Thursday, March 29, 2012

My College Students Speak: I Wish My Parents .........

Back on November 8th I asked my 60 freshman college students to reflect on their life as  teens prior to college. I asked them to complete these two statements: I wish my parents had, and I am glad that my parents..... This semester I am teaching a human development class, and we are now studying Adolescent Development, and again I asked my 60 students to reflect on their high school years and complete the sentence: I wish my parents had...... After reading them all last night, I was struck at how similar their responses were to their peers. Rather then repeat the one the students shared back in November, I'm giving you some new ones.  After each statement, I've got something to say(in italics)!  Of course I do! I have narrowed them down to the 5 most frequent responses.

  • I wish my parents knew how much I actually loved and respected them instead of taking my mistakes personally. Too often parents see themselves reflected in their kids, both in their triumphs, and in their downfalls.  Whatever your teen accomplishes or doesn't accomplish is on them!  If they do well it doesn't mean you are the greatest parent in the world, and if they fail, it doesn't mean you are the worst parent in the world. Cause guess what? It isn't always about you!    

  • I wish my parents had understood how scared I was about my future in high school, and the pressure I felt to succeed.  I know how worried parents get about their teens future. Your teens feel your worry, and your disappointment. Layered on that is their own worry and disappointment when they don't do as well as they want, even when they know it's their own fault.  When they are worried and scared and disappointed, it often shows itself with anger and attitude. That is much easier to express then shame and doubt. Try to see through it!    

  • I wish my parents hadn't compared me with my other siblings, and pressured me to meet their high standards. We are not the same. Another student said on the same topic: I wish my parents understood that I am not following in my brother's footsteps. I 'm not going to do everything like him. I am going to make my own mistakes. All children are not created equal. You may think that you treat all your kids equally, but those kids who don't measure up to what they believe the family standard is may always feel not good enough unless you make a supreme effort to make them think otherwise.    

  • I wish my parents had understood how their divorce effects me today. They tried to drag me in the middle, and I always felt I had to fend for myself. Families face all kinds of crisis.  Divorce, chronic illness, financial worries, moves away from friends, all manner of life events. Teens are resilient, they can handle alot, but they need the adults in their life to have realistic expectations. When you are overwhelmed with your stress it can overshadow what your kids might be experiencing. They are not good at talking about it, and it may look as if they have it all under control. Trust me, they don't!   

  • I wish my parents had been more aware of the mistakes I was making in high school by paying more attention and helping me. and another student:I wish my parents had been more aware of my relationship so I had someone to talk to when things got physical and bad. and another student: I wish my parents had understood I wanted them to push me harder through school/soccer. and another student: I wish my parents had pushed me to try new things, ie sports, clubs,  or summer camp. and another student: I wish my parents had pushed me more to want to get better grades, and to care more about school work. and another student: I wish my parents had taught me better homework study habits and were more involved academically. I could go on here, there are many more statements on this theme. I bet what these students are saying is surprising. Because  I'm sure every time you go into your teen's room to make sure they are doing their homework, they give you the evil eye. Well guess what, when they get to college and no one is giving them the evil eye they often don't get their work done. Don't stop bugging them, just cause they tell you to. They need you to help them integrate good study habits.  Too much facebook, too much texting, too much distraction. They also want you to push them a little harder to help them find something that will give them a feeling of accomplishment, especially if it isn't school. Don't let them off  the hook easily when it comes to after-school expectations. Sometimes it's not that they don't want to do anything, they just can't figure out what the something should be. Bottom line, though they tell you to get out of their lives, they don't really mean it. 

    Wednesday, March 28, 2012

    Have You Heard About "The Cinnamon Challenge"? You Need To!

    Did you know that the latest youtube sensation is for teens to video themselves trying to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon without choking or throwing up. So fun...right?  Except if you are the kids that aspirated the cinnamon and end up hospitalized with damaged lungs and a lifetime of needing an inhaler.

