School

Your Kid’s Homework Load Isn’t Too Much, New Study Suggests

Written on March 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm , by

So the kids are all right. That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study on homework by the Brookings Institution, which says that the average homework load for 9- to 17-year-olds has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 years. This, of course, flies in the face of all the horror stories we’ve heard about kids drowning in nightly homework, of exhausted parents who can’t cope, and of families fraying at the seams because of it all.

So what to think? My own experience, or I should say that of my 12-year-old, is that she consistently has at least 2 or 3 hours every night—about double what the Brookings study found. She’s not suffering under the load—I half-jokingly describe it as “only mildly soul-crushing”—and our family isn’t falling apart, though it’s still too much. Then again, she’s in an honors program at a public school that’s something of a learning factory, but that was the choice we made, since the alternative was a school that wouldn’t have challenged her enough.

I’m grateful for the excellent education she’s getting. And the homework isn’t busywork. It does what I believe take-home assignments are supposed to do: that is, reinforce the lessons learned in class. So I gripe a little, but not too much. At the same time, I don’t dismiss the complainers as whiners. But here’s the thing—the gap between the homework horror stories and what the study found is a pretty big one, which says plenty about the inequality of education nationwide. That’s a much bigger problem, and one that won’t be easily solved.

Tell us what you think in the comments below. 

The Aggravation of the Common Application

Written on December 12, 2013 at 10:30 am , by

 

If you thought getting into college was hard, try applying. This fall, many of the high school seniors who gave me editorial assistance on my recently published book, Masterminds and Wingmen, took me up on a promise I’d made: work hard and I’ll write you a college recommendation. Little did I know I was about to join the thousands of people tearing their hair out as they tried to work with the “Common App,” the general application form that high school students increasingly must use to apply to college.

I began filling out a recommendation for Ethan Anderson, a high school senior in Colorado, in mid-October. As of yesterday, it has taken me 12 hours, 15 attempts and 10 emails to the “help center” to successfully submit it.

At first glance, this may not seem like such a huge deal. Sure, it adds even more stress to the students around the country who are filling out these applications, but eventually those kids will get those applications in, right? But it is a big deal and here’s why.

Basically, it’s another example of adult hypocrisy. We demand that students apply to college by correctly filling out forms and submitting them by a certain deadline. In sum, we expect them to be responsible and hold themselves accountable. In contrast, representatives from The Common Application, the organization that administers this process, have been extremely slow to admit they even had problems, let alone that the problems came from their side. Only after extensive reporting from national media outlets and complaints from educational advocacy organizations did they begin to respond. Even then, their emphasis was on the idea that the program was working overall and they did not issue a direct apology. Meanwhile, several colleges and universities have extended their deadlines to accommodate the problem.

But worse, one of the central missions of the organization, the reason the Common App was created in the first place, was to make it easier for students to apply to college, especially those students with fewer educational and/or financial resources or those who may not have educators who can act as advocates for them as they navigate this process—which is difficult under the best of circumstances.

Take the example of getting someone to write you a recommendation. Even if the student knows someone they can ask for a recommendation, it can be hard to get up the nerve to ask them to write it.  Then if the recommender, who is usually incredibly busy, runs into problems as I did, they may give up. When the student finds out that the recommendation isn’t there, she has to go back to the person and figure out what happened. Many students won’t press the issue. Maybe the recommender tries a few more times, runs into more problems and just can’t spend any more time on it.  The result is that the recommendation isn’t included in the application. In my case, Ethan wanted me to write a recommendation for him because he had helped me design a book cover and he was applying to a university that specializes in graphic design. Without my recommendation, his application wouldn’t have included the fact that he was a principal design contributor to a best-selling book.

But I made a promise to him, so I started researching what was going wrong and whether it was possible to reach the people behind the problem. Because the Common Application’s website states that it won’t answer applicants’ questions by phone, I tweeted and Facebook messaged the staff. I didn’t get a response. In mid-November, I looked up their office address and called but the number was disconnected. Two weeks later I searched for an office number again, found another number and left a message. That was the first time I identified myself and stated I was going to write about my experience.

That’s when I got a response. And while that response was professional and apologetic and the timing could have been coincidental, it’s a little hard to believe. I spoke to Scott Anderson, the senior director for policy at The Common Application, and shared my frustrations and concerns. I asked him about what his responsibility was to all students but in particular to students who don’t have advocates and resources. What happens to the kids who can’t prove they did what they were supposed to but the Common App dumped their information? What if they don’t have a college counselor who can directly contact their counterpart at the university if the Common App fails them? What if these students are working a job after school so they don’t have all the time in the world to figure out how to get someone from Common App to get back to them?

