Adolescent Fears Strike Out

HalloweenSpiderBy Gregory Keer

During my tenure as a dad, I’ve weathered enough horrors to rival anything the architects of Halloween could imagine. The middle-of-the night variety of nightmares has been enough to keep my heart racing just recalling it. Nothing rattles you like being startled by a wife who says, “Go check on the baby, I don’t think he’s breathing” or having a five-year-old exhaling on your sleeping face like an ax-murderer before announcing, “Can I cuddle with you guys?” Then, there have been the screeching cats I’ve stepped on while stumbling for 3am baby bottles and the Exorcist-style upchuck projecting from otherwise angelic children at the stroke of midnight.

As I’ve grown as a parent, my boys’ travails have given me frights that chilled me to the bone. The first time I couldn’t get a return phone call or text from my eldest when he drove to a friends’ house sent images of mayhem and destruction I wouldn’t wish on anyone’s imagination. When my middle son’s face was mauled by a dog, I thought I was somehow the monster for not having been there to prevent it.

For all my horrors, they pale in comparison to the ones my children have endured themselves, especially because they lack the life experience to know how they will get through challenges that range from social pressure to emotional catastrophe. While they know they have my wife and me to support them, their quest for independence has often pushed us away. In most cases, it is best to let them suffer scares alone, since they have to develop inner resources, but heaven knows it pains me to see them in pain.

Recently, my youngest child started middle school. As our third, he has been “the baby,” the one we’ve trusted to stay young and carefree. However, sixth grade has changed that forever. He’s forsaken the hairstyles that kept his cotton-ball hair wild in favor of a close-cropped, edgier look so no one will tease him for appearing too young. Although that makes me sad since those curls had been part of his identity since he was born, Ari’s leap into the shark-infested waters of adolescent fashion has gone further.

One weekend, he and I weeded out shirts he no longer would wear. With conviction, he stuffed a bag full of too-small clothes and anything with superheroes or seemingly playful graphics.

“Wait, you won’t wear Spider-Man anymore?” I asked, thinking the Marvel hero had to be cool enough for sixth grade.

“No, Dad. I don’t like Spider-Man, anymore.”

I nodded and continued packing with him, yet stopped again when he tossed a tee with a Minecraft parody on it that I bought him just a few months ago. Had he changed his taste that quickly?

“This shirt is funny,” I insisted. “And Minecraft is for grown-ups, too.”

Ari grimaced, suddenly looking older than I am. “There are these bullies in the bathrooms who make fun of you if you wear childish clothes.”

Hearing this, my blood boiled.

“What? Do they threaten you?”

“No, Dad – don’t worry about it.”

“I do worry. Has anyone hurt you? Or your friends?”

“No. I just don’t go in the bathroom during nutrition or lunch.”

Visions of Mark Wahlberg taking revenge on teen punks flashed in my mind.

“That’s not right. I think I should let the school know.”

At this point, Ari looked at me with a mix of wisdom and steely resolve that he must have acquired overnight.

“It’s OK. I know how to handle this. I just can’t wear these kind of t-shirts.”

Something on my face clearly affected Ari as he held the shirt in his fist. He softened, and put it back in his drawer.

“I’ll wear it on weekends.”

It’s been a couple of weeks since that talk, but not a day has gone by without my thinking about what might be going on in the school bathroom or halls. What would I do if my child did get beaten up or merely intimidated into running away to hide? How does he really feel inside? Does he feel inferior to these jerks? What can I do to boost his pride and bravery?

The truth is that these are my fears, my visions of what middle-school horror is. On Ari’s part, he seems more interested in talking on the phone with his new “squad” (the word he uses) of friends and making sure his teachers see him working hard. I’ve asked him a couple of times about the bullies and he tells me to stop asking him about it.  So I’ve stopped inquiring, even though I still fret over might happen.

What seems to matter is that my youngest boy, much as my older two who seemed to have more influence than I do, has taken ownership of at least some of his fears. I have to let him conquer the demons on his own, barring a raising of the stakes, of course. In this way, he gets to be the hero who defeats the villains and monsters that might plague him.

As for me, I’m sure to have plenty of other nightmares, mostly the result of my own over-heated imagination. And while I miss some of the frights associated with having to be the savior for little kids, I take a bit of pride that my children both want to and are capable of feeling their own way through the dark.

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Education, Halloween, Holidays | Leave a comment

Letter of Recommendation

By Gregory Keer

HSGradDear Benjamin,

I am writing to spill my guts about your high school graduation and the beginning of your new journey at college. You know much of what I’m about to say, but try to hold your usual criticism of my logic – one of the many things I thought I would not miss, but will.