    OyVey, trying to keep up with the latest trend is a full-time job. This is the new party game. Add alcohol and pot to the mix and you have a very dangerous situation. OK so we know that teens are up for anything, and what in the world could be harmful about cinnamon, a spice that is associated with cozy afternoons of cinnamon toast, cinnamon and sugar and apples, sigh, such wonderful childhood memories. Not a negative association to be found. But cinnamon is not meant to be eaten on a spoon. It is meant to be sprinkled and diluted. Try telling that to a teen who sees other teens taking this challenge on youtube and who are rewarded by thousands of hits. "I'm famous!!!!!" This seems like such a simple way to get attention. "If more is better, I'll try to swallow two tablespoons, or more, it will be outrageous, and of course the more outrageous the better!" That is what is driving this challenge, whether on youtube, or at a weekend party or sleepover with friends.

    You gotta talk to your kids about this. This seems like a dare that most kids would take on. Why not? It's not drugs, it's not alcohol, it's just a familiar, safe, everyday spice. But it can be dangerous. Go on youtube with your kids, and keyword, cinnamon challenge. As you watch the teens choking and coughing, explain what happens to a lung when someone takes something in that doesn't belong there. The lung can collapse, and an infection gets in. Not something you can control when those fine cinnamon particles start to clog the airway.
    This link is a perfect example to watch with your kids.

     Remember just saying: "don't do it" is not a strategy. Here is your "I Get It" moment: " Hey honey, I get that this cinnamon challenge thing might present itself to you at some point, if it already hasn't. I get that it looks funny, to see what happens when people don't get the cinnamon down, and that your friends might dare you to try it. You don't have to get all preachy with them, but like I said this is really dangerous, you can say" I have asthma, this would be the kiss of death for me, literally!!!", or " I'll just puke, and I hate puking, so no way! or " hey I heard some girl almost died doing this, it's not THAT important, I am totally not in!" Help them to come up with a plan, so when this does come up they will be prepared with an out. I'm not saying you have to lock up your cinnamon now along with your alcohol, but can you put it behind a tall bottle in your cabinet!

    Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    Smoking Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

    I am easy prey on the Internet. Whenever I open my AOL account to check my e-mail, which is a gazillion times a day, I see what "news" is on the home page. Because I can be a shallow person, I am immediately attracted to the "train wreck" stories about some celebrity or another. Today I read a story about Madonna's 15 year daughter Lourdes who was photographed smoking some cigs with her New York friends. They captured the light up, and the first draw of the cigarette, in addition to commenting on her "fabulous" outfit. I feel really bad for any celebrity's children's who are not afforded the privacy that other kids get to have when they are sneaking cigarette smoking from their parents. But that's not what interested me particularly when I saw this picture.

    I immediately began reminiscing about my own teen bout with smoking when I was 13 which continued until I was 21, when I started hating the smell of tobacco on my hands, hair and clothes. Pretty much all my friends started smoking in their teens as well, and continued well into adulthood when the health scares of smoking really hit the airways. When our parents "caught" us smoking, none of them were concerned with the health problems of smoking, after all this was the 1960's and all of our parents were smokers. Instead the argument against smoking, and drinking for that matter, was that it "degraded" the way you looked to the public. No parent wanted his/her kids to look like "juvenile delinquents" and smoking and drinking cast a bad light on '"the family." Well, isn't that exactly what teens want to do? Look and act as completely opposite to your parents as you can. So telling us we looked like juvenile delinquents was a motivator not a detractor. Now had they shown us pictures of diseased lungs, and damaged brains, maybe we would have reconsidered our behavior.

    Seeing this picture of Lourdes smoking cigarettes sparked the "oh this poor kid is gonna get addicted to cigarettes and she is only 15, we have to help her" response. Her lungs will be black before she is 20! So much of what we fear for our children now, is the reality of how dangerous these teen "rites of passages" truly are. Yes kids will be kids, and teens will be teens, but now we have so much more information about the temptations of the teenage years, and want so much to keep our teens safe.

    Seeing Lourdes smoking reminded me of how important it is for kids to have the graphic, emotionally laden information about the real dangers of smoking, drinking, and all manner of drugs, be they prescription or illegal. Rather than the lecture of how bad this stuff is, share photos, stories, and statistics like those I wrote in last weeks blog on alcohol's effect on the brain. Telling your kids its 'wrong" to do this stuff is actually encouraging, sharing your own fears for their safety will hopefully do the opposite.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    Facebook: A Window Into Depression

    Teens get stressed, teens get depressed. It is hard to find any teen these days that hasn't had their moment of darkness. It is for these issues, that facebook can be the good friend, who listens without judgement, and gives support without necessarily asking for it. Sometimes it is just too hard to let people know how you feel face to face. It can be embarrassing and unpredictable. Maybe a teen shares something with a friend and is looking for a little TLC, but instead gets sarcasm, or worse, gets ignored. Teens are by nature self-centered, and often clueless to the pain someone else might be in. Empathy takes practice, and teens can be very inexperienced in this area. Hello facebook! Here is a place you can air your gripes with the world, faceless, and with a thumbs up "like" you can feel less alone with your darkness and anxiety.

