GOOD NEWS for Parents!

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I’ve launched, an all-new multi-service, resource-rich website for parents and other adults who are working to help young people grow up to be strong adults.



Strong for Parenting Blog will still live here a few months more, but will no longer be my platform for new content. I’ll be posting new content on several times a week, so check my blog’s new home and become a follower!

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How to Give Your Kids the Right Amount of Independence

Special guest post by Winter Amity, freelance writer on technology and parenting topics.

These days, children are exposed to a huge variety of media, and parents can get understandably upset about the kind of information they’re taking in. With mobile phones, tablets, computers and other technology now perpetually available to younger kids, there’s no wondering why parents have become stricter. As previously discussed on Strong for Parenting, however, this breeds children unequipped for the real world.

In order to raise kids who are responsible and resilient, parents need to give them a bit more independence. Most parents think that the only way to raise independent kids is to have them spend time away from them, such as sending to summer camps where they can learn different skills. Of course, the thought of being separated from their kids and being unable to make sure they’re safe at all times can drive some parents up the wall. But there are some things parents can do to teach their kids to be independent, as well as train themselves to be more relaxed about their children growing up and making their own choices.


Photo by Emran Kassim via Flickr Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Assign age-appropriate responsibilities. The trick is to start small, giving your kids more freedom to try new experiences you’re comfortable with. Start by teaching them to do “grown-up” tasks. According to Amy McCready of Positive Parenting Solutions, “Identify one new task per week that your child can do with a little training. Divide the task into steps and show the child how to do it — then make it ‘his job.’ These tasks may seem simple to us, but they help our kids develop a sense of confidence.” The best part is that you’ll be there to guide your child through every step of the way, slowly giving them more room to perform tasks by themselves and giving yourself the room to get used to the idea of their doing things without you.

Let them make choices. Identify activities and chores that your kids can do themselves, such as dressing themselves. They’ll come up with really funny outfits, but this lets you practice letting go as well, and letting them express themselves.

Change the way you talk to your kids. Jeanne Williams tells Today’s Parent that simply acknowledging the problem is great progress. When Williams realized she was doing more for her son than was necessary, she told him, “I’m sorry. I’ve been treating you like a little kid when you are ready to do some big-kid jobs!” She warns against using phrases like “You’re not a baby anymore.”

You may feel anxious about giving your kids the independence they need, but you can easily work your way towards it. Not only will you be stronger parents for it, you’ll be raising stronger, confident kids who are preparing for adult life.

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So You Want Your Child to Be Resilient…

Life is hard, and it takes a strong person to stand up to the adversity that life dishes out with amazing regularity.

Young adults of the “millennial” generation are sometimes criticized for not being resilient. According to the stereotype, they want success handed to them and when they come up short, they quit and run home to their overprotective parents.

Jarrell-BrooksIt’s unfair and simplistic to use this stereotype to generalize about all these young people. I know several talented adults of this age-group who show up ready to pay dues, take responsibility and learn from their mistakes. In a word, they are resilient.

We want our children to grow up to be resilient.

But what is resilience, really?

I think you can get some answers by reading these articles. They aren’t about parenting, but I think you’ll learn something about resilience…

Five elements of inner strength that add up to RESILIENCE 

Some examples of RESILIENCE

What some experts say about RESILIENCE 

If you’re a parent who wants your child to grow up resilient, here’s the bottom line:

Resilience is a behavior pattern your child will have to learn. Not as something to know, but as something to do. He or she will need to exercise resilience repeatedly for it to become the habitual way of a resilient person.

If you try to protect your child from adversity, from challenges that might risk failure, or from the frustrations of hard work and problem solving – even if you do this out of love – it will have the opposite effect. It will rob your child of precious opportunities to learn how to be resilient.

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Moment to Moment: Teens Growing Up with FASDs

FASD stands for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: a variety of permanent birth defects caused by the mother’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. The mother consumes alcohol, the substance travels to the womb, where it can disrupt normal development of the unborn child’s body and brain, causing permanent disfigurement and brain damage.

You know that doctors warn expectant mothers not to consume alcohol or drugs during pregnancy. Very likely your doctor explained the disabilities that can happen. Every mother wants her child to be born perfect, and most mothers heed the warnings.

But of course not all. In the U.S., more than half a million children suffer from a FASD.

momentfilmHow awful are the disabilities? What do they look like? The horrors revealed in Moment to Moment: Teens Growing Up with FASDs go far beyond a doctor’s warning. Directed by Gabe Chasnoff, the documentary presents the heartbreaking consequences in the lives of four teenagers and their families as they struggle to cope with FASD disabilities.