Mr. Anderson responded that students who experience these problems should send another complaint through the website. When I reminded him that I had repeatedly done so with no success, he repeated that the student should try again or talk to a college counselor. After our conversation, he followed up with this email:

I’d like to return to your thoughtful final question about what students should do in the unlikely event that they have trouble reaching us through the Help Center. While I do not think it is inappropriate to suggest that they try again, I agree that such a response is insufficient if it ends there. As a next step, I would advise a student to seek the assistance of a school counselor or other school official who can advocate on his or her behalf. And while we do not rely on social media as a primary means of support, we do read private messages on Facebook and respond accordingly.

Again, the reality is that many students don’t have a school official who can advocate on their behalf. Some don’t even have college counselors. My posts on Common App’s social networking sites were not answered. So, I have a different idea. Mr. Anderson and his staff should stop putting the burden on the students’ shoulders. They should issue a clear apology that doesn’t also include how great the program is working for other students. They should post on their Facebook page and every social networking platform they use that their phone lines are open, give out their individual work emails and state that they’re ready to do whatever is necessary to get a student’s application successfully submitted.

Our children should be rewarded for their hard work and judged on their merits. We don’t need to make it harder for them to get the opportunities they deserve. And they certainly don’t need yet another example of adults holding them to standards that we ourselves can’t or won’t follow.

Has your child had problems using the Common Application? Post a comment and tell me about it here.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

 

Can We Please Be the Adults Our Kids Deserve?

Written on December 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm , by

Draped across almost every school entrance in this county are slogans like “The Bobcats/Lancers/Eagles stand for Respect! Integrity! Honor! Honesty!” Down the hall are variations on the theme: “Make good choices!” “Doing the right thing is never easy!” “Be the change you want to see!” And there’s always a poster telling the kids to report bullying to an adult.

But in my 20 years of working with schools, my experience has been that most students believe those are superficial slogans that have little to do with how people actually treat one aother in the school community. In fact, the slogans serve as a constant and visible reminder of adult hypocrisy, particularly in a school where one group of students has tremendous social power. Adults are either too scared or too aligned with those who have status to ever help those who don’t. They often give the powerful free rein to do whatever they want and even protect them from any consequences.

The recent indictments of Steubenville superintendent Michael McVey; principal of the elementary school, Lynnett Gorman; football coach Michael Belardine and wrestling coach Seth Fluharty are a rare example of adults being held accountable. The specific charges concern underage drinking, failure to report child abuse or neglect, and obstruction. But what those adults really did was contribute to an overall school culture where every student knows that if you have power in that community you can abuse it. You can hurt others and you will be the one protected.

Let’s be clear about the Steubenville case: The boys who committed sexual assault should be held accountable for their actions. But in my experience, and unfortunately I’ve had a lot, the vast majority of these assaults take place specifically because some combination of parents, coaches and administrators nurture, condone and support the entitlement these boys feel to use other people for their own entertainment and exercise of power.

Further, when the boys’ actions are somehow exposed and could have consequences that negatively impact their collective reputation, the adults actively collude to discredit the victim and discourage anyone else from supporting him or her. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a parent whose 17-year-old son was sexually assaulted in a high school locker room shower. She told me that a booster club mom had called her to try to convince her family to keep quiet: “Do you really want everyone to know that your son was sodomized? Wouldn’t that be embarrassing? Anyway, it was just horseplay that got a little out of hand.”

The bottom line is: Adults have little to no credibility for many young people. My students are never surprised when an adult acts cowardly or hypocritically. Sadly, when an adult stands up for a deserving student, many are shocked. When young people see an adult protect a student who doesn’t make them look good, come from the “right” family or have some kind of social status, they are amazed and it profoundly matters to them. They desperately want adults they can believe in.

For every case like Steubenville, where the adults are found out, there are many, many more where the adults continue to hold positions of authority over our children and get away with the same unethical behavior. Young people’s deserved cynicism has broad implications. We say we want kids to be contributing members of our communities. We say we want them to be truthful and to stand up for what’s right. Then we’re shocked when they aren’t and they don’t, and shake our heads at the morality of today’s youth.

The best way to prove to young people that adults can be taken seriously is to hold one another accountable. That’s a powerful life lesson. Can we please be the adults our kids deserve? How many of these cases could be avoided if adults took the messages on those banners to heart and acted accordingly?

