Rosalind Wiseman

Picking Your Battles as a Parent

Written on November 14, 2013 at 9:00 am , by

Have you ever walked away from a situation with your child and then realized that you were being irresponsible or inconsistent? I have. I’ve let my boys watch TV or play video games way past the time limits I mandated in our family screen time contract. I’ve also let them spray whipped cream from a can directly into their mouths—even though we have a rule that no one in the family can eat or drink directly out of a container. Or worse, I’ve watched a movie with them, realized about 10 minutes into it that some of the content was inappropriate, but because we were having such a good time, I didn’t turn it off.

As much as we set down rules, it’s the rare parent who always adheres to them. We get tired. We get distracted. We decide that—just this once—it really doesn’t matter. But inconsistently enforcing rules results in our children not taking us seriously. Worse, if we don’t abide by rules ourselves, we lose credibility as authority figures and we role model that they don’t have to take those rules seriously either.

So what’s the difference—or is there one—between bending the rules and hypocrisy? What are the rules that we can never relax? For me, there are three. It’s always good to have concrete examples, so I’ve chosen a few recent ones that I hope will be good discussion starters with your kids.

1. No one is above the rules that everyone else has to abide by.

ABC News photo. Gansler, center, in white.

When Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler stopped by a house during Beach Week to talk to his son, he walked into a party filled with underage drinking.

Anyone who grows up in that area (and I did) knows that Beach Week is where you go after school ends in June to party your butt off. So either Gansler was a completely out-of-touch parent, or he walked into that situation knowing that kids would be drinking but, because it was his son and kids he knew, they would get special treatment.

The precise nature of his job means he is in charge of upholding the law. Yet there he was, surrounded by teens breaking the law. He was condoning underage drinking and signaling to every teen there that they are above the law when a person in authority gives you special treatment.

 

 

2. You can’t participate in the humiliation of another person.

After the suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick this fall, one of her tormentors posted on Facebook, “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a (expletive)].”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s not focus on the disturbing reality that a 14-year-old girl would be proud to say she doesn’t care that she contributed to someone’s death. Instead, I want to focus on the more than 30 kids who “liked” that post. As a parent, using the “likes” is a more realistic example of what it means to contribute to someone’s humiliation. But here’s what we need to communicate to our children. Even if you don’t directly bully someone, if you support the bullies in any way, you are contributing to the misery of another human being. As the target, it’s horrible to be bullied by one or two people, but it’s when everyone else supports them that life becomes unbearable. Those “likes” make the target feel so isolated, desperate and anxious that it can seem like there’s no escape. So parents, the “likes” supporting someone’s humiliation have to stop.

 

3. If you work hard, you have the right to belong to a group without being degraded as a condition for acceptance or a demonstration of loyalty. The same rule applies for anyone else. 

The recent revelation that Miami Dolphins player Jonathan Martin was hazed by fellow player Richie Incognito is a horribly good example of what can happen to new players on any kind of team. It can and does happen in the NFL, just like it can and does happen in high school and college.

Associated Press/AP Photo. Incognito (left), Martin (right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are people who believe that you have to pay your dues to have the right to belong to their group, and those dues often mean being abused by the people who have been in the group longer than you.

We need to have explicit conversations with our children explaining that paying dues is about hard work and working “clean.” If your child contributes to abuse in any way, no matter how good they are, you will forbid them from playing. Because teaching your child to be a decent person is way more important than any championship game.

The bottom line comes down to this: Once in a while I’m going to let my children spray whipped cream into their mouths. It’s a little gross. And it’s also probably a little more fun because they’re breaking a house rule. But they aren’t hurting anyone. Where the rules can’t be broken is when you hurt others and refuse to be held accountable for your actions. That’s always going to be my bottom line.

What are the unbreakable rules in your household? Post a comment and tell me.

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.

 

What You Can Do About Offensive Halloween Costumes

Written on October 31, 2013 at 10:49 am , by

Image courtesy of the University of Colorado Boulder and Ohio University Students Teaching About Racism In Society (STARS)

 

I moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Washington, DC, a little more than a year ago. There are a lot of wonderful things about living here. It’s beautiful, the weather is usually great (minus our biblical flood last month) and the people are incredibly nice (they don’t even honk when they have every reason to). But racially and culturally diverse it is not. And in the past I’ve noticed that when you don’t have a lot of experience with people of difference races, ethnicities or religions, you are susceptible to sometimes doing and saying things that reflect a lack of awareness.

