Rosalind Wiseman

Talking to Your Kids About Michael Brown

Written on August 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm , by

As it is for many moms, early mornings are my favorite time of day. It’s peaceful, and the only time I can think quietly without interruption. A few days ago, as the sun rose, I sat with a cup of tea and couldn’t stop thinking about Michael Brown’s mother. She would bury her son on this day. The same day I was getting my boys ready for their first day of school. As I stared at my tea all I could think of was how to talk to my boys about the funeral, how another unarmed young man of color was killed by a police officer, and about the photos of heavily armed police pointing automatic weapons at and using tear gas on protesters, and how a member of that police department boasted at a public speech about killing minorities.

As a white mother with teen sons, living in Boulder, Colorado, I am far away from Ferguson, Missouri, in many ways. Boulder is a lovely place to live. As in many towns like it, people here pride themselves on being “progressive” and would never see themselves as supporting racial discrimination. But there are very few people of color living in Boulder. Yet they are here and, not surprisingly, my children have reported the often ignorant, and sometimes malicious, racist commentstheir white classmates make about African Americans and Mexicans.

Last year one of my sons told me that there was a group of wealthy white boys at his school taunting Hispanic students, calling them “beaners.” I told him I wanted him to say something to those white kids. He didn’t want to. The next time it happened, I talked to him about the relative privilege he has at that school because he is an athlete. I also wanted him to realize, if it was hard for him to speak up, how much more difficult it may be for someone with less social power. My son is starting eighth grade. I have no doubt there will be many opportunities for him to practice speaking out, and I hope one day he does.

Teaching your children to speak out against bigotry is an ongoing process. We can’t just tell them from time to time, “Racism is wrong.” Or, “All people are equal regardless of the color of their skin.” It is about knowing that no community is immune from racism and bigotry—including mine and yours. It is knowing that it’s common that “nice” kids make racist jokes and comments. It is knowing that your own children can make hurtful comments about other people or stay silent when someone else does. We have a responsibility to teach our children to effectively and unflinchingly realize that they have an obligation to make the world a more just place for all, and then give them the skills to make it happen.

Boulder isn’t unique. My consistent experience working throughout the country is that self-identified progressive communities believe they are above the racism they see, read and hear about in the media. The vast majority of parents within these communities can’t imagine their children degrading their peers because of the color of their skin. They can’t imagine their child making a racist or sexist  joke. They’ve told their children that racism is wrong, so there’s nothing more to say.

But there’s a lot more to say. Many white parents I’ve talked to don’t want to bring up something so unpleasant and ugly with their kids. Here’s the deal: It is ugly. It is unjust. But race privilege means you have the choice to avoid it. African American, Hispanic and other minority parents don’t have that choice. It’s our responsibility to take care of one another. And that means taking the blinders off.

Being a parent means educating your children and having hard conversations with them about how messed up the world is. It’s about allowing them to get upset about it, angry about it and then challenging them to make it better. It’s about reading and watching with your child the reports coming out of Ferguson, going back to the reports about Trayvon Martin, printing out and reading what people are saying about these issues (Ta-Nehisi Coates has been my go-to writer this year).

We need our children to understand that the democracy they study in school is messy. It has an ugly history of how it has treated many minorities in this country and that legacy profoundly affects all of us to this day. If we don’t educate our kids, we sentence them to ignorance and not developing the skills and courage to stand by their peers for the collective and individual dignity of all. So sit down and watch Michael’s funeral service with your teens. Ask your child what it feels like to bear witness to this community’s anger and grief. Just be still for a moment and then vow to do something to make it better.

More Than Just a Crush

Written on August 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm , by

“Back to school” is about getting back into the groove of a more structured life. It’s about buying supplies in time—not for the first day of classes but before they’re out of stock. It’s about what teachers your kid got and if they’re loved or hated.

But guess what it’s also about for a lot of kids? Crushes. The horribly awesome, terrifying, nerve-racking experience of seeing someone for the first time and falling for them hard. It could be their hair, the way they say hello, their cool red jacket, whatever—doesn’t matter. In an instant, the world will never be the same. And even if they don’t have a crush on someone, chances are good they’re going to have a friend who does and that will upend their world too.

