By Gregory Keer

Performer-IMG_4990Last January, my eleven year old tracked me down in my fortress of solitude, the bathroom, and launched into “Suddenly Seymour,” his audition tune for the public arts academy he desperately wanted to attend.

Despite all the love and support I harbor for my child, my reaction was swift as I cried, “Let me poop in peace!”

This sent Jacob into a fit of laughter before he collected himself and continued his song in complete ignorance of my compromised state.

By the time he hit his final note, I had long forgotten where I was or what I had intended to do there. I just applauded.

“That was the best I’ve ever heard you sing,” I told Jacob.

My son gave me hug, at which time reality hit me that I was sitting over a toilet bowl.

“Thanks, Dad, now I can let you poop in peace,” he laughed as he took off.

Whether he’s standing on bathroom tile or auditorium floorboards, my son loves the stage. It started early, when we took a three-year-old Jacob to see his older brother in a theater-camp production of The Sound of Music. We had to hold back the nascent thespian from leaping to join “Do-Re-Mi.” Even as Benjamin grew more self-conscious about performing, Jacob’s theatrical bug never stopped buzzing.

Sometimes, that buzzing got on our nerves. We were frequently torn between encouraging his creative, outgoing nature and protecting our senses from his often disastrous training. There were countless nights when he belted a medley of the Top 40 all day long, from every room in the house – and mostly off key. He didn’t know he was out of tune, nor did he care. He also had the habit of trying to force his vibrato to sound like Justin Timberlake – only he wasn’t Justin Timberlake.

There were the mornings we awakened thinking clowns were ransacking our home when it was just Jacob leaping around his room, rehearsing hip-hop moves he learned in his after-school program. On countless occasions, we sat with frozen smiles while we watched him do modern dance versions of movies like Iron Man 2.

There were all the elementary-school plays, the ones Jacob made us practice with him for weeks, even when he only had one line to say. Worse yet, given Jacob’s perfectionist streak, we endured his criticism of how we delivered our parts: “Daddy, I really think Zeus would sound much bolder than you’re saying it.” You know there’s something wrong when your eight-year-old makes you feel like you’ll never work in show business again and all you wanted to do was help him understand a Greek god’s emotional fragility.

As anxious as Jacob’s relentless practicing of his skills made us, nothing compared to how he felt every time he tried out for a part he didn’t get or was made fun of by peers who found his theatricality not macho enough. Each time this happened, Jacob would come home angry or in tears, and we would boost his ego for being brave enough to take risks. Yet it was mostly his own sense of resolve that motivated him to try all over again.

In this last year of grade school, all of Jacob’s practice seemed to pay off. After three years in the back of the chorus, he moved to the front because he had improved his vocal pitch. After years of musical instrument obscurity, he learned the ukulele and became a soloist at his graduation.

And after endless sessions spent rehearsing dance moves, song stylings, and acting chops, he auditioned for the performing arts academy with so few available spots and so many dreamers vying for them. Weeks later, the email came with the word “Congratulations” on it. Jacob shouted and jumped high, but landed soberly and said, “What’s for dinner?”

Who knows if this opportunity to learn in an arts program will lead to Jacob’s success on Broadway or in Hollywood? What I do know is that, as much as my son has learned to follow a passion, he knows that there’s more to life than a stage. More important than any lead part is that Jacob has learned about working hard, enjoying triumphs, and weathering fear and failure. He’s also learned to balance his theatrical pursuits with friends, family, and soccer, a game he still loves. These lessons will serve him as he makes the transition from the smaller elementary school stakes to the bigger ones in middle school and beyond.

As he takes on this next challenging phase of life, I am so very proud of my boy. So proud that I’ll let him interrupt my bathroom privacy any time he wants to break out into song.

For more on middle-school change, see Middle Earth.

