Soldiering Toward Tolerance

By Gregory Keer

The soldier is someone’s child, a boy raised with lessons of love, the value of tolerance, and the benefits of friendship. Eight months into the soldier’s tour of duty, all those lessons are tested when two of his closest brothers in arms are out in a Humvee, driving through treacherous desert. Manning the turret is a hulking linebacker type who joined the military to protect his skinny high school buddy, who steers the vehicle. A bomb detonates, killing one soldier, knocking the skinny guy unconscious, and ripping off the arm of the linebacker. Bullets tear into the Hummer, awakening the skinny guy. Bleeding but determined to get his big friend to safety, the skinny guy guides the damaged Hummer back to base.

The soldier now stands before hundreds of students, not much younger than he was at the time of that fateful attack, telling his story.

“Aid was administered and both survived,” he says of his friends. It is then that the soldier pauses and tears come. “You see, real men cry.”

As he holds a hand to his face, he explains his deepest understanding of what they all fought for — to uphold a vision of the world that puts care for fellow human beings, regardless of race, creed, or color, above all else. Earlier in his presentation, he said that he had lost some of his Army friends and that “many of them were not the same race as me, or the same religion as me, or the same political ideology as me. But they died just the same. The strength of this country is and has always been in its diversity, and in its fearless inclusivity. If anything makes us exceptional it is this.”

The soldier has every reason to be cynical because of his trials, but his resolution is rooted so deeply that it binds a group of teenagers who struggle with their own doubts about life’s meaning. HIs resolution is so powerful that his tears return.

And it as this point that a student, a ninth-grade girl with a titanium leg in place of the one she was not born with, rises from her seat and steadily walks up to him. The soldier’s head is down, and he notices her just as she reaches out her arms and embraces him. He leans on this seemingly fragile girl with the strength to take him in and confirm that, yes, compassion and understanding balance out all that we lack.

When the soldier, who has let us all know that he is studying for a master’s degree with his opportunity to learn more about the world, finishes his speech, everyone rises, not just that brave girl. And everyone applauds him for his courage not only to risk his life for all, but his clarity in speaking up for something all too hard for many to see — that a world that is free and fair for everyone is worth fighting for.

As a teacher, I was privileged to hear the soldier’s message and the embracing girl’s pure show of support. I was also moved to become ever more resolved to drive home the message of freedom and equality so that my children will flourish and advocate others to be able to enjoy the same benefits.

This message has never been more crucial than in this new year, with a new presidential administration at the center of debate over how this country can move toward unity in the midst of intense disagreement and, at times, hate. Intolerance has reared its ugly head in many ways, more unfiltered than I have seen in my lifetime. It worries me, upsets me, and occasionally has me at a loss for how to move forward.

Yet, I feel compelled to find answers for my children and even for the students I teach. One answer is to get my family out of the house and travel the city, state, and country to see and meet people with backgrounds that differ from ours, in other environments. Another solution is to put as many books, TV programs, and films in front of them that show diverse perspectives. And it remains more vital than ever for me to encourage and fund as much formal education as my children can handle because knowledge really is the power we need more than ever.

These may seem obvious ideas, but they provide the experience and information children must have to understand others as well as themselves.

One more tack I resolve to focus on is to listen more intently to my children. They have viewpoints that will influence the future I hope to live in for at least a couple of decades. Judging by the audience that heard the soldier speak, many of today’s young people greatly value diversity and tolerance. They are better than most of us older folks at listening to opposing opinions, and unafraid of expressing their own. I have much to learn from them and must be willing to do so. After all, if I am doing anything right as a parent, they will be part of the generation to help this country come together more than I ever could.

© 2017 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.

Posted in Adolescence, Boys to Men, Columns by Family Man, Ethics, Morals, Perspective, Social Action, Teens, Tweens, Values | Leave a comment

Schooling Boys About Girls

By Gregory Keer

respectThroughout my schooling, it wasn’t English or History that stumped me. It was girls. There was my second-grade test in flirting that ended with a classmate bashing me over the head with her very fashionable purse. This was followed by years of cluelessness that led to a high-school dating career marred by an uncanny ability to misread social cues, resulting in one common response: “I just like you as a friend.”

