Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Online Bullying, Sexting And Sending Naked Pictures Is Now The Norm!!

And the news just keeps getting worse. According to a recent Associated Press-MTV poll, "56 % of teens have been the target of some type of online taunting, harassment, or bullying. A third say they've been involved in sexting, the sharing of naked photos or video's of of sexual activity". This is an astounding, disturbing, and scary statistic.  Teens are just not getting the message, which means as adults we are just not very good at giving it!

Common complaints from teens surveyed in this article were "people spreading false rumors on Internet pages or by text messages. These teens saw "someone take their electronic messages and share them without permission, or post embarrassing pictures or videos of them without their permission. "

The difference between what this generation of teens have to face with regard to all this is that it might never go away. When I was in Middle and High school kids were mean to each other too, they spread rumors about each other too, but it went away as soon as another "story" took its place. It was still painful when you were the target, but by the end of the week, you were forgotten as someone else had the target on their back. And you could recover from the humiliation. For today's teens, the humiliation can go on and on and on.  Things can get re-posted by any number of people when the spirit moves them, and when there is revenge in the air. Drama! Drama! Drama.

This is all very timely for me, as I am booked on Monday to speak to an entire high school full of teens. Thankfully not all at the same time. I will be talking/yelling/lecturing/shaking them... to hear the truth. Ok no shaking, but I just want them so much to hear and think about the long term consequences of this internet bullying/sexting naked picture taking behavior.  As adults who know better, except for the ones who don't seem to know better like, Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner and a host of others, we need to get better at delivering the message that sexting/bullying can be harmful to your health. We have gotten the drinking/driving message down hopefully, and look what that takes. Showing teens bashed up cars from drunk driving accidents during prom season, having them have to experience losing a friend to a drunk driving accident. I took a poll last week in my Freshman Into To Psych class to see how many had lost a friend to a drunk driving accident, and an alarming third of the class (over ten) raised their hands. I asked if experiencing that had made a difference in their own behavior around drinking and driving, and they said yes. How sad is that, that only by a friend's death did they see a connection.

We have got to get better at this. It is our job to get this right. Our teens are being driven by brains that look for the awesomeness of it all, by the worry that they have to be one with the crowd, and do things they don't necessarily want to, and by a culture  and technology that provides them with the means to
behave anonymously with little regard for consequences. Your job is to get that. Rather than pointing the finger at them and saying, "you better not", you need to understand with them how hard this new world is. You might say: " I get kids do this stuff, and I know that you are a kind and thoughtful person, and probably don't want to get caught up in this frenzy, but I get its hard not too when kids see this as a norm. And what people think about you feels so important and that you might feel the need to participate in things you don't want to so your friends will think you are "one of them" I know this must be so hard sometimes. I want to be able to help you with this stuff. I promise I won't get mad, or call someone's parents, I just want to help you get out of situations that you get stuck in before they bite you in the ass!"

Parents you need to scour the newspaper, magazine, the internet for real stories about what has happened to kids as a result of bullying/sexting/texting. Inform, educate and yes, scare the s**t out of them. Use that metaphorical bashed up car. Start with this article, this is dinner conversation, driving in the car conversation, lying in bed and snuggling conversation.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Anatomy of an "F"

In addition to my parenting work, I teach at a small liberal arts college. I have been teaching there for over 20 years and have watched students come and go, trends come and go, and perhaps the most interesting, the changes in what motivates students to want to learn. In the earlier years of teaching, my students were not distracted by phones and computers in the classroom, and guess what, they were more "present" in the classroom. What a big surprise! I rarely gave out D's or F's. Usually it was because a student disappeared from class, and I had no other option. Over the last few years I gave out a record number of D's and F's to my freshman students.  Believe me,  it gives me no pleasure to give them. In fact I feel guilty, disappointed, and really really bad for the parents of these kids who have forked over a ridiculous amount of money, and great sacrifice to send their kid to this private college, and now have to fork over extra for their kid to retake this required class.

