, look at all these options. I think I would like to try this friend, or that friend.

This means that some kids will do the leaving, and some kids will be left behind. Now that these teen brains are working on overtime, they are thinking more deeply about who these people are they call friends. Whereas in elementary school they only need a warm body for "playing", now they look for friends to talk to, and  to share common interests with. They are less interested in what you have to play with and more with what do you have to offer me? Do I like your personality? Are you too quiet, too loud, to bossy too pretty, not pretty enough? etc etc. Are you fun, do we like to do the same things together? Often in middle school and then again in 9th grade, some kids are ready to transition to more teenagery like behaviors, partying, experimentation with the opposite sex, drugs and alcohol, while some kids are happy with less riskyish behavior.

All this is a set up for feelings of betrayal and exclusion. It is painful, and the good news, is they will get over it. As for your role, there is not much more to do than understanding their pain, and providing tons of TLC. If you insinuate yourself into these friend dynamics you will regret it. Perhaps you have never liked the girl who has just defriended your daughter, and you tell her so. Thinking you are making it better, you wax on and on about what a bad friend this girl has been,  and good bye to bad rubbish! The only problem with this is that the next day, when the girls have made up, your daughter now knows you hate this kid, and will never talk to you again about her.

I talked to a mom recently about this at one of my "Ask The Expert" parties whose daughter was experiencing all these friend complications. She said that her daughter would come to her crying and in her effort to make her feel better would try to solve the problem for her, by giving her all kinds of strategies. The daughter, not looking for help, just a shoulder to cry on, then gets angry at mom for interfering. Thats' what I am saying. Stay out of it!!!!! Your kids need to learn to figure this all out for themselves. Obviously if it is more of a bullying situation, it may require a different strategy, but if it is old-fashioned cat-fighting, just let it be. Your kids will have a lifetime of friendships for which they are now in training. It's a bit like basic training. In the beginning, you never think you'll get through it, and then you get stronger and smarter, and you get better at figuring it all out. Just be patient, they'll have to sweat a little.

Now having just told you to mind your own business, I do have one caveat. A parent recently told me of this situation. Her daughter went to a friend's house with 7 other girls for a weekend night "girl party." It seems that this girl cherry picked 5 of the girls to sleep over and left the other two out of the sleepover. As you can imagine, those two girls felt like s**t.  It didn't seem like the host's mom had any idea this had happened. If your kid has a group of friends over, there should be a proportion rule. In the example above, the parents should have been aware of the situation from the beginning, knowing who was invited for the sleepover. In a large group of 7, I get that all the girls sleeping over might have been too much, but 5 out of 7 is just too exclusionary. Have a rule in your home about sleepovers that states, either everyone or just 1. It would make sense the host girl wanted someone with her to finish out her fun night with the girls. I think all the girls could have understood the one rule, but they didn't understand the 5 and not you two rule. Your teens might need some of this kind of help. You won't choose the sleepover friend, but you can teach them about inclusion!

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What All Parents Can Take Away From The "Varsity Blues" College Scandal

Of course you, my regular readers, knew I would have to write about this scandal. There have been more than enough articles on it already, and I don't want to rehash what has already been said. What I want to do is find a way to make this all useful for you. This particular scandal is a 1% problem. These parents have access and privilege to almost anything they want, and in this case abused their power and influence and committed a crime, and thought they were too untouchable to get caught.  I think though there are good lessons here for all parents, that can generalize regardless of income and privilege.

Basically we all love our children to death, and want the absolute best for them. But when we troubleshoot, problem solve and negotiate for our teens and young adults, we take away the opportunity to develop self esteem, independence and the maturity they will need to become competent adults. Who amongst has not made the call to our old college roommate who runs a successful company for our teen to do an internship that might look good on a college application; or found the volunteer job that your kid needs to fulfill their school's community service requirement (that was me); or called a teacher or coach when you felt they were being unfair to your kid; or gave them wayyy to much help on completing some school project that was frustrating them; or edited/wrote a paper or college essay to make it sound better; or bought them something or let them do something that cost more money than deserved to be spent without expecting then to work for it; or helped them to "get out of a mess" of their own making to protect them from what you may feel are consequences that are too harsh or might jeopardize their future in some way. We ALL do some of these things, because we love our kids, and sometimes it feels right to help them. But many times, (and I have worked with enough parents to know this)we go overboard, cause it's just easier and you know that if you take it on, it will get done right!! So might I suggest here that you teen become a partner, not a recipient of all your loving help. Make sure that they are in charge of the implementation of any strategy you two come up with for whatever the circumstances might be. Let them do the research, make the calls, put in the time, and pay the consequences when they don't. If the paper doesn't get in on time...oh well their grade might be bad, and yes there may be a consequence down the line in a term grade, but then how else will they learn to get things done when they need to get done!