Have you seen a recent example of an adult behaving cowardly? Post a comment and share it here.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

VIDEO: Schoolkids Take a Stand Against Bullying with Victim Appreciation Day

Written on November 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm , by

 

Actions speak louder than words. When a group of fifth-graders from Williams Intermediate School in Massachusetts decided to stand up for a bullied friend, they didn’t just talk the talk. The group, calling themselves Band of Brothers, dressed the part too.

Bullied 6-year-old Danny Keefe is the water boy for the Bridgewater Badgers D5 peewee football team. And he takes his job very seriously, wearing a suit and tie to every game. Danny’s style and severe speech impediment made him a target for bullies. Danny, however, didn’t let the comments get to him. But the comments didn’t sit well with the Badgers’ quarterback, Tommy Cooney.

With the help of his teammates, Tommy organized Danny Appreciation Day, when 40 students wore their best suit and tie to celebrate their favorite water boy.

This video proves that the Band of Brothers are wise beyond their years.

How Teens Are Standing Up to Adult Bullies

Written on November 21, 2013 at 1:26 pm , by

 

People have described teens to me with words like “terrifying,” “apathetic,” “hormone-crazed,” “entitled” and “naive.” Add that to the general assumption that teens use social networking only to say “Hey! What’s up?”, relentlessly bully one another or send inappropriate pictures to each other, and it’s easy to think the younger generation can’t be counted on to make the world a better place.

Not true. I recently came across two examples that show how often teens are standing up against bullying and using the Internet in positive ways. The challenge for us is admitting that often the people they’re standing up to are bullying adults.

Last week, the Richardson High School PTA in Dallas sponsored motivational speaker Justin Lookadoo to advise the students on dating. One piece of advice that he shared with the Richardson female students, which can also be found on his website with co-author Hayley DiMarco, was:

Be mysterious. Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation….The sexiest thing on a girl is happiness. Dateable girls aren’t downers, they love life. 

Here’s Lookadoo and DiMarco’s advice for male students:

Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls, and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous and more adventurous, and that’s okay. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.

Mr. Lookadoo and Ms. DiMarco base their advice on their Christian faith. Having worked with many wonderful people in Christian communities who would never agree with this kind of teaching, it’s incredible to me that a school would allow someone to share a message that girls should “shut up,” and if they do speak, to express only “happy” opinions, while telling boys to be more “adventurous” and “dangerous.” This advice is exactly the kind of message that sets up the dynamic where girls are taught to say nothing when they’re in a sexual situation that they don’t want to be in and gives boys permission to run roughshod over those girls—which is exactly how rape between acquaintances often occurs.

Many teens were outraged by Mr. Lookadoo’s comments and confronted him during the assembly. But they also used Twitter to share their feelings about his message and the frustration they felt toward the school for bringing him.

Here is Aisleeen Menezes’ tweet: I refuse to listen to the enforcement of stereotypes and gender roles.

Another student, Meg Colburn, tweeted: I love that RISD has a no-tolerance on bullying and they brought in a bully to motivate us.

And even better, other students, parents and alumni are supporting those that spoke out. You know who are the only ones sending disrespectful responses to these students? Adults…whom the kids don’t know.

Across the country, in Washington, D.C., another incident took place. I grew up in the nation’s capital and spent most of my career there as well, so it was inevitable that I would learn that one of the best high school newspapers in the country was Annandale High School’s The A-Blast. Last week The A-Blast again showed how good reporting and a civil, measured response can make a difference. Here’s what happened.

Last Friday night, the Annandale football coach bullied his own school’s marching band off the field during halftime, with some vocal support from the football parents. In response, A-Blast reporters wrote an article protesting the marching band’s treatment, concisely articulating the problems and asking for an appropriate administrative response. My favorite part of the article is when the writers ask the administration the larger question of what the school values—not in words but in actions:

Under the direction of Coach Scott, the football team has won one game throughout their 2013 season while the band received Virginia State Champions and won a National award for their “III-Open” class (which is the hardest competition division). And all the while, the band stands proud with the football team through every loss and through every win. Since when has administration asked the football team to support the band by going to a competition, whether we win or lose?

The result was swift. Again, students, parents and alumni supported the marching band; the principal apologized to the student body and requested that the football coach do so as well. I hope the coach takes this opportunity to role-model what a person should do when he makes a mistake and needs to make amends. But in the meantime, as we wait for adults to do the right thing, let’s not forget that young people often can show us the way.