Posted in Adolescence, Arts Education, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Creativity, Education, School, Tweens | 2 Comments

Coming of Age Film ‘The Way, Way Back’ is a Summer Treat

Reviewed by Gregory Keer

Way Back imagesMy sister and I used to sit in the way back of our parents’ Ford station wagon. Like a lot of kids did, I felt like I was on an amusement park ride, going backwards. Of course, there were those times when it was embarrassing as hell facing the driver of the car behind us, so it was good that our parents traded the wagon in before I hit adolescence.

Duncan, the 14-year-old boy at the center of the coming of age film The Way, Way Backdoesn’t have it as easy as I did. He’s sitting in the last row of a station wagon at an age when he’s trying to mature while most of the grown-ups around him act like impulsive children. Played with slow-growing confidence by Liam James, Duncan is much like I was as an adolescent — awkward but feeling older in my head than my appearance. In this truly wonderful comedy-drama, written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (who won an Oscar for writing, with Alexander Payne, the screenplay for The Descendants), Duncan learns to make the most of a summer vacation in which his mom (Toni Collette) is dating a conflicted jerk (Steve Carell), and Duncan is worrying about a possible romance (with the character gracefully portrayed by AnnaSophia Robb) as well as concern about when he will next see his father. The kid really needs someone to take him under his wing to show him how to enjoy life in a world in which all the adults are unhappy. Cue Owen, the man-child who hires Duncan at the local water park and helps Duncan find self-worth and age-appropriate fun. Sam Rockwell is so freakin’ good as Owen, it seems high time that this dude get his Oscar nomination since he consistently colors his characters with texture and wit.

I highly recommend this film as one parents should see with their children, age 13 on up. It raises issues of family, love, and maturity in a way that isn’t heavy-handed but very honest. I saw The Way, Way Back with my wife and my way-back partner, my sister, and her husband. We all experienced it with laughs and tears and the feeling that it depicted a universal experience worth sharing with our older children.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Boys to Men, Family Man Recommends, Humor, Movies | Leave a comment

Overnight Camp Sensations

By Gregory Keer

CampMudWhen it came to overnight camp, I was a dismal failure. Everyone else was having a good time, but all I ever seemed to do was embarrass myself by dropping food trays to thunderous applause, lying awake nights watching spiders make plans to eat me alive, and pining for girls who would never give me the time of day let alone make lanyards with me. I only went for a week each time, but those seven days seemed like months of torture.

So, when my wife told me we were sending our kids for a month when they got old enough, bitter memories flooded in.

“What if a mean boy steals all the cookies from their care packages?” I asked.

“That’s the first thing you worry about when it comes to sleep away camp?” my wife replied.

“Those cookies were my bridge to home,” I argued. “That Neanderthal didn’t even like oatmeal raisin!”

“Did you ever stand up to that bully?” she inquired.

“Actually…when he saw I was a decent basketball player, he asked to join my team later that week,” I answered, realizing the point my wife was about to make. “We had a few meals together, too.”

“And would that kind of bonding have happened without overnight camp?” she said.

Maybe I would have become friends with the cookie bully in another situation, but Wendy was right. Overnight camp provided opportunities to live and play with other kids, without much adult intervention, so that growth could happen in ways that just didn’t occur during regular year activities. Certainly not as quickly.

So, seven years go, my oldest son started going away to overnight camp. First it was for two weeks, then for a month. Jacob, my middle child, followed suit. Both of them usually came home caked in grime and resoundingly happy from their time away. They even returned with better table-clearing skills.

This summer, Benjamin (now 15) completed his final session as a camper while Jacob (11) reached the mid-point of his camp career and Ari (8½) accomplished his first two weeks away from us. All three of them had amazingly rich, albeit different, experiences.

In his swan song, Benjamin played the part of the senior camper who savored all the “last chances” to bond with buddies from all over the country, some of whom he only saw at camp. He went on the overnight-within-overnight camp – a week of sleeping under the stars and roughing it before returning to base like warriors from battle. Upon that return, Benjamin and his cohort covered themselves in wet dirt and gave “mud hugs” to the younger campers and some of the counselors. The biggest, muddiest embrace was for his brother.