Also it is important to know that whatever college your teen attends will only be good for them, if and only if, THEY put int the effort and work to make it meaningful. Name brand colleges DO NOT guarantee success. Early advantage does not necessarily make a difference unless the person has taken ownership of that advantage and turned it into something very personal. I have worked with many parents who have "given their child everything" only to find that when the structure of school and daily parenting is over, they are at a loss to figure out how to be an adult. This becoming an adult thing needs practice!! Overcoming struggles and hardships and using their own creativity and grit, and learning to be patient with the process of maturing is what makes people become successful.

I found these comments at the end of the many New York Times articles I read about the scandal. I think their messages are meaningful.

My parents both attended Stanford and made modest donations over the years. I applied (mid-eighties), and wasn't admitted because I didn't deserve to be - I didn't have the grades. They were furious; they'd expected the legacy system to work. I knew I didn't earn it and was secretly relieved, but also saddened by their attitude. It wasn't about me; they wanted bragging rights and to have their pedigree stamped and verified. That other students had excelled and deserved to be admitted didn't seem to matter to them. Entitlement. (nytimes reader response)

Our children are not trophies for us to show around. They need to find the right niches for themselves and parents should help them do that. 
scrim1, Bowie, Md.

The real losers in all this are the children of these wealthy parents, who learn that cheating is the way to win in life. They have been failed by their parents and lost something precious: their self-respect. Their entire life, people will wonder if what they achieve is a product of honest work and skill or another cheat — even if they end up being presidents or senior White House advisers. — 
Jim Brokaw, California

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Facing Your Fears

I was in LA for a few days and had the opportunity to hang out with a real live horse whisperer. A friend of mine owns an albino horse, which means that the pure white of the horse also extends to her eyes. Albino horses have some vision disability. As a result they can become quite fearful and skittish when they sense something they can't see. And that is why my friend hired a horse whisperer. To help this horse confront her fears and work through them.

Sounds like therapy to me. I watched this guy in action when the horse became fearful of something none of us could see or find an explanation for. The horse would become agitated, and refuse to move forward or backward. The "whisperer" calmly acknowledged the horses fear, but urged with control and calm for her to move forward. His efforts weren't instantaneous, but in time, without anger or frustration from the whisperer, the horse trusted him, and moved on. This process will need to be practiced and repeated by my friend, until her horse believes that with fear can come safety and comfort.

Isn't this a life skill we should try to teach our kids? Teens in particular are faced with so many new challenges and fears; Who am I? Who will I become? Where will I fit in? What will interest me? What is my future? What is my present? As parents we want them to take risks, the safe kind, try new things, meet new people, go on adventures, and get out of their comfort zone. If we give in to their fears, and leave them be, we don't give them our belief that though change is scary, working through it can bring eventual safety, comfort and growth, just like with that beautiful albino horse. Get that horse out of the barn and there is a world to run in and explore.

I worked with a couple once whose daughter's needs were to get out of her community where she felt like a square peg in a round hole. She had passions and interests that could not be supported in the town she lived, but could be if she could get on a train and go into the nearby city. The parents were homebodies, and never much left their community. It was time to get the "horse out of the pasture." In order for the daughter to feel that the bigger world was a safe and accepting place, the parents had to do it first, and show her the way. And because these parents loved their daughter, and "got" that she needed to experience life in a different way, they all became adventurers together, researching opportunities, figuring out transportation, and opening the door to adventure. They were all fearful, but with coaching, and persistence, these parents were able to help their daughter find a new way to feed herself. Once the pasture door was open, and she trusted those who urged her out,  she flew out the barn door!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

College Acceptance 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 truly....it 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 about this subject:


Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Top Three Stressors According To Teens

Results from a new Pew Research Center poll that surveyed over 900 teens from across the country show these as the top three issues that stress teens out:

 1. "About 70 percent of U.S. teens reported anxiety and depression as a "major problem" among people their age." 

