Written on December 12, 2013 at 10:30 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
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 email@example.com.
Written on December 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on November 21, 2013 at 1:26 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
People have described teens to me with words like “terrifying,” “apathetic,” “hormone-crazed,” “entitled” and “naive.” Add that to the general assumption that teens use social networking only to say “Hey! What’s up?”, relentlessly bully one another or send inappropriate pictures to each other, and it’s easy to think the younger generation can’t be counted on to make the world a better place.
Not true. I recently came across two examples that show how often teens are standing up against bullying and using the Internet in positive ways. The challenge for us is admitting that often the people they’re standing up to are bullying adults.
Last week, the Richardson High School PTA in Dallas sponsored motivational speaker Justin Lookadoo to advise the students on dating. One piece of advice that he shared with the Richardson female students, which can also be found on his website with co-author Hayley DiMarco, was:
Be mysterious. Dateable girls know how to shut up. They don’t monopolize the conversation….The sexiest thing on a girl is happiness. Dateable girls aren’t downers, they love life.
Here’s Lookadoo and DiMarco’s advice for male students:
Dateable guys know they aren’t as sensitive as girls, and that’s okay. They know they are stronger, more dangerous and more adventurous, and that’s okay. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.
Mr. Lookadoo and Ms. DiMarco base their advice on their Christian faith. Having worked with many wonderful people in Christian communities who would never agree with this kind of teaching, it’s incredible to me that a school would allow someone to share a message that girls should “shut up,” and if they do speak, to express only “happy” opinions, while telling boys to be more “adventurous” and “dangerous.” This advice is exactly the kind of message that sets up the dynamic where girls are taught to say nothing when they’re in a sexual situation that they don’t want to be in and gives boys permission to run roughshod over those girls—which is exactly how rape between acquaintances often occurs.
Many teens were outraged by Mr. Lookadoo’s comments and confronted him during the assembly. But they also used Twitter to share their feelings about his message and the frustration they felt toward the school for bringing him.
Here is Aisleeen Menezes’ tweet: I refuse to listen to the enforcement of stereotypes and gender roles.
Another student, Meg Colburn, tweeted: I love that RISD has a no-tolerance on bullying and they brought in a bully to motivate us.
And even better, other students, parents and alumni are supporting those that spoke out. You know who are the only ones sending disrespectful responses to these students? Adults…whom the kids don’t know.
Across the country, in Washington, D.C., another incident took place. I grew up in the nation’s capital and spent most of my career there as well, so it was inevitable that I would learn that one of the best high school newspapers in the country was Annandale High School’s The A-Blast. Last week The A-Blast again showed how good reporting and a civil, measured response can make a difference. Here’s what happened.
Last Friday night, the Annandale football coach bullied his own school’s marching band off the field during halftime, with some vocal support from the football parents. In response, A-Blast reporters wrote an article protesting the marching band’s treatment, concisely articulating the problems and asking for an appropriate administrative response. My favorite part of the article is when the writers ask the administration the larger question of what the school values—not in words but in actions:
Under the direction of Coach Scott, the football team has won one game throughout their 2013 season while the band received Virginia State Champions and won a National award for their “III-Open” class (which is the hardest competition division). And all the while, the band stands proud with the football team through every loss and through every win. Since when has administration asked the football team to support the band by going to a competition, whether we win or lose?
The result was swift. Again, students, parents and alumni supported the marching band; the principal apologized to the student body and requested that the football coach do so as well. I hope the coach takes this opportunity to role-model what a person should do when he makes a mistake and needs to make amends. But in the meantime, as we wait for adults to do the right thing, let’s not forget that young people often can show us the way.
Have you seen a recent example of young people standing up to adult bullies? Post a comment and share it here.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? Email email@example.com.
Written on November 14, 2013 at 9:00 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
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.
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.
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.
Written on October 31, 2013 at 10:49 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
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.
Written on October 27, 2013 at 7:49 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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.
Written on October 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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?
Written on October 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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.
Written on September 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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!
Written on August 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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?
Written on August 15, 2013 at 8:00 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
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.
Written on August 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
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?