To say I’m not ready for you to go would be untrue. I’m ready mostly because you are ready. It’s been 18 years of taking you to school, coaching you for sports, figuring out what you’ll eat for dinner, counseling you when friends let you down, and losing my cool when you make errors in judgment. I’ve been there to clean up your throw-up and taken you to medical appointments for everything from broken bones to acne. I’ve watched you sing at the top of your lungs, become too embarrassed to say hello to a relative, then make a speech to an entire student body.

I know you are prepared to handle many of life’s challenges. You can handle an interview without us in the room, maintain a checking account (you even bought me dinner with your first debit-card transaction), and explain molecular biology with enthusiasm.

You worked your tail off to build a rounded high school portfolio with challenging courses, community service, leadership, and athletic accomplishment (which you did begrudgingly, but one day will appreciate). In a college-application process that is absurdly grueling and unpredictable, you wrote soul-searching essays by the dozen, not without struggle, but with the honesty and clarity of a young man who knows who he is, and worries little about who others expect him to be.

Why wouldn’t I be proud to see you capable of flying on your own? It has been our job to get you out there, and that is what we’ve done – though with a lot of trial and error.

Part of me hates to see you leave because I like you. I like your laugh, which has been low and easy since you were a baby. I like your random hugs. I like your condescending tone when you say, “I will, Dad,” when I ask you to take out the trash or call a grandparent or eat lunch. I like your mop of hair, of which I am very jealous because, as you enjoy reminding me by tapping my bald spot, I am follicly challenged. I like the space you fill in our home, our days, our hearts.

Your departure will create a void, yet I am thrilled to see you go off on one of the adventures I have dreamed of for you. You are our first-born child. All of these emotions and experiences about culmination are new to us, and they sometimes feel like a giant load of laundry we just can’t carry to the washer without losing a few articles along the way. Only it’s not clothing articles we’re shedding, it’s tears.

Yes, you are your own man, Benjamin. You’ve weathered my suggestions, critiques, and harangues with the patience of a saint, and filtered the words to select what works for you. Sometimes I’ve bridled at your independence, but in my most rational state of mind, I’m so proud of your development that I get a little tingly. Sorry if that sounds weird, but indulge your old man a bit longer.

You have been an excellent role model for your younger brothers. You are respectful of us, careful with money, and an engaged student. Your siblings follow suit and have learned more from the way you do things than from anything we have taught them. Yes, you have sometimes been impatient and annoyed with them, but what sticks out in their minds are the times you drove them to activities, picked up their favorite box of cereal, and read with them and kissed them good-night.

As your grade-level dean at school for the past two years, I’ve been able to see your growth few from a vantage point few parents get to enjoy. I’ve run many class meetings for you and your class. I’ve embarrassed you plenty, though always out of love, which you’ve endured graciously. In one of the meetings, at a recent school event, we held a traditional “yarn ceremony” for the seniors. Sitting in a circle, each student said a few words about what they were grateful for before passing a large spool of green yarn to someone special to them. One of your friends called you out and explained how you were there for him during a particularly difficult period. As meaningful as it was for you, it was even more so for me. I saw the impact of your generous spirit, something you’ve shown for others since you were in daycare.

Your ability to connect has allowed you to maintain friendships since preschool and make new friends almost at will. By your own admission, you are no social butterfly, but you are easy to talk to and listen better than anyone I know. I’ve been privileged to see this in many situations, not the least of which is your relationship with Lili. Your attentiveness, fairness, and loveliness with each other go far beyond your years.

Society marks success for teenagers for all kinds of achievements, but seldom commends them for compassion and caring that likely matters most in the long term.

These qualities shone through at the talent show for your school retreat. To humor your sentimental dad, you agreed to come on stage at the end of my annual Tigger song performance. On cue, you walked up, dressed as Eeyore, to the applause of scores of people who know you to be shy but always a good sport. I told the audience you had been the inspiration for my singing a few bars of the little ditty that became my theme song years ago, and that the inspiration would continue even with you moving on from high school.

I hugged you tightly and you hugged back, burying your face in my neck. As tall and accomplished as you are, the gesture reassured me that you will always be my cuddly son. It’s a moment I will get to replay forever.

Love,

Dad

 

© 2016 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Education, Graduation, School, Teens, Values | 3 Comments

Jacob Doing Work

IMG_3894Dear Jacob,

When you were born, your eyes opened wide like window shades snapping up to let daylight in. Your big brown peepers compelled everyone’s attention as if to say, “That was a long 40 weeks. Now, let’s get to work.”

