School

Talking to Your Kids About Michael Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Just a Crush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn a Boring Summer Day into a $10,000 College Fund!

Written on June 25, 2014 at 11:31 am , by

By Robb Riedel

The rev of a lawn mower. The chirping of crickets. The hypnotic melody of an ice cream truck. It’s official: Summer has finally arrived! Which means the three words mothers dread the most can’t be far behind: “Mom, I’m bored.” It seems by the time school’s been out for a mere week, there’s already nothing to do.

But boredom isn’t necessarily a negative, especially when it could result in winning some cold, hard cash for college. All your child has to do is invent the winning outdoor activity in the Clif Kid Backyard Game of the Year contest. Relish a rare moment of tranquillity by charging your kid with the task of inventing a new, fun fresh-air activity that doesn’t promote violence and can be played by children ages 6 to 12. Your kid might get inspiration from your own childhood, when unstructured time meant heading outside to play tag, build a fort or ride a bike through the neighborhood. Kids can also check out previous finalists’ creations, which include creative games like Tortoise & the Hare Ball and Sidewalk Chalk Adventure.

Go to clifkidbackyardgame.com to enter the name of your child’s game, a description and a photo. The kid who creates the best activity will win a bike and helmet, a special block party for family and friends and, most important, a $10,000 educational scholarship!

There’s no better reason to send kids outside to play! The contest ends July 3, so there’s ample time for them to perfect their game’s rules and submit photos. For more information, visit clifkidbackyardgame.com.

Dealing With Bullies (When You Disagree With Your Partner)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Louis C.K. Hates the Common Core and Standardized Testing, and So Do I

Written on May 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm , by

I’m a Louis C.K. fan—and now an even bigger one after his Twitter rant blasting the confounding math homework his third-grader was bringing home, and bashing Common Core and standardized testing to boot. “The teachers are great. But it’s changed in recent years, ” he tweeted. “It’s all about these tests. It feels like a dark time.”

It is. My daughter’s in seventh grade, which, as any New York City parent can tell you, is a fraught year. She just finished the state math and language arts tests that will determine what high school she gets into come 2015. But wait, there’s more. There are eight so-called specialized high schools requiring their own admission test (SHSAT) in October (they ignore the state exams). My buddy Lisa, whose son went through the ordeal last year, just informed me that if Nat is gonna take the SHSAT, she’s gotta do test prep, mainly because everybody else is and she’ll get blown out of the water otherwise. So she just started weekly two-hour sessions with five other 13-year-olds, half this spring, the rest in the fall.

Ouch. And I’m not just talking about my pocketbook. We all want the best for our kids, and I don’t want her excluded from a great school when she’s plenty smart just because she didn’t keep up with the test-prep Joneses. But I’m a huge believer in public schools and equal opportunity, and I feel like a hypocrite for shelling out beaucoup bucks to boost her scores. It sucks. Or, as Louis put it, schooling and testing have become a “massive stressball.” You agree?

Your Kid’s Homework Load Isn’t Too Much, New Study Suggests

Written on March 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm , by

So the kids are all right. That, at least, is the conclusion of a new study on homework by the Brookings Institution, which says that the average homework load for 9- to 17-year-olds has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 years. This, of course, flies in the face of all the horror stories we’ve heard about kids drowning in nightly homework, of exhausted parents who can’t cope, and of families fraying at the seams because of it all.

So what to think? My own experience, or I should say that of my 12-year-old, is that she consistently has at least 2 or 3 hours every night—about double what the Brookings study found. She’s not suffering under the load—I half-jokingly describe it as “only mildly soul-crushing”—and our family isn’t falling apart, though it’s still too much. Then again, she’s in an honors program at a public school that’s something of a learning factory, but that was the choice we made, since the alternative was a school that wouldn’t have challenged her enough.

I’m grateful for the excellent education she’s getting. And the homework isn’t busywork. It does what I believe take-home assignments are supposed to do: that is, reinforce the lessons learned in class. So I gripe a little, but not too much. At the same time, I don’t dismiss the complainers as whiners. But here’s the thing—the gap between the homework horror stories and what the study found is a pretty big one, which says plenty about the inequality of education nationwide. That’s a much bigger problem, and one that won’t be easily solved.

Tell us what you think in the comments below. 

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.

VIDEO: Schoolkids Take a Stand Against Bullying with Victim Appreciation Day

Written on November 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm , by

 

Actions speak louder than words. When a group of fifth-graders from Williams Intermediate School in Massachusetts decided to stand up for a bullied friend, they didn’t just talk the talk. The group, calling themselves Band of Brothers, dressed the part too.

Bullied 6-year-old Danny Keefe is the water boy for the Bridgewater Badgers D5 peewee football team. And he takes his job very seriously, wearing a suit and tie to every game. Danny’s style and severe speech impediment made him a target for bullies. Danny, however, didn’t let the comments get to him. But the comments didn’t sit well with the Badgers’ quarterback, Tommy Cooney.

With the help of his teammates, Tommy organized Danny Appreciation Day, when 40 students wore their best suit and tie to celebrate their favorite water boy.

This video proves that the Band of Brothers are wise beyond their years.

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.

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.

When Mom Feels Helpless

Written on October 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm , by

Imagine you’re a fireman being rushed to the scene of a blaze. Your fire truck pulls up to a building engulfed in smoke and flames when you come to a shocking realization: It’s your own house that’s on fire. A sinking feeling forms in the pit of your stomach. Meanwhile, a fear of the unknown mixes with knowledge, desperation and the need to just do your job.

Well, last week, I felt like that fireman.

My daughter called me three days in a row from college with escalating panic and tears. She voiced anxiety that I had never heard before. Her emotional climb wasn’t due to the usual school angst: feeling overworked, over-partied and just plain overwhelmed. She had increasing feelings of gloom and doom that had emerged from out of the blue.

Usually, I can quell any emotional situation that arises with my family. Hey, I am a professional. But it became increasingly apparent that she wasn’t experiencing anything that a prescription of my calming words could handle.

I racked my brain—and hers—searching for a cause of her anxiety and hence a solution. “I just don’t know what to do,” she told me. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Her words hit my heart and my gut. I urged her to go to the student health center, which she did. But she ended up only talking about a hurt finger. Perhaps the fear of being labeled as “crazy” or opening up to a stranger was just too much.

When I realized that her visit to the student health center was just that—a visit—and she was still increasingly symptomatic, I began to panic. I imagined the worst: that she had suffered an unresolved horrible trauma, was potentially suicidal or truly losing her mind. As the mother of four daughters, during their teenage years even I thought that a possibility.

Summoning my doctor’s hat, I told her to go to the emergency room and added a precautionary order. “If you don’t go, I will send EMS to your dorm room,” I told her. “I can do that, you know.” Reluctantly, she went. It turns out that she was experiencing panic attacks, a common form of anxiety as a reaction to stress. Her blood work was normal and she actually felt relief after going to the ER. Luckily, she had a very compassionate and competent doctor who—with my daughter’s permission—called me. Together, we developed a plan to manage her anxiety.

Being on the other side of the table as a concerned but helpless parent increased my empathy for what the families of my patients go through. Eventually, every mom will arrive at a point where she doesn’t have all the answers for her kids. But that doesn’t make you powerless to aid them. You can still be their hero by helping them find the help they need.

Have you ever felt helpless to assist your child? Post a comment and share what happened.

 

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

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