Being aware of crushes falls into the parenting gray zone. You don’t want to stalk the school hallways or wait for your child to come home and immediately ask them about their or anyone else’s love life. Really…you don’t. Even though you may want to. But you do need to be aware of crushes as the possible source of your child’s weird mood swings. Or the potential reason behind a sudden increase in the amount of time spent texting. (They’re discussing with a friend exactly how the crush said “Hi” or how the crush affects social dynamics between your child and his or her friends.)

It’s really important to remember that crushes and puppy love aren’t insignificant. Just because kids are only holding hands or simply staring at each other doesn’t mean the feelings they have are meaningless. Take a minute to remember your first crush and how you felt around that person. See? Not meaningless. So don’t say things in front of your child about how fleeting crushes are or how they don’t really matter.

And just because I said no stalking, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your child. Sometime when it’s calm and quiet, like at the end of the day, you can say something like this.

YOU: Now that you’re in sixth grade, you might notice that people can get crushes on each other or really like each other.

YOUR KID: Mom…I really don’t want to talk about this.

YOU: This is going to be brief but it’s important to me that you hear this. Having a crush can feel great. It can also feel terrible. And it can feel both at the same time. Sometimes friends can get involved and make the whole thing even weirder. Feelings can be confusing. You don’t have to talk to me about any of this but you can if you want. Regardless, here are four things I want you to keep in mind.

1. Friends shouldn’t be mean to you or deliberately embarrass you about your crush. If your friend has a crush, the same rules apply about what you say to them.

2. If you have a crush and you get rejected it’s not going to be easy, but you can’t be rude or mean in person or online. If your friend has a crush and they get rejected, I don’t want you to join in if they start going after the person either.

3. Friends don’t have to agree with why the crush is so crush-worthy. If your friend thinks that the crush isn’t cute, that’s okay. Friends can disagree. What’s not cool is if a friend makes fun of liking the crush or embarrasses you in front of other people.

4. Sometimes friends, even really close friends, can have a crush on the same person. Covert operations to make the competition look bad almost always backfire and destroy the friendship.

Remember, these experiences are important, so if you ever do want to talk about it, I hope you can talk to me or someone else about them. Okay, I’m done unless there’s anything you want to ask. 

Then don’t wait around with an intense mom or dad expression on your face that signals to your child that you expect to have a deep, meaningful conversation. Just walk away. I promise that if you do, they are much more likely to come to you when they want to get something off their chest.

On the flip side, if your child is the loved one, it can feel great—or really awkward, depending on how they feel about the person who likes them. What’s most important: no humiliating the other person if they don’t like them.

And I have one pet peeve: If your child tells you that a kid of the opposite sex hits them at school or teases them, please don’t say with a grin on your face, “I think they like you.” And definitely don’t say, “You know why they’re probably doing that? Because they have a crush on you!” (See my previous post, “7 Words You Shouldn’t Say to Your Kid.”)

We don’t want to teach our children that an acceptable way to show you like someone is to be mean to them. Plus, we weren’t there. Maybe the other child doesn’t like your kid and now you’re enabling your kid to read the situation wrong. Maybe other children were teasing the child about liking your son or daughter, so they felt forced to be mean to them to make the matchmaking and teasing stop. If our children tell us these things, we can say:

That’s too bad. Maybe I can ask you some questions to help you think it through. Did it feel playful or mean? Did they do it around other people?

Let’s use this as an opportunity to teach our kids how to tell when someone likes them, how to be respectful when the feelings aren’t mutual, and how to be a good friend through it all. Handling all this is tricky stuff. We have to be ready to ask thoughtful questions so our kids can navigate this really rocky terrain—and then do their homework, their sports activities, their chores…It’s a lot.

What Happened After My Son Said, “Mom, I’m Going to Do Something Really Stupid”

Written on July 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm , by

 

Full disclosure: My boys have committed countless ridiculous, embarrassing, dangerous and stupid acts that I’ve never shared publicly. And it’s been tempting. After all, I’m a parenting expert and I have children who never seem to miss an opportunity to make me feel how ironic my professional title is. But I do honor my children’s privacy, and I do recognize that it may be especially irritating to have me as a mother. So I’ve kept the “mom” sharing to a minimum.

