Parenting Teens & Tweens

Putting an End to Negative Self-Talk in Kids

Written on November 11, 2014 at 5:51 pm , by

A little negativity can go a long way. So when you’ve got a kid who is constantly down on himself, getting him to listen to a positive perspective can seem like an impossible task. A few days ago, the following email from a parent with just this problem landed in the inbox of our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman. Here’s her advice for silencing negative self-talk.

 

Q. My 10 year-old son has such a defeatist attitude. He’s always saying, “I’m no good at this or I’m no good at that.” His so-called teammates and friends blame him when they lose games and they never invite him to anything after school. I always struggle to think of the right things to say that my son will actually take to heart. How can I help him?

A. I understand how frustrating this is for so many parents. You feel like there’s nothing you can say to make it better. And if you don’t say, “No honey, you’re great!” you worry that it sounds like you agree with him. So here are my suggestions.

1. Stop using “You’re so great” as your go-to response. It comes across as not listening to your child. Instead, what I find more helpful is to say something like this:

You: I’m really sorry. Will you tell me a little more about why you’re feeling this way? Are there specific things you’re feeling down about?
Your child: I’m so slow. I get teased all the time because I’m the slowest kid in the world. No one has ever been as slow as me in the history of my school.
You: Wow, that’s really hard. I can imagine how annoying that is because it’s not like you want to be slow, and then the kids who tease you make it even worse. There are a couple of things I want you to just consider, not necessarily agree with, but just consider. No one can be good at everything. But the same is true the other way. No one is bad at everything either. I want to make a list of the things you’re good at and the things you’re not so good at. Then you can choose if you want to work on something on your list you want to get better at. Like if you want to get better at running, you can work on that.

2. Consider who’s inspiring these comments. Since classmates or other kids on the team are feeding negative comments to your kid, you might add something like this:

“I know it’s a lot to think about but I want to talk about what’s happening with your friends too. If other kids are mean to you, there are two ways I think you can handle it. Maybe you can think of more. You can laugh it off. Like, if kids on the basketball or track team are teasing you because you’re not as fast as them, you could say: ‘Yes, I’m really slow.’ Sometimes admitting it takes away some of the teasers’ power. Or you could choose not to run in any races or play in any games until you feel more confident. What do you think is a good way to handle it?”

Then listen to your child as he thinks through what he wants to do to have a little control and dignity in this situation.

3. Think about the benefits of being left out here. On the issue of those boys not inviting your son to things: take a step back. I know it feels bad when other children don’t include your child. However, in this case, do you want your son to be in a situation where they could easily ridicule him under the guise of joking around and playing? Overall, what he needs to do is work on the things he identifies for himself that he wants to get better at and then choose genuine friends who make him feel good instead of tearing him down. Even having one friend who treats him well is way better than hanging out with a group of kids who make him feel bad.

How would you handle a kid who’s down on himself? 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. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

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

 

 

When Dads Need Help Understanding Tween Girls

Written on November 3, 2014 at 10:24 am , by

Carpools are supposed to make everyone’s lives easier, but this one ride may have caused more trouble than it was worth. Check out our parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman’s correspondence with a mom who was upset by a dad who made her daughter feel like an outsider.

Dear Rosalind,

The father on carpool duty picked up my daughter and his from dance class and then took them to a party my daughter wasn’t invited to. When he dropped his daughter off, the windows opened, everyone saw my girl and she was humiliated. She is rightfully questioning whether this girl is a thoughtful friend, while I’m left wondering how to talk to the parents about this so the same situation doesn’t happen again. It’s hard enough to navigate new friendships and the party circuit without parents undermining your kid.

Signed,
Disappointed by Carpool Dad

 

Hi, Disappointed,

I am not excusing his behavior, but I always try to understand why a parent would do something that’s insensitive to a child. Once I understand it, it’s easier to figure out how to talk to the parent so it doesn’t happen again.

In this case, I am guessing that the dad didn’t have a clue what was going on until it was unfolding. Even if he did, he probably did what a lot of us do in awkward social situations: pretend it’s not happening. Think about it from his perspective. He’s picking up carpool and when he realizes that your daughter isn’t invited, he’s between a rock and a hard place. If he had called you from the car, that would have been worse for your daughter. If he hadn’t put her in his car, he would have had to leave her at practice. So my question to you is: What would you have liked him to do?