Have you seen a recent example of young people standing up to adult bullies? Post a comment and share it here.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

When Men Remember What It Was Like to Be a Boy

Written on October 27, 2013 at 7:49 pm , by

 

As more fathers and coaches attend my presentations, many of them are sharing how difficult it is for them to reflect on their own adolescence. As you will read below, if they were humiliated or bullied when they were young, it’s often overwhelming as an adult to suddenly realize how deeply those experiences affected them.

A father who came to one of my presentations allowed me to share the following letter he sent me about just such an awakening. I’ve edited it down and removed some of the more personal and heartbreaking parts, but hope you’ll still be as moved as I was when I read it. This is what courage truly looks like and a show of how hopeful people can be—despite destructive experiences—to make the world a better place. 

                                             ******                                                         

“I am a father of two sons and a daughter. During your talk, you said, ‘Locker rooms are tough situations…Those moments are seared into people’s memories.’ You caught me with my guard down that evening because, before I could stop myself, I was remembering locker room horrors of when I was on the football team as a freshman in high school. That was 39 years ago. While you were talking, I became self-conscious and embarrassed because tears were welling up in my eyes.

“I attended a Catholic school that was so small they combined the varsity and B-squad in the same practices. Since we practiced together, we used the locker room at the same time. The verbal, psychological and physical abuse showered on us in the locker room was a routine part of our school day.

“This was only one layer of the trauma. The team had two coaches—men who were also our teachers. One taught us science and the other taught us English. I had grown to respect and trust them, but when they put on their coaching hats I didn’t recognize them. After the second or third practice, I made the mistake of going to my English teacher for support and comfort. It turned out to be a most painful and humiliating experience: His tough-guy rebuff left me feeling hurt and deeply betrayed. I think that was the point in my life when I vowed to NEVER ask for help again—especially from men. (It’s a vow that I was to keep for the next 36 years.) That was also the day that I stopped trusting or respecting either one of those men.

“All this happened in a private school setting. A big selling point to the parents was that their children were getting an education superior to anything that the public schools could offer: how to live a good, moral life and treat everyone with dignity. Our parents paid and entrusted these two coaches to be upstanding leaders and Christian role models to us. And yet these same two men fed us to the wolves. Looking back, I realize that even an explicitly religious environment is not influential enough to supersede the ‘man code.’

“Every single day of the season I wanted to quit, but the fear of public shame and humiliation always stopped me. I remember the massive feeling of relief after we played our last game and turned in our jerseys and equipment.

“For me to admit to him that I was scared, shamed and intimidated into joining the team—and then staying on the team—was taboo. To have a wimp for a son was intolerable. My father was a man of high standing in our community and county. The last thing he was going to do was use his influence to ask the coaches to protect his oldest son from a little horseplay in the locker room.

“I would have rather chopped off one of my hands than to let my mother know what was going on. She was a member of the Catholic School Board and she would have raised holy hell. If that happened, my life would have been over. I probably would have had to attend a school in a different county or state where no one knew me. I am not exaggerating.

“Over the years I was to find out that the intense social pressure to prove that I am a man NEVER lets up. In college I joined a social fraternity and went through a semester of hazing to be accepted into the brotherhood. I joined the U.S. Marine Corps and proved I was a man by surviving their boot camp and being promoted to sergeant in an infantry company.

“The man code of constantly proving oneself kept right on going when I joined the business world. So many times it is portrayed as healthy competition that keeps our economy vibrant and strong. I don’t agree. I say it is destructive and dysfunctional. It fosters distrust, enormous stress and superficial relationships, and leaves men feeling exhausted and intensely lonely.

“By the time I was in my 40s I’d had enough and began tentatively searching out other men who might feel the same. I eventually found them, but there were many years when it felt like I was searching for a needle in a haystack. My persistence has paid off because I am now actually starting to trust some of the men in my life and consider them to be true friends. This is something brand-new to me.

“I think that the man code is deeply embedded in our culture and has been for centuries—if not millennia. But I believe that if enough men become aware of how destructive it is, we can create a systems shift. I think it’s crucial that men model this empowering way of life to other men and boys. Words are important, but actions are even more powerful.”

Has your husband been struggling with the “man code” since he was a boy? Forward this blog to him and see what he has to say. Post a comment and tell me what happened.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

When Mom Feels Helpless

Written on October 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm , by

Imagine you’re a fireman being rushed to the scene of a blaze. Your fire truck pulls up to a building engulfed in smoke and flames when you come to a shocking realization: It’s your own house that’s on fire. A sinking feeling forms in the pit of your stomach. Meanwhile, a fear of the unknown mixes with knowledge, desperation and the need to just do your job.

Well, last week, I felt like that fireman.