You’ve been working ever since. A whirlwind of cerebral, emotional, and physical activity, you are the most productive human being I know. You do everything with a fire that propels you to seize every moment with the gusto of a swashbuckling pirate. “Yar, mateys, if we keep sailing west, we can get the day’s third chest of gold booty before sunset!”

For a father who sometimes barely musters the energy level of a base sloth, this has been a challenge. From babyhood to elementary school, you kept me awake nights wailing for attention when you lost your pacifier, itself likely exhausted from overwork. You made me chase after you as you scooped up curious items from the ground – cigarette butts, coins, tree droppings – before I could snatch them from your mouth. You had me read books to you way past my bedtime and rush out to the store for more art supplies to feed your bottomless drive to draw enough pictures to wallpaper our house.

And then there were the questions. “Why is it hot? What is the name of that tree? Why did you say that bad word?”

Often, I’d fret from exhaustion. “I don’t think I can answer another question about how old everyone he’s ever met is,” I’d say. “And how many times do I have to say no to another hermit crab, hamster, or beta fish?”

You even asked for another dog, not long after that crazy hound mistook your face for a steak. Nothing could deter your quest to grab more from life, despite the obstacles thrown at you.

Mom and I have spent many nights, catching our breath from the Jacob Keer Experience. However, our exhaustion has frequently turned to laughter and amazement at how much you accomplished each day. You may have drained our batteries by sundown, but our joy in raising such a vibrant boy has recharged us for sunup.

To bask a little more in your radiance, I coached you in basketball and soccer. Corralling you for drills wasn’t easy, yet it seemed to pay off. Eventually, your athletic smarts and strength outgrew me and you became the darting demon you are on the soccer pitch. I can’t tell you the pride I felt that day last year when – after years of developing your skills through practice in the backyard and at the park – you placed a penalty kick into the upper corner of the net to secure the championship for your team.

You and I have always shared a love for music. You do my heart good when you sing classic U2, Van Morrison, Prince, and Three Dog Night songs that you’ve somehow memorized in just a couple of listens. You make me beam with pride with performances on the ukulele and guitar. And you floor me with the kind of relentless attention to detail you give in writing lyrics to a song you’re mimicking or creating from scratch.

Sometimes, a lot of times, we fight about getting out of the house, doing chores, being polite to your brothers, or whatever else fathers and sons battle over. I feel awful when I lose my temper and wonder why you don’t acknowledge that I struggle, too, to find ways to communicate the right things in the right way. And then you’ll do something like make me a Father’s Day breakfast Wolfgang Puck would be jealous of or write a suspenseful story to put The Hunger Games to shame. These accomplishments teach me that you are listening, you are learning from me and Mom. You’re just listening and learning so fast, there’s no time to sit and just say, “Wow, look at what’s happening here.”

Well, I am doing just that, Jacob. I’m saying a huge “Wow” about all that’s been happening and continues to happen with everything you do. Everything you are.

You are impressive not just because of what you achieve, but how you achieve it. You work so very hard. Even when you throw your hands in the air in frustration, teetering on giving up on an essay or planning a social adventure with a dozen friends, you gather yourself and get back to the task at hand.

You worked hard, once again, to prepare for the momentous rite of passage that is your bar mitzvah. Everyone gets to experience the fruits of your labor. As for me, I may be the slowest moving guy in the family, but my love and pride keep pace with you, Jacob. May you always love the process and the work it takes to live a life you have filled to the top since the moment you were born.

Love,

Dad

Posted in Adolescence, Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Perspective, Teens | 1 Comment

Stages

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

What Dads Need to Know: I Don’t Want to Go to School!

By Betsy Brown Braun

BraunNow that the school year has begun, it won’t be long before one morning you’ll awaken to the declaration, “I don’t want to go to school.” It’s a cry, actually more of a plea, which every parent is likely to face at least once, if not ten times, each school year.  It’s never music to your ears.

Not wanting to go to school for the younger child or proclaiming “I’m not going to school” for the older ones, can challenge even the most savvy parent.  How easy life would be if there were a one size fits all answer that you could whip out of your back pocket.  But the response to this showstopper will be different for every child.  It will depend upon your child, upon what’s going on in his life, and upon you and what’s going on in yours.

“I don’t want to go to school” seldom means just that. It is usually the tip of an iceberg.  There is either a need that is not being met or a cry for help about something. It is your job as parent to play sleuth and figure it what is really going on.

Here are a few tips for figuring out what’s behind “I don’t want to go to school.”

