The Devilish Advocates

By Gregory Keer

I spent much of my life in the kind of self-debate that puts Hamlet to shame. While my penchant for over- analyzing decisions sometimes yielded good results, I also wasted a lot of time failing to trust my instincts and experience.

There are all those open jump shots I didn’t take because I pondered too long.

There are all those job interviews during which I came off as wishy-washy.

There are all those girls I didn’t date because my hesitation let the other guy swoop in.

Fortunately, I didn’t waffle about pursuing the woman who became my wife, a swift decision that worked out pretty well. Yet, even after marrying Wendy, I suffered from paralysis by analysis regarding stories I wrote and career problems I had.

It took becoming a father to put me firmly on the path of confident thinking. As a dad, there’s little room for hand-wringing when faced with having to take a pee-pee dancing child into a public restroom or enforcing the rule of wearing a bike helmet.

As a dad, one of my goals is to teach my children the lessons I’ve fought to learn so they can lead more productive lives than I did at their age.

So, two years ago, when I asked my eldest son what he thought about the decisions of a 20th century president he researched for a class, he held a long pause and said, “I don’t know.”

It was a moment I had rehearsed for years, so I delivered it in my best Hal Holbrook impersonation.

“Son, never say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care.’”

“But I really don’t know what I think,” Benjamin (then 12) replied.

“Yes, you do,” I said, hearing the music rise on the soundtrack in my head. “You have to be willing to take the risk. People respect you more if you have something to say.”

Well, my son definitely has opinions now that he’s a teenager.

The following comes from one eight-minute conversation:

“I don’t like vacations. I don’t see the point.”

“I hate Shakespeare.”

“Chinese food is disgusting.”

“I never enjoyed playing sports.”

“Dressing in nice clothes is stupid.”

My son is allowed to have opinions, but I felt compelled to say, “You’re entitled to be wrong, especially about Chinese food.”

Of course we argued for a while longer, making me wonder why I ever encouraged my son to have viewpoints. However, he’s only part of my problem.

Jacob (11) causes plenty of high blood pressure for battling with me over leaving the house on time and wearing t-shirts that fit him, but when it comes to being a contrarian, my eight-year-old takes the cake, if not the entire bakery.

Upon serving him dinner, any dinner, Ari tells us, usually with tears in his eyes, “I told you I hate chicken/turkey/fish/vegetables/potatoes.” You name it, he makes a federal case out of us trying to feed him anything but what he deems suitable for that very moment.

On weekends, when we offer to take him out to play or visit people instead of having him lie on the couch in front of the TV, Ari will protest, “I should be able to relax once in a while. I work really hard during the week.”

When Ari is asked to clean his room, he reasons, “I shouldn’t have to. You guys are the ones who put stuff in my room.”

“You mean, the clothes, furniture, books, and toys?” I reply.

“Yeah, you should really clean this up.”

It would be easy to blame family sitcoms for the smart-alecky words my son fires like a fully loaded Nerf gun, but I have mostly myself to blame.

In my effort to encourage each one of my sons to start earlier than I did on the path to definitive thinking, I’ve been drilling them since they were infants.

With baby food, I experimented until I could elicit an excited response as to which mishmash they preferred. Over the years, I also reinforced their decision to cuddle with a favorite blanket, supported them when they picked their friends for birthday parties, and high-fived them for focusing on a book series rather than hem and haw over their choices or, God forbid, not read at all.

While I may have had difficulties in making decisions, my sons boldly choose with little hesitation. As such, they have strong opinions, albeit many that run against my preferences. Still, as long as I help them work out the nuances of respecting others’ opinions and rules, I’m confident their decisiveness will serve them well in life.

I’ve made at least one decision, recently. I resolve to not get so caught up in arguing with my sons over being contrary to me. I’ll still think they’re wrong, some of the time, but I’ll take the high road of pride that they are flexing their convictions.

Posted in Child Development, Columns by Family Man, Ethics, Family Communication, Values | Leave a comment

A New Hope

By Gregory Keer

When it comes to donating money, I want to be impressive. Every December, when I send most of my biggest donations during the season of giving, I gather my children around and show them the websites and brochures of all the organizations I choose to support. In this way, they see what I value in the world and, hopefully, they think I’m a pretty nifty guy for sharing with those in need.