Let me introduce you to one of my "F's". He came to my first class, very open and friendly, even coming up to personally introduce himself to me. I was looking forward to having this friendly young guy in my class. That was week 1. Week 2 rolls around (this class meets twice a week) and he saunters in 15 minutes late. I think this is probably an aberration, but still I give the class a quick lecture on the importance of getting to class on time. Week 3 and on to week 14 this student misses at least a class a week, and when he does come, he is always 15 minutes late. I meet with him and discuss my concerns, and he apologizes and promises to do better. Additionally, he has been texting regularly in class, as do a number of students. I joke, I cajole, I scold, to put the phones out of reach. But mostly to no avail. Many students now bring laptops to class ostensibly to take notes. I am adapting to the times, and understand that this is what students use now, though I am still a paper and pen fan myself. I'm sure you can guess where I am going here. Are the kids really taking notes, maybe, but most are also on facebook throughout the class. My F student, sitting in the front row, busily writing away on his laptop has caught the eyes of the students in back of him, and I saunter over and there is facebook up and running. He turns to me, smiles coyly as I tell him (not ask) to put the laptop away. So now I have become  the cellphone computer police! My "F" guy does surprisingly well on his midterm, but hands in a big paper 8 weeks late, no excuses, never hands in the final paper, and fails the final. You don't have to be Einstein here to do the math, he ended the semester with an F. Amazingly when he got his grade he e-mailed me in a huff. How dare I flunk him, he has never flunked a class before, but but but but! There was no but about it, numbers are numbers. I am guessing that this charming young man, during his high school years was able talk his way out of and negotiate with his teachers, and probably his parents to get what he wanted. The buck stopped with me. By the way the college I teach at is not highly selective. Many students struggled academically in high school. But I love these students, because in the past they have felt grateful for the chance to come to college at all, and helping them to find themselves as students, and learn to become curious learners is why I teach.

Why have I told you this story?  Here is why. College is not an entitlement, at least not anymore. It doesn't have to be a vocational school, kids do not need to know what they want to be when they grow up, but they should at least want to sit in their classes, and try to take in as much as they can. College is a full-service experience. It is a protective environment for teens to leave home, develop some independent living skills, learn how to manage their lives without mom and dad, and yes try to take in some knowledge that helps them to become well-rounded, well-educated adults. But at $30,000-$50,000 a pop, kids need to understand that if they aren't into the school thing, maybe college is not the way to go, perhaps a job and apartment is a better fit.

Parenting is about helping your kids find their mojo and reach their goals. We give our kids so much, but often expect to little in return. We give them their phones, their computers, their clothes, their cars, and now their education. Entitlement comes from putting something in to get something back. I pay social security tax, and I pay into unemployment so when I need it I can hopefully get it. Just make sure your kids are putting something in too.

High school is a practice run for college. Does my teen know how to get him/herself up on time? Is my teen able to set limits on him/herself around homework distractions in order to get work done? Is my teen able to keep him/herself safe when it comes to drugs and alcohol? Is my teen able to manage money?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, which I would expect, you would see these as goals for you and your teen over the next few years BEFORE he/she leaves the nest. Mommy birds bring their babies the worms when they are babies, but when it's "time" pushes them out of the nest to learn for themselves. Maybe a little nest-pushing wouldn't hurt.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday Wrap

This week I participated in an on-line chat ( nothing that included sex) "talking" with employees from a number of companies around the country.  The topic for discussion was teens and social networking.   I thought I would let you in our "chat"

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Family Table

Did you know that when families do not share meal times together their teens are 2X more likely to use alcohol regularly and 1 1/2 X's more likely to smoke pot?  Those are some compelling stats.  I meet with many parents who have two or three kids all off in different directions and who have different schedules, coupled with dual career parents who might be traveling or home late from work, way after a normal dinner hour. What's a family to do?

It is a challenge, no doubt. But without scheduled times during the week when parents and kids gather together, we are all ships passing in the night, and conversations and interactions morph into 3 word questions or statements. Parents: "Have you done your (fill in the blank) yet". Teens: " Mom/Dad I need/want (fill in the blank)."

And then parents wonder why their kids never talk to them. Teens do not do well with conversations on the fly. Just because you are in the car with them and you think this is a good time to have a conversation about (fill in the blank) because you have a captive audience, doesn't mean your teen thinks it's a good time. They may be rehashing in their head an encounter they had during the day or maybe about to have with a friend, crush, girlfriend or boyfriend, coach, and your intrusion into their thoughts will be met with silence or attitude. Both of which feel insulting to you because you feel shut out and shut down.

Regular and predictable mealtimes provide moments of spontaneity and connection, not appointment conversations. Conversations about the world, stories about family and friends provide a non-threatening context for addressing subjects indirectly. Telling a story about a party you went to over the weekend and how you couldn't believe how much people drank, could easily move into a conversation about how  people act differently when they are drunk. You gotta have at least one "lampshade" story hanging around.  Or a disagreement with a colleague or boss at work might move into a discussion about controlling or hard to get along with people. Or a discussion about a newsworthy event like repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" might be an opener about acceptance of people who are different. Get the picture. But without these kinds of relaxed settings, there are few opportunities for your teens to converse and share ideas about things other than what goes on in their small world of friends and schools. The world is a big place, and and they need to explore it with you, even if the world is your dinner table.