But two weeks ago, Elijah, my 13-year-old son, lit a smoke bomb not seven feet from me. In my living room. Just to be clear, “living room” means “inside my house.”

You light a bomb in my house, I get to tell the world.

The official reason I’m doing this is because my husband, James, and I thought a lot about how to use this experience as a teachable moment. It’s also an opportunity to practice what I preach. But the other reason is that it just makes me feel better to share with other people how mind-blowingly stupid my boys can be.

Here’s how the whole thing went down:
After spending the day playing in a basketball tournament, Elijah brought two teammates back to the house with him. A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the couch next to Elijah when Miller, an exceptionally nice kid, told me he needed to go downstairs because he “didn’t want to keep his mom waiting” when she picked him up. He really said that.

A few minutes later Elijah said to me, “Mom, I’m going to do something really stupid.” I immediately responded, “Whatever it is, don’t do it.”

But for some reason my radar was down so I didn’t pay attention when Elijah left the room shortly after making this declaration. When he returned a few minutes later, he nonchalantly walked by me and set off the smoke bomb. Immediately, blue smoke filled the room, and then the house; which caused all the smoke alarms to go off. At that exact moment, Miller’s very nice father and his two adorable younger sisters rang the doorbell.

First, I focused on damage control. Turn off the alarms, get the nice family out of the house, and then deal with the real problems at hand. I still had Jackson, Elijah’s other friend, in the house. I didn’t want to lose it in front of him because he’d already seen me truly rage—a few months before, at 3 a.m., in my bathrobe, no less (due to another mind-blowingly stupid thing my younger son, Roane, did involving a rug and salsa, but I digress). Determined to keep myself under control, I calmly asked Jackson to walk home and brought Elijah into our room—where James was trying to calm himself down—for sentencing.

Here’s the challenge. In these moments, when emotions are at their highest—

  • embarrassment because of the nice family at the door
  • fury at your child, and
  • the glaring realization that you might possibly live with the world’s worst roommate, who might burn your house down if you stop paying attention for five minutes

—it’s really hard to think clearly and act maturely. But you have to if you want any chance of getting through to your child and keeping your sanity.

In the five minutes between getting everyone out of the house and talking to Elijah, here’s what James and I decided were the most important things we needed to communicate.

  • We both accept that our children are fascinated with fire and what happens when things explode. That is why we have educated both of them on fire safety and fireworks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into good judgment on their part.
  • We recognize that we can’t leave Elijah unsupervised in the house until he can prove he has better judgment. That will take time—which is annoying but true.
  • Because Elijah demonstrated disregard for the safety of our home, he will be responsible for the majority of its upkeep in the hope that he’ll appreciate to some extent how hard it is to maintain a house and what a colossally bad idea it is to burn one down.

I know Elijah respects us. I know he has a degree of fear of us. But he has yet to experience the horror you feel when something you’ve done goes terribly wrong. Not all 13-year-olds are like this, but he is a supremely confident man-child who has never been able to just take someone’s word for it. Since he was 2½ and stuck a metal shower ring into the heating system and short-circuited the electrical system of our house, he has been an “experimental learner.” So my goal is to get Elijah to connect his higher processing with his let’s-see-what-happens-if-I-do-this thinking. That’s going to be one of the main objectives of his adolescent development.

But it’s going to be a long road. I kid you not, today—not two weeks later—Elijah woke James from his Saturday afternoon nap and asked, “Dad….Dad…Dad…Do we have any flammable liquids in the house?”

A Summer Code of Conduct for Your Kids

Written on July 3, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

 

Since I moved to Colorado from Washington, D.C., almost two years ago, I have grown to love summer. First off, there’s no humidity. As a native Washingtonion, I thought living in the wet, moldy sponge that is D.C. from June through September was normal. What’s more, every day here is beautiful, there aren’t annoying bugs everywhere, ice cream is plentiful and people are in a good mood. The only complaint I have: The school ends the third week of May. That is just way too early.

To be fair, no matter how hard we parents work all year, for our kids, summer should be a time to sleep in late, relax, roam around, and hang out with friends. But in order for parents to not get really irritated and start walking around the house muttering about how lazy and slovenly their children are, we have to have an agreement about how summer is going to go down.