2. "Bullying was the second-highest concern, with about 90 percent of U.S teens aged 13 to 17 saying it was at least a minor problem in their lives." 

3. "Stress about academic performance, concerns about "looking good" physically and trying to fit in socially topped the list of pressures teens said they face each day." 
If you are a parent of a teen, this is not new news!! This is what you see and hear every day in different ways with both your teen and their friends. But it does reinforce just how hard life feels for teens today, and I think that is the new news here. How many of you, looking back on your own teen years would say you were depressed, and anxious on a regular basis, or felt bullied on a regular basis? I certainly had bad days, and had even lost my dad suddenly as a 13 year old, but I think if someone had asked me if I felt depressed or anxious regularly, I have would have looked at them like they were crazy!!!
Maybe we just didn't have the feeling language that kids have now, which by the way is good thing. And maybe some of us were just in denial.  We also lived in a culture that was free from technology, which meant we didn't look in a virtual mirror 24/7. Sure we were self-conscious about they way we looked, but we didn't have to expose ourselves for public consumption and for a wide audience!
So yes, teens do have it harder these days. How about sharing this study/article with your kids and see what else they might add to that list. It might give you some new insight into what makes them tick. When you know what's making them feeling bad, then you have a head start into what might help you make them feel better! https://www.newsweek.com/mental-health-american-teens-anxiety-depression-suicide-bullying-drug-1337772

I just watched this very moving TEDX talk by a dad who recently lost his son to suicide. He honestly shares what he missed. This is a must watch for you and your partner.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Vacation Week Movies To Watch With Your Teen

I love a week with no plans. I love a day with no plans. Today is Presidents day and I find myself wrapped in a blanket watching a riveting documentary about boys growing up in inner city Baltimore being given the opportunity to go to a  boarding school in Kenya, getting them out of an environment that offers failing schools so overcrowded to notice learning challenges and serious mental health issues, and a community that too often, offers little in employment opportunities except gangs and drug dealers. A year in the bush with caring adults and teachers does wonders, until unrest in Africa forces the school to close, and back they must go to their dysfunctional homes/communities and school having had just a small taste of success. The film is called The Boys Of Baracka.  I love being reminded of how little, kids need to flourish. Really, their needs are so simple; love, attachment, structure, security, caring adults, safe streets and safe schools, healthy food and exercise and time to be a child. How lucky most of us and and our children are to have these things.

So that's my idea of a fun afternoon, a little heavy, but unstructured time on a winter's day can become an impromptu hang day with your teen. Make some popcorn, a fire in the fireplace, and turn on that dusty old big screen TV hanging idly on the wall while your teen usually watches tv and movies in their room on their devices, and invite them to a home movie party.

Go old school and watch some of the wonderful 80's movies you grew up with: Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles, Can't But Me Love, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off to name a few. If you want to watch recent movies. 8th Grade is just spectacular!!!! Your Kids will love it. Also The Way Way Back, Without A Trace, Hearts Beat Loud, and if they are fans of superhero movies, Black Panther, All Iron Man movies, etc. What does your teen like, what kind of movie might get him/her out of their room and onto your couch. Bribe them with food and treats and just relax together doing nothing!! Happy Vacation Week!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Do You Know About The App VPN...YOU SHOULD!!!!

Staying ahead of social networking is certainly a challenge. You think you've got it under your belt and then WHAM you get hit with some new ingenious way that kids are outsmarting their parents.  VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. In its most basic terms it allows teens to get around all the Parental Controls I have been suggesting you use, making them able to use the apps you don't want them to use, and use them during the times you have blocked them from using if you've put time restrictions on through the parental controls. It allows them to access to Netflix, Hulu and other streaming sites no password needed anytime anywhere!. Damn those kids for being so smart!!!!Truthfully, it's pretty genius from a techie point of view, and certainly from a teen's point of view, but for parents it's an arch enemy!!!