Family meals often require sacrifice. Making commitments and following through on them is an important lesson and model for children to witness. I have worked with families where finding a common night(s) for family dining is akin to getting a reservation at the most popular restaurant in town. Excuses I have heard from parents: "I can never get home before 8, I in a tennis/squash/softball league and I can't let my team down, I have meetings every night, I am very involved with my church/temple/community. Granted this is all important stuff, but so are your kids. Sunday nights are a no brainer. Attendance required by all. No eating in rooms, in front of TV, I don't care if you eat in silence and no one talks or looks at each other. Try for at least one other night. The research shows 5 is magic number, but 2 is better than none. Also if this is something new for your family, have low expectations. Your family may not be used to all being in the room at the same time. Your kids will balk, be sullen, and wonder why they can't take their plate up to their room like they always do? Give them a hug, an "I just like seeing your adorable face", a shoulder shrug, but insist. It might take a while before anyone actually talks. I don't mean minutes, I mean weeks. But be persistence. Come to the table with a story, talk about yourself, or someone you know. When your kids get that this isn't a one shot deal, and this family time, is really gonna happen regularly and consistently, they will begin to join in.

So cook a great meal, get some great takeout, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, who cares what the food is, so instead of making a meal, make some time!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

To Grind Or Not To Grind...That Is The Question?

Why does everything have to be so hard? This is a question you probably ask yourself almost every day when you have put in a request to your teen to do something(put your laundry away), or to stop doing something (get off facebook and get your homework done), and it all falls on deaf ears.  Yesterday I read a news story about a New Hampshire High School where the administration had decided to cancel the spirit and homecoming dances that were scheduled for October. Why? Because the dancing at these events had become increasingly more sexual as kids "grinded away" to the music despite repeated requests from chaperones to tone it down. Frustrated with the students blatant disregard with the "rules" and requests, the principal just threw in the towel and canceled the dance.  Grinding for those of you new to the teen parenting years is basically humping standing up. Humping, (haven't used that word since I was 16) is simulated sex with your clothes on. Fun to participate in, but not fun to watch if you are a spectator. Feels almost like being a peeper at a sex show.

Back in my day, slow dancing meant doing a very chaste bear hug. Of course there were degrees of the bear hug. The two arms around the boys neck, standing several feet apart was one version, and then there was the closer, head on the shoulder, with chests touching, but "private parts" a definite no no. In fact, when a boy/girl came in for the grind, that was considered "gross" for the boy, or slutty if the girl was the initiator. This was not a style of dancing met with approval by anyone. Ah, how times have changed.

Here is what feels so hard about this story. First, the chaperones didn't tell the kids to stop dancing, just to cool it a little with the thrusting. Of course, teens being teens didn't like being told what to do, so as soon as the adult turned around..... I get it. It stopped being about sexy dancing, and more about, "you can't tell ME how to dance, you aren't the boss of me!" So the only recourse this principal felt he had was to cancel the dance, knowing that kids being kids, wouldn't give up the good fight.

Lets deal with the overt sexuality of this generation of teens. This is a cohort of teens where sexuality is about performance, not privacy. Whether it's sexting provocative language or posting provocative pictures, group blow job parties, or simulated sex on the dance floor, its all show and tell. The boundaries of what is public versus what should be done in the privacy of a car parked in the woods has changed dramatically. The conversation with your teens about this stuff should be less about judgement, (this is inappropriate) but instead about respect for the setting(a school) and empathy for the adults in the room, and the non-dancing students who feel completely uncomfortable. Not to mention, I believe that not all kids want to be so sexual with dancing,or want to send a provocative text or picture but feel that as everyone is watching them, that's what is expected of them. You might start a converstion by relating the story about the dance ttp:// and after they say, " that principal is an a**hole," perhaps you might say: "I get that this seems unfair, but besides the issue of canceling the dance, I am just wondering about the dancing part. I think I know how these kids were dancing, and I know if I were at this dance, it would feel really uncomfortable watching these kids basically having sex standing up and clothed. What do you think about that?" Try to get them to focus less on the issue of the dance and more on the whole idea of "performance sex" and the pressure kids feel do be so outrageous whether on the dance floor, on facebook, or on their phones, and how hard that must be sometimes, when maybe that isn't what you want to do. Use this story as a conversation opener not a lecture. Teens need a safe place to work out their own ambivalence on this stuff, where they won't be criticized for questioning the party line. Be that place for them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Party Planning for the 13 year olds

You may or may not be Jewish, but probably if you have kids in 7th or 8th grade they will either be having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or be going to one. Traditionally this Jewish ritual is a rite of passage for a 13 year old boy or girl signifying the acceptance of religious responsibility. It is also the time for a "kick-ass" party.

 This blog is really a two parter. First I want to give a few tips for those parents giving the party. And PS, you don't have to be Jewish to read this. Often 7th or 8th grade is the year many teens start to have co-ed house parties, Halloween parties, and birthday parties. So read on Macbeth!

Many Bar or Bat Mitzvah parties are HUGE. Because kids want to be inclusive, or want to feel really popular for a night(which they should), they invite everyone they know. Parties can number up to a hundred. Oy Vey! Not only are these kids psyched to be "partying" but they lack the experience, manners, and protocol of how to behave. They are wild animals let out of the zoo for the night. Girls are wearing pretty, new and probably sexy little party dresses, and boys are ...well boys.