So three weeks into their vacation, I told my boys: “I want you to relax and have fun and neither of us want me constantly nagging you or raging at you (“raging” is the word my boys use to describe my very calm requests). So here is how I think we have the best chance of accomplishing these very important goals.” Then I shared with them my “Summer Code of Conduct.” Perhaps these rules to relax by will help you preserve your sanity this season.

1. If you want to kick back. . . don’t leave cups and dishes around the house. This is especially true if you have eaten cereal and/or drank chocolate milk with an inch of chocolate sludge at the bottom and left it wherever you finished it. This is also true with clothes (dirty or clean), technology accessories like ear buds or headphones, new or used tissue paper, sports equipment, art projects and any small pets. You won’t be able to relax because all of these actions will automatically result in your parent flipping out—as in making you clean everything you have spread around the house and nagging you as you do it).

2. To be left alone. . . you must read a book of your choosing, outside if possible, and enjoy it. Your parents will leave you in peace while you read—unless they see that you are hiding a handheld device behind the book. If you are, we get to make you do additional chores around the house such as loading the dishwasher (see #1), folding laundry, taking out garbage and more.

3. When hanging out indoors with your friends. . . know the house rules. If you’re hanging out at another person’s house, you are expected to follow the other family’s policies without argument. Likewise, your friends are expected to follow our family rules when they are at our house. If not, your parent will make it clear to your friends what the family rules are.

4. When hanging out outdoors with friends . . . respect the freedom we give you. Summer is time to spontaneously hang out with buddies. But that will happen much more easily if you check in with your parents on a consistent basis. So when your parents ask you by any method where you are and when you will be home you need to answer concretely. For example, “Soon” and “In a little while” are not appropriate answers to a parents’ text message about when you will be returning home.

5. While improving your video game or tech skills . . . Watch the clock. I know video games aren’t all bad. They just can’t take over your life or be a major source of conflict between siblings. So each child can have ninety minutes per day on the device of their choosing for fun. Basic necessities must be taken care of before engaging any technology, which are defined but not limited to putting on clothes, brushing teeth and hair, and taking care of any pet needs. All technology activity must end an hour before bed (to assure a good night rest) and devices be charged in parent’s bedroom. Other projects involving technology are excluded from the ninety minute limit.

6. If you want to impress me. . . . tell me how you plan on giving back this summer. A couple times a month over the summer, the family and whatever friends want to join in, will do community service together. Examples are making dinner for a children’s or teen shelter, painting a family homeless center, gardening, mowing lawns or getting groceries for an older person. When I know you’re up to some good, I can kick back and enjoy summer too.

Have you laid down some rules of the road for your kids this summer? Post a comment and tell me what they are below.

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. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

 

Dealing With Bullies (When You Disagree With Your Partner)

Written on June 18, 2014 at 5:41 pm , by

The only thing harder than helping your kid handle bullies at school is helping your kid do so when you and your spouse aren’t on the same page. Our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman, received a letter from a woman struggling with just that situation. She has a picked-on kid and a hands-off ex who disagrees with her tactics. Here’s what happened and what you can do to handle similar situations within your family.

Q. “When my son, Nick, told me he was being bullied at school, I immediately called a meeting with my ex-husband, the principal, a counselor and my child. But my ex doesn’t think our son is being bullied. He thinks I just don’t understand “boy world.” The principal was glad the situation was brought to his attention but mentioned that Nick needs to “loosen up” because he doesn’t like to make mistakes and he’s rigid when around other boys. Nick is very upset that I called the school meeting; he also said that even though the bullying subsided for a few days, it has started again. He has begged me not to discuss it again with school officials or with his father. Most recently he asked if he could have liposuction near his armpits because the boys are saying he’s fat. I’ve spoken with my son about bullies. I’ve also talked about the power a bully gets from provoking a desired reaction. Nick clams up and doesn’t want to hear my suggestions. I’m so afraid the bullying will escalate that I’m considering signing him up for a martial arts class, and I even showed him how to physically defend himself last night.”