How do you know if you teen is using a VPN. Here are a few ways to find out. On an iPhone if you look on your teen's phone you will see the VPN initials in upper left corner of their phone next to the cell signal thingy! On a droid swipe down on the home screen and there will be a notification that VPN is running. 

Also you can go the app store on your teen's iphone or google play on android.  In the app search engine put in VPN. Many options will be listed. If any of the apps say OPEN your teen has VPN up and running. If it says GET you're good, then it has not been downloaded! 

Funny story, last year I was at a school to do my presentation on Social Networking. Just before I got there they had discovered a big problem. This school had distributed Chrome Books to all their students, and had dutifully thought they had done a good job of blocking social networking sites and streaming sites, so that students would be using their chrome books at school solely for school related projects. Well don'tcha know those smart kids had VPN's running and were enjoying Netflix during lunch and study periods! I know this now, but last year, it seemed a mystery to everyone just how these kids were accessing these supposedly blocked sites. Thank you VPN.

Why is this important? Because as I have talked about many times too much time spent on technology is NOT a good thing for young developing brains. Parental controls are the only real way of controlling time and opportunity, the two things you as parents really have control over. VPN challenges that power. You still need to protect the very vulnerable mental health of your teen as they navigate this new stage of life.  

You have got to stay smarter than your teen!!! For more specific tech knowledge on VPNs go to protectyoungeyes.com and put VPN in their search engine.

Happy sleuthing!

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Not Porn Again!!!!

Read and then we'll talk!

I know this is not a fun topic. But it is a topic that must be discussed. In the olden days (when I was a teen) boys coveted their Playboys, and Penthouses, usually retrieved from their dad's trash. In today's world, those magazines seem so sweet; nude, beautiful, airbrushed, large breasted women..perfection personified. Ah, the days of yore.

Today's porn is live and in-person. As you will see on the video below, 25% of Internet searches are for porn, and I'm sure many of those searches are conducted by teenage boys. Unfortunately, the porn they are watching is not sweet. It is full of women being taunted by men,  and the sex is violent and disrespectful. These video images can shape a young boy into thinking that this is the way girls like sex, demeaning, humiliating and forceful. The number of calls I get from parents of girls who are being harassed sexually by boys is scary. And even scarier is the world we now live in with daily accusations of sexual assault and harassment about the people in our lives who are supposed to be our role models!!Because of teen's easy access to porn on smartphones, IPADs, and laptops, parents are very much out of the loop. It used to be parents could check the history on their teen's laptop and see what they were up to, at least giving them the opportunity to have a discussion with their teen about the dangers of porn. Masturbation is not one of them. Thinking that women liked to be controlled is one of them. And in the link I have included, porn addiction is another.

Let's not leave girls out of this. A new favorite pass time at sleepovers is to go on sites like chatroullette and the app Monkey to watch live, men masturbating. I know, icky!  This is a video social networking site in which you live chat with someone you do not know. Many men are on this site trolling for girls to have video sex with. I have had a number of calls from parents who go down to the basement to bring the girls some food, and lo and behold there is some guy on the computer screen moaning and groaning, and a gaggle of girls egging him on.

If there was ever a time for a sex talk, this is the time. Teens need to hear another side! It is not OK to be exploited, it is not OK to expect a girl to do whatever you want her to do, or for a girl to think she has to do whatever a boy wants. College campus's, high schools AND middle schools are now awash in sexual harrassment cases and date rape. The research is showing that this onslaught of easily accessed porn, unsupervised by parents is behind some of this behavior. This is an uncomfortable topic. But in our current culture we are now learning that respect for women is not something that is a given. It needs to start being taught at a young age, and never stop. It is modeling what goes on your own home, and with your friends, and it is using the daily barrage of news stories as teaching lessons. It is talking and talking and talking until maybe you are blue in the face.

The Boston Globe article above is authored by Gail Dines who developed a program called Culture Reframed. This website should be a must bookmark for you. There is a parent toolkit (free) to help you understand and talk to your kids about porn. It is an amazing resource for parents!

