Monday, September 20, 2010

Exercise DOES make Your Child Smarter!

We KNEW it and now there is research to back it up - Aerobic Exercise Makes Your Child Smarter. Researchers at the University of Illinois compared the brains of fit and non-fit children and found that the children who were fit had parts of their brains that were enlarged - the parts of their brain that controls attention and the ability to make good decisions.

To read more click on the NYTimes article below:
Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cyber-bullying - A Whole New Level of Teen Aggression

Parents have always been worried about their kids being bullied in middle school, but new technologies have sparked a cyberbullying culture among teens that is more harmful than ever. Brittney's dad knew something was bothering his daughter, but was shocked to find out how serious it was.

Brittney sat at the dinner table, with her hair in her face, poking at her pasta. Her younger brother was talking on and on about the science guy who came to school with a massive snake that the kids could touch and hold. Her dad noticed that she was unusually quiet and hadn’t eaten a thing.

“Brittney, are you okay? You’ve been out of sorts for a couple of days.”
Without looking up, she said “I’m fine”.
“But this is your favorite meal? Why aren’t you eating?"
“I’m just not hungry. Can I go do my homework?”
“You can leave the table if you’re sure you feel okay.”

Brittney went to her room, and stared at her cell phone that was sitting on her desk. She was petrified to turn it on. But, she couldn’t keep it off forever- it’s how she and her friends communicated. But, if she turned it on, the horrible messages would appear….”everyone hates you”…”you have no friends”….”you’re stupid and ugly”… “everyone knows you’re a slut”…Brittney couldn’t imagine who would do this to her. She was quiet and kind of shy, did okay in school, had a small group of 8th grade girls who liked to get together on the weekends. She didn’t even talk to boys. Brittney felt ashamed and frightened. She didn’t want to tell her dad that she had been receiving these awful messages for days because he would only make it worse.

The American Psychological Association defines bullying as "aggressive behavior that is intended to cause harm or distress, occurs repeatedly over time, and occurs in a relationship in which there is an imbalance of power or strength". Technology has led to a new version of bullying that is both virulent and emotionally damaging. Online aggression, or cyber-bullying is an extremely harmful type of bullying that includes sending cruel text messages or photos, impersonating individuals on texts, IM or on the web, and posting hurtful information on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. It is especially destructive because the abuse can be very public, happen anywhere at anytime, and often the bullies remain anonymous. Kids are afraid to tell their parents, not only because of traditional fears of retribution by the bully, but also they are afraid parents will take away their cell phones and computer access.

So, what should parents do when they find out their child is being cyber-bullied? First of all, parents need to take this seriously and not brush it off as a rite of middle school passage. Barbara Coloroso , a leading expert on adolescent bullying behavior, offers some good advice in her book The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, updated in 2008. A few of her suggestions:

- Tell your teen not to respond to the cyberbully. This just fuels the cyberbully on.
- Make copies of all messages, pictures, and social messaging pages. Save cell phone voice and text messages. This creates a record of the bullying behavior, helping to identify the bully, and provides evidence in the event that legal action is necessary.
- Set up a message block that allows only known contacts to come through.
- Insist that your child tell you about any additional cyberbullying.

Of course, the most important part of helping your teen when she or he is being cyberbullied, is to help her feel more empowered in this really frightening situation. Start by telling her you understand how much courage it took for her to tell you, and that you realize how scared she must be. Reassure her that you will not take away her cell phone or computer away, or do anything rash, but let her know that she's not alone, and something can be done. Together, there are things you can do. In addition to Ms. Coloroso's advice, we recommend that your teen share information about what is happening with her most trusted friends, and they form a circle of safety around her. Suggest that she talk to the school guidance counselor, and if this is too difficult, offer to go with her. You may also need to contact school administration and, if the bullying continues, it may be necessary to seek legal advice and contact law enforcement.

Monday, November 16, 2009

At Night, Unsupervised, and Everyone's Going

So many times when we are parenting teens, we are faced with a situation that gives us a “pit in our stomach”, and we really don't know what to do. Our kids are growing so fast, eager for more socializing with peers and independence from us, and we often have to decide very quickly whether they are ready to take that next step.

Jake and Matt tumble in the back door after school, dump their backpacks, and head directly to the fridge.
Jake says to Matt,

"The Game against Natick Friday night is going to be awesome."
"I know. Everyone’s meeting at the High School at 7."
"Can you pick me up? I think I need a ride."