A: Your parenting dynamic is pretty common, but it makes it much more difficult for your son. The dad wants his son to stop complaining and deal with the other kids (the Boy World thing he wants you to understand), and you want to comfort your child. Both of you are right. Your son, as you and the school agree, is socially inflexible and that makes it harder for him to get along with his peers. But that doesn’t justify the other boys bullying him. He needs social skills and emotional support, and he needs parents who recognize the value of each. But as long as you and your ex have judgments about the other’s point of view (to put words in both of your mouths, he thinks you coddle him and you think he’s callous), your parenting dynamic will make it much harder for your son to learn what he needs to in this situation.

And this is why your situation is so applicable to so many families. The fact is all children are going to experience conflict with their peers. How the adults in the child’s life guide him through the process of responding to conflict is often the invisible force that either increases the child’s emotional resilience and strengthens the family, or decreases the child’s emotional fortitude, makes him more vulnerable to abuse by his peers, causes him to feel ashamed that he is a target, and makes him resistant to asking for help. All that happens while he’s still desperate for the bullying to stop and caught between his parents’ opposing opinions.

Helping your kid navigate his way through dangerous territory doesn’t mean leading him by the hand.

For your son’s emotional well-being and physical safety, you first need to say something to him about your family situation. Something like:

Your dad and I both love you—we just have different opinions about how to help you. That’s one of the reasons why we need to have someone at school help us think through what you need to feel more in control of the situation. But I also want you to know two things: You are always entitled to your feelings. If you’re upset about something, you have the right to be upset. What we want to do is help you decide how to pick your battles. For example, kids putting you down about your body or saying you don’t belong is wrong and needs to stop. But when you’re playing a game with your classmates and you get upset about a rule being broken we need to find different strategies so that you can talk to the other kids in a more effective way, one that doesn’t come across as rigid. That’s what your father and I want.

It’s a hard balance for you—for any parent in your situation. You have to simultaneously give Nick confidence that he can face kids’ cruelty and/or allow him to feel the consequences of his inflexibility (kids reacting negatively to him) so he has the internal motivation and confidence to make things better for himself. And you have to do this all while feeling incredibly anxious and powerless to make it better for him.

Until this becomes a reality, here’s how you can help your child deal with conflicts at school.

Unless you have experiences with the school that demonstrate incompetence or unprofessionalism, have faith in the counselor and the administrator, but don’t hesitate to demand what you need. Ask the counselor (or whomever you’re talking to) to help you come up with three responses you can say when Nick complains about the mean things his peers are saying (like the weight comments). What I say to kids in Nick’s situation (being bullied, but they don’t want to report it) is this:

I’m really sorry this is happening and I wish I could make the problem disappear, but you know I can’t. What I can do is listen to you and help you come up with the smartest strategy for dealing with those kids. We won’t be able to make 100% of the problem go away, but if we can make the problem go down even by 20%, hopefully you’ll feel better and more confident about how you’re handling it. Once that happens, those kids have less power over you.

It’s also time for you to back off from being so visibly involved because your efforts to comfort him can easily come across as coddling. Not only is that embarrassing to your son but it also sends the message that you don’t feel confident that he can handle his problems.

You mentioned wanting him to learn martial arts. So let him research what style he likes. Let him check out a class and decide if he likes the teacher. He needs to start building good relationships with adults anyway. Encourage him to join a class that he likes and let him learn from that teacher. One thing to note: Unless you have martial arts experience, I would avoid teaching him self-defense. Even if you do, I’d still think twice. My husband and I have black belts in multiple styles of martial arts, but when our oldest son was bullied (he was around the same age as Nick, as well as the tallest kid in his class) we didn’t teach him ourselves. Well, we tried a few times, but it always ended in tears and frustration. We trusted in his karate teachers and school counselor, and I credit both for why he is in a better place today.

I am not telling you to stop comforting him. He needs to know he can always go to you. But I am saying, often the most comforting thing a mother can do is to show your confidence that your son has the strength to face these problems with conviction and with the support of capable adults around him.

Have you had child-rearing disagreements with your husband? Post a comment and tell me about it below.