    The article copied below discusses how parents might use their teen's facebook wall as a mirror into what their teen might be dealing with. As parents you can also teach your teen how to look for clues in posts of their friends that worry them. And for these two purposes I think this is a very useful article.

    All teens like to bitch and moan, so getting freaked out by a comment here or there that your teen posts about hating the world, probably is not of real concern, just a venting moment. But if there seems to be a pattern to the posts that reek of sadness and depression, it can be a useful tool in talking to your teen. Perhaps a " I've noticed your posts sound a bit gloom and doom lately, what's going on?" will open a conversation.

     Letting your teens know that if they ever have a friend who is posting some pretty down in the dumps wall posts, and feel genuine concern for their friends safety, there is a facebook protocol that will get their friend some help. Next to every wall post is a drop down menu to the right. There is a report button. It can be used for harassment issues and also suicide worries. It is a great way for teens who want to help their friends anonymously can get them some help.

    Facebook can be a time waster, a friend maker, an entertainer, and also a diagnostician. Looking at someone's posts as a whole can be a mirror into the soul.

    Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Some Interesting Teen Alcohol Use Statistics

    I found a crumpled up article cleaning up my briefcase yesterday that I had saved so that I could write about it. It's from a Wall Street Article from last March entitled: " Dad, I prefer the Shiraz. Do parents who serve teens beer and wine raise responsible drinkers." The simple answer is no. But here are some statistics that might surprise you.

    • Teens who attended a party where alcohol was supplied by a parent were twice as likely to be regular drinkers,  and twice as likely to be binge drinkers.
    • In southern European countries like France and Italy, and in Denmark, Ireland and the UK where there is no drinking age limit, statistics show that 15 and 16 year olds are more likely to engage in binge drinking. (There goes the argument that if the drinking age was lowered, kids would drink more responsibly)
    • Brain scans have show that heavy drinking, 20 drinks a month, (Doing the math if kids drink on both Friday and Saturday nights doing only 3 shots a night, which is a very conservative number,  could easily reach this 20 drinks/month number) " create changes in the the frontal cortex, the hippocampus and white matter leading to decreased cognitive function, memory, attention, and spatial skills."
    • "44% of 7,723 High School students surveyed, report that hard liquor is the preferred choice of drink, beer was a distant second, and wine coolers an even more distant 3rd. 
    This is important information for not only you to have, but for your teen has as well. The bottom line is that teens have magical thinking. "The, what's the big deal, everybody does it" argument is the prevailing rationalization for teens, and for some parents I might add. Teens are not good in the moderation department. If a little is good, then more must be better. They need you to give them the facts. See above! Have them do their own math, privately. Ask them to think about how much they drink on a given weekend night, and multiply that by 8. Is that number close to the 20 drinks a month that can change their brain forever. Ask them how important their future is to them, grades, SATS , college. If these are important goals they might want to change their drinking behaviors.

    The bottom line is most kids drink, and many parents have no idea how much their kids do drink. They may start early in the day/evening, so they can sober up before they get home. They may be serial weekend sleepover teens, and choose houses to stay at where parents are already asleep and tucked away by the time teens get home after an evening of partying, and drinking can go undetected.

    You can't control whether your teens make good decisions when they go out, but you can provide them with all the information they need to make the decisions, and strategies for them to stay safe. Teens are drinking in ways that can be scary. They buy water bottles full of vodka from friends for $10 a pop. That's a lot of ounces of booze, but they drink it like "water" chased with some diet coke!

    A conversation might go like this: " I get that when the weekends come you and your friends are ready to party. I worry about that cause I know most of you don't think about the dangers, just the fun. I need you to know some facts that I think will be important to you and your future. Did you know that drinking 20 shots/month will literally change your brain, making it harder for you to concentrate, remember things, and be organized. I know you want to be successful in life, and this kind of drinking will make it much harder for you. Go do the math!"