Ask yourself how long it has been since school began. It takes 6 full weeks for a child of any age to dig in and get comfortable in school.  Give it time before assuming the worst. The child may not have adjusted to a new schedule, may not know the ropes and feel overwhelmed, may still be in transition. Give it time.

It is not likely about school.  With preschool age children, the issue is often about separation. Learning to attend school without a parent is very different from being left at home with a sitter but without you. Remember, the process of separation can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. It takes time to form a trusting relationship with a teacher and to make new friends. Your child just might prefer to be home with you.

What is going on at home?  If grandma is visiting, if Mommy is taking a sick day, if little brother is having a playdate, if the workmen are at his house, the child might want to be at home where the action is.

Is she not well? Your child just might be coming down with something. You know that when you feel sick, your get up and go is gone!  But beware of the child who feigns illness to get out of school.

With elementary school age children, all of the above may be at the source, but any of the following may also be the cause:

Does your child feel that she doesn’t fit in?  As children mature, so too grows their social awareness and their need to fit in. Does she feel that she has no friends?  It’s no fun to go to school if you feel out of it or feel like you have no one with whom to eat lunch.

Friend trouble?  It can be difficult to face social issues. Things that you might brush off can deeply affect a child and make staying home a much more appealing option.

Is there teasing or bullying going on?  You’ll have to do a lot of fishing, as it can be hard for children to ask for help with teasing or bullying. Elementary school age children often think they should be able to tolerate or solve these problems, but they can’t. Staying home enables the child to avoid them all together.

Is the course material too difficult?  Fear of failure is enough to make a child want to stay home. And her pals’ awareness that she is having trouble makes it even worse.

Is your child bored…really bored?  There are some students who are just that advanced. Without a challenge or new material, school can be pretty dull. Teacher trouble? The child who has gotten in trouble, has had a consequence imposed, is embarrassed to be outted, just may not want to go to school and face the music.

With middle and high school age children, all of the above may apply, but in addition:

Social issues are the number one cause of a child refusing to go to school.  There can be bullying or teasing on the campus or via cyberspace.

Genuine fatigue can be debilitating.  Teens need much more sleep than their interests and life styles allow them.  You child may be exhausted. Period.

The method for uncovering what is underneath your child’s school refusal will be different for every child.  What is the same, however, is every child’s need to be heard, acknowledged, and understood.  That is the first step in solving the problem.  When the child knows that his feelings and problems are heard, he will be much more open to brainstorming about a solution.

Betsy Brown Braun, is the bestselling author of the award winning Just Tell Me What to Say (HarperCollins 2008), and You’re Not the Boss of Me (HarperCollins, 2010), also a best seller. A child development and behavior specialist, popular parent educator, and mother of adult triplets, and grandmother, she is a frequent speaker at educational and business conferences, has been a guest expert on Today, the Early Show, Good Morning America, Dr. Phil, Entertainment Tonight, Rachel Ray, Fox and Friends, and NPR, and has been cited in USA Today, the New York Times, Family Circle, Parents, Parenting, Woman’s Day, Real Simple, and Good Housekeeping among countless other publications and websites.  As the founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc., Betsy offers private consulting and parenting seminars as well. She and her husband live in Pacific Palisades, California.

Posted in Child Development, Education, Featured Moms & Dads, School, What Dads Need to Know | 1 Comment

Inspiring School Success

By Gregory Keer

Homework imagesOne of the more prevalent questions by parents is: How can I make my child care about doing well in school? This is an age-old question, and one I deal with every day as a teacher. My only problem with this inquiry is when it comes from overly intense parents of children in their early years of grade school or even preschool. Seriously, no college is going to worry about a kid’s performance in elementary school. However, it’s healthy to lay the foundation for school success, as long as you manage your expectations and remain aware that too much pressure can backfire, either by making a child move further away from wanting to do well or becoming a perfectionist).

Here are a few ideas to start in the right direction.

Instill Your Philosophy on Academic Responsibility. Good grades are, in large part, a reflection of responsibility. You want your child to try his or her best by doing homework on time and completely, setting aside time to study each day, and behaving well in class. Discuss these expectations with your child and praise them for being responsible more than for acing their classes. With your child, work on a homework schedule for each day. Even in elementary school, an assignment book is helpful in setting up good habits and allowing a student to check off what they’ve done so they can see their progress. Remember, the key here is that you’re stressing effort, not grades. Results will come, eventually, but the work habits and sense of accountability are most important at this age.

Go Shopping! A few years back, the office supply company Staples ran a commercial that featured a parent dancing around the aisles of supplies to the tune of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” The humor might be that the parent is just glad to get the children into school after a long summer of trying to keep the kids entertained. But there is a certain joy in getting new school stuff. The truth is that most of us still love buying supplies, including our kids. Go shopping — with a budget of course — and help your children stock up on everything they need to get their work done. Homework is not so bad if you’ve got cool pens, pencils, folders, and tape dispensers.