Watch this video with your boys. Talk with them again and again and again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Teen Depression and Suicide

It's never easy to think or talk about teen depression and suicide, but talk about it we must. I have experienced the loss of two very special boys in my life to teen suicide who were the sons of very close friends of mine.  Recently the data of a new study on teens and suicide was presented. The results were published after surveying 5000 teens and their parents from the Philadelphia area. One of the most important findings is that 50 % of  parents whose teen had reported suicidal thoughts on the survey had absolutely no idea their teen was depressed. 

A dad who lost his 15 year old son to suicide says this: “My son Will was afraid to say ‘I’m not OK’ because I didn’t talk about these things with him,” he said. “He didn’t want me to see him as not OK because he worried that would be disappointing to me. And that breaks my heart.:
 "The night before, Will studied hard for a test he was supposed to take that day. He was going to get his driver’s permit that weekend and get his braces off the following week. Those were big events in his life that he was preparing for, and his parents had no inkling that their popular, athletic son was contemplating suicide."

 I have had a number of calls recently from parents worried about their teen, trying to figure out whether their teen is just having growing pains, or is in a real depression. Teens love to dump on their parents, giving them their most angry, their most sad, their most anxious and fearful feelings. This is the good news. Think of it as colic. When the bad stuff gets expelled, then sleep and peace can come...until the next time.

A young comic, Kevin Breel, (see link below) is a young man who has struggled with depression for many years, he is now in his 20's, and no one knew. He describes living a double  life; excellent student, amazing athlete, active in the theater program, had a thousand friends, everyone loved him. And as he describes it, he was a moment away from suicide. His depression was not a result of a bad breakup, or a bad grade, but chemicals in the brain that just couldn't make enough of those feel good chemicals that keep us feeling stable. 

Everyone understands the bad breakup sadness, but depression that is biology based gets short shrift in our culture, but it is the one that has got to be discussed. 

 Teens are feeling their feelings in ways they have never experienced them before. The intensity comes from an adolescent brain that is over activated in the area responsible for emotion, and literally from having some of these feelings for the first time. Without experience and a history that would have given them a game plan to deal with these feelings that are overwhelming, they are vulnerable to feeling like they might never go away. The first break-up, a humiliation on a soccer field, or a stage, the embarrassment of doing something or saying something impulsively stupid in front of your peers, the disappointment that someone you like doesn't like you back, the worry that they are disappointing you in some way, being sexually harassed and feeling powerless to stop it, or any one of a million other things can feel like a catastrophe.

So your kid comes to you in a rage, in a tantrum, sobbing uncontrollably and you feel helpless. But they are coming to you. Like a sponge, you absorb every drop of emotion. You can't sleep, you can't eat, you live with a pit in your stomach that your kid is in pain. But here is the thing, now that they have dumped it all on you and you have so graciously sopped it all up, they are free to go out and enjoy life again. Rinse and repeat!

When is it time to worry? The dumping is a good sign. The emotion is a good sign. They are working it out.  It may be hard on you, but at least they have an outlet. The worry should start, if they are not talking, isolating themselves, and really seem to have lost the up and down nature of teen life. Up and down is good. Staying down is not, or never getting down are both red flags.  If you see your teen spending increasing amounts of time alone, in their room, avoiding family and friends, you might say something like this: " I have noticed recently that you seem more down than usual. You seem to be spending a lot of alone time in your room away from us and your friends. I get life can be complicated and difficult and sometimes overwhelming, and you might like just getting away from it all. I used to do that to sometimes. But I worry that you are not giving yourself a chance to talk about it. If you don't want to talk to us, I understand, maybe it would be helpful to talk to a counselor. I don't want to bug you, but I love you, and want you to work out what seems to be bothering you. I'll check back in with you in a few days, and we can talk about a plan." You will probably get a "leave me alone!" but don't let that deter you. Keep checking in, and letting them know that you are concerned. Eventually, you may just have to make an appointment and make them get in the car.

And conversely, if you have the teen who is almost manic in their ability to manage it all, grades, extra curriculas, friends, etc, make sure you do a check with them as well: " You know honey, you always look like you are so in control of your life, you put a lot of pressure on yourself, I just want to check in to make sure you're OK with it all." Open the door, let them know that that kind of pressure cooker life can mask other feelings, and you just want to let them know you are available and can handle their down moments. 