Sometimes, though, the philanthropic gestures of the dude they see eating potato chips in their living room at night is not impactful enough to truly teach how powerful giving to others can be.

Which is why, this year, I called upon the example of a hero my children and I have in common – the Star Wars navigator himself, George Lucas. This is a guy my kids relate to because he has entertained them with light-saber-bearing protagonists, wild alien creatures, and lots of swashbuckling space adventure.

So when I told them he is giving the entire $4.05 billion dollars from his sale of Lucasfilm to an educational charity, they were suitably impressed. Just think about what this says to the countless people influenced by the righteous rebelliousness of Luke Skywalker, the elegant leadership of Princess Leia, the daring bravado of Han Solo, and the Zen-like teaching of Yoda.

Lucas has dealt a serious blow to the dark forces Darth Vader represents by demonstrating that some people who hold great power really do want to heal the world. Already committed to education innovation via his Edutopia company that researches and promotes learning strategies, Lucas makes an even bigger statement about his belief that education must be a priority.

“I feel honored that he cares about kids even though they’re not his children,” my 11-year-old, Jacob, said. “He cares about how kids are going to be in the future.”

Through his donation, Lucas follows the Chinese proverb that says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Although my wife and I have yet to find ourselves with a multi-billion dollar windfall to play around with, we do put a lot of thought into our philanthropic approach. Last December, as we gathered our sons around the table to select charities we wanted to emphasize, my kids were most taken with Save the Children. Not only did my boys like the idea of giving to other kids, they loved the catalogue that equated certain donation amounts with funding classrooms, buying goats and sheep, purchasing medicine, and making micro-loans for small businesses. These options helped my boys see the direct impact on families in America and throughout the world. So, instead of giving money, which often seems intangible to my kids despite all our best efforts to explain the value of it, my children gave animals that provided dairy products for a family and books for a village library.

During the year, my sons wondered how the recipients were doing with the animals and books. We discussed how the children would learn to milk the goat and sheep we bought for them. We imagined them laughing and being caught up in the adventure of the stories we made possible for them to read. The children we donated to were not “those poor people in underprivileged areas” — they were kids like our sons who got some important stuff because we shared with them.

While my sons and I can’t donate billions like George Lucas, we are inspired to continue giving to children so that they have a brighter future. This year, we’ll once again select gifts that will educate and sustain young people in need. In this way, we hope to ensure there’s more than “a new hope” ahead.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Education, Ethics, School, Social Action, Values | 1 Comment

What Dads Need to Know – Raising Kids With Values

By Dr. Jenn Berman

When it comes to instilling values, parents face greater challenges than ever before. Children today are bombarded with anti-values messages all day long through television, movies, music, the Internet and billboards. Kids have fewer young role models that demonstrate valuable contributions to society than they did in years past. Instead they have people like Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and Brody Jenner, kids who are known for, respectively, her buttocks, a sex tape, and dating other reality stars and for their parents’ money. As though that is not enough of a stumbling block, kids today also suffer from a lack of meaningful adult and peer relationships. So many of us, young and old, tend to be focused on Blackberries, laptops and television screens at the expense of meaningful connections and relationships.

According to a poll by Parents Magazine, the top five values that parents want to imbue in their children are: honesty, self esteem, kindness, self-reliance, and concern for others, qualities which are the building blocks for a moral person and a decent society. However, despite the fact that 70 percent of those polled said that they want to instill self esteem in their children, most parents don’t realize that giving kids the ability to make a difference is the greatest single inoculation against poor self esteem they can give. In addition, giving back to others and knowing that you can positively influence the lives of other people creates a sense of self efficacy while the meaningful activities themselves decrease isolation and self centeredness which in turn helps to build self esteem.

Where to Begin

When most parents think about teaching their children to give back, they tend to think about teens or even elementary school kids. But as Oprah Winfrey said recently, “You are never too young to make a big difference in somebody’s life.” By teaching this lesson to children as young as two or three years old, you help them develop at an early age the habit of giving and helping others which causes this way of thinking and behaving to become deeply ingrained.

Three great tools to start with are:

Books - Books open doors to new concepts, cultures and traditions. It is easy to start young since there are so many great values related books out there for young kids. Early on, start reading books about issues and qualities you value. Check out great toddler books like: The Story of Rosa Parks, The Peace Book, The Snail and the Whale, and Little Bear’s Little Boat.