And regarding your daughter’s friends who attended the party, unless they’ve been excluding her in other ways, they could have felt awkward about the whole thing too. I totally understand that your daughter felt terrible and left out. However, I think this is one of those times (unless there is a pattern where the girls are being mean to her) when you acknowledge how crappy the situation is but she’s strong enough to feel those bad feelings, admit them and then move on.

Look forward to hearing back from you and I hope at least some of my advice is helpful.

Best,
Rosalind 

 

Dear Rosalind:

Ideally, I would have liked the father to bring my daughter home before dropping off his daughter at the party. We have seven elementary schools that feed into three middle schools, so there are new faces right now, and new friendships forming/shifting. My daughter was upset not to be invited, but not devastated. She didn’t think much of her friend going on and on about the party in the carpool ride. She interpreted that as rudeness and thought her friend should know better. She was most embarrassed by being seen in the car by friends she did know who were already at the party. She hasn’t let it bother her since and has moved on—a good sign.

Anyway, I resolved this with the parents, by text, and I’ll paraphrase.

Me: With that party, last week was rough on my daughter, so just wanted to let you know that it’s not a problem to shoot me a text or call, even last minute, if it’s not convenient to bring her home, or if plans change, it’s easy for me to come down to the dance studio. I know how quickly plans change with tweens on a Friday evening!

Other mom: I’m so sorry about that. I was away when the last minute request came for my daughter to go to the party and I was trying to communicate everything to my husband but was busy and didn’t think about all the implications.

Me: I absolutely know there was no ill intention, just wanted us all on the same page for the carpool to work for all the girls.

 

Now, here’s my bottom line after the back-and-forth with this mom: What I love about this parent is that she’s role modeling appropriate involvement in her tween daughter’s life. She recognizes her daughter was upset but not devastated. She reaches out to the other parent to share her concern but is clear about wanting to move forward for all the girls. The only thing I would like even more is if the dad was involved as well. We need to bring dads into these situations more often, especially when they are directly involved, as this dad was. I get that this can be hard, but I’d like to encourage dads to be involved in the social dynamics that can come up.

How would you handle this carpool conundrum? 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. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

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

 

Tips for Handling a Breakup as a Parent

Written on October 10, 2014 at 11:15 am , by

Breaking up is (especially) hard to do when you’re a parent. You may not be hitched to your ex anymore, but you’re connected through your kids. Communicate while keeping the peace with these smart strategies.

Set talk terms. If face-to-face is too painful, go with emails, texting or phone calls.

Stick to  ground rules. No bringing up past incidents, no cursing and no threatening.

Organize your thoughts. Write down topics that need to be discussed before you pick up the phone, checking off each item as you address it.

Put the kids first. Their welfare is the priority, so avoid placing them in the middle of situations. When in doubt, ask yourself: What’s best for them?

Choose words carefully. Replace phrases like “you always” or “you never” with “I feel” or “maybe we should consider.”

Listen harder. Sometimes instead of reacting, just reflect. Consider saying, “Let me think about that and get back to you.”

Forgive. Let go of old offenses and accept an “I’m sorry”—or be strong enough to offer one.

 Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

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

 

Modern Life: Two Dads, Two Kids and Two Dogs Make a Happy Home in the Heartland

Written on October 8, 2014 at 10:13 am , by

 

Mornings that begin with a big family hug are a sweet way to start the day for Chris Osner-Hackett, his husband, Bob Osner-Hackett, and daughters Cai and Ava. Their busy schedules are tempered by calm weekend activities like Friday movie night, long walks with their two dogs, and jaunts to the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market.

Questions answered by Chris Osner-Hackett unless otherwise noted.

Which three words best capture your family?
Loving, grateful and supportive.

How would you describe your parenting styles?
Bob and I have completely different parenting styles. While we’re both supportive of our girls trying new things, Bob is by far the adventurer while I lean toward measured caution. Chris is the worrier and Bob is the encourager. We share the role of disciplinarian. Our styles, for the most, complement each other.

Have you felt accepted by your community?
Yes! First and foremost, we have a truly supportive network of family and friends who love and accept our family unconditionally. We have truly felt welcome wherever we have lived—whether Ohio, New Jersey or Michigan. We like to think it’s because once people get to know our family, it doesn’t matter that we are gay dads. Or it could just be that everyone loves Bob. Sure, there’s an occasional stare where you know someone’s thinking, “Must be dads’ night out with the kids” or “What is the dynamic of that family?” It really doesn’t faze the girls or us.

What surprises you most about parenthood?
How two children brought up in the same home could be so totally different. We have a serious and logical 8-year-old with a dry sense of humor, and a three-and-half-year-old who is animated, boisterous and keeps us laughing.