Seeing your teen be in pain is the worst. Giving them a safe haven to express it is a gift. I would watch this video with your teens, and open the discussion. 


Please share this with friends who have teens.  Everybocdy needs help talking with their teens about this difficult subject.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Teaching Our Children To Understand and Respect Differences: Lessons From The Lincoln Memorial

On this frigid winter afternoon, I cozied up under a comforter and read and watched everything I could find about the Friday afternoon events that took place at the Lincoln Memorial where three diverse groups of people faced off and confronted each other. This is what makes America great! In this sacred space there was a group of mostly white privileged boys from a catholic high school in Kentucky wearing MAGA hats, standing opposite a group of black Hebrew Israelites, and bringing up the middle, a group of people representing the Indigenous People's March. Ain't America great!

I watched youtube videos and interviews from the people on the scene. I listened to commentary and opinions from people who initially said the boys were the antagonists, and then it was the black hebrew israelites who instigated with angry comments and then the reports of  what seems like the hero of the story, Indigenous leader Nathan Phillips stepping in to separate and calm these two groups. Honestly, I have no idea, after spending hours of research what exactly happened. And truthfully, the details hardly matter. What matters is the stereotyping that occurred, blaming each and every group. Was it that these boys wearing MAGA hats reportedly acting disrespectfully and chanting Build The Wall, or the Black Israelites shouting profanity at these boys, or the Indigenous group challenging these boys in some way? Or is it that our country is ill-prepared for accepting that we are a melting pot of ideas, cultures, politics, color, and religion. Have we prepared our youth and our communities for our changing country? This is the problem. How have you prepared your child for the world they will live in as adults? Is the school your child attends or the community you live you in representative of the diversity of the country we live in?  Do you get out of your own comfort zone, and get to know people who are completely unlike you? Do you take the time to really get to know people who are completely different than you in sexual orientation, race, religion, culture, or socioeconomic circumstances? Truthfully we probably are all more comfortable with people who most share our values and life.

Some months back I listened to this story on NPR about a small conservative republican coal mining community in Kentucky who teamed up with a liberal democratic community in Leverett, Ma to see if they could find some common ground. These could not have been more divergent groups in politics, and life style, each feeling that the other was wrong. But after spending a week living and talking together, they found friendship. love and shared values. It is possible!!! We don't have to agree to be like each other to respect each other. We just have to commit to understanding and learn about each other. (see article below)


So regardless of what exactly happened on Friday at the Lincoln Memorial, can we agree at least to teach our children to respect the differences that our country has always embraced? Here are some things you can do:

  • Challenge teen’s thinking in stereotypes. Provide teens with structured opportunities to get to know people who differ from them. At the 22ndAnnual Youth Congress, students suggested “mix-it up dinners where students sit with “classmates they don’t know.” As a family, seek out experiences where your children can interact with people from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs.
  • Model inclusion. The adults in children’s lives are the most influential in transmitting values of acceptance. When I was a fresh out of grad school therapist, I was seeing a couple that were experiencing difficulty with their teen. In a predominately catholic town, their daughter had started a relationship with a Jewish boy. The parents used phrases like “those Jews” in describing their worry about this relationship. With fear and anxiety about ruining my tenuous therapeutic connection, I timidly said, “I am one of “those Jews.”
  • Anticipate and strategize: Help your teen to be prepared for situations that might challenge them. Because of their inexperience, many teens end up doing the wrong thing because they don’t know what else to. 

Adolescence is a messy stage. Teen behavior is layered. Good kids do bad things; caring and kind kids can be cruel and insensitive; and sensible and smart kids can be impulsive and reckless. As teens move through this stage from childhood to adulthood, they are confronted with new feelings, new thoughts, and new impressions of their world. They are without precedent and experience and often react with emotion, not thought. But teens and adults alike share so many common, human experiences, regardless of class, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Let these be the bridge to mutual respect.

PS. If this post feels helpful to you, please share it with fellow parents. We can change the world, one family at a time!