Margaret, on a work call in the next room, overhears the boys' conversation, and says “I’m sorry, but I need to call you back”.

"Jake, what’s this about going to a football game Friday night?
"Yeah, it’s a big game. Natick is playing Needham and Fox News is going to be there."
"What parent is going with you?"
"Everyone’s going."
"Okay, but what parent is going to be there with you?"
"I'm in 7th grade- we don't need parents to go with us!!!"
"You know what honey, we have to talk about this."

When our kids were little, we joined play groups and helped each other figure out the big ones - sleeping through the night, refusing to use the potty, biting their siblings, and only eating chicken nuggets. These were daunting issues at the time, and we sought out other parents as empowering partners to provide us with support, advice, solutions and humor. As our kids get older, we begin to lose those supportive connections. Our kids get more independent. We get busier. And there are fewer and fewer daily interactions with parents of other kids. Still, given the challenging issues we face with our teens, we need a network of supportive parent connections now more than ever.

Margaret feels uncomfortable allowing Jake to go unsupervised to a Friday night football game at the high school. She isn't sure if this is appropriate for a seventh grader, yet she doesn't want to be overly protective. Margaret needs to talk about this parenting dilemma with an empowering partner - a mom or dad with similar values and parenting style, who perhaps has older kids and has been through this before - to help her come up with a solution that feels right to her for her 7th grader. Although she likes Jake's friend Matt, she's not sure that Matt's mom and she are on the same page. Instead she calls her friend Laura, who laughs when she hears that Jake thinks he's going to a Friday night football game, at the high school, completely unsupervised. "Don't even think about that. My niece is going to be dancing at half time, so I've got a reason for being there. We'll let the kids go, but tell them I'm keeping an eye on them." Margaret instantly relaxes. With her concerns validated, and a solution that gives Jake more independence, albeit with limits and supervision, her friend has enabled her to be a more empowered parent.

There are a number of things you can do to find empowering partners. Foster connections with the parents of your children's friends on the sidelines at games, in the parking lot at dance or play pick up, at a school event, or simply call a friend to have coffee. Seek out advice from neighbors who have older children. They often have a wealth of practical, hard-won information that they would be pleased to share. Surf the web for parenting sites where moms and dads provide support and advice to one another. And, finally you can reach out to professionals, like us, who work with parents just like you, trying to navigate the challenges of parenting teens!! And, with 8 teens among us, we know all about the “pit in your stomach”.

We would love to hear about an empowering partner in your life, and how he or she helped you resolve a parenting dilemma.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Drinking in Middle School? OMG!

How much influence do parents of teenagers have over the choices their kids make in risky situations? More than most parents think. In fact, data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reveals lower rates of current drug, tobacco, or alcohol use for those teens who have conversations about substance abuse with their parents than for those teens who do not talk about this with their parents. Given that reality, the next questions for parents are how to talk to our kids, and when to start. It turns out that it's never too early to talk to our kids about substance abuse, as long as our messages are clear, consistent, and emphasize the positive behavior we expect from our kids.

As soon as she saw the text message, Debbie breathed a sigh of relief, thankful she had talked to her 14 year old daughter about what to do if she found herself in an uncomfortable situation with friends.

Mom pls pick me up at corner of Main & South

Debbie knew something was up because it was a school half–day, and her daughter was hanging with the usual crowd at a friend's house. She didn’t expect to hear from Lisa for another two hours. Stranger still, the pick-up location was more than two streets away from where she should have been . She texted back: coming now
Then she got in the car, and picked her up.

"What’s going on?"
"Why did you want to come home so early?"
"It just wasn't fun anymore."
"Really? Who was there?"
"I don’t know, everyone. Can we just go home?"

At home, Debbie didn't mention it again, and started folding laundry. Her daughter, who NEVER folds laundry, picked up a dish towel, folded it in half, then said,

"It was kind of weird. Some of the kids got beer from the fridge in the cellar and were drinking it."

Debbie could feel her heart quicken, but somehow managed to stay calm.

"Wow, I'm sure you didn't expect that. What did you think?

" I don't know. It seemed really stupid. I mean, I knew I wasn't going to have any, but the other kids seemed really into it. I could have hung out, but it would have been really boring. So I made up some excuse – a dentist appointment - and I left. I don't know if that was the right thing to do."

"What do you mean? Why not?"

"Well I left Laura and Jenni ( two best friends) there. I probably should have stuck with them, or asked them if they wanted to go too, but I don't know, I just reacted, and left. I feel kinda bad."