What are the biggest challenges that your family faces?
Finding time to have a sit-down dinner together.

No different than any other family—balancing the needs/wants of both a three-and-half- and an 8-year-old. We do believe we may face tougher challenges in the years ahead as we deal with questions around adoption and our nontraditional family. —Bob

What is the best moment of the day?
When Ava, our three-and-a-half-year-old, initiates the morning family hug.

What happens on a typical weekend?
The kids love Friday movie night. Saturdays are usually filled with dog walks around the lake, the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market and lots of outdoor activities, like bike riding and tennis.

What are your tips for balancing work and family?
We are fortunate that Bob is able to be a stay-at-home parent. The benefit of having him home with the girls cannot be measured. As for me, I’m fortunate that my employer allows for good work/life balance, allowing me to prioritize the kids’ activities (sports, plays, lessons).

What is dinnertime like at your home?
Organized chaos—while our goal is to have a sit-down family meal, it doesn’t always go that way. Dinners are often preempted by an 8-year-old that, like daddy, is a picky eater, and a three-and-a-half-year-old who would rather play than eat, and the uncertainty of Chris’s arrival time.

Are you cooking this Thanksgiving? Any specialties?
Chris likes to boast about his homemade pumpkin pie, which he claimed for years was a family recipe until one year when he learned that “the secret family recipe” could also be found on the side of the Libby’s Pure Pumpkin can! —Bob

 

How did you feel when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down and you were able to make your marriage legal? What was that moment like?
A big step forward, however, there’s still a lot of work to be done at the individual state level. We’ve been together for 14 years and have considered ourselves “married” since our June 2003 commitment ceremony in Maui. We then filed for a domestic partnership while living in New Jersey, and finally had a legal wedding in Toronto in September 2013, post-DOMA. The striking down of DOMA, while momentous and exciting for the LGBT community, didn’t change the way we felt about each other. We had felt married for 10 years.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about homes with same-sex parents?
The biggest misconception is probably that children need parents of both genders; that with same-sex parents a kid is missing out by not having both a mom and a dad present. We believe this to be false for many reasons. Our daughters know of their circumstances. We’ve been open and honest about their adoptions and the fact that not all families are alike. We have also surrounded them with strong female role models—they have three grandmothers plus godmothers and many aunts/great-aunts/surrogate aunts that are very active in their lives. As long as kids are shown love every day and have a committed person in their lives dedicated to providing them a safe, loving environment, it shouldn’t matter what their gender is. In the end, love makes a family.

 

 

Have You Talked to Your Kids About Hannah Graham?

Written on October 7, 2014 at 1:44 pm , by

 

As an 8-year-old thrilled to be in the beautiful, green outdoors of Michigan for summer camp, I learned a lifelong lesson. While splashing in the cool water, I heard a whistle blow. It was a “buddy check.” The piercing sound meant that you had to quickly find your assigned buddy. Panic ensued when it was determined that a camper—my assigned buddy—was missing.

Thankfully, I had been told in advance that this would happen. The camp counselors had planned the exercise to keep the head swim counselor on his toes and teach the campers the importance of looking out for your buddy. Their scheme worked. I have never forgotten the emotion and chaos of that afternoon, as well as the relief when the camper turned up on the sandy shores of the beach.

With my own daughters, I’ve tried to pass along the importance of simply staying in contact with and keeping an eye on friends in social situations, especially late at night. I still say it, tolerating the rolled eyes or silence as they saunter out my door.

Hannah Graham

A few weekends ago I went to visit my youngest daughter, who is now in her fourth year at the University of Virginia. It was the same weekend that first-year student Hannah Graham went missing. Like most of you, I have watched the news coverage hoping that Hannah will be found safe, and feeling heartbroken at the sight of the anguish etched into the faces of her loving parents.

Tragedies have a way of generating what-ifs and identifying ways to prevent them from happening again. One of the more touching tips came from Hannah’s devastated parents, John and Sue Graham, who stated: ”For those students planning to unwind this weekend, please be extra vigilant when you are out and walk with a buddy.”

We can also remind our teenagers to keep their cell phones charged, to let their friends know where they are going, to never leave a party or event with someone they don’t know, to keep their eyes on their cups at all times, and to choose someone to buddy up with and call the police immediately if they can’t locate them. It’s better to raise a false alarm then to lose time in a search.

My prayers and thoughts are with the Graham family and any other families with missing loved ones. May they all return safely.