As evidenced by my improbably long-running success with the woman who agreed to marry me, I guess I figured a few things out. But the road to my wife was full of misunderstanding and miscommunication that could have been helped by better education than that provided by my Beavis- and Butthead-like friends, the macho stereotypes on TV, or the ultra-suave characters on the big screen. I was indeed blessed with parents who taught me the value of respect toward the opposite sex, but they gave me precious few insights into the intricacies of socializing with the ladies. And even in the heightened hormone hell of high school, teachers and administrators had precious little to say about gender issues save for the basic anatomical information in Health class.

Being a parent in today’s world presents some very stark reasons why raising a boy requires a lot more focus and intentionality than the methods of previous generations. The subject of male interaction with females is one of particular concern as evidenced by ugly and aggressive actions by young men towards women on college campuses, among other places, but the fact that it happens in college means that something is missing in the education – both formal and informal — of our boys. Somewhere along the line, a percentage of our young males has opted for instinctive displays of physical dominance instead of rationalized communication in order to get what they want from women. And there is support for this physical behavior by a number of parents and other people who should know better.

While disturbing behavior by boys in college requires a worthy and in-depth discussion, one path of contemplation is about what we parents might do to instill the deepest thinking and reinforce the healthiest behavior in our guys early on. As a father of three dudes who are quite distinct from one another, I have learned as much from them as I have taught them about sex, growing into manhood, and how to treat girls in social and more intimate situations. I’ve discussed these topics with them in a variety of situations, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, my wife and I talked to our youngest son, age 11, who was part of an elementary-school guy clique that saw girls as alien creatures who had no business on the fellas’ planet. On occasion, we’d ask Ari if he ever chatted with girls, and he’d say that one was bossy or another was nice. Our goal was to make sure that he was being polite, even if females were not part of his inner circle.

Beyond his boy band, Ari has benefited from a different perspective, as he is close with a girl he’s grown up with. They were at overnight camp together this past summer and the counselors told us that other kids had been making fun of them for being boyfriend and girlfriend. So, we asked our boy about it.

“I don’t remember anyone making fun of us,” he said, with a hint of a white lie.

“How would it make you feel if someone did give you a hard time about it?” my wife asked.

“I wouldn’t care. She’s my best friend.”

For Ari, his view of girls changes with the situation, but he has made it clear that friendship is friendship, no matter the gender. Friendship, and the equality that comes with it, is the root of what we encourage Ari to continue, especially with the coming storm of adolescence. While there is nothing wrong with the instincts that many boys have about girls being different from them in various ways, problems emerge when boys see girls as something less than them — when they view girls as inferior athletes, lesser students, or more fragile than guys are. Our boys need us, as parents, to educate them about all the goals girls can kick, the math problems they can solve, and the emotional ups and downs they can endure. More than that, our boys require us to help them see that their own weaknesses can be strengthened by healthy interactions with girls rather than activities in which boys try to dominate their counterparts.

Some may think these points of education are obvious or out-of-date, given the progress our society has made in gender equality. But this is where it’s important to bring back the issue of what has been happening on college campuses and beyond. There remains a lingering, sometimes intense current of male disrespect toward females that shows up in even the most seemingly progressive places. We have seen it in the case of the Stanford swimmer who attacked an unconscious girl after a party, and the mindless coddling of that attacker in terms of his light sentence. We have seen it in the professional athletes who have injured (or worse) their spouses, then received little consequence. In one case, a baseball player who had abused his wife received an ovation after returning to the field. Absolutely, we should allow that aggressors can make amends, but what does it say to our children, particularly to our boys, when we applaud athletes while not talking with our kids about the mistakes these men made as human beings?

As parents, must discuss the tough stuff, sparing details for our youngest children, but at least broaching the big issues of fair treatment of girls and women. We should also ask our children to help girls who are being poorly treated, as the young man did who interrupted the sexual assault by the dumpster, resulting in the swimmer’s arrest. We must tell our boys to be watchful and active if male friends act improperly, and to never be afraid to break the bro code if they know something to be wrong.

Perhaps most important is the role modeling we adults do. In our relationships with women, be they in partnerships, friendships or casual acquaintances, we have to show our boys we respect women physically, verbally, psychologically and professionally. We have to illustrate how we talk things out and resolve conflicts with adult women and encourage our daughters and friends’ daughters in pursuits that are equal those of boys.