My daughter called me three days in a row from college with escalating panic and tears. She voiced anxiety that I had never heard before. Her emotional climb wasn’t due to the usual school angst: feeling overworked, over-partied and just plain overwhelmed. She had increasing feelings of gloom and doom that had emerged from out of the blue.

Usually, I can quell any emotional situation that arises with my family. Hey, I am a professional. But it became increasingly apparent that she wasn’t experiencing anything that a prescription of my calming words could handle.

I racked my brain—and hers—searching for a cause of her anxiety and hence a solution. “I just don’t know what to do,” she told me. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Her words hit my heart and my gut. I urged her to go to the student health center, which she did. But she ended up only talking about a hurt finger. Perhaps the fear of being labeled as “crazy” or opening up to a stranger was just too much.

When I realized that her visit to the student health center was just that—a visit—and she was still increasingly symptomatic, I began to panic. I imagined the worst: that she had suffered an unresolved horrible trauma, was potentially suicidal or truly losing her mind. As the mother of four daughters, during their teenage years even I thought that a possibility.

Summoning my doctor’s hat, I told her to go to the emergency room and added a precautionary order. “If you don’t go, I will send EMS to your dorm room,” I told her. “I can do that, you know.” Reluctantly, she went. It turns out that she was experiencing panic attacks, a common form of anxiety as a reaction to stress. Her blood work was normal and she actually felt relief after going to the ER. Luckily, she had a very compassionate and competent doctor who—with my daughter’s permission—called me. Together, we developed a plan to manage her anxiety.

Being on the other side of the table as a concerned but helpless parent increased my empathy for what the families of my patients go through. Eventually, every mom will arrive at a point where she doesn’t have all the answers for her kids. But that doesn’t make you powerless to aid them. You can still be their hero by helping them find the help they need.

Have you ever felt helpless to assist your child? Post a comment and share what happened.

 

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

Ever “Lost It” in Front of Your Kid?

Written on October 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm , by

 

Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about young people’s reluctance to reach out to their parents when they need them. Ever heard a kid say the following? “I don’t want to tell my mom (or dad) when something’s wrong because they’ll flip out.” Kids and teens say this to me so often and it always worries me. But after an unfortunate experience I had a few days ago, I’ve been thinking about it a lot more.

Elijah, my older son, started playing middle-school football this fall. My husband was adamantly against it at first, so Elijah campaigned for months. After a lot of family discussion, we allowed him to play and one of the main reasons was we had heard incredibly positive things about the coach. He has that combination of toughness and supportiveness that middle-school boys crave.

Last weekend they played against an unbeaten team and finished the game tied—after three overtimes. The boys were devastated, but after the game, as the parents all stayed behind and listened to the coach rally the boys, I was so grateful that my son was having that experience. He was being told he’d worked hard and should be proud of what his team had accomplished, and to focus on what they all needed to do better next time.

That makes what happened next even stranger. As I walked down the field to put my folding chairs in their bags, one of the boy’s mothers verbally attacked the coach right in front of her son, my son and another player. By the time I got back to where my son was standing, the mother had walked away but her child was standing next to his father in tears.

I don’t want to focus on the details of what the mom said and whether it was right or wrong. What I do want to focus on is the serious impact of “flipping out” in front of our kids—especially when we parents think we’re acting on behalf of our child. I’d bet any amount of money that the mother who yelled felt she was being the “momma bear.” She believed she was protecting her child and only doing what was right. But beyond the negative impact of her behavior on the coach (this a common reason great coaches give up teaching our kids), she is guaranteeing that her child will never go to her when he needs someone’s help.

It’s ironic. When we think we’re most strongly advocating for our children, we assume that they’ll see our behavior as being on their side. Using that logic, it’s natural that a parent would miss the obvious: Overreaction in any area of parenting (a problem with school, on a team, with friends) only convinces the child that their parent can’t be trusted to think through a problem calmly and strategically. What’s more, the child has good reason to believe that if the parent finds out about a problem, their involvement will only make the situation worse.

Probably every parent has had a moment when they’ve blown things out of proportion. I know I have. So what can we do? When we’ve gone over the top, we need to acknowledge it, first to ourselves, then to our children. We need to work on managing ourselves so that when we get worked up—no matter how justified we believe we are—we think through how we are going to communicate our feelings in a manner that gives the other person the best chance of hearing what we’re saying.

The mom at the game may have had a legitimate complaint, but because she conducted herself so poorly, the content of her words was lost. Her method of delivery was so inappropriate. If we think we’re losing control, let’s say it. As in, “Look, I’m clearly really upset right now, so I need a few minutes to get myself together.”