That’s why I was really relieved and happy to see this awareness campaign at the University of Colorado for Halloween. It doesn’t blame people for being stupid or assume they’re bigots. Instead, it shows how an ignorant attempt at being funny can reinforce racial stereotypes and reflect a personal ignorance that can be really hurtful to others.

What’s particularly important about an institution like the University of Colorado doing this campaign is it takes the pressure off  students who are in the minority. Being the one of anything among a majority can be exhausting and frustrating because it’s hard enough to feel comfortable in your environment without calling out people every time they say or do something stupid to you or about you.

As a parent, and especially if you live in a community where most people look the same, these are the kinds of spontaneous moments you can use to concretely impart a lesson about racism. Show your kids the Colorado campaign. Ask them what they think about it. Then tell them how you would feel if you were the parent of the Asian child, the black child or the poor white child who is being made fun of in these pictures. These are the lessons that last a lifetime.

Have you taken note of any offensive Halloween costumes this year? 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 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.

Could Your Child Prevent a Suicide?

Written on October 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm , by

One of the most painful parts of my work is sitting with parents who have lost a child to suicide. As I listen to their stories, I can’t help but think of my own sons. Would my boys ever be so unhappy that they would consider taking their lives? Would they tell me if they were?

I know that kids often don’t tell their parents or others when they are miserable. They hide behind smiles or assurances of “I’m fine.” That’s what Bart Palosz from Greenwich, Connecticut, did. According to CNN.com, a month before he killed himself on August 27, he posted, “I notice if I sound sad I’m normal and if I act happy, cheerful, and ‘normal’ there is a high chance that I will try to poison myself, cut myself, commit suicide, or jump in front of a truck:)”

I also often think of the friends, classmates and teammates who were around the child who took his life. Did they know he was so miserable? Did they know why? Did they do anything to reach out to the child to assure him he wasn’t so alone?

The reasons a person decides to take his or her life are complicated. But one thing I know to be true for all of us: If another person sees us in our deepest, darkest moments of despair and reaches out a helping hand, we often step away from the cliff. It is our social connection to one another that gives us the strength to live another day.

Even if your child never considers suicide, there’s a good chance he will know a peer who has. He may witness the child being targeted by other kids who drive that child to feel isolated, attacked and worthless. Our kids shouldn’t be expected to act as mental health professionals, but they should be able to show empathy and compassion to a person in need. So what do you say to your child beyond, “If you see someone who looks depressed, be kind to him”?

If we’re more specific about the situations our children are likely to encounter, we can give them an easier way to put their good intentions into action. Here’s a suggestion for how to do it.

If you have an older child (eighth grade and above), try to stay away from the word “bullying.” Instead, say something like: “If you see someone—or you get any kind of social networking post where someone—is being relentless humiliated, I expect you to not contribute to it in any way. If it happens in person, don’t pretend you didn’t hear it. Don’t laugh, even if it’s out of nervousness. And if you find yourself doing either of these things, stop yourself and apologize to the target. And at the very least, turn to the person who is tormenting this kid and say something like ‘Lay off.’ If you see it on a social network, not only do I expect you not to forward it, but you will do what you can to stop people from using these pictures against the other person.”

It’s the feeling that no one in their world supports them, will stand by them or will stop the campaign of cruelty that makes kids feel they don’t have the strength to keep their head high another day. Our children can offer comfort and support to people in need. They can make a difference in the moment it may matter the most.

Have you spoken to your child about sticking up for kids who are being targeted? What have you said? Post a comment and tell me.

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

How to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Son

Written on September 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m halfway through my Masterminds book tour. New York, Baltimore, D.C., Columbus, Cincinnati, Detroit and Chicago are all behind me. Houston, Atlanta, Louisville, Denver, Seattle and L.A. are ahead. Already it’s been an incredible experience and I’ve learned a lot. So at the midpoint, I want to share a few personal highlights and some parental insights for Family Circle readers—some of whom have come to my events.

What We Do for Our Kids
First things first: A huge thank-you to the Baltimore audience for attending—even though you knew you’d be sitting in a gym with no air-conditioning in 95-degree heat. My brother and my sister-in-law were there, but that’s family. As I drove away, it really hit me how incredible it was to have 300 people willingly tolerate that situation. But it just goes to show you what people will do for their children when they think they can get more tools to help them. Thanks to all who came for believing I could do that for you.