Aside from unintended mud baths, Jacob availed himself to both sports and arts, particularly ceramics and the camp play. He’s the more extroverted of our two older kids and he grabbed every chance he could to befriend all kinds of campers, at varying age levels. We used to worry about our middle child, socially speaking, and coached him relentlessly on how to talk and play with people. So we really credit his overnight camp experience for allowing him the space to be himself, without us analyzing every move, and the results have been wonderfully positive.

For our youngest, we fretted about sending Ari at such a young age, but he was rarin’ to go, especially with this opportunity to be there with both of his big brothers.  Having learned a lot from the tales his siblings told, Ari was so comfortable at camp, he helped the other kids in his bunk make their beds and not feel so homesick. He even made sure to smile for pictures so his anxious parents could see proof on the camp web site that our boy wasn’t huddled somewhere in a corner, cursing our names.

With all three kids away from home, Wendy and I had nice days to be together, without having to make lunches, arranging for babysitters, or hounding our sons to do chores. We also spent a fair amount of time missing them because, frankly, we’ve come to feel fulfilled amidst the fruitful chaos of parenting.

What are most significant, though, are the long-term gains we all receive from overnight camp. For us, it’s the satisfaction that we have afforded our kids opportunities to practice independence in a safe environment, to take “technology vacations” that free them for more interactions with live people and nature, and to collect memories of great times and friendships. For them, it’s the chance to enjoy all of those benefits, without ever having to think that deeply about it. This, I know, is a whole lot more delicious than oatmeal raisin cookies.

Posted in Adolescence, Camp, Columns by Family Man | 1 Comment

What Dads Need to Know: The Role of Heroes for Children

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

For thousands of years, heroic stories have been used to inspire, motivate, and transfer cultural values to children. The stories have a common pattern.

They begin with a likeable hero who encounters a challenge or roadblock in life. And then, with the help of others, the hero emerges from the difficult situation transformed by his or her experiences.

Heroic stories are found everywhere in modern media.

Beautiful Snow White is protected from the wicked queen by the seven dwarfs. Her life is threatened when the queen, disguised as a peddler, finds Snow White and poisons her with an apple. Rescued by the Prince, she is transformed by true love.

In Avatar, Jake Sully is a paralyzed ex-Marine who has an opportunity to walk again through a proxy Na’vi body in the world of Pandora. But he encounters an unexpected challenge. He falls in love with a Na’vi woman, Neytin, and is forced to choose sides in an epic battle between the humans and the Na’vi people. With the help of many, Jake’s leadership prevails and the humans are defeated. Jake is permanently transformed in a Na’vi body where he lives the rest of his life with Neytin.

We Are Heroes for Children

Years ago, I had the privilege of studying with Joseph Campbell, renowned mythologist and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He believed people created heroes and myths out of their own human experiences. Why? To constantly remind us that anything is possible! When we face difficult life challenges, we draw on heroic stories for inspiration and to help us persevere through obstacles.

Heroes show us a way to overcome life challenges through the use of a variety of character strengths and virtues. Their stories also show us that we cannot accomplish great things unless we open ourselves to being helped by others.

Too often, children, teenagers, and adults view heroes as myths or legends rather than the representation of mere humans who succeeded in breaking barriers that previously limited them. Campbell saw this as a deep problem with modern-day individuals who failed to see the value of heroic stories in their own lives.

For parents and teachers, these stories can be tools to teach young people how to face and overcome challenges in the real world. But to take these modern-day films beyond entertainment, adults need to have conversations with youth that delve more deeply into meaning.

When watching movies with children, parents can engage in family conversations about heroes. What strengths and virtues did the hero exhibit? What challenges and obstacles did they overcome? Who were their helpers? How was the hero transformed? What strengths of character does your child share with the hero?