    Your teen needs these kinds of conversations on a regular basis. Not only are they risking their potential success in life, but also their emotional health. A parent called me this week to relate this story. Her 16 year daughter was out partying with friends, got really trashed and ended up having sex with a random boy for the first time in some family's bathroom. The mom overheard this through her daughter's door as she sobbed to a friend over the phone that she had lost her virginity in a drunken stupor.

    Talking about losing control and defenses, and doing things that later will make them feel ashamed, and humiliated are important conversations to have with your teen. Ask this 16 year old.

    Remember, that your teen needs your help with weekend strategies. Just telling them these facts does not help them in the heat of the moment. Helping them to come up with scripts, and action strategies for party going is the only way they can be prepared for all the temptation that will come their way.

    Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    Looking Forward...It gets so much better

    Just came back from spending a week with my twenty something daughter in LA. It was such a special and wonderful week, that I wanted to let you know what is coming down the pike with your now teens. Though some days it might feel like you are stuck in the hamster wheel, repeating the same words and lectures over and over. Picking up the same pair of socks, sneaks, and sports equipment day after day no matter how many times you remind your teen to do it. Reminding your teen to do homework, get to bed on time, get up on time, it all gets to be too much sometime. So I thought I would tell you what you have to look forward to, help you see the forest through the trees.

    Your teen will eventually:

    • Have a place of residence that they feel proud of and take care of.  A place that communicates who they are, and what is important to them. It may be a place that is full up of all the values that you are teaching them now but that you don't think they get. Oh they get it!

    • Incorporate into their lives what you practiced in your life, spirituality, love of music, books, friends, food, exercise, passion for work and play, and of course family.

    • Share their work life with you, share their friends with you, share their passions with you. Thank you for doing and giving all you did to help bring them to this time in their life.

    •  Make you so proud of the adult they have become, that you burst with love and anticipation for the many years you have now to share with your son and daughter. 

    Here are the things that you can teach them now so that can get to this place later:

    • Self Awareness: What are the feelings that can push my buttons and the behaviors that can sabotage my success.
    • Taking responsibility: What can I do to take responsibility for my decisions and my actions.  
    • Be independent: Develop confidence in my ability to do for myself whether in thought or in action.   
    Your job now is to give your teen the opportunities to practice. Doing for, and protecting them from, will not help them to become the self-aware, responsible and independent adults they all have the capacity to become.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Quick Tip #3

    Have a family "shut down" hour where the wireless is shut down, phones are shut down and either have a "read in" or watch a favorite TV show together, or have a nice dinner, or even dessert time. Buy a special dessert on your way home from work, something that would surprise your kids and make that a hang time.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2012

    Quick Tip #2

    Make a date with your teen to get coffee, get an ice-cream, get a manicure, go to a dinner and movie-mid-week, invite them to meet you at your office and then go for dinner somewhere new and different. In short,watch March madness at a sports bar,(they can get a soda)  break the daily routine in some way to show your interest in spending some time with your teen. Many teens have never seen or even know what it is their parents do. That is always a great eye opener to see their parents in a new way.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    Quick tip #1

    A week of quick tips!

    Today's quickie:

    Find something that your teen has done over the last week that left you with some good feeling and share it with him or her. It might be relatively small, often its the littlest thank yous that have the biggest and most lasting impact!!!

    Friday, March 9, 2012

    Do As I Say, Not As I do!

