Parenting Advice by Rosalind Wiseman

Dealing With Bullies (When You Disagree With Your Partner)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

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

Six Demands Parents Should Make of Their Kids

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Name has been changed.

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

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

Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.


 

 

Handling Adult Bullies—At Your Job

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever had to deal with a workplace bully? Post a comment and tell me about it here.

 

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

Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

Why Should We Be Friends?

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

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

 

Dear Rosalind, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever NOT wanted to be friends with the parents of your kid’s friends? Post a comment and tell me about it here.

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

 

How to Tell Someone You’re Angry

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

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

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

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

Hello Rosalind

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this email finds you well.

Respectfully,

Jada-Gabrielle Pape

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

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

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

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

 

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


The Aggravation of the Common Application

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Can We Please Be the Adults Our Kids Deserve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Teens Are Standing Up to Adult Bullies

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.