Classroom teachers can use heroic stories to instill character strengths and values in children. In addition to movies, books contain heroes of all kinds. Historical figures are heroes too. Use them to inspire and to illustrate the human journey of struggle and reward.

In addition to heroes themselves, the heroes’ helpers are vital to the journey of transformation. These people can be compared to modern-day role models. Children and teens need role models to help them in their own journey. They are the people who inspire others, live their values, give freely of their time, and show us how to overcome obstacles!

©2013 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell is a developmental psychologist and researcher. A mother, stepmother, and grandmother, she is founder of Roots of Action where she brings evidence-based research on youth development to popular audiences. She writes a column for Psychology Today, The Moment of Youth. She is president of theNational ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life. Connect with Marilyn on FacebookTwitter or

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Featured Moms & Dads, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

The Tortoise Wins the Race

By Gregory Keer

TortoiseHareimages (1)At my son’s middle-school graduation, my wife and I performed our finest rugby moves to fight for seats with 2,000 other attendees. We were there to see our child walk across the stage in his suit, a little small on him but still dapper, and smile for the cameras we told him would be somewhere in the sea of smiling faces. After two hours of waiting, we saw him up there for an instant, a fleeting moment of culmination after three years of homework battles, shifting friendship circles, and adolescent changes that felt like alien transformation scenes.

During the ceremony, a few graduates gave entertaining speeches and administrators provided some touching words before reading an endless parade of 600 student names. Aside from the proud chatter of the families in the audience, people whispered one sad fact of the day – almost 200 kids could not participate in the proceedings because of academic issues.

How is it that 25% of this public-school 8th grade class did not pass muster? My thoughts ran the gamut for reasons, including lack of parental or teacher attention, student learning or behavioral challenges, and the intervention of trouble-making gremlins who force children to play video games instead of going to class.

Then I remembered that, 28 years ago, only half of my own high-school class graduated on time.

It makes me nuts that there exists such a long-standing tradition of kids not finishing school. I have lots of ideas of how to improve the state of education, from smaller class sizes to more creative educational methods. I know this takes a lot of money, but I believe good education pays amazing returns for the society and its economy.

I’m such a big believer in education that I became a teacher. I did it because I love learning and wanted to share it with students. I also did it because I wanted to learn ways to guide my own children toward academic success.

For all of my first-hand knowledge about teaching, the most important lesson is that those students who work really hard get results that include graduation, but go far beyond that. Sure, we teachers take pride in those who come up with high scores and brilliant ideas, but not all of those students have to labor for terrific results and, sometimes, those same kids leave a lot of potential untapped.

What really impacts educators are students who slog away, who may not get an “A” or “B” every time out, but who never stop fighting through difficult or – dare I say it? – boring material. These kids come to class on time, participate, show up at office hours, meet homework deadlines, and ask questions. Teachers recognize effort and want to help the kids who appear to want it the most. All of this adds up to students who know that hard work leads to better understanding of the material and a lifelong sense of what it takes to succeed in the years ahead.

During my son’s last year of middle school, he often wanted to get through his work as fast as possible. Sometimes, hastiness had no ill effect. But often, as in the case of assignments that required more detail but not necessarily more cognitive challenge, he lost steam and his grades fell. He regularly got less than excellent comments on his work habits, which, of course, drove me crazy. In the meantime, other students for whom great grades did not come easily, kept at it, tortoise style, and the outcomes were much better.

So, after a lot of errors on my part to motivate him, I focused on the value of effort. I told him I didn’t care about the grade as long as he pushed himself through the process with greater care. For the most part, this worked and – not surprisingly – things improved. Sure, I was happy to see the nice letter grades on the final report card, but what really had me beaming with pride were the work habit marks of “excellent.”

As Benjamin begins high school, where grades and achievement are ever more important, I must continue to stress the value of effort above all else. I think it will help my son arrive on time at graduation day, but I also believe it will work for more of those kids who may somehow give up – or be given up on by others – before they reach culmination.