At this point, Debbie didn't miss a beat. She went right for the bottom line.

"Lisa, I'm really proud of you. Drinking beer in 8th grade is really dangerous. Kids who do this are really hurting themselves. You made a really good choice deciding to leave, and I'm glad that you knew you could text me and I would come and get you. This won't be the last time you find yourself in this situation. You did the very best you could. Now that you know this could come up, let's think about how you want to handle it next time, so you take good care of yourself, and still feel like you’re a good friend. You did a great job today.”

Learning that our middle schooler has been exposed to high risk behavior, such as teen drinking is extremely anxiety provoking for both parents and their young teens. Debbie did a great job: first- by making her position on underage drinking absolutely clear, second- preparing her daughter with a plan for when she encountered this kind of situation, and then praising her sufficiently when she executed the plan.

Some parents worry that raising topics like drinking, drugs and sex will somehow put these ideas into their child’s head. The reality is that teens are confronted with high risk situations at increasingly early ages, and talking to their parents helps kids to envision what to do when the situation arises. In our Empowerment Fitness® classes for teens and workshops for parents, we emphasize that we move toward what we think about. Of course it is important for parents to tell their kids the reasons why they believe it is bad for teenagers to use alcohol, drugs, and tobacco*,but this is not enough. Equally important is to talk to our kids about what we want them to do in these situations - how to take care of themselves in situations where their friends are using these substances and it is offered to them. We need to talk to our kids about making good decisions and good self-care.

* For more information go the US Health and Human Services website

Thursday, October 15, 2009

They Were All Invited To the Party Except Me!!

Kelly walked into the nurse’s office after lunch on Monday complaining of a stomach ache. The nurse called her mother to pick Kelly up. Once in the car, her mother asked,

"Kelly, when you left for school this morning you felt fine. Did you eat something bad at lunch?"

"No, just take me home."

"Was it bad hamburger meat?"

"Mom, just take me home."

"Milk? Sometimes milk can get sour."

"Mom! Leave me alone! My stomach hurts- just take me home! "

After they got home, the real story trickled out. At the lunch table, Kelly noticed a group of girls, including her three closest friends, huddled around a cell phone looking at photos. When she got closer, she saw they were looking at photos from a birthday party they went to over the weekend – they were all dressed up and hugging. Kelly had been excluded.

It’s no wonder she felt sick. And Kelly’s mother did too. She wanted to pick up the phone and call the other mothers to get them to "fix it". Either that or plan the biggest party of the year, and invite the Jonas Brothers!! Then Kelly’s mom took a deep breath, called her own best friend for a good rant, and took a step back. She realized that fixing the situation, in the long run, would not be empowering to Kelly. She needed to be the adult, and that meant helping her daughter understand what was happening, and help her move through it.

Being occasionally excluded from a party or an event is a rite of passage in middle school life that virtually all kids, even the so-called "popular ones", go through. At this age, kids are just beginning to value themselves as social beings in a very different way than they did in elementary school. They are all struggling to figure out how to do this, and they make a lot of mistakes along the way - primarily because kids this age think entirely about themselves most of the time. It's not that Kelly's friends were actively trying to leave her out or hurt her. They were simply celebrating the fact of their own inclusion, not taking into account how this would make Kelly feel. As Kelly's mother thought about that, it took the edge off and helped her know how to support her daughter.

"You know Kelly, when I was in middle school, I was left out of a big Halloween party, and I remember feeling horrible. I remember that my best friend went to that party and I didn't, and that was the worst part of all."

"So what happened, did you stop being friends?"

"No. I was mad for a while, because I thought that she did this on purpose. I thought she didn't care about me and that's why she went to the party."

"Well, I know that my friends don't care about me. And I hate them."

"Yep, I hated my friend too."

"But looking back, I can see now, that it wasn't about me at all. Kids at this age are just thinking about themselves, in that very moment, and they do the thing that makes them feel good, without thinking very much about how it makes others feel."

"Well, I don't do that. I'm ALWAYS thinking about my friends and I would never do that to them."

"Really? Is that really true? I want you to think about this. If you were the one invited to that party, would you have told your friends? What would you have done at the lunch table?"