My second thank-you is to my mother. Last week at a reception in Washington, D.C., after I acknowledged all the people in attendance who had helped me write Masterminds, she raised both hands above her head and then repeatedly pointed at herself. It is her right, as my mother. She can publicly claim her contribution to any success I have. Goodness knows, she’s had to acknowledge me, my brother and my sister when we weren’t making her look too great. So good job, Mom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Dads Are Weighing In
Now, on to the insights. Prior to this book, I’m sure you wouldn’t be surprised to know that mostly moms have attended my events. With the publication of Masterminds, I was hoping that I’d see more dads in the audience. And I am. But what’s so rewarding is what the dads are telling me. Picture this: I am in Columbus, Cincinnati and Chicago, and these big dads are towering over me telling me that after reading the book (especially the parts about how to ask your son questions without coming across as an interrogator) they’re having better conversations with their sons than they ever thought possible. In addition, many of them shared with me how much the book is making them think about their own experiences as boys and how it affected them as they grew into the men they are today. It’s truly incredible.

And think about this: They’re reading a book penned by a woman with the help of teens and they’re embracing the importance of what we’ve written. I have gotten so little defensiveness or “Who are you to think you can write this book?” I know there will be rough roads ahead (there always are), but it’s times like these when I think maybe we really can make things better for our families and communities.

One More Thing for Us Moms to Do
With moms, I’ve been struck by how worried many of them are that holding their ground and maintaining their authority with an older son will forever pull them apart from their child. So many are concerned that if they try to hold their son accountable to rules, he will do what he wants anyway and distance himself from her. I know that boys feel better about themselves when they respect their mother. I didn’t say “love.” I said “respect.” They also have better relationships with girls. But I think that we have a lot of work to do to strengthen women’s relationships with their sons: assuring them that a close connection with your son is only possible if you’re able to hold your own with him but at the same time allow him to come into his own, on his own time and in his own way.

As I meet parents and educators around the country, there’s been a lot of laughter, good-natured commiserating, hope and love as we talk about boys and how we can do our best for them. And I’m really looking forward to continuing the conversation with other communities and families. It’s one of those times when I truly appreciate how lucky I am to do this work.

How has Rosalind’s book changed the way you relate to your son? 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 www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?

E-mail askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

Can Boys and Girls Be “Just Friends”?

Written on August 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In two weeks my book about boys, Masterminds and Wingmen, will be published. But I’ve just realized it didn’t include a critical issue I need to share with parents. So what better place to tackle that topic than my Momster blog?

In Masterminds, I spend about one-third of the book explaining how boys interact with girls. I cover:

  • what they think about girls,
  • their experiences with girls that they don’t tell adults about, and
  • what their parents say to them about girls.

I also talk about girls as friends. Boys, especially in high school, often have friendships with girls that are incredibly meaningful to them. Here are a few of the comments that two of my high school guy editors shared with me:

“I love hanging with my boys but I’ve had the closest of relationships with my mom growing up so I naturally function better when I have close girlfriends around me.” —Ryan

“I think guys can look at girls and think of them as someone who they can talk to about sensitive subjects. You really can’t talk about sensitive subjects with your best guy friends because you know their opinion of you prior to whatever you have to say. With girls, you can tell them more without knowing them as well.” —Grant

That part I knew. What I didn’t realize can best be explained by Raffael, another guy contributor, when we talked a few days ago:

“Last spring I was really stressed out. I was playing football and filling out 22 college applications. So I decided to break up with my girlfriend. Two days later I realized that I had made a horrible mistake and I needed someone to talk to. I couldn’t talk to the guys on my team because we don’t talk about things like that. We talk about who we’ve hooked up with but not relationship stuff. So I take a really good girl friend out to dinner so I can get her advice and when I am walking out the door I tell my mom where I am going and she starts probing me with all these questions about the girl as if I want to hook up with her. This was my friend. And my mom is accusing me of trying to get with her just two days after this breakup.”

That’s the part I didn’t realize. Parents often reinforce the stereotype that boys and girls can’t be friends. We don’t mean to do it, but we do. Boys need friendships with girls for many reasons. They know having a strong friendship with a girl can give them the “girl” insight they need. But we all need boys to have strong friendships with girls so as they mature they know how to collaborate with girls, compete with girls and have healthy intimate relationships with them.

What do boys want from us? They want us to stop peppering them with questions that come across as if we think all they want from girls is to get it on. That’s true whether they’re in fourth grade and we’re teasing them about who they have a crush on, or they’re in high school and we’re assuming that their real motivation for having close female friends is sex.