If I have any advice for parents as we all embark on new school years, it is this – find your own ways to reinforce the goal of getting E’s for effort. Real effort that sometimes causes frustration, tears, and arguments are worth the price. We all benefit from it in the end.

Posted in Adolescence, Columns by Family Man, Education, School | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Fostering Initiative in Children & Adolescents

By Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell

I have to admit, I’ve grown uncomfortable with the word happiness. Used to describe a myriad of good things in life, including love, fleeting moments of joy, and chocolate bars, we often talk about it as a destination just down the road.

But happiness is part of a journey – and helping kids navigate the journey with courage and optimism is part of raising healthy children.

Alfred D. Souza made a great point: “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”

Indeed, obstacles are a part of life. And often they seem endless. So wouldn’t our kids be happier adults if they learned how to overcome challenges and obstacles? These questions led me to discover the meaning and importance of youth initiative development.

What is Initiative?

The ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions, initiative directs our attention toward a challenging goal and helps us overcome obstacles. It encompasses both an inner energy and an outer action. Initiative is an important part of positive youth development.

Initiative is developed in late childhood and adolescence through mastery experiences and relationships that help kids believe in themselves. Since initiative can be used to accomplish good or evil, it also involves instilling positive values in childhood, like kindness, compassion, and empathy for others.

Initiative is developed through internal rewards, like creativity, dignity, autonomy, making a difference for others, and activities that help kids create their own futures. It is not developed through external rewards like grades, winning, awards, and money.

Initiative-Building Activities

Researchers have identified three important elements of initiative-building activities during childhood and

  • Kids must choose it for themselves because it gives them “internal” rewards! Examples include music
    , service-learning, and a myriad of other after-school activities.
  • The activity must take place in an environment that contains rules, challenges, and complexities inherent in the real world. They must face intellectual, interpersonal, and intrapersonal challenges that go beyond grades, winning a game, and other external rewards.
  • The activity must be sustained over a period of time. Rather than doing lots of activities, it is better to focus on a few for longer periods of time so kids learn to persevere despite challenges.

Compelling Facts

  • IQ accounts for less than 25% of life success. Emotional intelligence, including initiative, accounts for the rest.
  • Boredom is the antithesis of initiative. Both honor students and those involved in delinquent activities report the highest levels of boredom in the U.S., many more than 50% of the time.
  • Kids who lack initiative are more prone to depression.
  • Children and adolescents with high levels of initiative spend twice as much time in hobbies and sports than kids with low levels and they spend more time with their families.
  • Traditional classrooms and homework, activities that account for more than 30% of kids waking hours, have limited potential for experiencing initiative.

Communication Tips that Foster Initiative in Children and Adolescents

  • When children blame, moan, or whine, turn it into an opportunity to find out what they care about! Uncover hidden convictions that can fuel initiative and action in the world.
  • Shift from a language of “Prizes and Praising” to a language of “Ongoing Regard.” Instead of giving praise for all the things children “do,” communicate appreciation for who they are.
  • Help kids learn to solve their own problems and navigate obstacles. Allow them to fail. Be a mentor in the process!

How Parents and Educators Foster Initiative through Mentoring

  • Be on the sidelines to help facilitate children’s learning.
  • Encourage children to get back on their feet after a fall – because you believe in them.
  • Be a helpful guide as children identify challenges, reflect on their choices, arrive at decisions, adjust strategies, and plans next steps. Listen and encourage.
  • Be a role model. Show them how you get things done but don’t do things for them that they can do for themselves.

I plan to spend a lot more time discussing the topic of initiative and other character strengths in future blog posts. I’d love to hear from you about your experiences as parents, educators, and mentors of young people. How have you fostered initiative in children? What kinds of activities bring the highest internal rewards? Why? How do classrooms
foster initiative? Lots to discuss! Stay tuned!