Model Your Beliefs. Show your son or daughter that you walk the walk. If you do any work at home, try doing it in the same room with your child, or at least the same time. Perhaps you can talk about something you think is a really hard task that you’ll just have to do your best on. Also, consider telling your child stories about your own school experiences, such as how hard you worked to do well in some area — but also how you didn’t earn high grades in others, despite trying hard.

Play to Your Child’s Interests. In addition to their reflection of responsibility, good grades are a function of motivation — kids do well at what they like. You can instill in your child a deeper love for learning by playing to her interests. Take her on field trips related to what she’s into, and praise her for her passions. In this way, you support your child’s individuality and may indirectly help the passion to spill over into other subjects.

Offer Incentive. Some folks offer money, gifts, and candy in exchange for school success. Frequently, this kind of motivation works – in the short term. But if you’re looking for ways that are a bit longer lasting, you need to reinforce that hard work and achievement are their own reward. Praise your child to your spouse, to his siblings, and to his grandparents when he finishes a tough project. Tell your child how proud you are of his efforts. Daily affirmations of a job well done are important. But don’t overdo it, since you want to allow his sense of inner pride to develop as well.

Know your child.  Remember that every child learns differently. Some children have to work twice as hard to earn a C as the child who gets an A every time.  Some kids learn slowly, and need to take their time. Others click with math, but not languages. Understand and accept your child’s weakeness as well as strengths, and don’t compare him to his older (or younger) brother or sister, his best friend or the neighbor’s kid. Learning is not a competitive sport. Instead, provide as much support as you can. If certain learning approaches don’t work, seek alternatives. Be patient but firm, and you’ll see progress that is even more satisfying to your child than it is to you.

For more things to think about to set your kids up for success, see Birthday Cutoffs.

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

Birthday Cutoffs – To Hold Back or Not

Good piece from ModernMom on school and birthday cutoffs. With our youngest boys, who are fall birthdays, we held them back. It has worked for us as they’ve gotten older because our boys have had time to mature, both behaviorally and emotionally, so that they’re at least on par with the other kids in the class. We made our decision in kindergarten, but it can be done later, preferably in elementary school at least a year or more before the next transition to middle school. As a teacher, I’ve also seen benefits for the students I have taught in high school who were held back. It’s a matter of months, particularly for boys, but it makes a difference, especially in adolescence. It may not work for everyone, but it does for us. What are your thoughts? What worked for you?

For more thoughts about school, see articles like The Tortoise Wins the Race.

Posted in Blog, Child Development, Education, School | Leave a comment

The Ongoing Concern of Over-Parenting

Overparenting-imagesHuffington Post Parents posted this article: Is there such a thing as “too much parenting”?

What do you think? Give me an example of when you pulled back on the over-parenting. How did it work out for you?

I’ll start. My middle son almost never has shoes and socks on before getting in the car in the morning. Yesterday, after a number of run-ins with him about getting out of the house, I told him tomorrow was a new day. This morning, he pushed a bunch of my buttons (eating slowly, forgetting his water bottle, etc.), but he had this shoes on before leaving the house.

Trust me, this is one minor example of something that worked, but it’s a struggle for me to find the balance between being conscientious and helicopter. I want to take pride in guiding my kids, yet I want them to do stuff on their own and feel proud of it. There are lots of articles (including a good one from Time in 2009) and books on this topic, so let’s get our own conversation going.

For more about my own struggle with over-parenting vs. conscientious parenting, see Subtext.

Posted in Blog, Child Development, Over-parenting, Parenting Stress, Perspective | Leave a 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 atwww.mpricemitchell.com.

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

Anti-Bullying Video “To This Day”

It’s Mother’s Day, so one reason I recommend viewing this anti-bullying video by the stunningly brilliant poet Shane Koyczan is for a line: “The definition of ‘beauty’ begins with the word ‘Mom.'” But you have to see the animated version of Koyczan’s poem “To This Day” because you need to hear and see and feel the context of what it’s like to be bullied, yet grow up to be so strong. Please trust me when I say that, even if you totally get that bullying is a problem and are making efforts to protect your kids and those of others, this video offers perspective so exquisitely presented that you will have at least a few minutes of feeling transformed. Shane Koyczan also has a Web site worth visiting to hear/see more of his powerful work.

Posted in Blog, Child Development, Family Man Recommends, Social Action, Video | Leave a comment