 

 

 

 

Have you talked to your child about buddying up whether they’re at the beach or on a college campus? Post a comment and tell me what you suggested.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

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

 

What’s Up with Your Son and His Sneaker Obsession?

Written on October 7, 2014 at 1:06 pm , by

 

 

When little boys get into their first superhero costume, magic occurs. They know they have super powers. They think they can fly, bend steel and outrun the wind. A few years later, when it dawns on boys that maybe their Batman capes don’t give them these powers, they seek out something else. Sneakers.

A boy’s love affair with his “kicks” is intense. If you’ve ever seen a boy lace up his new sneakers (that word moms usually use) and run around the shoe store, you know what I mean. In the right pair, boys believe they will jump higher and run faster. You can see it in the gleam in their eyes—they are invincible.

But there’s nothing new about shoes being a big deal for boys. From Vans to PF Flyers to Chuck Taylors (“Chucks”), shoes matter. The love of kicks is deep. And for this generation of boys, it’s basketball shoes.

The first Air Jordans came onto the market in 1985, right after Michael Jordan first laced up those black-and-red shoes to match the colors of the Chicago Bulls. David Stern, the NBA commissioner at the time, fined Jordan five thousand dollars each time he stepped out on the court because his shoes didn’t have enough white on them. There was nothing David Stern could have done to make Michael Jordan or his shoes look cooler. Jordan was breaking the rules and he looked good doing it.

But why else are shoes such a big deal for boys?

Shoes are the fashion choice that all boys can participate in without being teased. When you go with your son to a store like Foot Locker and the salesperson in that black-and-white striped shirt comes over to your son, what does he ask? Does he ask what size shoe your son wears? No. The smart ones say, “Hey, man, what are your colors?” What other article of clothing could that happen with? Where else could that question be asked without drawing embarrassment from your kid?

The last time I went with my sons, I had a hard time holding back my laughter as I listened to their intense discussion with the salesman. I watched them wander in front of the wall of shoes, saw their intense gaze and subsequent handling of the shoes while they each stared off visualizing their future greatness on the basketball court. The entire thing was completely ridiculous—a fact that I kept to myself.

What isn’t ridiculous and what parents need to be very aware of, is that shoes are a huge indicator among boys about status and money. The shoes boys most covet are heavily marketed to them and extremely expensive. (Nike Kobes are about $170 and LeBrons can go up to $250.) If parents are willing to pay for them, that says a lot about how they’re buying into the marketing campaigns that are targeting our boys and, by extension, our wallets.

Also keep in mind that boys often have judgments about who has the right to wear these shoes. As in, if you wear them but you can’t hold your own athletically, boys are going to make fun of you to your face or ridicule you behind your back.

I am writing about this to suggest that when your son is begging for new shoes and spends hours looking at his various options online, don’t make fun of him or belittle his apparent superficiality. Instead, see this an opportunity to talk about financial responsibility and perception of his image. Tell him how much you are willing to spend. If he still insists that he has to get expensive shoes, tell him he has to use his savings or work to pay for the rest. Then ask him how he thinks his life will be better if he has the shoes he covets and really listen to his answers, because he is giving you a window into his world.

But what if you’re having the opposite experience and your son won’t get rid of his shoes. Are you that mom who’s desperate to buy him new ones because the old ones are so disgusting? The reason he’s doing this may be because he doesn’t want to buy into the materialism of the other kids. Boys can do things for amazing reasons, but it’s hard to see—even when it’s right in front of our eyes. Again, this is an opportunity to look beyond the shoes and ask the boys in our lives why they’re doing things that make so little sense to us. The strange thing is that if we do, we really may learn something.

How does your son feel about his favorite pair of sneakers? 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. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

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

 

Keep Your Naked Selfie Covered

Written on September 12, 2014 at 5:00 am , by

We’re used to hearing celebrities bare all in interviews and watching them bare all on movie screens. But this month, when news broke of hackers using the iCloud to leak nude photos of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, many were shocked. How did the hackers pull it off? What other information could be hacked into? Who’s at risk? Aside from the obvious concerns about such a privacy breach, however, another issue loomed. Why take a naked photo?

Maybe it’s because I don’t even like to pose for, much less share, a photo of myself in a bathing suit sans cover-up. So I can’t help but wonder why folks want naked selfies.