©2012 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell is a developmental psychologist and researcher. A mother, stepmother, and grandmother, she is founder of Roots of Action where she brings evidence-based research on youth development to popular audiences. She writes a column for Psychology Today, The Moment of Youth. She is president of the National ParentNet Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to building parent-school-community partnerships that help kids succeed in school and life. Connect with Marilyn on Facebook, Twitter or at

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Featured Moms & Dads, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

Would You Make Your “F” Student Wear a Sign?

Recent parenting news focuses on the dad who shot bullets into his daughter’s computer for misusing Facebook and a father who sent his 7th-grade kid with a sandwich board announcing the three F’s on his report card. In an interview, the Miami-area 7th-grader, Michael Bell, Jr., said he planned to do a lot better after spending time at a busy intersection where people could see him in all his shame.

Is this tough love or too tough? While I accept that it’s entirely possible that the two aforementioned dads might have felt that the ends would justify the means, my worry is that, whatever short-term gains a parent might get in pushing a child to act more responsibly, the long-term reality is that more bad stuff could happen. Much of this feels like parenting theater, discipline for a YouTube world rather than truly effective character building.

Like a lot of parents, I get to the end of my rope. I’ve yelled, jumped up and down, even tugged out the power cord on my teen’s laptop (while making sure I wasn’t actually damaging it). What did it do for me? It scared my child for a minute and made me look foolish and out of control. So, I apologized for my behavior without condoning my son’s (he had played a video game instead of doing homework for one too many times). And then we talked about ways he could balance his priorities better. This included my commitment to checking his daily planner more regularly to help him manage his time. I won’t do his homework for him, but I can assist in getting him more organized, at least for a little while.

My plan — my hope — is that by returning to a calm, civilized approach, I’m teaching my son how to weather frustration as well as mistakes in judgement. I don’t want my child to feel shame — I want him to feel in control of his responsibilities for his own sake.

Posted in Adolescence, Anger Management, Child Development, Perspective, Tweens | 1 Comment

What Dads Need to Know: Monitoring Your Child’s Online Behavior

By Mary Jo Rapini

Let’s just put it this way, “Facebooking” and “YouTubing” is no longer just a “cute” thing kids do for fun to pass the time.  Not understanding the risks associated with the many social media outlets poses a huge potential problem to the safety and well-being of our children.

To keep them safe, it is something that needs to be monitored closely.  To fully understand the potential dangers,
we, as parents/teachers/child advocates need to educate ourselves and then monitor closely.

I am a psychotherapist, with a private practice in Houston, Texas, and a media expert for several networks. I co-authored a book for moms and daughters about the importance of teaching young women about their bodies and health.  Since the start of the New Year, I have been interviewed by CNN on the topic of ‘Teens, Facebook and how it can lead to Depression’. I have also done other interviews around kids and Internet safety.

I read the headlines daily, and see sad story after sad story about a child who was not supervised by engaged parents or children whose parents were not aware of their child’s virtual world. If you lose a child due to cyber bullying or depression  due to feeling isolated and friendless it is too late to become involved and ask the questions you need to ask now. Telling yourself that your child would never be involved in dangerous activities online is denial on a parent’s part. Any parent who has parented a teen understands being proactive is wiser than trying to scramble when bad things happen.

Thus, I wanted to take some time to educate or re-educate parents about the reasons they need to be engaged in  their kids’ Internet activity.

Whether its browsing websites like YouTube, networking on social media, playing video or other Internet-connected games, or downloading files, every activity poses potential dangers that parents should be aware of.

Before the Internet was so accessible to all children, kids could come home and we as parents, could ask them how their day was, who they hung out with or had lunch with, or how their activities went after school.

Judging by their child’s response, we could get a fairly good idea of the events and interactions of the day and, by just looking at their face or judging their reactions to our questions, understand how their day actually was.

Well, our children now have a world very different from the one we have known throughout their life. They have an online world with real people, real events and real drama – that can easily be hidden from our view and protection.

So, let’s start with a quick quiz. Do you know:

– If your child has a Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Tumblr account?