When we do things like that, take a “time-out” for ourselves, admit we made a mistake and tell our children that we’re sorry for overreacting, we’re going to do better and our kids will come to us. Why does this matter? Because we’re role modeling exactly what our kids need and want to see. When you make a mistake, you can talk about it. When you come forward and share a problem with someone you love, you’re a better person for it and your relationship is strengthened as well.

Have you ever “lost it” in front of your kid? Post a comment and tell me what happened.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?

Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

The #1 Way to Start the School Year Off Right

Written on August 22, 2013 at 8:44 am , by

 

When was the last time you told your teen to just go to sleep? Better yet, what is the bedtime mandate you’ve given to your teenager? I can hear the chuckles already. I know. Communicating with your moody kid is difficult enough behind closed doors, under headphones and while competing with the glare of a screen. But rest is crucial for the teenage brain, and parents need to talk about sleep and enforce bedtime rules.

When I was a teen, going to sleep really wasn’t a problem. My bedroom was just where I slept, did homework and only sometimes talked on the telephone. Most of my life we had two main phones, one in the kitchen and the other in my parents’ bedroom. Telephone conversations were usually whispered by me or spoken in code. The point being that they were usually public and hence short. Now kids huddle under the covers texting, typing and corresponding all night. As parents, we have very little control over the digital communication that is keeping our teens awake—or do we?

As we ease into back-to-school mode, monitoring and enforcing lights-out takes on an incredible amount of importance. Sleep shortages or insufficient sleep in teens (which is less than 8 to 9 hours per night) account for mood changes like depression, increased fatigue, cognitive deficits, inattention, poor grades, substance use and car crashes.

As parents, we have the opportunity to discuss and plan a bedtime with our teens, take away their cell phones and educate them about the importance of getting enough rest. A sleep-deprived teen can be an unhappy and potentially unhealthy child. Will you take the time to decide right now that you’ll start the school year off right? Post a comment and let me know you’re committed. Need ideas for getting your teen to hit the sack? Try these smart solutions.

 

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

 

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

Are We Setting Our Kids Up for Social Incompetence?

Written on August 15, 2013 at 8:00 am , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week I posted a mother’s question about her daughter’s struggles to maintain friendships with other girls. Today I’m responding to some of the reader comments made in reaction to my advice.

While I certainly don’t have the one and only answer to this mother’s question, I want to show you what I think are the most important aspects of her story and, as a result, why I answered as I did. I also want to take this situation as an opportunity to challenge all of us about the advice we give our kids.

From my perspective, here’s what was different about her daughter’s situation—and, thus, more complicated.

  • This mother described a pattern where her daughter would become friends with a group of girls and then be rejected by them.
  • This rejection took place in and outside of school. (In an extended email from the mom, she mentions summer friends and swim team friends).
  • She never knew why and, understandably, her daughter didn’t want to talk to her mother about it.

I suggested that this girl at some point prepare to ask one of the girls why they had rejected her. I said it wouldn’t be easy and, yes, the girls could simply be jealous. But if there was a chance that there was something this girl was doing that was off-putting to the other girls, it was important to know that.

Some readers really disagreed with me because they felt I was setting the girl up for more rejection. My response to that is: The girl is being rejected anyway. Being continually rejected but taking no steps to figure out what is going on and doing nothing to advocate for herself takes all power away from the daughter.

In fact, the goal here is to face a situation that is difficult and intimidating. If she prepares with support, she will be proud of how she handles herself—no matter how the other girl acts. True self-esteem only comes from facing challenges that are unpleasant and sometimes intimidating. If we don’t build up our children to be able to face difficult social situations, they will not be able to handle them. It’s not easy and they need support every step of the way. But they have to face these kinds of problems. If they don’t, we are setting our kids up for social incompetence.

Another reader said “any discerning mom would know” if the girl had social skills problems that were causing the rejection. The implication being that because this mom hadn’t identified her daughter as having social skills deficits, her daughter didn’t have them. I strenuously disagree with this statement. Not only because I have seen so many well-meaning parents be blind to the social skills deficits of their children but also because we, as parents, aren’t around to see how our teen children act around their peers. We may think we know, based on how our children act around us. But that is making a huge assumption that I have found time and time again is wrong. Our children often act differently around their peers than they do around us.