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. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Six Demands Parents Should Make of Their Kids

Written on May 15, 2014 at 9:30 am , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the first time I’d spoken at a high school graduation and I was nervous. The senior class—a group of young women I’d worked with off and on over the last two years—had invited me. In the weeks before, I had rewritten the speech countless times. I wanted it to be inspirational but not superficial.

Graduation day was beautiful, but even more wonderful was watching these incredible young women walk past their beaming families as they joined me on the stage. I stood up and walked to the podium. I looked out again at the parents and then turned to the students. Overcome by the moment, I put my speech notes down and spoke from my heart—as a teacher and a parent. This is what I said:

I demand great things of you. Not that you go to the “best” schools, make a lot of money or grow up to have perfect-looking lives. I demand that you have the courage to ask yourself and others hard questions that make you uncomfortable. I demand that you do so with an unshakable commitment to civil dialogue in every aspect of your life.

I demand that whenever possible, you collaborate with smart, passionate, capable people who don’t take themselves too seriously and have a good sense of humor. Keep people close who will tell you when you messed up but say it with love and care. As a special bonus, if you have complementary skills you can work together to accomplish great things.

I demand that in your jobs, families and community you look for ways to address social, political and economic injustice.

I demand that you always remember that your dignity and the dignity of others is not negotiable—ever.

I demand that you remember that your dignity and the dignity of others matters the most when it’s hard. Like when you see someone being taken advantage of, when you are so angry with someone and all you want to do is get revenge, or when you face someone who believes that their truth trumps all others.

I demand that when you are in a group of people, you be aware of whose voices in the room are being dismissed. When you notice this silence, support that person’s right to speak and be heard.

When it gets hard, and it probably will, the people who love you and care for you will be on your side. That is our obligation to you.

I could barely get through the speech because it was in that moment that I truly remembered why I love and value working with young people so much.

As my sons get older and I’m yelling at them about picking up their dirty socks off the living room floor and could they please take their headphones off before I throw them in the trash, I easily forget what I remembered so clearly on that podium with those girls. And then, I take a breath and it all comes back.

What’s the number one demand that you make of your child? Post a comment and tell us below.

 

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. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

What Boys Think About Teen Pregnancy: “Her Decision Dictated My Future”

Written on May 9, 2014 at 11:48 am , by

 

Let’s be honest. When we say “teen pregnancy” we really mean “girls getting pregnant.” It’s as if all boys cared about was having sex—without giving a thought to the possible consequences. But it’s not as simple as that. Almost all the young men I’ve worked with who experienced a pregnancy scare (or a pregnancy) had complicated reactions to it.

To get some insight into the boy perspective, I asked Tom,* one of the young men who helped edit my recent book Masterminds and Wingmen, to share what he went through with his high school girlfriend. Here’s what he shared:

“When I was a junior in high school, I had a girlfriend who was a senior. We lost our virginity to each other. There was this week where I could feel her tension but I didn’t know what was going on. Then she told me that her period was two weeks late.

I remember it so vividly and what I was thinking. I’m dating this girl but I’m not ready to marry her. I’m looking at her mom and my future life with this person and that’s terrifying. At 18 you’re beginning to understand the larger implications because in my high school there was a girl who had a kid. I’d heard stories of people my age getting married and then you’re in it forever.

Part of me thought this was a team decision and part of me didn’t. Her decision dictated my future and it was really uncomfortable to have that in someone else’s hands. But my mom always said if I got someone pregnant it was my responsibility, and with her that was huge. My dad left my mom when I was 2 and she was pregnant with my younger brother. She took responsibility for us. So when she said that to me, and that was before I was having sex, I got it and I remembered it. She was good about that—laying the groundwork before I was actually doing these things.”

Tom brings up incredibly important issues. First, even if teens don’t tell their parents or other adults in their lives what’s going on, those adults have tremendous influence. Whatever those adults have said to them about pregnancy in the past is immediately front and center in their mind. Time and time again, boys have told me that in these situations they want to be able to talk about their feelings but don’t feel that they have the right to.

Second, their past has a deep impact on the future they imagine. If their own fathers have not been around, they feel deeply conflicted or often fantasize about how they’re going to be a better father than they’ve had.