– How they use each social networking site they have?

– How many friends do they have? Do they know all of those friends?

– If they have more than one Facebook page?

– ALL of their friends and connections on each site? Do they?

– How much time your child spends online in general?

– What your child does on YouTube?

– If the video games they play connect to the Internet?

Each of these questions represents online activity by most kids on most days.

By using these social media and search vehicles and playing video games online, they can be whoever they want, talk to anyone they want, or research anything they want.  And until we communicate with them about the happenings in that digital world, we are missing out on what’s going on in their entire world.

I recommend two avenues:

  1. Daily communication of what happened online. Questions might include:
    1. “Where did you spend your time online today – IM, Facebook, games, surfing, etc?
    2. “Did you make any new friends?”
    3. “Have you noticed anyone having trouble – I read a lot about cyberbullying.”
    4. “Did you play any new online games today.”
    5. “Would you mind showing that (whatever it may be) to me?”
    6. I would also suggest proper etiquette rules of Facebook and texts. I would check phone for
      inappropriate photos and go over those rules and consequences prior to giving them the phone (it is a privilege after all…not a necessity).

    2. Monitor internet and computer activity using preventatives measures that work best for you:

    1. Restricting Internet use to a public space such as the kitchen or family room and allowing kids on the computer only when you are home.
    2. Managing your computer’s own settings for password control.
    3. Adding software-based controls to your computer.
    4. Ensuring that privacy settings on all Internet-based accounts are set to your standards. This includes sites like Facebook, but also YouTube and online photo sites like Snapfish or Picasso.
    5. Add a service to monitor your children’s activity on sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to send you alerts based around your child’s activities.
    6. Checking to ensure these same settings and measures are also used on cellular phones that have Internet access.

While there is no perfect solution, a combination of these measures and daily interactions will help provide your child with a safe online experience. As always, we recommend you keep the conversations around internet safety open and positive so expectations and rules are made cut and dry.

In a place where predators are present, cyber bullying is increasing, and defaming the reputations of others happens rampantly, we need to be keeping a very close eye.

As we enter 2012, I, along with my partner,, will continue to help parents understand that they do need to be monitoring their kids online. There has never been a more vulnerable time in your child’s life where what you don’t know really can hurt you (and your child). We want to move the needle in raising awareness and make “monitoring kids online” the next “buckle your seatbelt.”

Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a psychotherapist who lives in Houston, Texas. She is the author of two books, Is God Pink? Dying to Heal and co-author of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex or Whatever. Her Web site is

Posted in Adolescence, Featured Moms & Dads, Internet Safety, Protecting Children, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a comment

New Michael Gurian Book on Helping Boys

As the father of three boys and a longtime educator of high school students, I see the challenges boys face in growing up amidst changing ideas about male identity. This is not to say that girls have it easier, certainly not, but there is clearly a need to approach the uniqueness of gender as kids grow up, which is something often lacking in the worlds of education and even psychology.

This is why I highly recommend the books of Michael Gurian, who has become one of the foremost gender experts as a result of decades of work as a family therapist, researcher, and educator. Gurian has written such tomes as The Wonder of Boys , Boys and Girls Learn Differently, and The Wonder of Girls, and has now released How Do I Help Him? A Practitioners Guide to Working With Boys. This book is not just for mental health professionals, though, as it offers assistance for parents who are seeking help for their sons, fathers who need help, and couples looking for marital or relationship counseling that includes men. Gurian’s writing goes beyond the usual pop-culture obviousness and offers real insights for those who want to help raise healthier boys and make the lives of men better in general.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Books, Child Development, Gender | Leave a comment

Monster on Board

By Gregory Keer

For years, my 13 year old looked the part of a skateboarder. Benjamin rocked the latest Vans shoes (is it me or do they have a shelf life of three weeks?) and RVCA shirts (can we work on catchier acronyms, people?). He could also spout specifics about longboards versus short ones and explain why certain wheels were better for tricks than others.