Another reader commented: “I used to remind my daughter that Girl World is not the Real World so that it doesn’t matter if she’s popular/accepted or not because she will never have to see any of these people again.” With all due respect, this is missing the point. Girl World—where conflicts are inevitable and some people abuse social power over others—is the Real World. Again, our children need to build social skills and you only build them by understanding and preparing for the inevitable—getting into a conflict with another person. No, you don’t have to be friends with everyone. Popularity isn’t the goal. The goal is maintaining a sense of self in the midst of a group.

Here’s a comment I really agreed with: “If she complained of feeling rejected, I would help her recall her social successes and what felt ‘right’ about them. I would encourage her to seek friendships that give her those feelings, and to provide the same in return to her friends. I might also remind her that she herself has rejected some people, by not inviting every child to her birthday parties, for example.” Here is a parent giving a daughter a concrete skill—checking in with herself about how she feels around her peers.

What’s most important to me is that as parents we really stop (me included) to hear each other and listen to our children when they are going through the inevitable but still really challenging and sometimes-painful conflicts they get into with their peers. I believe so strongly that our children are able to handle the messiness of these situations—including social rejection—if we support them behind the scenes.

What do you think about whether this daughter should confront a former friend? Post a comment and let me know.

 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
E-mail askrosalind@familycircle.com.

When Your Kid Can’t Keep Friends

Written on August 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm , by

 

Recently, a mom wrote to me with the following problem:

“I have a 14-year-old daughter who is starting high school in the fall. Since she was a toddler, she’s always been confident and outgoing with lots of friends. She is beautiful, multi-talented and very smart. In the fall of 7th grade, her elementary school friends turned on her and she has not been able to find new ones since. Every time she makes friends, they eventually blow her off—making up excuses for not getting together or ignoring her when they see her—again and again. She ends up excluded, alone and blaming herself for somehow being ‘annoying.’ She gets defensive and angry if I talk about my experiences a zillion years ago or challenge her assumption that she is a loser. How can I help her?”

While this is not an unusual problem, the answer to it is pretty complex. But first let’s address the easier issue of this mother’s well-intentioned reaction to talk to her daughter about her own experiences and assure her daughter she’s not a loser. Both, in this case, are counter-productive for the following reasons. First, talking to the daughter about her past experiences probably comes across as if she thinks they’re the same and the daughter understandably doesn’t agree.

Second, instead of assuring her that she’s not a loser, a parent in this situation is better off saying something like: “If you really are feeling this badly about yourself, then we need to think through how you can feel better. You’re old enough that I know you want to figure this on your own but I’m asking that you trust me enough that we work on this together.”

Now, on to the more complicated issues. Girls in her position often learn to either hate other girls or turn themselves inside out trying to please the girls who are rejecting them. Not good. But here’s the hard thing to think about. Since this is a pattern of behavior, the big question is does this girl (and maybe by extension the mom) really want to know what the other girls think is the reason/explanation for their behavior? Because sometimes figuring out the reason for something can be pretty painful. In case either one of them do, here’s what I think are the most likely possibilities.

The girl really is as beautiful, multi-talented and smart as the mother says she is. As much as any parent loves having a child like this, it can easily cause friction with other kids. There are girls who are alienated because they’re good at something, intelligent, pretty and have a good body. (A girl can be pretty or have a good body without girls being jealous. If she has both, chances are good that they’ll either exclude her or worship her.)

Many parents, in reaction would say, “Those girls are all jealous and you can’t let them get you down.” This response is a way too simplistic soundbite. Jealousy is a complicated emotion and it often rages in the best of kids. Also there’s a very, very good chance that even if they were jealous, these other girls would never admit it to anyone—including themselves. Instead they would come up with reasons, that they absolutely believe, that justify their anger and rejection. Usually, the “reason” is that the girl is always trying to get attention or she thinks she’s better than the other girls because she’s always doing “x.” But that explanation doesn’t give any guidance about how the girl should manage herself so she feels better about how she’s handling the situation.

As a parent of a girl who is starting high school, this is the time for the daughter to figure out what’s going on—which means talking to some of the girls who have excluded her in the past. Here’s a suggestion for what she can say.

I know we aren’t friends anymore and I’m not calling you so things can go back to the way we were before. I’m calling because I really don’t know why you stopped wanting to hang out with me. I know this may sound strange but I want to know why. Maybe there’s something I need to hear and it may be hard for me to know but it’s important.

There’s a chance that the other girl will unleash on her. Or do the opposite by saying “No!” Or even say, “You promise you won’t get mad at me?” If that’s the case, the daughter can say, “I’m asking you to be honest but I hope you realize it may be hard for me.”