One group worth approaching to answer that question: teenagers. Most teens sext to maintain or ignite a relationship, or are pressured into the behavior. A recent study indicated that more than 50% of college students sent sexually explicit texts—with or without photos—as minors. (About a quarter admitted to sending sexually explicit photographs.) These numbers would indicate that among young people sexting is increasing in prevalence. In fact, it has tripled or quadrupled in some ages and categories of teens over the past five years. Boys and girls sext at the same rate, but boys forward more.

As moms and dads, we need to shift our focus to parenting in the digital age. We need to talk to our children and teens about sending pictures, receiving pictures and passing them on. We need to tell them that not everyone is doing it and cyberspace does not have a button for forgiveness. Images that are deleted can be retrieved, and pictures that are sent can be passed along.

The message to our children and teens should be clear and consistent. Do not ever post or send a naked or half-naked selfie to anyone. Ever. They should delete images that are sent to them and not forward them. I want to remind young people that there are many ways to feel good about yourself: practice kindness to others, volunteer in schools and communities, simply contribute to the common good. But keep your naked selfie covered.

Have you talked to your child about sexting? Do you think your son or daughter would ever do it? Post a comment and tell me.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

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

The Downside of Dress Codes

Written on September 11, 2014 at 5:36 pm , by

A few days before I started sixth grade at a private school, I went with my mother to get my uniforms. While she beamed, I remember miserably pulling the green-and-white-striped dress over my head. My mother, like many parents to this day, believed that uniforms were the answer to stopping social competition among students and contributed to an overall positive school atmosphere.

But here’s the problem: Way too often administrators and teachers enforce their school’s dress code by disrespecting and shaming their students, as with a recent incident involving a superintendent in Oklahoma. Not only is this unethical but it contributes to a school environment where the children don’t trust the adults to exercise their authority ethically. What should be a moment in the hall of “Please take off your hat” or “That skirt is a little short” becomes a humiliating power struggle where the child has no opportunity to learn whatever lesson the adult believes they are trying to teach.

Before I go on, let’s articulate the standard arguments to support school uniforms and dress codes. It is said that they:

1. Set a standard for students that learning environments should be given respect and prepares them for a professional environment as adults.

2. Contribute to students respecting themselves.

3. Decrease materialism and social competition.

4. Stop children from wearing clothes that are offensive or promote illegal or unhealthy substances like drugs and alcohol.

5. Contribute to school spirit and unity.

On the face of it, all these goals are entirely reasonable. Unfortunately, uniforms aren’t a magic bullet to stop “fashion show” competition between students. Kids know who has more money either because the student boasts about it (which is common) or other people talk about it. If it’s important to a student to show how rich their family is, they will figure out a way to do so, from donning $300 headphones to sporting $200 sneakers to bragging about what cars their parents have.

What’s more, no matter how great the school or how well-intentioned the rules are, a dress code and the way it is enforced can mask double standards and abuse of power. For example, the way boys and girls get in trouble for violating dress codes is different. Boys get in trouble for wearing clothes that are “disrespectful.” However they define that (sagging and baggy pants, wearing a hat inside), far too many adults start the interaction with boys by using their power as an adult to dominate them in public (by yelling at them in the hallway in front of their peers). And if the boy doesn’t immediately comply, his behavior is seen as defiant and requiring punishment. I am not excusing bad manners, but adults need to have common sense when they talk to people with adolescent brains. No one likes to be called out in public—especially teens—and when you do that, the teachable moment is lost.

In contrast, girls get in trouble more often for violating the dress code and are usually accused of presenting themselves in sexually inappropriate ways. Girls who go through puberty earlier and/or are more voluptuous are also disproportionately targeted (which also disproportionately impacts African American and Latina girls). Yes, a girl with a voluptuous body can be distracting, but that doesn’t mean the male students around her should be held to such a low standard that they aren’t expected to treat her respectfully. Teaching girls to respect themselves should focus on being proud of who they are—not shaming them for looking sexually promiscuous. This is a teachable moment about your hopes for your girl.

If your kid’s school has a dress code, it’s critical to instruct your child how to accept the responsibility they have as a member of the school community while recognizing that sometimes the way the code is applied is unfair.

Whether you have a son or a daughter, here’s what you can say:

If someone talks to you about being out of dress code, do what they say. If you feel that they have been rude to you, I still want you to do what they say but then tell me and/or tell the administrator you trust the most. But if you’re genuinely confused about why you’re out of dress code, or what you’re wearing is important to you and it’s not communicating something rude or degrading about someone else, you have the right to respectfully ask why you are in violation. If you feel strongly about this, you can research your rights about freedom of expression in school and bring that to the administration. You may not get what you want, but it’s important to know your rights and I will support that.

