Archive for March 2010

Teen party gone awry

March 25, 2010
Imagine coming home from a dream vacation in Paris and finding flour in toilets, urine on beds, blood on the floor, holes punched through walls and ceilings, computers, jewelry  and video games stolen — some $45,000 in damages.
Parents in East Bridgewater, Mass. faced this scenario in February.
Even worse, the teen who hosted the party told police the names of the uninvited guests, who responded on Facebook  with cyber-bullying, mocking the destruction.
Situations like this give teens a bad reputation and incite fear in the hearts of parents of children of all ages.
The quote that really got me was this: “There are no consequences, and that’s why they keep doing what they’re doing.”
One of the ringleaders has a string of charges against him, but no criminal record. His parents have repeatedly bailed him so he can continue his rampage, including intimidating the host of the party who is now afraid to go to school or the prom.
The party host said he didn’t call police when the uninvited guests showed up because he feared getting beaten up.
My advice to parents is to “Prepare, don’t despair for the teenage years.”
What does prepare look like?
1. Start with having family meetings to divvy up chores. Cleaning toilets and picking up dog manure from the lawn teach a child self-discipline, humility and a work ethic.
2. Have family dinner at least three nights a week. This cuts in half the time between after school and bedtime for them to get into trouble. It is a touchstone to you and your values.
3. Don’t buy your child’s way out of every problem. If a youth is charged with larceny, shoplifting and malicious destruction of property, make him earn money to pay restitution. Do not let him pass go, do not give him $200 until he complies.
This party-turned-nightmare shows that buffering a young person from problems he creates, the behavior will escalate.
I volunteer in prisons and meet men and women sentenced as teenagers because they were caught up in the wrong crowd and made bad decisions as teenagers.
Parents can teach young people  to make good decisions.

Who owns the accomplishment?

March 24, 2010
Patricia Travers was a child prodigy violinist who disappeared from the spotlight after adolescence. Her short-lived career is an example of how children need to "own" their accomplishments and not be performers and producers to make their parents look good.

A rare photo of child prodigy Patricia Travers who made her solo debut with the New York Philharmonic when she was 11 years old in 1939.

Patricia Travers looks happy here practicing the violin with her father. Her violin career was short-lived. After debuting with the New York Philharmonic at age 11, she stopped public performances by her mid-twenties.

An only child, Travers never married and lived with her parents until they died. The only person she performed for was her mother. Travers died earlier this month.

The problem with child prodigies is that they eventually ask, “Why am I doing this? For me or my parents?”

That’s why I advocate parents learn the art of encouragement versus praise.

That’s why I advocate NOT paying children for grades, practicing musical instruments, or doing chores. Motivation for achievement must come from within if the child is sincere.

Helicopter parents can have the opposite effect they’re seeking. Too much involvement can turn off a child instead of turn her onto a lifelong passion.

Experts say that child prodigies usually fall from grace because sustaining that energy and success as an adult requires a different set of skills than being a youthful creative genius.

Parents today want to give their children every advantage. Ironically, it’s often better to let children follow their whim and create their own path in life with background support from parents.

Encouragement is low key, focuses on the deed, and is given during trail and error. Praise is high-energy, focuses on the doer, is given only after success. For a free tip sheet on encouragement, click here.

Get set up for outdoor activity

March 22, 2010
It's easy to persuade children to play outside regularly. It's good for their mental and physical health. They will feel better and look better. Playing outside fights childhood obesity, childhood diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Children naturally will gravitate to the outdoors. Playing outside is essential.

Playing outside with no agenda is one of the best childhood traditions.

Ten ways to get kids to play outside.

  1. Set boundaries. Limit screen time to 30 or 60 minutes a day. Don’t buy video games for children or watch TV yourself. Don’t use electronics to entertain them.
  2. Set an attitude. When they have unstructured time, allow them to feel boredom and to solve it. If they want their boredom to be your problem, involve them in cleaning the house and yard. It’s an instant panacea to cure boredom.
  3. Set the stage. Suggest they play outside and provide the equipment: bikes, skateboards, trampolines, roller blades, swing set, sandbox, a hose, a kiddie pool and big wheels. Live near a park or have a nice yard, give them a garden plot to tend, let them get down and dirty outside. Don’t complain when they come home dirty (computers are so much cleaner).
  4. Set the example.  Enjoy outdoor activities together as a family. Play soccer/baseball/Frisbee/dodge ball in the yard or park. Go to the park/conservation land often and walk the dog there. Take them on weekend excursions to playgrounds, hike, bike, camp, canoe, go sledding, ski, swim, explore rope swings over rivers, bird watch, ride waves, swim in a pond, play in creeks, build a bonfire, and hunt.
  5. Set up or join group outdoor activities. Camping with other families is much more fun than camping alone. Many outdoor organizations offer family activities such as nature walks and canoe excursions.
  6. Set aside the time  to climb a tree, play in a creek, swim in a pond, build snow sculptures, fool around in a rowboat or kayak while tethered to a rope (if they’re young). Encourage ‘tweens and teens to take outdoor excursions with friends and provide transportation, equipment and other support.
  7. Set an attitude. Don’t complain about bad weather. Revel in it. Get wet, muddy, snowy, cold and hot. It’s okay if it rains while you’re camping or hiking.
  8. Set up your home and yard for animals.  Get a dog and expect them to walk it and spend time playing outside with it. Raise chickens together. They will be more in touch with nature, the weather and animals and food.
  9. Set up play dates for younger children by connecting with other parents who e limit screen time and encourage outdoor activity.
  10. Set up ways to attract wildlife such as bird feeders and bat houses.
Keeping backyard chickens is a way for children to connect with nature, their food, the outdoors and animals. Keeping chickens teaches children the discipline of taking care of an animal.