This doesn’t mean it’s not possible for boys to be sexually attracted to a girl that’s a friend. But instead of comments, what boys want from us is relationship advice. I know that sounds completely different from everything we think about them, but it’s true. They want an adult who they can ask questions and get direct, straight-up answers from. They want an adult who role models how to have healthy intimate relationships and who treats their partner with dignity.

Do you think boys and girls can be “just friends? Are you guilty of making your son’s friendships seem like something more? Post a comment and tell me.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the forthcoming Masterminds and Wingmen and 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.

 

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.

Have You Talked To Your Child About Trayvon?

Written on July 19, 2013 at 10:59 am , by

If you are a white parent of an older child or teen, have you discussed the Trayvon Martin tragedy with them? When the verdict came in over the weekend, I realized that I had not.

For a moment, I was shocked and then ashamed. I realized, as I have many times before, that my experience as a white parent raising a white son is a very different experience than it is for black parents raising a black son. I was reminded yet again, of what race “privilege” as a parent really is: the freedom to believe your child will be seen as a person, not reduced to a reflection of people’s fears and biases.

About six months before Trayvon’s death, I had a conversation with a group of high school boys about when and how they sneak out after their parents go to bed. At first the conversation was light and revolved around the boys comparing funny stories. But everything got quiet when one of the boys said:

You guys have no idea how different it is for me as a black man. So my parents don’t get suspicious, I wear sweats and a hoody so if they see me it looks like I’m in my pajamas. But what if someone on the street sees me trying to get in or out of the house like that? They immediately will think I’m robbing the place. Or if I do sneak out, then I have to walk down the street…a black man wearing sweats is not a good thing late at night in a suburban neighborhood. You know it’s only a matter of minutes before the police stop me and ask me if I live here. I could be wearing my school sweatshirt and they’d still question me.

As he related all the complexities of sneaking out his white friends were speechless. He was a good friend of theirs and they had no idea how walking through the world was so different for him. I remember one of the other boys saying, “If I ever get stopped by the police, all they assume is I’m high or drunk.” Another boy said, “I had no idea it was like that for you. I got caught in exactly that same situation last weekend but the police gave me a little lecture and then drove me home.”

If you’re a white parent and you haven’t talked to your children about Trayvon, please ask yourself why not? Does it seem too ugly and violent? Are you not sure what to say? Do we not see this as our issue?

It is our issue. Not only because we probably have friends of other races and/or our children do but because we need to teach our children to empathize—that there are people in our country who feel like their children are first seen as a problem and threat rather than a kid walking down the street.

Yesterday, I asked my boys what they knew about the case and they did know the basic facts. Then, we listened to the radio and read some of the newspaper accounts and opposing op-eds that followed the verdict as in USA Today or Wall Street Journal. We talked about racial stereotyping and fears that we all develop; whether we are aware of them or not.

But like much of parenting, the teaching moment came in an instant when I wasn’t expecting it. Not an hour later I was in the car with my boys when a guy in another car honked his horn and obviously cursed me out. Immediately my older son said, “Mom, that guy just swore at you, can I middle finger him?”

“No.” I replied. “We have gone over this a thousand times. No.”

“Why? He was cursing you. Come on, just one time,” my son said.

Then it hit me how to connect our conversations about Trayvon with this seemingly unrelated and ridiculous request. This is what I said:

Here’s one difference between you and Trayvon. As a young white man, you have the luxury of being foolishly rude without the other person assuming that you’re violent. Boys like Trayvon don’t have that luxury. They can’t middle finger someone without being seen as an angry black man. Now imagine that the guy who you get into the argument with, the one who just cursed me out thinks all young black men are punks who need to be taught respect. And you, as a young black man have had enough experience to know this. Sometimes you’re so mad about it you want to scream. Sometimes you’re scared and want to defend yourself. Do you see how easy it is for you to want to flip off that guy and not think anything of it? Can you see how different it is for other boys? Just think about it.

It got very quiet in the car and then my son said, “I get it.”

Have you talked to your child about Trayvon? What did you say? 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.

Teaching Your Child To Deal With Anger

Written on June 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm , by

Recently, I was sitting on my 12-year-old son, Elijah’s, bed. The lights were out and he was under the covers—as in he’d pulled the covers up over his face.

Me: Honey, it’s ok to say that you’re frustrated and upset.
Elijah: I’m fine, grabbing his pillow and putting it on top of his face.
Me: You can’t bottle up your feelings. It’s like you’re covering up a volcano. Sooner or later it’s going to explode and that feels even worse.
Elijah: Mom, please I just want to go to bed.
Me: Ok…just think about it. I love you.