First, keep them busy. Because this is an awkward age, these young teens lack confidence and finesse, and would just stand around staring at each other, or look for alternative entertainment (if you know what I mean). You need to provide activities, direction, and most of all supervision. Keep them herded in one space, and make sure they are not out roaming around the hotel or party space. Make sure the route to the bathrooms are supervised, as well as the bathroom themselves. That means having someone on bathroom duty. Stuffing up toilets, boys sneaking into girls bathrooms, and vice versa, and impromptu spin the bottle games have been known to pop-up in the most unlikely spaces. Adult party goers often leave half filled glasses of gin and tonics or wine strewn around the party space, so beware that kids will often make a game of sleuthing around picking up said glasses and try to get sloshed. I have had many parents tell me stories of "party games" and by this I mean blow-job games under the long tablecloths decorating the kids table. Girls duck under, and play the game stone-face. For the uninitiated the rules of this game include a girl giving a blow job under the table and everyone else guessing who's getting it. The job of the recipient is to look stone-faced while being pleasured. OK I know this is grossing you out, scaring and terrifying you, and probably won't happen, but knowledge is power. Being prepared and making sure these young party goers are safe and have fun is worth it. Have a short table cloth. Remember that these young teens are "playing" at being grown-up. It is exciting and wonderful and a bit scary, not knowing exactly what is expected of them. So anticipate, understand, and prepare!

OK, part 2. Sending your young teen off to their first few boy/girl events is exciting. Seeing them dressed-up in their finery is a rite of passage. They need your help to anticipate the evening, whether its a grand party in a hotel, or a get-together at a friend's house, it may be without precedent. They may have misinformation about how they are supposed to behave mostly gotten though conversation with their friends. Kids might try to sneak alcohol in if it's at someones house, or they may have heard "stories" probably just someones fantasy or exaggerated tale of what goes on at these events and worry that they may have to participate in activities that they don't want to, but aren't sure how not to. They are extraordinarily self-conscious and can feel embarrassed and humiliated at the drop of a hat, and they need your help to anticipate and plan for unexpected situations. Middle School kids are such a mixture of those kids ready to party, and act older, and other kids uncomfortable with this whole party business, but were invited, and want to go, but wish they could just sit with you and hold your hand all night...metaphorically speaking. You might say: " I am so excited for you, this will be so much fun and I get that there might be stuff going at this party that you might not know how to deal with. So lets come up with some potential scenarios." ( I had a parent tell me that her  12 year old daughter attended  a  Bat Mitzvah party at a large hotel, got freaked out when kids were playing spin the bottle and hid in the bathroom all night) Come up with alternatives about what they could do instead, including a fast and face-saving way to reach you to come and get them if they need you too.

Remember, your kids are engaged in many "firsts" during these early teen years. They have absolutely no experience in handling themselves in this new stage of life, and need advice and direction. This is an exciting time, but sometimes, fantasy does not equal reality. To life...L'chaim

Friday, September 16, 2011

Another Week In Review

From here on in, I have declared Friday blogs as a melange of issues I have worked on with parents during the week that I think all parents might benefit from.

A Finger Full
When your teen gives you the finger at the dinner table, either because you have said no to something, expressed some kind of displeasure to or about them, or  just because they think it's funny, here is your action plan. Though your instinct is to yell, ask them to leave the table, or nervously laugh and give them a "h-o-n-e-y", don't give in to it. This is exactly what you teen is looking for from you. Instead, give an incredulous look, but no words, pick up your plate and eat somewhere where YOU can have a pleasant dining experience. And the next time this kid comes to you( that night or the next day) for a ride, money or any of the millions of things you do for you him/her, you calmly say " I would have, but when you give me the finger, I don''t feel inclined to do anything for you right now." Do not go any further, do not lecture, just leave it at that. They will get the message.

Boys love it. And if you have given your teen boy some sort of smart phone you can bet your bloated phone bill that he is using it to view some of the most disgusting porn out there. Naked girls are so yesterday, porn degrading women, porn with animals, (yes animals) porn paired with violence, this is what your boys have access to and are watching. Parents are calling me in droves, either because they checked the history on their teens computer or smart phone when they could, or their teen mistakenly forgot to shut his computer down when they went off to a friends, and parents got an eye full. OK I am not concerned that boys are obsessed with naked woman, it's that this obsession has taken a very dark turn, and boys are starting to think this is how women enjoy sex. And you can bet when boys get together and "review" various sites, you won't hear them say, "oh this is so disrespectful to women" . So if you have a boy, either with unlimited private access to a computer, or you have given him a smartphone (even when I told you not to !!!!) you absolutely, positively have to have this conversation.

