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Friday, May 27, 2011

A Mom's Thank You to Justin Bieber

Which Of These Two Would You Rather Your Daughter Idolize? 

I never thought I'd say this, but we watched Justin Bieber's Never Say Never movie last night and then this morning Rihanna sang her S&M glorification on the Today Show - and I get it now. Why do moms support what is now called Bieber Fever?

First of all he's immensely talented and will only get better as he gets older. But that's not why. It's because so much of the music our young girls are listening to is about abuse, and random sex, and setting people on fire and rape and it's endless. The messages that these young female pop stars are sending to our girls are horrific. Let men beat you up, hurt you, just go back for more (Rihanna).  Of course, you should go out and pick some guy off a dance floor in a club and have sex with him in the bathroom or your car or wherever you can find that gives immediate gratification (Brittney). And what about getting raped by an alien and how sexy and wonderful that would be? (Katy Perry).

I realize that this is the stuff that sells but Justin Bieber sells too. And you can't shut the awful messages off. They're everywhere. How do you tell your 11 year-old daughter who knows all of these songs word for word and sings them constantly how totally screwed up that is? Where are all those conservatives and liberals too while pop music is literally instructing our girls on how wonderful it is to be hurt?

But not Justin Bieber. He's about the music I grew up with. Love and romance and your prince will come and you can do anything you want as long as you try your hardest.  How can we moms not embrace that? A quick comparison of Justin Bieber versus some of his female pop star rivals.

Here's Brittney - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jrZqdLVGxw

Here's Justin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ExWsVFJlFo 

Here's Rihanna - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh5LMOX-N18

Here's Justin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Z5-P9v3F8w 

What more can I say? Thank you Justin Bieber for at least letting me remember what it was like when we sang of love, and a bright future, and all of the good things about youth. And for giving my 11 year-old daughter positive messages and someone to idolize who acts like and sings about what it's like to be a normal kid.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Constant Stress of Raising a Teenaged Boy

How much should you trust your teenage son? Remember when he was just a sweet young boy? Kind of hard these days isn't it?  

Up until recently I’ve trusted my 15 year-old son a great deal, at his request and to keep the peace in my house.

 I let him handle his own grades and don’t check up on every assignment because he says as a sophomore in high school he should be responsible for that. Then the mid-terms came in this month, and there were four Cs. 

He is taking very difficult classes, but every kid is different and for my son to get four Cs it means he has done absolutely nothing. So now he has until Monday to turn in all of his assignments, and then we will go through Edline together. We’ll see what we find.

I also trusted him that he was where he said he was mostly because I had to pick him up and often drop him off there. So far that seems to work.

But lately I just feel like something is changing.  It seems like lies flow as easily from him as truths. 

So I did what I rarely do, and searched his room and found nothing. He left his cell phone in the car yesterday and I read the text messages – nothing. No sexts, no talks of drugs or drinking or wild parties. A couple of “we’re going to a girl’s house” when the evening was supposed to start out at a boy’s. But the girls are watched like hawks – I know because I watch mine. So I haven’t found anything that has happened.

I also read his Facebook page which has an awful lot of girls on it and one intriguing post from April within the same minute “I’m in a relationship,” “I’m single.” I have to assume it was a joke.

He does talk to me, not so much about the personal stuff, but about school, project he’s working on, the lacrosse team he’s trying to put together, etc. 

He’s impossible a lot and fighting with his father who I am no longer married too, in the bitterest of ways. It’s so hard to know how much of this is just 15, and how much might be attributed to other things. I don’t see any indication of drug or alcohol use (he is on the It’s Academic Team and is a storehouse of more information than a human brain should be able to hold).

One thing I’ve learned with the fighting is to not get drawn into the vortex of the argument. Say what I have to say, tell him the conversation is over, and walk out of the room. If he tries to come back and fight again, just continue not to respond. This will eventually lead to an apology and things will be OK again.

The fighting with his dad escalates because his dad picks fights. And everybody gets madder an madder until it gets really scary. 

This is kind of a rambling post, but to all the moms of teenagers out there, I feel your pain. Don’t forget that it’s a phase and it will pass. Just watch, listen and communicate. And try not to lose your temper.

Your kid will make it through and so will you.

They say the girls are much worse.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When Parents' Battle - Kids Often Turn to Alcohol and Drugs

A woman who has Stage Four cancer and is fighting for her life was dumped by her husband, and sued for custody of the children in a North Carolina court. The father has seen his children 2-3 times for one night in the last couple of months. 

Despite being sick, this mother has attended every school event, taken her kids to their various lessons and friends’ houses and practices, and given them all the love and energy she has to give. He worked for a management consulting firm and traveled all the time. She is raising those kids. And he’s taking them away from her, probably out of anger, and probably because he’ll find someone else and it will be her job to raise them.