Third, and the biggest issue I’ve seen by far, is how they listen to and respect their partner’s emotional reactions to the pregnancy. It’s hard for them to courteously articulate what they want in light of what their partner also wants. It’s so hard because boys and young men are so rarely taught how to have these incredibly difficult conversations. Adults don’t often know how to.

One of the most important things we can do as parents of boys is to engage them in conversations around all these topics. Talk to them about their possible emotional reactions to getting a sexual partner pregnant. When we don’t include boys in the conversation, we contribute to young men not feeling they have a right to an opinion when they get a girl pregnant, and condoning boys believing it’s not their responsibility when they get someone pregnant. Having these conversations doesn’t condone irresponsible sexual behavior. It is a critical opportunity to articulate your values about personal responsibility, meaningful emotional connection and facing difficult, seemingly overwhelming situations with integrity and grace.

*Name has been changed.

Have you talked to your teenage son about pregnancy? What did you say? Post a comment and tell us 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.


 

 

Handling Adult Bullies—At Your Job

Written on April 29, 2014 at 1:40 pm , by

Mean girls don’t disappear once you graduate from school. Our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman, received a letter from a woman struggling with a workplace bully making her 9-to-5 miserable. Here’s what happened, why it occurred and how anyone can regain their power while keeping the peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q. I’m a 27-year-old woman who never learned how to handle bullies. I’m currently working with a woman who behaves not unlike a middle-school mean girl. I’ve never spoken to her (she’s refused to speak to me from the minute she started). She has successfully made me an outcast. When people realized they had no reason to dislike me, they stopped and now she’s on a campaign to do it again.

I’m her primary victim, but she’s terrorizing a few others. She usually does this by coming between the friends or even family members of the people she targets (charming them into feeling like she’s their best friend, latching on tight and then using suggestion to turn them against the target little by little). The thing is, I love my job and I love all my coworkers, but this one person is creating such a hostile environment that it’s causing me extreme stress. I tried talking to my supervisor, and he told me not to let it get to me. Please offer advice about how to end this once and for all. Thank you.

A. The answer you need begins with the very first sentence you wrote to me. Like so many adults, you never learned how to handle bullies. They had power over you when you were young and they still have power over you now.

When I work with young people, they often feel that bullies have mythological power over them, and I think that’s what is still happening to you. Look back on the way you described the situation—you are allowing this woman to make decisions about your own conduct at your place of work. You’re also making a lot of assumptions. Because you’ve never spoken to her, you’re relying on second- and third-hand information. I’m not saying she doesn’t isolate people. She clearly has been rude and unprofessional to you. What I am saying is that you bring a lot of baggage to this situation and it’s stopping you from handling things in a way where you have any control. The moment she didn’t talk to you, you responded by allowing her to set the terms of your dynamic with her.

Here’s the bottom line: Your reaction to her is compromising your professionalism. Your stress level is hurting your job effectiveness as well. For the sake of your emotional health and your career, it’s time for you to face the problem. But I’m not going to advise you to make some dramatic scene. Instead, take a step that looks small but isn’t. Have a quick face-to-face conversation with her in which you say something like, “This is uncomfortable to admit, but for some reason we haven’t talked and it’s important to me that we have a good working relationship.”

Whatever she says in response, your goal is to shift the dynamic between you so that you have a little bit more control over the interaction. You’re not doing this with the expectation that things will change between the two of you or that she’ll in any way respond positively. That’s not the definition of success here. Success for you will be to begin taking steps to advocate for yourself while treating her with dignity. By conducting yourself in this manner, you are taking control of your professional reputation.

Have you ever had to deal with a workplace bully? 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.

 

Why Should We Be Friends?

Written on January 23, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Do you have to be buddy-buddy with the parents of your kid’s friends? Chances are that at some point you’ll come across a mom or dad you’d rather not pass time with or who just doesn’t fit into your schedule. Our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman, recently got a letter from a woman struggling with just this dilemma. Here’s what happened, why it may be a personal red flag for you, and—no matter what your true desires—how you can handle the situation with grace.

 

Dear Rosalind, 

I have two boys, 10 and 14. Neither gets invited over to friends’ houses but friends do come over to our house. My sons think I should be friends with the other boys’ mothers. I don’t think so. I think being friends with those women isn’t good because these friendships are with his friends. What do you think?