    The Boston Globe did a really sweet article today called Dad, Can You Put Away The Laptop.  Its seems that our younguns, and I mean the 4-10 year old set do not like this new fangled technology. Why? Because it seems mom and dad spend more time on their "stupid" phones and laptops, and not enough time playing with them. Now if I was one of those parents, I would feel such guilt and sadness that my kids felt ignored by me that I would immediately shut off my phone, close my laptop and give them my undivided attention. What was so interesting about the parents interviewed was that was absolutely not their response. Their responses were loaded with a good dose of rationalization. Hello defense mechanisms!!!!  Here's is what one of them said: " If I didn't have a smart phone I wouldn't be able to do both. My kids can't really appreciate that if I spend 15 seconds (oh come on, you know its more than 15 seconds) to respond to an e-mail, than no ones' waiting for anything from me and I can be at the school play or concert." OK so what if someone is waiting for you. Unless you are on a suicide hotline, or a doctor saving a life, I honestly can't see how waiting till your kids are asleep to answer your e-mails will make much difference. But that's just me. Life is about setting limits. Modeling for your kids on how to set limits on yourself is an important life skill. Certainly work is important, but we work at home now, because we can. One 10 year old,who was sick and tired of having dinners with her family constantly being interrupted by parents who would "take a few bites of food and then open their phones finally told them: " You shouldn't always be on your phones because we barely get to see other. I only really see them in the morning when we're rushing to get to school and at dinner I felt kind of ignored!" Good for her!

    Parents, you reap what you sow. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot constantly be on your phones and laptops, and then get mad at your teens for taking too long to get their homework done. Monkey see. monkey do! You are the most important model in your child's life. Whether its driving and talking on your phone, or being on your phone while at their games and concerts, or at a family dinner; or having a glass of wine at a family party, or at a restaurant out with your kids, and then getting behind the wheel of a car to drive, your kids are watching every little thing you do. And when it comes time for them to make these decisions for themselves that will ultimately affect their safety, you will be the model they look towards for common practice. "Why should I disconnect when you don't, they will argue, or "you drink and drive," or you talk/text and drive. And honestly, there is no retort that isn't completely hypocritical.

     Showing your family that they are priority #1 is the most meaningful gift you could ever give them. Much cheaper than giving them IPhones. Have a technology free family time, that everyone commits to. Even though it feels like forever, you don't have your kids with you for that long. Make that time count!

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Am I Ugly

     Watch and then we'll talk.

     This is not a new question teenage girls, and probably boys for that matter, ask. But in the old days, we just asked it of ourselves in the mirror.  We would certainly have never put it to the test to ask our friends, or the random people that troll youtube. Maybe we would have asked our parents, cause we knew we would have gotten a resounding NO are you kidding you are the most handsome or beauteous in the world. In in that moment we might have even believed them.

    How sad is it that these girls, feeling so needy for affirmation, put this out to the crazies who watch youtube. They hope against hope that someone will tell them that all their pubescent worries are for naught and that they are not the ugly, fat teen that they think they see in the mirror everyday.

    I was having a conversation with my 28 year old daughter today, reminiscing about her 13 year old pleasantly plump, short not yet having her growth spurt, self.  She talked about how uncomfortable she felt in her own skin back then, and how insecure she felt with her friends.  But when she was doing what she loved and what she felt passionate about in those years, that self-loathing and self-conscious, needy side disappeared, and a confident, funny, open-hearted young girl emerged. We remarked how good it was that she had something so positive in her life that could counteract those sometimes unbearable feelings of early adolescence.

    The theoretical term for that thing you do that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside is called self-efficacy. We all need something that we feel good at, especially during the early teen years when so much else feels not so good. Having a special skill or talent to feel proud of can fight against those feelings that those girls who post on youtube are experiencing. Helping your teen to find that area of specialness is crucial to maintain the self-esteem that is threatened on a daily basis.

    Maybe you have a teen who hasn't found that specialness yet, and is hyper-focused on her/his physical self, and all the things they hate about themselves.  Maybe they aren't the sports kid, or the music kid, or the theater kid, and you are stumped about what would make them feel good about themselves. I was working with a parent recently whose 12 year old fit this profile. I asked this mom, whose daughter is an only child of a single parent, whether her daughter liked playing with younger children, and she nodded her head, yes she does, she loves her little cousins. I suggested perhaps looking for a day care center kind of set-up where she might do this as a volunteer. Mom asked her daughter who was very enthusiastic about the idea. Mom checked out her local YMCA. They indeed had such a Saturday program for toddlers and did use volunteers. This 12 year old, somewhat shy insecure preteen, rose to the occasion, filling out a complicated application. She had to find references to vouch for her, and go on an interview. She jumped through every hoop, with enthusiasm, and felt such pride in her acceptance. It has been a wonderful lesson on "self-efficacy" and building self-esteem, not from how you look, but what you do!