"Hey buddy, I was talking to one of my friends at work the other day, and he was telling me that he went to shut down his son's computer and low and behold his son had left up the porn site he had most recently visited. Concerned the dad checked his son's site history and was shocked to see the kinds of porn sites his son had been on. I get guys are interested in beautiful naked women. I looked at my share of Playboys and Penthouses when I was a teen, but this is some raunchy stuff. These sites make it seem that woman like to be humiliated and abused during sex, and that guys get really turned on by that. This is NOT what woman want, and though I can't control what you look at, it would be very very disturbing to me if you chose to visit those kinds of sites. What do you think?"

Now I am guessing no matter how close you and your teen are, they will pretty much shut down here. But I know that they will have heard you. Here is the thing, this is important because they need to hear another version, other than from what they get from friends, rap, and boy fueled fantasy movies about what woman want. I am a woman, and I don't want that!!!!

Another Facebook Arrest
This is a ripped from the headlines story. Four girls aged 15-17 from Plymouth North High School, in a foul-mouthed rant on facebook, "threatened to shoot girls, and line the  high school halls with their blood." Nice. Apparently this was in response to some conflict that had been going on between groups of girls. Do I think these girls really had intent to maim and murder? No I do not. It was a brazen show of "I'll get you, you'll see", but extremely disturbing none the less. Luckily a student felt comfortable enough to show her parent the facebook posting, and alerted the school and action was taken. The girls are now suspended pending further action. Your kids need help with this facebook thing as I have said many times before.

Find this story on line, and share it with your teens. Let them know how important it is that when they see something where someone is getting threatened, it is their responsibility to tell you. There is nothing more important than keeping people safe. You understand their worry about being the squealer but there are ways to get important information anonymously to the right people, so they should never hesitate to tell you when something is threatening or unsafe.

Three Facebook tips:
Is this post threatening?
Is this post hurtful to another person?
Can this post be misinterpreted?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Punishment VS Discipline

A friend of mine recently posted an article on Facebook by the renown child development expert, Bruno Bettelheim. See good things can come from Facebook. In the article he states:" Discipline has been spoken of as something that parents impose on children, rather than something that parents instill in them. Unfortunately, punishment teaches a child that those who have power can force others to do their will, and when the child is old enough and able,  he/she will try to use such force him/herself. "He was a smart guy, this Bettelheim.

Many parents of teens are actually afraid of their kids. I don't mean physically, but afraid of their wrath, their anger, and the fear that no matter what they tell their teen to do, their teen will stand firm and challenge the parents authority. The ultimate humiliation. The challenge of "make me"  that an angry teen throws in a parents face can turn many of us in to either sniveling babbling idiots, or ranting raving maniacs. Teens are often like the all-powerful Oz, toying with our own confidence as parents.

This is why punishment rarely works. As parents we grapple with how we want our teens to behave, and what we can do to make them act that way. The bottom line is we can't make them do what we want, we have to make them want to want to behave in ways we find acceptable, safe, and that enhance growth. If you continually ground, take away phones, computers, TVs for all transgressions you risk enhancing the "fine, take away my phone, computer, and TV, I don't care. You think that's gonna make me do what you want...HA I'll show you," kind of response.  This kind of punishment doesn't lead to discipline. Discipline is an internal ability to monitor and follow-though on a desired behavior or goal. One is disciplined about getting to the gym every day, or getting homework done, or being a kind person on a regular basis not just when someone is holding us hostage to do it. And that is the goal isn't it? To help our teens get to the point that they don't need us to yell at them to get done what they need to, or to punish by withholding what they want until you get what you want.

So what do you do??? You maintain an air of "reasonableness". For example I have had a rash of calls since school started about cellphone use. Unfortunately many parents have now purchased smart phones for their kids and the ability to monitor and limit use in order for their teens to get their homework done or get to sleep minus the buzz of incoming texts is much much harder. And so the power struggle begins, "give me your phone.... NO..... give me your phone........ No.......if you don't give me your phone, I will take it away for good. (teens know you won't really, since you need to have a way to get in touch with them) FINE, take it away, they say. (there is the challenge that Bettelheim is talking about, they "you can't make me")

Here is how it could go a different way, with the ultimate goal of teaching them discipline about cellphone use rather than disciplining them about their cellphone use. Big, big big difference. " Here is the deal, I get how important and how much you love your Iphone, Droid, and I get how hard it is not to want to return texts you get even when you are trying to do homework and sleep. This is important stuff, sleeping and getting your work done, and we get that you need help. So here is your choice, you can give us you phone for an hour and half of your choosing during homework time and just before you go to bed, with no arguing, or you can fight us on it, and we can choose to discontinue your use of this fancy phone and get you a standard phone with no bells and whistles, that you can still text on, but that we can have more control over turning off and on through our provider. This is your decision and this is the question you have to ask yourself: Is it worth giving up the phone you love for an hour and a half a night and during sleep? Your choice!"

In this example, you are not imposing, but providing your teen with a choice, options and training in making decisions. Their life will be full of should I or shouldn't I's, where the consequences are of their own making.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Teens without an opinion...surprised?