Funny thing is, he wouldn’t actually step on a piece of rolling wood. Not even to go across the back patio.

But recently, after his long stretch of feeling too clumsy to look cool on a board, Benjamin found friends willing to show him patience as he learned to wheel around the neighborhood on plywood and pituitary power. As long as Benjamin demonstrated caution and good judgment, we allowed him to travel everywhere from his friends’ houses to the mall.

My wife and I delighted in the exercise and confidence he gained in his jaunts around town. He was never much of a cyclist, so this was a real advancement for him. And there was the added benefit of not having to drive him everywhere. Yay for us, we thought. We were shedding our overprotective nature to allow our son to spread his wings.

Then came the scrapes and bruises from minor tumbles on concrete.

“You should wear your helmet the next time you ride,” I suggested to my son, following his longest skateboard trek yet.

Whatever goodwill I had built up for giving him his four-wheel freedom rolled away.

“No one’s parents make them wear a helmet,” he shot back.

I thought about this for a moment. He was right. I never saw kids wearing protective skull gear out on the streets.

“Helmets look ridiculous,” he pointed out.

“Accidents look worse,” I scored.

“Only people doing tricks at skate parks have to wear them,” he added.

Another point for the 13 year old.

I relented. I know, I know, it was the wrong decision, but there’s still time for me to redeem myself.

Another week went by. Wendy and I discussed it ad nauseum and decided to put our collective foot down.

“I’ll buy you the coolest helmet on the market if you’ll wear it,” I offered.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he replied.

Still, I brought him to the skate shop nearby where I asked the sales guy to convince Benjamin about helmets.

“Uh, most kids don’t wear ‘em,” he droned. Well, that wasn’t much help.

Walking out of the store without a new helmet, Benjamin threatened us.

“I won’t skateboard ever again if you make me wear one.”

I have to hand it to the kid. He knew we might cave if we thought he’d return to his traditional couch potato lifestyle.

We stuck to our guns. Benjamin stuck to his — for two days before asking me to bring the board to the park, where he was helping younger kids in after-school groups. He was hoping I’d forget about the helmet so he could skate to his friend’s house after work.

I brought the board and helmet to him at the end of the day.

“I’m not wearing this thing,” he groused.

“Do you know how many parents we’ve talked to who have given us horror stories of kids they know with brain injuries?”

“Not from riding on the sidewalk,” he snarled.

“Even from riding on the sidewalk,” I said. “One boy hit a stupid pebble, landed on his head, and is still in a coma.”

“Well, it’s your problem for talking to other parents,” he reasoned.

We argued back and forth with me finally throwing up my hands and leaving him in the parking lot, the helmet hanging limply from his hand.

Seconds later, I received a text: “I hate you! I’m not going 2 talk u 4 the rest of the week.”

As ridiculous as that sounds now, it stung when I read it at the time.

“I don’t hate you, though,” I texted back. “I just want you to be safe.”

“But I hate u,” was all I got in response.

I stewed in self-pity and anger until my wife got home.

“He said what to you?” she fumed. “That’s it. Play date’s over.”

We picked up Benjamin from his friend’s house and told him he was grounded until further notice.

Now for my redemption. Benjamin didn’t complain about being embarrassed in front of his buddy. He apologized for his rudeness to me. At home, he hugged me a lot.

This is not to say that our son hasn’t tried to raise the helmet issue again, but he has made wearing it a habit. He’s also been a nicer kid to us than he has been since adolescence kicked in.

I’d like to think that it’s because we set boundaries for him. While it’s often painful to bicker with our beloved child and uncomfortable to curb his burgeoning independence, my wife and I are doing our own growing up as parents. We’ve learned that however monstrous our son may seem in fighting against us, we’d rather avoid the scarier consequences of not drawing the line on safety.

Posted in Adolescence, Columns by Family Man, Holidays, Sports, Teens | 1 Comment