    Wednesday, March 7, 2012

    Facebook Threats Will Be Taken Seriously

    Yesterday two teen boys in a town outside of Boston were arrested after posting what seemed like a credible rant about going to the local high school, killing the "school cop" and "front desk" people and do a "columbine all over again." A facebook "friend" saw the this conversation on facebook and notified his school counselor at the high school. The boys were promptly arrested and held on $10,000 cash bail. If they are found guilty they can face 3-20 years in prison and fines up to $50,000. Putting up a rant on facebook is SERIOUS business.

    When kids at this high school were interviewed about whether they thought these guys were indeed planning a killing spree, comments like: "they were just blowing off steam" or "they were just trying to look tough on facebook" abounded.  Tell that to the friends and families of the students from the high school in Ohio that were killed several weeks ago!

    This story is a must share with your teens for all of you whose kids are on facebook, which I'm guessing is 99.9999% of your kids. Kids love talking "sh*t on facebook. They use facebook as a performance space. Imaginary Audience, a term coined by psychologist David Elkind refers to the sense of hyper self-consciousness that teens feel. This drives so much of teen behavior. Sometimes it makes teens conform to whatever norms are prevalent in their community; carrying the backpack everyone else is carrying, wearing the same styles everyone else is wearing, listening to the same music, etc. It also drives much of the behavior you see on facebook and cell phones. If their friends are saying outrageous things on facebook, then they will try to "out outrageous" them. The audience awaits their "performance". Thank god, this conformity is short-lived. And as teens get older, develop their own sense of personal identity and confidence this posturing and need to "be like" evaporates. But it takes awhile, and as a parent of a teen you have got to understand how powerful this need to conform and "be like" is. You can not lecture them out of it, it is part of development, just think about your own teen years. But life in this century is scarier, and conforming is not just about clothes, and facebook and cell phones are very public. Teen posturing on the field behind the school with their friends is very different when it's on a computer for thousands of people to read. It might be taken at face value. Is a threat a threat, or a joke? That is the million dollar question. And given the number of school shootings, suicides, and bullying over the last few years, it's no joke!

    Here is the conversation you NEED to have with your teen. First tell them about this story, and the consequences for these two boys, just "letting off steam" on facebook. " I get kids use facebook to be outrageous, but they often forget that once something goes on that page it is in the public domain, and even if you were only "fooling around" someone else might not read it that way. If you see something on facebook that crosses a line, I hope you will tell someone.You can do it anonymously if you want. But any threat could be a real one, and knowing that you could have done something and didn't is a lot of guilt you would live with. Posting something just cause it sound good without thinking it through can get you in alot of trouble. Just ask these boys who are facing 20 years in prison. Here are some guidelines I think will help you in the thinking through process."

    Here are my four golden rules for using facebook. Go over them with your teens, and post them near your computer as reminders. Tell your teen they are as important as the rules you have to learn before you can get your learner's permit.

    Can this post be misinterpreted by anyone?
    Does this post intentionally hurt someone's feelings?
    Does this post give out too much personal information?
    Can any of the photos or videos posted come back and bite me in the a**?

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    The Middle School Bullying Problem

    I finished a touching, emotionally wrenching book this weekend called The Grief of others by Leah Hager Cohen. The story revolves around a family where each member feeling isolated in their own lives, struggle with feelings of loss, self-esteem and connection. One of the characters is a 12 year old seventh grade boy. The transition from elementary to middle school has been agonizing for him. Here is his assessment after a walk home that was marred by two boys from his school who taunt him for being "fat" and for "blushing" when they try to embarrass him. 'Paul' feels completely inept in dealing with these boys, allowing them to make him feel worthless, ugly and fat.

    Here is Paul. " it has been this way more or less for almost the past two years. He had no idea why. He'd been liked well enough in elementary school. Of course it hadn't helped that his best friend Alexi had moved to Florida at the end of fifth grade. But it wasn't as if Alexi had been his only friend. In fifth grade fifteen kids had attended his birthday party. By the following autumn most of these same kids, if they did not actually abuse him outright, would greet him in the hallways, abstractedly if at all. And not one rose to his defense when other kids, those who had never been his friends, targeted him with their teasing."