 David Brooks, an op-ed writer for the New York Times wrote a column yesterday on the moral decay of our 18-23 years as evidence by an in-depth study talking to members of this cohort from across the country. Brooks said:"It's not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you'd expect from 18-23 year olds. What is disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.

These young adults were asked about their thoughts on wrong and evil, but it seems that besides rape and murder, these young men and women said " I don't really deal with right and wrong that often." Wow if that's the case they must be living in a different world than me, because it seems to be in my face every day of the week, either in my own life, or the lives of the parents I meet with. Who doesn't deal with daily dilemma's of right and wrong, the should I or shouldn't I's,  or the outrage we feel as our politicians, our corporations, the people in the news who commit crimes against people, or take advantage of those easily taken advantage of. We make moral judgements all day long, some we just feel and think about and some we take action on. Last year when I found out a popular restaurant in my area was taking advantage of their largely illegal immigrant workers, who were powerless to fight back, I stopped giving that business my business.  Maybe you are a parent who feels your school system is not meeting the needs of its students, and you go to a school committee meeting to voice your opinion, or maybe a news story that day really got you worked up, and a lively dinner table discussion about your moral outrage occurred, or maybe you wondered if you could "lie" to a friend that you were too busy to have lunch, but really you just weren't in the mood to see them. I would guess my blood pressure goes up at least once a day as I am faced with some type of moral moment that either affects me or my community at large.

Children, teens and young adults are not immune to these dilemmas. Gossip, lying, taking something that doesn't belong to you, did I mention lying, making decisions about behaving in ways that defy authority and rules of their families or the greater culture. I could go on for hours... how come these young people couldn't identify any issues when asked. These were not 13 year olds after all.  The most disturbing comments of all were these young people's perception about how they make moral decisions: " I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel." And this:" I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn't speak on behalf of anyone else as to what's right or wrong."

So I guess in twenty years we will be living in anarchy.  Brooks says;" In most time and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people's imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it's thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart."

When an 18 year old says "I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I feel", I can only wonder, what about what they  learned from your parents, their grandparents, their teachers, their coaches, their friends,  any mentor they may have had in their life? Did they miss all those "talks", were they missing in action when they did something wrong, and someone tried to help them understand why it was wrong. Were they too busy, texting and facebooking and hanging out in their rooms with their doors closed off to their families.  Did they eat dinner on the fly or in their room while "hanging" with friends on the computer instead of eating together as a family where conversation might be sparked by a news story that merited exploration, or a story where a moral lesson might be discussed. That these young people expressed no connection to a larger world outside themselves is really disturbing and upsetting.

We as a community of adults are missing the boat here. Our young people are not getting the message that they are indeed responsible to themselves, but also and more importantly are responsible to act fairly and with compassion to others as well, even, and this obviously is not getting through to this generation,  even if it means selflessly doing something for the greater good. Have we been so overly responsive to our children, that they feel an absence of responsibility to anyone but themselves.

OK, yes I am on a bit of a rant here, but I am saddened by this study and worried for all of us. It is our duty, and our responsibility as adults who have experience and wisdom, to share and teach this to the next generation. 

The dinner table is a good place to start. Rather than talking about homework and chores, how about a discussion about some news story that deals with morality, or working through together as a family a moral dilemma someone is faced with. The more isolated we become from each other with all the distractions and devices we are more attended to than the people in our life, the less time we have to teach these moral lessons to our children. Everyone needs to go back to school on this one!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Is Too Much When It Comes To Parenting?

Over my summer of no blogging, I collected  ideas and articles I thought might be of interest to parents reading my blog. This provocative article "ripped from the headlines" caught my eye: Overparented and underhappy. To summarize, the article cites a study done with  college students who were asked how much they agreed with with the following statements: "My parents supervised my every move growing up. It was very important to my parents that I never fail in life" The study found that the students who agreed most with these statements, also felt less psychological well-being and needed more medication for psychological well-being.

The work of parenting is to raise children into adults who are; resilient and able to recover from life's challenges; are able to sort through options so that they can make decisions that are healthy and growth promoting; and can build strong, loving relationships that can sustain them through the ups and downs of life. This is a tall order.

This study supports what my college students share with me. Many feel unprepared for life on their own as they start college. The first day of classes this semester I asked them what they thought their biggest challenges were going to be as they started this new journey as independent college students. Almost all of them said that they were worried they would not be able to get their work done without mom and dad telling them to do it, afraid that their phones, their computers and that the distractions of friends around 24/7 would take precedence over getting to class, getting to sleep and getting to work.

It's not that college students overwhelmed as freshman is a new phenomenon. I remember feeling the same way. Its just that I didn't have as many distractions as students do today. Hall phones, and TV in the student lounge took care of that piece. But I still had the kids in the dorm, walks into Harvard Square for coffee and muffins to distract me. I think the most important piece for me was that my mom had given me increasingly more responsibility for my own life as I worked my way through the experience of high school, and ultimately I knew that I was responsible for me by the time I left for college.  I was ready to take that  on, I wasn't afraid of it, and I was excited for it.