The woman with cancer’s husband was abusive, physically and emotionally, and she cheated on him. He won the custody battle and the kids will be moving to Chicago. I think they are 5 and 9 or something like that. I was appalled as are many others, who’ve been listening to her make the talk show circuit. From what I gather he is using the kids as a pawn to hurt her while she is dying. They don’t want to leave her and are traumatized.

Even if you are divorced for awhile, parents still get furious with each other. I went to my ex-husband the other day and asked him to increase his child support, which  simply doesn’t cover his share of the kids’ expenses. Right now financially, he is way ahead of me. As the kids get older their expenses go up. I was reasonable and calm, and talked about trying to work it out between us.

I thought we had come far enough that we could behave like two reasonable adults.  Bad idea. He exploded. “I am not your friend, I don’t like you, I am not responsible for the choices that you’ve made in your career, I’m going to call my attorney,” which of course he did. Now I'm going to get dragged into a lawyer's office again, which of course he knows I can't afford. I don't know how he lives with anger like that.

Talking to the Other Parent Without Rage

The mother who is dying was asked how she talks to her kids about their father. She said that her son asked her “Why does daddy hate you, and you hate daddy.” Her response was “I don’t hate daddy, I just don’t like the things he is doing.”   

She then talked about how she is trying NOT to turn her kids against their father because they love him and that relationship is important to them. That sounded very well scripted to me. We all get upset when we feel abused by another person, a man in particular. And that’s very hard to hide. 

My kid’s father makes a big point of saying that he leaves the kids out of these things. But the truth is they overhear unintentionally, they listen at doors, they see their mother crying, and they feel their father’s rage. Kids figure it out, and they know when you're not telling them the truth. As they get older, I think it's better to be honest without including all the gory details.

Family Trauma Can Lead to Drug and Alcohol Abuse

There is a lot of data out there that shows kids who experience ongoing family trauma are much more likely to use drugs and alcohol. I did. It’s an escape, a way of feeling better for a short time. If they have the addictive gene or whatever it is that causes some people to abuse alcohol or drugs, this kind of family trauma can easily push them off the edge. 

No divorce is easy and I’m not saying that if two people are truly unhappy with each other they should stay together. The kids they raise will be awfully screwed up too. In fact, divorce can be a good thing because your relationship with your children becomes solely yours once the other person is gone. You are free to be a happy, healthy parent on your own. 

But with divorce, comes consequences. As my son's former therapist told us several years ago, "It's not that you are getting divorced or already are. It's how you treat each other that they will respond too." In other words, if you want to screw up your kids, behave terribly towards the other parent. Chances are you'll successfully scar them for years to come.

So to all of you who are getting divorced, or even have been for quite some time, remember this. The way you act towards each other, gets absorbed every day. The worse you are, the more likely your kids are to turn towards drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. Is fighting with your ex worth that? I don't think so. But obviously some parents do.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Teen Decision-Making Hampered by Brain Development

Your teen may look all grown up to you but his or her brain is not. Next time your teen stresses out and does something she shouldn’t have that requires making a judgment call, try to remember this is your teens’ brain on normal.

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health compared the brain activity of healthy youth with healthy adults in an effort to gauge their responses to a perceived threat. People looked at a series of photos and immediately recorded how afraid they felt. 

Here’s what they found.

Teens ability to size-up a situation is limited

Teen brains process fear differently than those of adults. Why? Adults use three parts of their brains to make decisions about fight or flight, teens use two. Both use the hippocampus, or the part of the brain that stores memory and the amygdala which activates the "fight-or-flight" response to stress. 

But teen brains don’t make complete use of the late-maturing dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The DLPFC helps with decision-making, because it is deeply involved in helping the brain categorize information and objects into different groups. In adults, DLPFC activity increases as their brains registered more fear than safety. In teens that doesn’t happen.

Ever notice how your teen stresses over decision-making more than you do? That’s because his or her brain didn't register all of the information given and process it quickly. As a result, teens are more likely to take a situation at face value and less likely to question a situation that feels normal but might not be. 
Ever wonder why your kid has to do all those organizational charts in elementary school? It’s to jump
start the DLPFC function. 

So the next time your teenagers make a bad judgment call, remember it’s not completely their fault. And talk to them about decision-making, explaining why they should take a moment to think about what they do or say, before they act. 

Research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. You can find a link at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2011/teen-brain-less-discerning-of-threat-vs-safety-more-vulnerable-to-stress.shtml. Researcher is Jennifer Lau, Ph.D., of Oxford University (formerly at NIMH).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rebuilding the Parent/Child Bond over Homework

Last year, I worked on a project that swallowed all of my time. Emails came throughout the night that had to be answered first thing the next morning, I got calls very early in the morning, there were many requests for weekend conferences, it was sort of what I imagine working at the White House would be like. When you work with people like that, it's hard not to work like that as well. For weeks, I didn't even have time to leave my office.