We should also actively involve ourselves in what our schools address with our children regarding all kinds of boy-girl topics. We need to ask about the programs schools are delivering, offer any concerns we might have about the programs, and discuss the topics with our children before and after they learn about them.

Among the other resources we can use are older children, be they our own kids or those of close friends. Ari is fortunate to have two older brothers, one who is starting high school and one who is beginning college. Both boys have been on the receiving end of parental talks about what they could do better and what they did right in their interactions with girls. They have also experienced a range of peers, from the most exemplary to some who have behaved questionably around the opposite sex. As a result, they have shown their little brother how to be friends with girls and how to act around girlfriends. They are the role models Ari has most closely watched, which emphasizes why we had to address issues early in our parenting career.

I am still teaching my boys about the keys to respecting the opposite sex. Frankly, I will keep talking to them about it because there are powerful forces out there that push guys to react to their basest instincts. Good guys can make mistakes, but with emotional honesty, lots of talking and ample role modeling, we can help our sons be the honorable counterparts to all the great daughters out there. That’s education with more value than any diploma can provide.

© 2016 Gregory Keer. All rights reserved.

Posted in Adolescence, Blog, Boys to Men, Columns by Family Man, Education, Family Communication, Friendship, Gender, Morals, Protecting Children, School, Teens, Tweens, Values | Leave a comment

Mass Love in the Wake of Mass Tragedy

By Gregory Keer

In the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Orlando on Sunday, June 12, what heartens me are the persistent waves of love pouring out from all over the country and the world. I believe more than ever that love far outweighs the hate in this world, and that it is something we must show and teach our children now more than ever. I also believe that gun-control action is vital, and that we must address the loopholes in our laws in the name of expanding the safety that I hope we all agree is the goal. However, what I also want to emphasize is a greater consciousness toward connecting with each other on a daily basis, not just after tragedy strikes. We have to notice and care about the pain and anger in others, then be relentless in getting help for those who show it. I am not naive enough to think that we can head all killers off before they pick up a weapon, but I do think that we should do more than tolerate each other. Everyday acts of kindness can be drops of water that might eventually fill up oceans of support to keep more people afloat in an often arid world of disconnection. We don’t have to kiss and hug everyone we meet, but we can be kind, provide eye contact, say hello. This blog, which I struggle to find time to use in this crazy, busy life, is one tool of connection for me. Maybe it will reach someone new today. I hope it reminds any reader that I am, many of us are, wanting to make things a little bit better.

Posted in Blog, Morals, Social Action, Values | Leave a comment

What Dads Need to Know: Tips for Raising More Charitable Children

By Alison Smith

Children become more charitable when they believe that their actions have impact. A few small, yet tangible ideas, put into action early on in life, can set the stage for a more charitably spirited and rewarding future.

1.      Pass it On

Nothing is better than receiving a completely unexpected, delightful, surprise.  Next time when you are at your favorite coffee shop with your kids, let the cashier know that you would like to buy the person behind you a cup of coffee or a muffin.  No need to let them know. The cashier can let the person know that it was a gift from the person who just left.   Your child will see how nice it feels to put a smile on an absolute stranger’s face.

2.      Cookie Delivery

At some point in time, we all have friends who could use a hug or need a little lift.  Why not bake cookies with your kids, have them draw a “happy” card and deliver an unexpected package to a friend’s doorstep.  This act of kindness will allow you to have the compassion conversation.   Being aware that grownups have feelings too helps kids to think outside of themselves and be more aware of the world around them.

3.      Plant Seeds and Give Them Life

What could be better than watching a little garden grow (especially in the dead of winter?) Give your little ones a pot, some earth and seeds to water and nurture.  Seeing the progress take shape before their very eyes shows kids that when they are patient and nurturing, beautiful things occur.

4.  Allowance is for Sharing

One of my personal all time favorites is encouraging kids to give a small portion of their allowance away.  Setting aside a small amount each week can quickly turn into to a sizable amount after a few short months.  Together you and your child can discuss where that money can go. It begins the dialogue of giving and sets your child on an early path that places giving as a party in their everyday

Alison Smith, a mom and  former kids furniture and clothing designer, is co-founder of ECHOage.com, a company that does good for children and charities by splitting birthday gift money between the two.

Posted in Activities With Kids, Charity, Featured Moms & Dads, Morals, Social Action, Values, What Dads Need to Know | Leave a 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