The big challenge here is separating the other girls’ baggage (jealousy, and insecurity) with the possibility there is something your daughter is doing that is pushing the other girls away: like not giving them enough space or not picking up small ways people communicate when they’re asking someone to stop doing something that’s irritating.

Bottom line is she shouldn’t apologize for her accomplishments or her natural characteristics. But if there’s behavior that she needs to self-reflect on, this is where she’ll learn to get difficult feedback from other people and uncover what she may need to change about how she conducts herself.

Remember I said be careful about the questions you ask because you may not really want the answer? Sometimes, even though it’s difficult and unpleasant, this is the way a girl can develop strong friendships she can depend on.

What would you advise this mom to do? Post a comment and tell me.

 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
E-mail askrosalind@familycircle.com.

7 Words You Shouldn’t Say To Your Kid

Written on May 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm , by

There aren’t many times when I feel like “Never do X” is the right thing to say to your child. But last week I came across one. I posted on my Facebook page: “Never tell your son or daughter: ‘They’re bothering/teasing/hitting you because they like you.’” I don’t approve of that explanation because it makes it seem as if the adult condones this as an acceptable way to show affection and attraction. And obviously it’s not.

But after that post, I realized I was guilty of doing something I’m always reminding teens not to do: criticizing without making suggestions on how to make it better. So I’m going to use some of the online responses I got from readers to frame the way I think about this very common problem.

One reader wrote about emotional intelligence:
What do we say?! I always struggle with this! I try to say something like, “Sometimes people don’t know how to talk to people and are feeling lonely.” I need words!

This mother is trying to teach her child empathy—a worthy goal. While that’s fine as part of what a parent should say, it shouldn’t be the only thing. It’s not assuring your own child that they have the right to not like how the other kid is treating them. Also, it’s also critical to stop yourself from making any assumptions about what’s going on and ask your child for details. Say something like:

“Thanks for telling me and I’m really sorry you’re dealing with this. Can you share a little more specifically what the child is doing so I can get a better idea of what’s going on?”

For younger kids you’ll probably want to add this:
“If the kid is doing something inappropriate or embarrassing and it’s hard to tell me, do the best you can. You won’t get in trouble for saying bad words right now because you’re telling me what’s happening to you.”

Another reader wrote about self-expression:
Some little girls were bothering my son (they are 5th graders) and they don’t seem to have the maturity or social skills that make them understand it’s not okay. He did complain though and it stopped. I just wish an adult could help to come up with alternative ways to show someone they like them.

This is an example of how hard it can be to “teach” these skills to kids. The teacher is much more likely to see these dynamics but will understandably feel uncomfortable telling the kids how to behave when they have a crush on someone. But the parent who may feel more comfortable talking to their child wouldn’t usually see this going on. It’d be easy to not realize they should talk to their child specifically about how you show someone you like them—unless it gets intense enough that someone complains to the school like the boy above. These issues usually come up the most between 3rd-5th grade.

As a parent, have a two-minute conversation with your child that goes something like this:

“Sometimes in your grade people get crushes on other people. When a person gets a crush they can be nervous around the person they like. But sometimes, and this can seem weird, they can show their feelings by bothering the person and even teasing or hitting them. Just because someone likes you doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to treat you like that. So if that ever happens to you or anyone else I want you to remember that. And you can tell me and we can figure out what’s the best thing to do.”

A final reader wrote about on-going problems:
My 12-year old beautiful daughter has had a problem for many years of boys teasing her or “bothering” her to get her attention. So, what do you recommend we say or do instead?

As kids get into middle school there really is a possibility of inappropriate sexual behavior and harassment but it will be seen as liking the person. Again, it’s absolutely critical to ask your child the details so you and your child can distinguish what kind of behavior is going on and then decide what is the best way to proceed. But if I were the mother of the twelve-year-old girl above, I’d say to her:

“I want to talk to you for three minutes about the way boys are treating you. How do you feel about what the boys are doing? If you don’t like it, can you tell them to stop and they do?”

If she is too embarrassed to tell you, tell her you understand why it’d be hard to tell you but you just want her to know that if she doesn’t like it she has the right to not like the attention and she has the right to tell them to stop and have that request respected.

If she does open up to you, suggest to her that she say one-on-one or by text or email to the boy (i.e. not in front of other kids) who is bothering her the most one short sentence that says exactly what she wants stopped. If she says she doesn’t want to be “mean” this is a great opportunity to teach her that communicating her personal boundaries—in a clear and civil manner—isn’t mean.

What advice do you give your kids when they encounter situations like this? Post a comment and tell me!

 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? E-mail askrosalind@familycircle.com.