I finished the project and learned a very valuable lessen about business and the types of projects I should work on. But the most upsetting part was the effect that working like that had on my relationship with my 11 year-old daughter and 15 year-old son. My daughter was starting 6th grade, and I was so busy I forgot about her middle school orientation. Just plain forgot. And she reminded me too.

For some people work is their life and that's a choice they make. They decide not to have children, or they do and follow an example set by their parents that seems natural to them. Their kids are raised by hired help or hopefully the other parent who doesn't work like that. For single parents it's even harder, and I know they struggle with finding time for their kids. But even a few minutes a day of your complete attention is better than someone who is either not at home, or not paying attention when they are.

I don't believe it takes a village to raise a child, although if you have enough money you can certainly hire one. But I do believe if kids have two parents, both of them should be there as much as they can. My mother died when I was 13 and my father disappeared into a new marriage. I know what it feels like to not have parents. You go out and search for the love and attention you are not getting in ways you shouldn't or you turn to drugs and alcohol to make yourself feel better, which works for a short time but then does not.

I explain this not to rant, but because our family lost a great deal of trust last year. Even though I was present, I was barely there. I spent the mornings of our summer vacation working. If my cell phone had worked in the Vermont valley we stayed in, it would have been worse. I missed a lot of school events and activities. Dinner was thrown on the table, and often interrupted. My kids felt abandoned and quite frankly, they were.

The repercussions from that time are going away and I saw it the last two nights doing school work with my kids. I was struck by how much power there is in those types of interactions between parent and child. The need to study for a test, which my daughter was doing, or prepare for a mock legal case, which my son needed, are moments when you can strengthen your relationship in ways that many other interactions can't. And I think that's one way we can keep our kids from turning to drugs and alcohol to search for something they can't find at home. It's also a way to demonstrate love in a less obvious, and intrusive manner than trying to get them to talk with you, when they simply don't want too.

My son's project was to argue a Supreme Court case that lifted the ban on handguns in the District of Columbia. He had a plan for how he would argue his part of the case. He knew what to do. What he needed was someone to sit with him for a couple of hours and go over the questions he would ask, the answers that might be proffered and the logic of his argument. It was late and we were both tired. I made a few suggestions, some of which he took and others he didn't. In between, I scrambled to find and clean his dress clothes, which I didn't know he needed until 8:00 at night. And I didn't complain because I didn't want to interrupt the moment.

I pretended to be witnesses and he did direct and cross-examinations on me. His enthusiasm was contagious. When he came home yesterday afternoon, and the first thing he said was that his team won and he got an A, he was so proud, I had tears in my eyes. Why anyone would choose work over that moment, I cannot imagine.

Last night my daughter had a test to study for on economic systems. They've been learning the basics all year, learning about different types of economies, market-based systems, authoritarian systems, etc. Although she knew quite a bit of it, there were some things she just couldn't quite get through her teacher. She was able to admit that to me, and we figured it out together.

The teaching materials, as is quite a bit of the sixth grade curriculum, were poorly written and not very clear. But we spent about an hour going through it and then tackled Chinese dynasties, which believe it or not were easier. She's also a very smart kid, and remembers everything, but sometimes she just doesn't understand a concept and is not comfortable asking about it in class. She needs examples and explanations that make sense to her. We discussed supply and demand using the example of the IPad one and two, and how Apple drives demand for new technology. She got that much more quickly.

Unlike last year, I was able to give them my time and undivided attention those two evenings. They were  once again confident enough I'd say yes, to ask for it. They both finished their school work knowing they would do well the next day. And I realized that not only had they forgiven me, but that our relationship and family is once again what they know they can count on.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Do You Know Anything About the Alcohol You Drink? Take the Quiz

Research done for the AAAS Science Inside Alcohol Project queried over 100 middle school students on what they know and don't know about the science of alcohol. They were asked several questions that many parents cannot answer either. It was quite an eye opener.

1. What is a hangover? 62% of students knew that it was caused by drinking. 30% couldn't say what caused a hangover. The rest didn't answer.

2. What is the alcohol that people drink made from? Almost 50% of students had no idea what alcohol comes from. Six percent thought it came from a plant and 12% said came from yeast, barley, hops or grapes or a combination of those. The grapes part is right.

3. Why does alcohol make people drunk? 29% of students did not know the answer and the rest guessed and came up with some semblance of a correct answer. The close to right answers included:

  • Alcohol slows down the central nervous system.
  •  Many chemicals are in alcohol that the body cannot handle. 
  • Alcohol affects your blood and causes your brain to not function clearly.

4. What are the main body systems affected by alcohol? 30% of students couldn't answer the question, 10% mentioned at least one body system that is affected by alcohol and the rest named organs or didn't answer.

For the correct answer and to learn more about the science of alcohol check out our book at: