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, we 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

Boston Marathon Tragedy Reminds Us to Stay Strong

By Gregory Keer

As we all try to work through the details of the senseless attack at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, it’s vital that we remind ourselves that we must be strong for our children, keep the youngest ones out of earshot and eyesight of the media frenzy, and to try to answer the inevitable questions from older children with cautiousness but also assuredness that we will keep them safe. If you wish, read a few more suggestions on how to talk to your kids during this difficult time.

I’m in the midst of teaching a novel called The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, to an amazingly insightful group of 11th grade students. We have been learning together that, despite the book’s raw depiction of the inhumanity surrounding a father and son in a post-apocalyptic world, these lead characters show remarkable sturdiness and faith in one another. The boy, it seems, has faith that there are still good people out there, even in the most bleak circumstances.

We are all on some kind of road, filled with crimes of terror, yes, but also acts of incredible love and kindness. Our kids require us to remember this.

Posted in Blog, Perspective, Protecting Children, Talking About Disasters | Leave a comment

Acting From Within: Thoughts on Preventing Tragedy

By Gregory Keer

As hard as it is, the only way for me to sort through what happened in Newtown, Connecticut is to put myself in the middle of the tragedy.

Because I am a parent, I imagine I am the perpetrator’s mother, who looks at her son in the instant before he shoots her. I die before I can even think.

I am a teacher, and I shudder at what those charged with caring for those children must have thought in their last minutes as they sacrificed their lives in a desperate attempt to stop a madman.

I am a child in one of those first grade classrooms. Perhaps I have a fleeting blip of time to fear this man. Maybe I am the first to die, or maybe I am one of the other 19 children. In this case, I think, “Will he shoot me? Can I run away? He hurt my friend! Will someone save me?”

Now, I am a parent who hears my child has died. I feel blinding pain, hopelessness and anger, among so many other emotions — all of them searing. I think, “My child is gone forever? I sent my child to school, and he never came back. How can that be? How can I keep breathing? Please tell me this is not real.”

I am none of these participants. Yet, I am still a parent, a teacher, an American, a human being. And I feel so many things.

As I write this, the news is still horrifyingly fresh. There are so many unanswered questions. Some things, we will never know. What could have been in the mind of a young man, barely out of his teens, that would prompt him to slay 20 innocent children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary?

Even though we may never understand, I feel motivated, more the ever, to work to prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again. I fiercely believe this requires long-term thinking, and I worry too many people lack the patience and dedication to commit to that. Already, we are caught up in debates over whether better gun control will thwart a violently disturbed person from doing what he wants to do. While I believe we must improve background checks before selling guns to anyone, I want to focus on something we can all agree on.

As adults, we have a duty to fashion a world that’s safer and healthier for our children. We must make things better.

We have to care more about the well-being of people than we do now. We may never be able to stop a lunatic hellbent on destruction, but we can try much, much harder to do better as a society. We have to turn the discussion around so that we are not intent on preventing tragedy but working to promote goodness.

I know that to some, this may sound Pollyanna. I know I am flirting with idealism and optimism. So be it. What good is constantly reacting defensively to what is wrong in the world? Let’s go on the offensive to crush the kind of disconnection that makes outcasts of the mentally ill and socially misfit. We do woefully little to help those we cannot understand, and then we cry and shout when they hurt us.

Among the strategies are making mental health check-ups as normal as physical check-ups. They need to be affordable and not stigmatized. As a society, we are so averse to having anyone question whether we’re equipped to handle the ups and downs of life. We’re still supposed to fight through it without well-trained health professionals, and that’s not working — especially in an age where the resources exist but are not nearly as accessible or socially accepted as they should be.

Then, there are even more painstaking tasks we, as parents, must tackle with firm commitment. As President Obama said days after the shooting when he announced an interagency federal effort to combat violence, “Any actions we take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.”