I think this study underscores this point. Parents who take on the responsibility of making their decisions for their kids rather than with their kids risk raising young adults who feel terrified of making their own decisions. Parents who rescue their kids from failure, risk raising young adults terrified of going into unfamiliar territory and instead rely on the familiar even if it makes them unhappy. 

Of course we want our kids to be happy, healthy and successful. But making decisions for them, protecting them from failure, and not making them responsible for their behavior in the long run is not protecting at all.

So when it comes time to making rules about social networking and social life, or decisions about what classes to take or activities to join or where to get a job, or consequences for their actions, make them a part of the discussion. Instead of  saying: "if you don't do X , or I think you should, start with a "what do you think should happen if you don't....?, and what do you think you should do.....? Put the ball in their court, it might take longer, you might get more frustrated, your teen might get more frustrated, but the confidence they will begin building will make them a stronger, happier more confident adult.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A Week In Review

Beginnings are not always easy. At the end of this first week back to school whether high school or college you can always expect the unexpected. Here are few situations that came up this week with my coaching clients and I thought they might be helpful to you as well.

A parent called me this week worried about her freshman in college. This kid had always been independent and responsible during her high school years. This was the kid who got up on time, got herself to school with no drama on the home front, got her homework done, no drama, had a longtime boyfriend, no drama, had some really good friends, no drama. Expectations were high that her transition to college life would be seamless. So it was a rude awakening for her parents when only a few days after drop-off to her school hundreds of miles from home, the tearful call came: " I want to come home, I can't  eat, I can't sleep, I don't like my roommate, everything feels weird and wrong." How terrifying for a parent to hear that desperation in their child's voice.

Some kids really surprise us. You might have that child who seems to have it all together, and they do. They have created a life for themselves that is structured, maybe a bit ritualized, but routines and schedules are good right??? They are good until all those routines and rituals get thrown to the wind with a move to a college that is nothing like home. Transitions like this, can be hardest for kids who have been so successful at managing their home. Going to college and having none of the familiar, safe and predictable ways of managing life can throw some kids for a loop. Temporarily!!! And that is the important word here. They will get through it. They are feeling feelings they have never felt before, and they are uncomfortable and scary feelings. For kids who like to feel and be in control of their lives, going to college challenges that. Everything feels out of control, new place, new room, new person who lives 5 feet from them, new teachers who don't know them, new food, etc, etc. 

So for those of you who have kids who have left for their freshman year of college, and are calling home in tears, know that it will be OK. Be supportive, be loving be understanding, and most importantly give them your confidence that they can and will adjust to all this change.

Story 2:
A parent called this week who has a teen going into her junior year in high school. This teen had been recently diagnosed with ADD, had some academic challenges at the end of the sophomore year, and was extremely anxious about  going back to school. A bright girl, she had been placed in all honor classes, and now as the first day of school came closer began to panic that the year would be disastrous. How could she manage it all, and in this most important junior year. As anxiety settled in, her behavior at home deteriorated. She became angry, disrespectful, flouted curfew, and toyed with alcohol.  Signs that all was not well. Here is when parenting a teen becomes so challenging. Do you just look at the behavior you are getting, and respond to that with appropriate consequences, or do you look beyond what you see, and wonder what is really going on?  You need to do both. You want to keep your teen safe but you also need to "get" that the stress, worry and anxiety they are feeling are real, and often spiral out of control unless the underlying causes are addressed. Luckily these parents did just that, "getting" that this kid did not need to be in all honors classes. Honors schmonors I say. Being challenged academically is a good thing, but pick the subject that is really of interest and importance to your teen, and that motivates them to go the distance. Just because your teen might be good at math, they may not be interested or turned on by it, but maybe English does. Be respectful of who your child is and what their goals are. Understand that they want to be successful just as much as you do, and don't want to be set up to fail.

And finally a word to the wise story:
A mom who had attended one of my seminars and learned about teen-proofing their home around alcohol shared this with me.  Part of any teen-proofing the home plan includes locking up the alcohol. These parents did do that for the hard stuff and only kept wine in the house that they were drinking for a specific event, but the beer was a different story. They put the beer in a few coolers and hid them in their closet in their bedroom. On a weekend during the summer their 14 yr old son had a bunch of kids over, nothing new to this family. They love hosting their kids friends at their house. But this night, something just didn't feel right, and on a reconnaissance trip down the basement, they caught the kids drinking their beer. Seems their son had done some reconnaissance of his own, and found the closeted beer.  Moral of this story, lock it up!!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I Just Need To Hear Your Voice

Have you ever been in the midst of a really stressful situation that you know has no easy solution, and you call your best friend/mother/father/husband/wife knowing that just hearing their voice will make you feel better. Turns out that in fact a calming voice actually effects your body's hormonal stress responses in a positive way. In a recent study of teens, scientists wanted to see which form of communication with moms (sorry dads you were left out of this study) would help their teen feel better. After having exposed teens to a stressful situation, each teen was exposed to a different form of communication support from their moms; interaction in person, interaction over the phone, interaction over the computer/texts, or no interaction at all. Girls who experienced in person, or over the phone communication, in other words, an actual human voice showed a marked reduction in stress hormones. Those whose moms e-mailed, or sent texts showed stress hormone levels that were just as high as if the teens had had no interaction at all.