This conversation occurred about two hours after Elijah had not listened to me or his dad and accidently dropped a 60-pound bag of concrete on our lawn at the exact time our automatic sprinkler system came on. And remember wet concrete very quickly becomes hardened concrete. In his defense, as a somewhat recent transplant from Washington, D.C., none of us have ever lived in a house with:
1. a backyard and
2. a sprinkler system
So it was understandable that he didn’t think about it when he ignored our warning to not leave the bag on the grass. Except for the part about ignoring us.

This incident also occurred a few days after another very unfortunate event inside the house. Elijah wanted to show me that he could flip a can of spray paint in the air. When he caught it, the little nozzle came off and red paint started spraying everywhere: the walls, the floor, the sink, the faucet. The goods news is that Murphy’s Oil Soap took off all the paint—but not without me expressing my frustration and anger.

Teaching our children that it’s healthy to express these feelings is one of the most important responsibilities we have as parents. But it’s not easy because very few of us are taught how to deal with these messy emotions well. That’s the thing about families. They give us endless opportunities to practice expressing healthy ways to be angry and encouraging it in our children.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sit down with Elijah in a calm, kind voice and tell him how “concerned” I was about the paint and how I really “hoped” he’d be more thoughtful next time. No, I fumed. I did my angry sigh—the thing both my boys know is the sign that I am making every effort not to completely lose it.

But back to the concrete: As Elijah went through the usual phases of denial and blame (on his brother and the neighbor’s dog), he tried to clean up the mess…by tracking even more of the concrete throughout our house. At this point, my husband was yelling, Elijah was sulking and I wanted to run away.

Thirty minutes later, with everyone in a terrible mood and hating each other, Elijah went into his room. And there I was still feeling angry. I mean, really. How many times do I have to tell my boys to listen to me when there’s a real possibility of them damaging someone or something?

Sitting on Elijah’s bed, I knew that if I said anything more, I’d just irritate him. But I also knew that he was really upset about how angry his dad was with him. Elijah had done something wrong, without a doubt, but at the same time he was really hurting. So what do you do in that moment?

I walked out of his room and asked my husband to go in there and tell Elijah he loved him. Of course he wasn’t feeling very loving at the moment, but that father-son connection is intense and sometimes the best thing about having a spouse is they can remind you of the larger picture. He does it for me all the time. James got up and walked into Elijah’s room. I don’t know what they said. But I do know the next morning, we all felt better.

What 6th Grade Metalheads Can Teach Your Kids

Written on June 6, 2013 at 8:15 am , by

 

Courtesy of Uncoveringthetruth.com

 

A few days ago, a friend sent me a link that truly surprised me. It was an interview with Unlocking the Truth, a heavy metal band made up of three 6th grade boys from Brooklyn, New York, that regularly perform in Times Square. That’s right, they haul their instruments to Manhattan and rock their sixth-grade selves out in front of total strangers in one of the most public places on earth.

These kids define cool, as in ahead of the curve and setting the style that others are going to copy. But what I really love about these boys is what great role models they are for other children. Here are the “read between the lines” life lessons that I found in the article on them.

1.     Follow your passions no matter what. In this case, Malcolm, Jared, and Alec are three New York City African-American boys who like heavy metal—usually the domain of white guys from Middle America. They’re showing all of us to follow our hearts—regardless of who we are or what we are supposed to be.

Courtesy of Uncoveringthetruth.com

2.     Be yourself, be proud and stand by your friends. They know they’re being judged on everything from wearing nail polish to playing heavy metal, but they have each other’s backs. When you’re in sixth grade everyone needs back-up like that. Actually we all need a friend like that no matter how old we are.

3.     Put yourself out there. Can you imagine how much courage it takes to play in Times Square? “The Crossroads of the World”? These boys expose themselves to judgment and possible ridicule. But they don’t let it stop them from expressing their creativity. Whether or not you like their music, you have to respect that. This is exactly the kind of risk I always encourage my students and my sons to take.

4.     You have to pay to play.  They work hard to earn money but when they get hungry this is what they report: “We gotta pay for our own food and drinks and hot chocolate because in Times Square it’s kind of cold.” You may not think this is a big deal but think about it from a sixth-grade perspective. You might not like having to spend your hard earned money on hot chocolate but you’re realizing how hard you have to work to pay for that three-dollar drink. And you’re also learning not to depend on or expect your parents to buy everything.

Plus, not to be superficial but if you’re a boot lover, check out the boots two of them are wearing. So what do you think of these rockers? 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.