On a regular basis, we need to talk with our kids about their friends. We need to teach them how to be fair and caring. We must work with them on the nuances of resolving conflicts and understanding each other’s feelings. We must help our sons and daughters recognize and reach out to those who seem alone, and educate them about physical and mental differences that make people unique but no less worthy of our attention. In these ways, we might help our kids at the ground level to improve society’s connectedness.

We need to speak with the parents of our kids’ friends and classmates about their children. We should take notice when they are in need of support. We often get so wrapped up with our own needs, we fail to reach out the way our parents or grandparents did when society seemed smaller and more manageable. We have to create a village-like atmosphere where we help each other so that no parent or child feels outside the circle. If we encounter parents or children that resist social connection, then we should seek counsel or assistance to ascertain what might be causing it and do something to assist them.

We must rely on each other and on the professionals who can make our lives better, and be willing to seek help. Children come with a wide range of emotional and physical challenges. What matters is that we be proactive. This may result in our children needing therapy or medication — or even in us needing those things ourselves. If we make the effort to get help and act in our children’s best interest, we will not only be aiding them and ourselves, but the society around us.

It could take years, even decades for these strategies to take effect. But I have to believe that if we work together, we can create a better world for our children. The alternative is just too horrible.

Posted in Columns by Family Man, Health, Perspective, Protecting Children, Social Action | 3 Comments

Talking to Your Children About Disasters

By Gregory Keer

If there’s a place in the world that is never affected by natural disasters, and the terror that these uncontrollable occurrences bring, tell me where and I’ll move there. In the meantime, my eyes and ears are taking in the reports of what the storms are doing to the East Coast and beyond. Like so many of us, I have family and friends who are without power, stranded in homes and airports, and just plain freaked out. Of particular concern is the children, who feel the least in charge at a time when nature is running amok and adults are not always at their most communicative.

Here are some thoughts on talking to your children about disasters to ease their minds, be they currently remote from harm’s way or just worried about what’s happening in the east.

1. Assure Them of Their Safety.

No parent can guarantee that they can keep their children safe from harm — but the children don’t need to know that. What they do need to know is that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe. Especially for young kid, this blanket statement will calm them, giving them a tangible answer to their chief question of whether anything will hurt them.

2. Stay Calm and Be Comforting.

Always remain calm as you explain things to them, so they do not sense any fear you might have. Couple your words with plenty of hugs and comforting touch so they sense the security blanket you really are.

3. Encourage Questions.

By all means, invite them to ask any questions they may have so they can work out their thoughts with you. If you can’t answer something, go and find an answer from an information resource, a friend, or doctor, if need be. You are your child’s protector and source of information, which is usually a lot better than the mass media, which often sensationalizes things. If you do let them watch a news report, do it in small doses and do it together so you can answer those inevitable questions.

4. Explain How Nature Works.

Nature is as beautiful as it is terrible. You don’t want your child to worry that the natural world is out to get them. So, while you can explain how hurricanes and earthquakes work, also tell them how most human beings survive and build themselves back up. In addition, discuss with them how nature creates land and life in dramatic fashion and sustains us in the quietest ways.

5. Help Them Help Others.

Children may feel powerless, not only in the face of nature, but because they are so far away from those affected. Choose a charity, be it Save the Children, the Red Cross, or Doctors Without Borders, or some other organization, and have them give some of their allowance to send to those in need in the affected areas. You might even use this opportunity to teach them about the parts of this country and beyond that are impacted.

By helping your children through their own fears of disaster, you will meet one of the great tests of parenthood. Bear in mind that if all you do is tell them that you will protect them with everything in your power, you will be doing very well by your children.

Posted in Blog, Helping Kids Understand Loss, Protecting Children, Talking About Disasters | 1 Comment

Best Places to Be a Mom: U.S. Ranks Number 25

One of my favorite philanthropic organizations, Save the Children, just published its annual report on the State of the World’s Mothers. The report is intended to raise awareness about the need for health care and other means of support which mothers require to raise their children. The United States ranked number 25 in the world for its “scores for mother and child health, educational attainment and economic status.” The top-ranked nations for mothers include Norway, Iceland, and Sweden.