    Paul, like many middle school kids is stuck in the middle of puberty. His acne is pronounced, he has "chubbed" out as his tormentors never let him forget, and he is awkward around those kids who have magically become so much more adept at talking and hanging with each other. In short he is a magnet for bullying. Self consciousness, shyness, passivity and awkwardness are no weapons when it comes to savy, confident young teens who love the power of making someone feel less than.

    Not only was Paul's everyday life at school torture, but he was so humiliated by his lack of action that he never shared his blight with adults who could support or help. And adults, caught up in their own lives only became aware when an act of physical aggression occurred. Though Paul's easy going nature changed to sullen, his parents chalked it up to becoming a teen, and too engaged in their own hardships just weren't paying attention.

    Perhaps you have a 6th or 7th grader whose life has similarly changed since heading into the jungle of middle school. Maybe puberty has been unkind, and weight gain, lack of height, and acne has turned your once carefree child into a young teen who hides under big sweatshirts, hats, hair, and bowed head and silence. Perhaps he or she has been made fun during gym class for running to slow, or eating too much during lunch in the cafeteria, or who knows what, and has absolutely no idea what to say or do when it happens. Like Paul, they are literally at a loss of words. And unfortunately saying nothing is worse than saying something, at least to a bully. It is an opening for more!

    So if you see some change in your young teen. From happy and carefree to notably quiet, and isolating, and as you objectively look at your teen can you see that the changes of puberty have not been kind to your son/daughter, don't wait for them to come to you. They probably won't, much too embarrassing to tell your mom and dad kids are picking on you. They want to be able to handle it, not run to mom and dad, even though you might be able to support and help them.

    Here is an "I get it" moment maybe while walking the dog, taking a ride in the car, not sitting face to face. "You know honey, I've noticed you don't seem as happy as you used to be. I get it's been a tough year, changing schools can really be a pain. I remember when I went to middle school, kids that used to be my friends, found other friends, and left me kind of out of it. And forget about how I looked, that's a whole other story. How about you, I've noticed you don't hang with X and X anymore. Have they moved on to some new friends? I know your skin has been a problem for you, is there anything you are really hating these days about yourself, cause that's totally normal. Have other kids been giving you a hard time, I know that happens alot in middle school. You know I can help you with that, maybe help you come up with things to say back to kids that makes you feel as strong as they are. I am always here to help you know, middle school can be torture, I know cause I've been there. "

    And then just leave it there. Don't ask a thousand questions. You have opened the door, to let them know you are aware of a change, and you are there to support them, not solve their problems, but give them help in solving their own problems. Middle school can suck big time!!!

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    All You Need Is Love

    I heard a lovely story on the Today show this morning about James Hundly,  a 63 year old African American  postal carrier. James has made his mark with all the people on his route with his gift for gab and for his generosity of spirit. He is a positive, friendly, all around good guy that people look forward to seeing every day during his postal deliveries. So why is this so unusual? It seems that James grew up in the 1960's in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. As a young man he joined the civil rights marches, believing in the rights of equality. Though the marchers were non-violent, they were met all along the way with hate filled voices. They were spit on, had rocks thrown at them, and were fired on by guns as the passed from town to town. But the marchers never retaliated. Now I don't know about you, but being treated like that could change a person, make them bitter and angry, and see themselves as being victims and helpless. But not James, he did not want to turn into a hater, and listened to the words of his parents.  Love is the strongest force in the world in the face of hate. And when you treat people with dignity, respect and love, then that's what you will get back.  And for the last 40 years he has practiced just that. And he has a fan club to prove it.

    I am sure as a parent you have had moments when your teen has treated you with a lack of respect. Perhaps they have screamed at you with venomous anger, or sarcasm, or even worse, given you the silent treatment.  Most of us, feeling disrespected, and hurt lash out in return. Perhaps it's a lecture "you can not treat me this way", or maybe a punishment, "well if you are going to treat me this way, see how you'll like it when I take away your phone, your computer, your life!" Read yesterday's blog and see how far that dad got with that!

    Listening to this story about James, I wonder what would happen if the next time your teen treats you disrespectfully, you show love, rather than hate. " I love you honey, no matter what you say, I hope we can work this out." and than walk away. When James and his fellow marchers were called names, and spit on, they too could have retaliated with anger, and fists, but did not. They looked their abusers in the face with respect. Pretty amazing! It made the other guy look pretty foolish. Food for thought!