 

Here’s what you should say specifically to your daughter:

This is difficult to speak about with you, but it’s important to me that I do. Your school has a dress code. For girls, that often means not presenting yourself in a sexual manner. I want you to be proud of your body and I never want you to be ashamed of it. But way more important to me than the dress code is you. You are a smart young woman with a lot to contribute to this world. Like all young women, you’re growing up in a world that dismisses your opinions and rights by trying to convince you that the most important thing about you is your physical appearance. Obviously, you are so much more than that. I want you to be proud and comfortable with how you look. But I also want you to be proud and comfortable about who you are beyond that. So I’d like you to think about that when you get dressed for school. Can you put the clothes you like and that are within the dress code on one side of your closet and the ones that are not on the other side? 

If administrators at your school are shaming girls, you need to speak out against it. Schools can have standards. They can even have standards that you disagree with but need to learn to live with. What you should not tolerate are adults who are responsible for the safety and education of your children to think enforcing the dress code gives them the right to shame and disrespect children.

How do you feel about dress codes at school? Post a comment and tell me 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.

 

 

Moms Aren’t the Only Ones Trying to Juggle It All

Written on September 4, 2014 at 11:10 am , by

This August, software mogul Max Schireson announced that he was stepping down as CEO of a billion-dollar company. It was scandalous—but not for the reasons you might think. News that the hardworking former child prodigy was leaving his high-ranking position was met with shock and awe because he was leaning back, if you will, to spend more time with his family. Schireson will still work at his company, but in a lesser role.

Some critics responded with venom, stating that other men would love to do the same but would be left with financial woes. However, most of the response was supportive and highlighted the increasing number of men who choose to be homemakers.

The number of dads in the U.S. who don’t work outside the home hit 2 million in 2012, and there’s a myriad of reasons why these fathers remain in-house. When explaining his decision, Schireson used the B-word: balance. He felt like his life was out of balance and wanted to realign it in favor of his family. Of note is the fact that his wife is a well-respected clinician and professor of medicine at Stanford University who has managed the seesaw of motherhood and a demanding career in academia.

So what gives? Should it be newsworthy when a high-powered male makes an apparent sacrifice to spend time with his children when women do it all the time?

Well, yeah…

Our kids and families need to have fathers who are on active duty throughout their lives. The way that men play with their children can teach them independence and fearlessness. When fathers ask about school and attend parent-teacher conferences, our children do better in school. It takes both parents to help teens navigate their adolescent years. Discussing paternal attitudes and experiences with difficult topics like sex and drug usage has been shown to delay inappropriate activity.

When fathers like Max Schireson make a conscious decision to be more involved in the day-to-day activities of the their children’s lives and support their partners, they are not stepping down but stepping up. I applaud his decision and hope it inspires other fathers to do the same.

What do you think of Max Schireson’s decision? Post a comment and tell me.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

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

Talking to Your Kids About Michael Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Just a Crush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Character Counts

Written on August 12, 2014 at 8:27 am , by

                                      

 Parents should always be proud of their children’s academic success, but we also need to acknowledge achievements that can’t be captured on a report card. Beyond smarts lies wisdom. It’s harder to instill but worth the effort and arguably a more important quality.

To help our kids claim that higher learning, we must talk to them about making decisions that are reflective, not impulsive. When 14-year-old Hunter Gandee’s mother shared a dream she had in which Hunter was carrying his younger brother, the teen came up with an idea. He wanted to effect real change for the nearly 800,000 children and adults in the U.S. struggling with cerebral palsy, which his younger sibling has. So he strapped his 50-pound brother, who uses a walker, to his back and toted him for 40 miles in an effort to gain attention for the disease. The two-day hike was reported on national TV and in print.

Another way to guide children toward wisdom is with lessons in self-compassion. They must learn how to be kind to themselves by accepting their failures as well as their successes. That’s what 7-year-old Cameron Thompson learned after he was caught teasing another second-grade boy who brought a Barbie doll to show-and-tell. Cameron still felt bad weeks after apologizing to the boy and asked his mother if he could start an anti-bullying club at school to help teach his classmates how to be kinder. More than 75 kids showed up to the first meeting. With his parents’ help, he also posted a “Confessions of a Bully” video on YouTube. It’s been viewed at least 70,000 times.

Character, they say, is what you do when no one is watching. These kids managed to do the right thing when they were out of sight and when all eyes were on them: undeniable proof that wisdom is achievable at every age.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts hereGot a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.