Backyard chickens provide food and a connection to the outdoors.

Eat less, move more

March 12, 2010
obesity and minorities, diabetes, heart disease and stroke risk for minorities, deck stacked against minority kids, black, hispanic, latino and latina children have greater chance of being overweight, obesity epidemic greater for minority children and teens

Latino and African American children are at higher risk for obesity.

Black and Hispanic have the deck stacked against them according to new research in the journal Pediatrics.

Much to the amazement of researchers, infants, babies and toddlers show high rates of obesity and inflammation that damages blood vessels.

Some of the risk factors reported by AP medical writer Lindsey Tanner include pregnant women smoking; feeding infants solid food before 4 months; parents over-feeding young children; babies between 6 and 24 months  not getting enough sleep; and little kids having TVs, fast food and sweet drinks in their rooms.

It’s easier to put junior in the bedroom with a sippy cup and happy meal in front of the screen than to convince him to eat broccoli with the family.

Taking care of children takes T I M E. Lots of it. Daily.

I spent years cooking for and feeding my four children. They cooked and ate with me. I expected them to eat vegetables and they did. I didn’t track their temporary likes and dislikes or cater to them.  We almost always had dessert — after a family dinner that included vegetables — and ate it in moderation.

I never encouraged video games. My two sons eventually scraped together money to buy one. I encouraged them to play outside. We often played outdoors as a family — walking the dog, playing frisbee or dodge ball, skiing, swimming, and biking.

A simple formula to better health: eat less and move more. Moving more is fun, especially when done together.

Riding bikes together is a fun way to move more and eat less.

A simple formula to be healthier: move more and eat less.

A radical approach to bullying

March 9, 2010

As a former victim of bullying, I advocate a radical approach to stop it -- by empowering the victims.Bullying is frequently in the headlines as it was in today’s Boston Globe. The common response is to protect and pity the victims and adult intervention.

Anti-bullying legislation hopes to safeguard youth against hard-hearted mean children

I propose a radical alternative to bullying: empower the victims.

1. As a victim of bullying for five years because I was one of a few white students in a black student body in the  1970s), I learned to take preventative action. I protested loudly during class when bullies threatened. I became acutely aware of my personal safety and stayed out of dangerous situations as much as possible. I out-smarted the bullies and developed an assertive walk. I found friends — other misfits. I stayed safe most of the time. I coped. I became stronger, more confident and willing to take risks.

2. My son Ian said when a known bully picked on him on the high school late bus, “I punched him in the face, hard. He left me alone after that.” Ian stood up for himself and it worked. If a child is small in statue, s/he can take martial arts classes and learn self-defense. S/he can teach the aggressors that bullying doesn’t pay.

3. It’s impossible to legislate good behavior. Examples of this abound. Start with affirmative action, violence against women and the Clean Air Act. It’s nearly impossible to legislate good behavior.

A Montessori teacher quoted  in the Globe reports that 5-year-olds start saying, “You’re not my best friend anymore. I’m not inviting you to my birthday party.”

If parents report such incidents to school authorities, does this mean schools must  insure the girl has friends?

Who wants to go to a bully’s birthday party? Instead, let’s empower the victim to speak up and say, “I don’t want to go to your stupid birthday party!” and find other friends. We can’t all be in the popular crowd. The state can’t legislate it and schools can’t enforce it.

What we can do is the following — in order of efficacy.

1.  Provide assertiveness training to victims: teach them to walk and talk confidently, to be acutely aware of their surroundings, to speak up loudly when bullies prey, to ask for help, and in extreme situations, change classes or schools.

2. Bullying often starts at home.Parents can create a positive parenting plan to avoid using size and strength to get children to behave.  Parents can limit the kind of media their children watch and monitor texting and emails. Parents can eliminate the child’s access to electronics to control behavior.

3. Work together to create school environments that condone condemn bullying.

Empowering the victims is an unconventional approach and the most sensible and sustainable. Otherwise children can become victims for life.