Let’s take a moment to appreciate that your boys see you as more than the person in their life who does things for them or enforces rules they don’t like. They, at a pretty young age, know that friendships are important for everyone, including you. The question is, why do they feel this way? Are they worried you don’t have a support system? Do they think you’re lonely? Whatever their reasons, that’s what I’d pay attention to.

I’d sit down with them at dinner and first acknowledge that you appreciate their concern. Then I’d ask them to explain their motivation and which of their friends’ parents they respect the most and why. Obviously, you get to choose who your friends are, but this is still a great conversation to have with your kids.

Your question brings up an important issue about being friends with the parents of your children’s friends, because you may be spending a lot of time with these folks whether you like it or not. So here’s what I’d suggest.

At the very least, it’s wise to have a good working relationship with them. This means you know the other parents well enough that you can ask each other for help in times of need—like picking up and dropping off when the other parent has to be somewhere else at the same time. As our kids get older, it’s helpful for other parents to be part of your collective reconnaissance team because some of us have children who give us the least amount of information possible about what they’re doing and where they’re doing it.

That doesn’t mean you have to be best friends. But don’t be surprised if you wake up one day and realize that these people who have shared all the incredible highs and lows of raising kids have truly become your friends.

Have you ever NOT wanted to be friends with the parents of your kid’s friends? 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.

 

How to Tell Someone You’re Angry

Written on January 9, 2014 at 10:15 am , by

Has anyone ever offended you? Said something so ignorant or obnoxious that you just wanted to scream at them? Or maybe you didn’t even want to scream. Maybe you just wanted to bring it to their attention. But it seemed like there were only two ways to react—be really confrontational so they’d take you seriously or stay silent because nothing you can do will change another person.

Telling someone when they’ve offended you is challenging. It brings up a lot of fears of confrontation, questions about whether you’ll be taken seriously, and old patterns of how you think we should express our anger or frustration.

Recently, I had an experience with this—but I wasn’t the person who was offended. I was the offender. I’m in the business of giving advice and I can have strong opinions that I take public positions on all the time. Sometimes people get very angry with me. But this time was different. Here’s the email I received describing what I’d done.

Hello Rosalind

I’m enjoying your book Queen Bees right now; finding it relevant as both a mom and a Wellness Program Coordinator and facilitator who sees a great deal of adult bullying in the workplace. This isn’t why I’m writing though.

I agree with you that language is both important and powerful. In your book you repeatedly use the term “bottom of the totem pole” to describe low rank. I want to offer another option for saying, more accurately, what you mean: lowest rung on a ladder, low rank, low social standing. These are all options that are not culturally offensive.

I am Coast Salish from the Saanich and Snuneymuxw Nations on Vancouver Island in British Columbia Canada. This is to say I’m an Indigenous person.

Totem poles are the original history books of North West Coast Peoples. They do not illustrate rank or social standing. Each figure on a pole is a depiction or narration of a time, place, event or other piece of history to be kept track of. The base of the pole, the foundational figure, is never a representative of low status.

I wanted to offer this feed back in hopes you would be open to broadening your use of language when you’re working with families and youth. Your information is so important and valuable, it’s a shame to lose the good teachings by using offensive and dated language.

I hope this email finds you well.

Respectfully,

Jada-Gabrielle Pape

Jada-Gabrielle’s email was effective for several reasons. She immediately told me why she was writing and connected with me about a shared belief in the power of words. She didn’t dance around what she was trying to say—even though telling someone they’ve said something ignorantly racist is often very difficult and I assume caused her pain.

But what was also good: What she didn’t do. Jada didn’t insult me or make judgments about my character, intelligence or integrity. As a facilitator, imagine what an invaluable resource and wellness coordinator she is in her community.

So I want to apologize to Jada-Gabrielle and all the people I offended by using the totem pole as a way to describe low social status. I’ve really learned from Jada-Gabrielle and will do everything I can to change that language in Queen Bees and Wannabes as fast as possible. I want to thank her for allowing me to share her letter and for the thoughtful way she enabled me to right a wrong.

Have you ever had someone tell you that you offended them? How did it go over? Post a comment below and let me know.

 

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 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.