Discussion - Look for opportunities for meaningful discussions and show your child that you value her opinion during conversations. Use books to open values based conversations. I recently had a conversation with my three year old daughters about peer pressure after reading Hey Little Ant where a little boy’s friends try to pressure the boy in the book to step on an ant.

Modeling Behavior - For many parents, this is the greatest difficulty of parenting. Our kids are always watching us and what we do is far more impactful than what we say. Not only do we have to be role models, but also leaders. Next time you are making a charitable donation, instead of doing it quietly at your computer where your kids can’t see, let your children be involved. Let them pick the charity to which you send your donation. Next time you are thinking of a family vacation, consider planning a volunteer vacation. You can build an orphanage in China, teach English, or help save an endangered species. Work together as a family to make an impact on the world and you will help your child while you help others.

Making New Traditions

Sure it is wonderful to go and feed the homeless around Thanksgiving but people are hungry all year round. Think about making a family New Year’s resolution not only to give back on a regular basis but also to have discussions about important issues and values. As children get older the conversations become increasingly complex and their ability to volunteer becomes greater. Try making one of the following a year round tradition:

  • Make a Kindness Scrapbook. Create a scrapbook to document things that family members do to help others. Since we started ours, my daughters have made cards for sick children, donated money to save an endangered species, and sent their favorite books to a child in need.
  • Start a Dinner Table Foundation. Every month save up twenty dollars or more to donate to a charity. Let each of your children “pitch” their first choice charity.
  • Collect Something for Others. Collect canned food for a food bank, DVDs for donations to a charity like KidFlicks.org, or clothing for a community homeless organization. Each month, with your kid’s help, find something new to give to others.
  • Be Generous to Public Servants. Drop off some baked goods at the local fire station. You can use this as an opportunity to talk to your kids about people who help keep us safe and giving back to the community. Just make sure you call your local fire station to make sure they are open to receiving visitors.
  • Volunteer together. There are so many opportunities to volunteer, especially for older kids. Try food banks, homeless shelters, hospitals, and old age homes. For a great selection of possibilities in your area check out VolunteerMatch.org, a free online service that matches people with appropriate volunteer opportunities.

Keeping Your Family Connected

Kids learn values best when they feel close and connected with their families. Three things you can do to make that happen are:

  1. Have family dinner together. Studies show that kids who eat with their family are less likely to try drugs or alcohol, are more physically fit, experience more academic success, have more nutritionally balanced diets, and have a reduced risk for eating disorders. According to a University of Minneapolis study, the more frequent family meals were eaten together and the more connected a family felt, the more self esteem went up while negative factors like depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts went down. This underscores the importance that strong connections have to creating meaningful relationships and generating real influence over your child’s values.
  2. Turn off the TV. Media has become a replacement for family interaction. Given the excessive number of hours adults spend watching television, experts report that parents now have more eye contact with television characters than they have with their own family members. Television can decrease communication with one another and stunt the development of family relationships, which are the foundation for a child’s relationships outside of the family.
  3. Have family meetings. Family meetings are a great way for children to feel heard in their family. A good family meeting serves as a microcosm of the real world, giving your child the opportunity to influence others, develop empathy, and learn cooperation, which are all important values.

Dr. Jenn Berman is a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist in private practice in Los Angeles. She has appeared as a psychological expert on hundreds of television shows including The Oprah Winfrey Show and is a regular on The Today Show, The Early Show, and CNN. She hosts a live daily call-in advice show called “The Love and Sex Show with Dr. Jenn” on Sirius/XM’s Cosmo Radio 5-7 pm PST (heard five hours a day seven days a week). She is the author of the LA Times best selling books SuperBaby: 12 Ways to Give Your Child a Head Start in the First 3 Years and The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy Confident Kids. In May 2011 she will be releasing her first children’s book Rockin’ Babies. Her award winning “Dr. Jenn” parenting column is printed in Los Angeles Family Magazine and five other magazines is read by half a million readers ever month. Dr. Jenn is also on the Board of Advisors for Parents Magazine. In addition, Dr. Jenn has an eco-friendly clothing line for adults and children called Retail Therapy . All the tees have positive “feel good” messages and are made of organic and recycled materials. Dr. Jenn lives in Los Angeles with her husband and twin daughters. For more information on go to www.DoctorJenn.com or follow her on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/drjennberman and www.Facebook.com/DrJennBerman.