In a time in which our country must tighten its belt on so many expenses, it is also a time to prioritize where our money goes. On this Mother’s Day, let’s resolve to show our support for moms in this nation and around the world so that our children may be raised with the resources to help them grow healthy and strong. In this way, we can better ensure a future of healthy and educated adults who will better care for us and the world in general. As fathers, let’s also make the effort to provide for our women and our children, as caregivers ourselves. I look forward to a day when we have our own report on the status of global fatherhood.

Posted in Blog, Child Development, Health, Mother's Day, Newborns, Protecting Children | Leave a comment

April Highlights Autism Awareness and Child-Abuse Prevention

April is both Autism Awareness Month as well as Child-Abuse Prevention Month. Both of these concern the welfare of children and deserve our attention whether they affect us directly or not. As a father and educator, I have met a number of children who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism. As I write this posting, I know I need to teach my own children more about the friends they have who are affected by autism, though we have had discussions about the need to include people with differences in our lives rather than separate from them.

The Autism Speaks site explains that, “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.” The site goes on to explain that “the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 88 American children as on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years.” The CDC also cites statistics to show that autism is diagnosed more commonly in boys than in girls. To learn more about autism, a couple of key Web sites include the one for Autism Speaks and the Autism Society.

With regard to child-abuse prevention, this topic is more relevant than ever, given our needed increase in sensitivity to children bullying other children. One reason bullying exists is because kids are abused, either physically or psychologically by the adults in their lives. A new book is coming out that has an interesting approach to making us all more sensitive to the subject. Written by Magdalena Gómez and María Luisa Arroyo, Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions and Catharsis (Skyhorse Publishing, May 2012) is an anthology of stories, poems, and plays that help illuminate the experience for children, from an inter-generational and multicultural perspective.

Please share your thoughts and suggestions about these topics by posting a comment whenever you wish.

Posted in Anger Management, Blog, Books, Child Development, Health, Protecting Children, Special Needs | 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, TrueCare.com, 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 www.maryjorapini.com.

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

Football & Secrets: Nothing Should Go Before Child Protection

 

The scandal that has rocked the Nittany Lions football program and Penn State University itself will not leave the public consciousness for a long, long time. And it shouldn’t. So many people, from sports columnists to psychologists to the President himself have commented on something that should never have happened. If you’ve been hiding under a rock, or are simply a person who (understandably) finds so much of the news full of darkness that you cannot bear to tune in, you can read about the facts here.

I’m not sure I have anything new or profound to help make sense of this situation, which will only get worse for the people involved, but one thing many, including me, want to make clear: this must scare all of us adults into doing a better job of protecting children. A large number of people — Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, the university’s president, the assistant coach who witnessed a horrible crime — did not do what should have been done in the interest of those boys who were being hurt by Sandusky. They should have prioritized above everything else — above the football program, their own reputations, the university, friendship, whatever — the security of those boys.

Now, more facts about this case will become clear. And I do hope that my own doubts about the morals of those who did not act more strenuously to see that those children were helped will be cleared with evidence that shows that the bystanders actually did more than they did. However, so many details have been revealed that there is no way this could have gone on for all the years it did without some serious negligence.

As a man, I am so profoundly ashamed that anyone could be so otherwise preoccupied to let harm come to children. In this time of uncertainty, in an election year in which we are all politicizing our values, I believe we must prioritize our children above all else. We must educate them — give them the power to believe in themselves and their intellectual abilties — so that they can be less susceptible to manipulation. We must educate and support all parents — whatever their background or economic status — so they can be better equipped to provide for and protect their children. So much of this is about communication in order to keep kids far away from those who would manipulate and prey upon their weaknesses. If we do these things, in addition to better and more prompt legal protection, then we can put a dent in these kinds of terrible consequences.

If you are inclined, please comment and keep the discussion going. I believe a lot will be done by the authorities to help the victims now. What we all can do, though, is help prevent more children from becoming victims.

Posted in Blog, Protecting Children | 2 Comments