Kelly's mom was able to get past her own emotions to help her daughter begin to move forward from a painful situation. By validating her daughter’s feelings, and not attempting to fix things, she was able to open the door to a meaningful conversation. When Kelly realizes that her mother does understand, she's open to her advice. Mom is then in a position to challenge Kelly to see her experience in a different way. Kelly can begin to let go of the idea that her friends deliberately set out to hurt her, and this mental shift away from a victim mindset to a broader understanding of the situation is the cornerstone of resilient thinking. With a shift in perspective, Kelly can then begin to move beyond her feelings and work on how she really wants to connect in the social group.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

One Simple Thing Parents Can Do To Empower Their Daughters

During our teenage years, or as one of our kids likes to say - when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, the feminist movement was picking up steam and influencing media role models for women. For the first time on TV, we saw empowered women doing the great stuff men had always done. Wonder Woman lifted bad guys over her head and threw them over a wall – and looked good doing it. Single mom Shirley Partridge took her carefree musical family around the country in a tie-dyed bus. And young professional Mary Tyler Moore was going to “make it after all” in the big city. They were strong! They were independent! They had career goals and cool bellbottoms!

Who are the TV role models for our daughters?

Self-destructive Britney? Party-Girl Lindsey? Miley with her pole dancing on the Teen Choice awards? It’s depressing.

And harmful. Researchers at the University of Delaware examined the types of media most often viewed by adolescent girls: television, commercials, films, music videos, magazines and advertisements. Although they found a few intelligent female role models, there was an overwhelming amount of negative roles models. The vast majority of women and teenage girls on TV were hyper-concerned with appearance and dating. (1997, Signorielli)

How does this affect our daughters?

Study upon study shows a direct negative effect. The more that adolescent girls are exposed to fashion magazines, music videos, soaps, and commercials that depict thin models, the more they become anxious, angry, dissatisfied with their weight and appearance, and the less confident they feel. (Hargreaves, 2002).

The standard advice – and we agree with it - is to limit your daughters exposure to this media as best you can. Its challenging but worth it.

But that is not all you can do. There is a simple thing that you can do to empower your daughter And that is share stories of everyday heroes. Positive women heroes are everywhere. Women you want your daughter to look up to, admire, and emulate.

The woman down the street who had her niece and nephew come live with her when their parents could no longer take care of them.

The journalist who risked her life crossing enemy lines to tell the truth about the horror of refugee camps.

The teenage celebrity who takes time off from a promising film career to get a college education.

The female astronaut who grew up in your town.

The girl who pitches for the boys varsity baseball team in a town nearby.

The physician who uses her vacation time to work at a medical clinic in Haiti.

Everyday, everywhere people are doing amazing, wonderful, generous things – that the media may or may not pay attention to. Seek out these stories and share them , at dinner, in the car driving to soccer, before they go to bed. Let them know that there are role models out there that you value and that you believe your daughter can be just like them. Or anything else whe wants to be.

Signorielli, N. (1997, April). Reflections of girls in the media: A two-part study on gender and media. Kaiser Family foundation and Children NOW.

Hargreaves, D. (2002). Idealized Women in TV Ads Make Girls Feel Bad. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21, 287-308.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

It Must Be Mid-August

How can you tell that it's mid August?

The weather is beautiful, but your previously active and sporty son is now sitting on the couch watching re-runs on TV - and won't leave.

You offered to take your daughter and her friends to play mini-golf, a game she loves, but she snips at you, "Who wants to play that stupid game?"

Your friend Sara calls to say she can't meet you for coffee because her three kids are fighting - which is strange because they've been so nice to each other all summer.

What is going on? Why is everyone so "out-of-sorts"?

It’s mid-August Angst!

Although is still feels like summer and should be a relaxed, fun time, your kids see back-to-school ads everywhere, their required summer reading books are only ¼ of the way done and there’s only a few weeks left of summer. Most kids begin to feel “out of sorts” about transitioning back to school, but for kids in high school, it’s especially stressful. And, no wonder they feel this way. For the kids playing fall sports, they face pre-season double sessions and the anxiety of making the team. For others, they feel stress about trying out for music, theater or speech and debate groups, or joining new clubs. And all kids worry about unknown teachers, classes, and lots of homework every night. Toss in SAT prep and college applications and you can understand why they are not feeling their relaxed summer selves.
So, how can you help your stessed teen transition back to school? With compassion, empathy, good humor, and as one mom suggested, “lots of ice cream!”

Give your teen permission to be temporarily “out-of-sorts” and acknowledge that this time of year is just plain stressful for everyone.

Saying it out loud validates their feelings, let’s them know these are normal emotions, and helps to dissipate them.

And, just like when they had to give a speech in front of the class for the first time, or were about to go to sleep-away camp - they stressed, they did it, and they grew from it.