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

Movie Aliens and Captains Offer Family Lessons

Maybe it’s the fact that my sons are getting older so I can take them to more films above the G rating, but I do feel this summer has offered a slew of worthwhile movies to see with my kids. Hard to pick a clear favorite at the moment, especially since timing issues have prevented me from seeing the last Harry Potter flick (I’m a bit fanatical about seeing it in just the right theater and with at least one of my children). But Captain America was a winner for my entire family. The Joe Johnston- (October Sky — which is well worth renting or downloading — and The Rocketeer) directed actioner paid homage to old Hollywood films as it centered on a WWII-era story of heroism, patriotism, and identity. Great line from the movie was Steve Rogers’ response to Dr. Erskine who asks if Steve wants to kill the enemy. “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullies.”Nice lesson to kids who come to the theater to see “The First Avenger” and get a message that it’s not about looking to kill people but about standing up for yourself and preventing aggressors from victimizing others

I’m also a fan of Super 8. J.J. Abrams and his crew told a good Steven Spielberg-style tale of kids being better attuned to others (even aliens) and saving the world. It’s a thrilling movie that gave me a true bonding experience with my adolescent son, particularly because of the father-son storylines. One question, though: why do Hollywood movies and TV shows kill off moms in order to show dads bonding with their kids? This film, by the way, makes me want to show Stand and Deliver to my eldest.

Gonna try to see Cowboys and Aliens this weekend. Not as high on possible lessons, but looks like fun.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Blog, Ethics, Family Man Recommends, Film, Single Fathers | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Teaching Kids Respect

By Anne Leedom

There is a big question making the rounds among the parents at my daughter’s class. Should the kids refer to the parents’ friends as “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith”, rather than using their first names? I was quite shocked, having come from a home where it would have been unheard of to refer to one of my parent’s friends by their first name. This was reserved for only the closest of family friends and relatives, and even they always had “Aunt” or “Uncle” in front of their name.

Respect is something that is earned and commanded. Unlike many of the other virtues we try to nurture in our kids that are mostly present from birth, respect is a bit more complicated. Respect is not only necessary when dealing well with others, but the virtue of self-respect is critical for kids to succeed and feel good about themselves and their choices throughout their lives.

There are several factors that can have a big impact on kids and their ability to be respectful. The first one to consider is manners. Calling adults by their surnames, setting proper examples during sporting events and while driving, and how we talk to each other in our homes all can have a tremendous affect on a child’s concept of respect and how important it is. Many of these seemingly trivial ideas have become almost outdated, but one should seriously consider the value of these ideas before casting them aside. It is easy to become unconscious about these behaviors. Try to keep track of how often your child is subjected to this kind of disrespect.

The media, as you may have guessed, plays a large part in the increase in disrespect. The Parents Television Council, according to Dr. Michele Borba, looked at four weeks of programming during the 1999 fall season in the 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. time slot and tallied up to 1,173 vulgarities—nearly five times that of 1989. Movies are equally to blame, with a PG movie often containing an abundant amount of crude and profane language.

These factors and others all contribute to an alarming increase in disrespect in society. If we don’t step in and change the course, we will find living in a morally respectful culture unlikely. This process can be greatly impacted for the better by treating our kids as though they are the most important person in the world, in reference to the level of respect we give them. Show them unconditional love and listen with your whole attention. Let your kids feel your love through your hugs, your words and your encouragement. Spend time together interacting. Eliminate disrespect by immediately calling attention to it, and if need be, have behaviors in place to discourage it further. Dr. Borba recommends refusing to engage when kids are being disrespectful.

Fine kids for swearing. Use time outs for younger kids. Don’t allow kids to socialize with family if they can’t be respectful. Take away phone privileges or ground them. Younger kids need more immediate consequences in order to fully understand the impact of their behavior. Above all, the same rule applies. Reinforce your kids’ positive and respectful behavior and be clear about negating disrespect. Kids take their cues from all adults, so be sure you are setting the best possible standards.

In the case of extreme disrespect, consider getting help to cope and modify behaviors.

Anne Leedom is the Founder of www.TeenPalz.com, a website providing virtual monitoring and activities for teens. She lives in Northern California.

Posted in Ethics, Featured Moms & Dads, What Dads Need to Know | 1 Comment