Why does this matter, because there is no substitution for human interaction. Texting, and e-mailing are good for sharing information, but when it comes to really impacting someone's life, you actually have to say something. Often times parents will tell me that most of their communication is coming in the form of texting to their kids, even when they are in the same house! Fearful of simple conversations turning into arguments, parents are resorting to  R U OK sent as a text.

As your teen starts back to school and feels stressed by all the new situations and expectations both socially and academically you can safely assume your teen will need to hear your voice. They don't need you to solve their problems, they just need you to know that they have them. If they seem a little sad, lost, and anxious rather than asking "what's wrong?", maybe just a hug and a "you seem a little overwhelmed, sad, just want to say I love you." That calm and loving voice can go a long way to make them feel just a little better. The science says so!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Monkey See Monkey 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 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 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, September 6, 2011

Back To School

I know just how the kids feel. After taking the summer off, I am here at my computer, 7:30 AM restarting my blog. I feel groggy, anxious, excited, and impatient, with just a touch of dread, knowing that once I start writing again, I have signed on for the year. 

The most fun your teen is having now is picking out just the right outfit to make just the right new impression for this new school year. Thinking about academics....not so much. You on the other hand are obsessed with who their new teachers are, what are their expectations of the students, how many clubs/athletic teams your kids will sign up for,  and are your teens using the agenda books the schools so generously gave to your teen to stay organized? You are full of goals for your teen: honor roll, good citizen of the year, most valuable player, early to bed early to rise, etc., etc., etc. They on the other hand, are wondering who their best friend will be, will they find a fun party to go to on the weekend, worries that they won't make the team, get a part in the school play, or win election as a class officer. Homework, grades, pleasing teachers, getting to bed early enough to get up on time are not taking up much space in the old noggin.

Asking a thousand questions at the end of each school day will yield scant results, and instead your teen will probably reward you with more of the "leave me alone" responses. Your teen is overwhelmed as this new year starts. As a new middle schooler, high schooler, 10th grader or whatever "grader" there are a new things that are expected of him/her. Be more mature, grades really matter, college is getting closer, what if no one likes me, what if I can't get a boy/girl friend are just a few of the things that consume him/her. Asking a thousand questions just makes them feel more overwhelmed. Be patient, you will get the answers to those questions, just one at a time, and in a more casual way. When you bring in their laundry maybe say "hey so whats the deal with tryouts, or that English teacher, or History class? Pick one area of interest, and in a non-desperate tone, ask your question.

But here is the thing, they do need your help in setting limits on themselves as it relates to homework and sleep. They have had a summer of excess, too much sleep, unlimited friend access,  and texting/video games/facebook time. Like all addictions, any limitations will make them a little crazy, but crazy they must get, cause limitations they must have. So here goes my "back to school" crazy making, you gotta do list.
  1. No cell phone to bed/during homework time/during school day. All carriers allow you to set up times that the phone can be shut off and turned back on. Doing this means that you don't have to constantly argue with your teen to give you the phone or get off the phone, or shut the phone off! It is automatic. Your I Get It Moment: "I get that getting back to school will be hard. You have not had to be on a schedule, and have been able to be in touch with your friends all the time. Having to get back to homework, and getting a good night sleep will be an adjustment. The phone can be a big distraction to both. So give me an hour when having it off to do work or just be quiet with yourself will be OK, and lets figure out the time you want to go to bed, and the phone will be shut off from then until 6 AM. Also we will be shutting your phone off during school time. Texting can be a distraction, worrying about who you will be texting as soon as you get out of class, takes away from being present in the class you are in. I know this will be an adjustment for you but we want you to have a good year, and if you hate us a little for this, we can handle it. We love you and want you to be the best you can be.
     2. Facebook/Formspring/Skype or any other social networking site. These also need to be disabled for the same hour you are shutting off the phone. These sites are ENORMOUSLY distracting!!!!!!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. I am not a techi, so go out and find one and have them tell you how to shut them off during homework time. Again badgering your teen to get off them and do their homework will not work.  That in and of itself becomes a distraction. "Get off facebook!"  "I WILL, leave me alone!"

That's my list. Its short and simple. Now go get a cup of coffee, and sit back and enjoy the quiet now that the kids are gone!