Mothers may ask whether one drink is okay, but there’s no evidence that any amount is safe. The baby’s brain develops one area at a time, and there’s no way to tell when a sensitive period of development is in process. The most extreme risks come from binge drinking and drinking early in pregnancy.

Actions always have consequences. If a mother abuses substances during pregnancy, the damage to the brain could cause an inability to understand cause and effect, to control emotions, to plan, and to stay focused on a task. Parents may not know that their child is small or slow to learn because of a FASD. A teacher or doctor could mistakenly assume that behavioral problems are due to attention deficit disorder. A judge could sentence a young person to death, not knowing that the crime was directly related to a FASD. An employer could fire a victim for failing to follow instructions, not realizing that the individual needs special supervision. An adult with FASD may never be capable of living independently.

A similar, quite real horror not appreciated by parents: when teenagers drink alcohol or use drugs. Most parents don’t know that the prefrontal cortex – the brain area that handles conceptual thought, critical thinking, control of emotions and impulses, judgment, planning and organizing – is still under construction during adolescence, which lasts from puberty to the early 20s. When young people abuse substances, the chemicals that travel to their brains can disrupt normal development, causing permanent disabilities, such as diminished intellectual capacity throughout adult life.

Doctors warn pregnant women, but they don’t warn parents about this second period of vulnerability. A college student can binge drink for days at the beach during spring break, and the parents may smile that they are “sowing wild oats,” not realizing their child is risking permanent brain damage.

My opinion: every adult needs to view this movie. By showing what the disabilities look like, the horror becomes real enough to make you take action.

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The One thing All Players Need from Their Coach and Parents

Without adults, there would be no organized youth sports. But adults can ruin it for the kids. In this guest post, writer Quinn McDowell gives us adults some good advice.

Managing the Complexity

The dynamics between players, coaches, and parents have become notoriously difficult to manage, and understandably so. The complexity that results from the intermingling of these relationships is due to the very nature of sports and competition. Generally speaking, the coaches agenda is centered around the team, a players agenda is centered around themselves, and a parents agenda is centered on their child’s wellbeing. This is not to say that a player can’t care about their team, or coaches always disregard the wellbeing of their players, but usually this is where priorities lie. To put it another way, the allegiances of all parties involved are usually directed (and rightfully so) towards their primary interests. These allegiances can cause coaches to be insensitive, players to show disrespect, and parents to overstep their bounds.

Baseball Coaching StrategyIn youth sports, the majority of this friction could be laid to rest if all players received one specific thing from their coaches and parents. This one thing is a mindset as much as anything else, and if all future decisions can be measured against this principle, everyone will benefit. Players simply need: honest, truthful, supportive communication from their coach and parents. This may sound simple, but the impact can be dramatic. Here are three ways that this type of communication will have a positive effect on everyone involved.

Realistic Expectations

Sports (especially when you have to deal with tryouts, playing-time, and other similar issues) can be a great learning and growth experience for many kids. However, I believe one of the biggest reasons athletes can have a negative experience with their coach or team is because their expectations are never met since expectations are never set. If an athlete walks into a team with a particular set of expectations, and the coach never communicates his/her expectations with that player, inevitably someone will be disappointed.

Quinn McDowell is a writer, trainer and professional athlete. He has played in the NBA D-League, Australia and Spain, following his four-year career at the College of William and Mary. He is the founder of and desires to see coaches and players succeed with excellence. He currently resides in Palencia, Spain, with his wife Lindsey.

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Millennials – Can They Learn to Fly without Their Helicopter?

Recently I had an interesting conversation with an IT executive about his technical staff, and we ended up talking about “millennials,” the generation of adults currently in their twenties and early thirties. He said their narcissism, lack of resilience, attitude of entitlement and poor work ethic had caused terrible issues for him.

But he said he found the solution. “I don’t hire them anymore,” he said. “That’s why my staff has people from Ecuador, Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Jamaica, Cuba, and Saudi Arabia, and all the Americans I have are over 40.”

helicopterJoannie B. Connell, Ph.D., talent management expert and career coach, has a new book, Flying without a Helicopter (2015),  that puts the blame on over-parenting. Popularly known as “helicopter parents,” these parents seem to “hover” over their children, doing things for their kids that the kids need to be doing for themselves. While these children may think it’s pretty cool to have parents who praise them for everything (whether they earned it or not), get them out of trouble, solve their problems, and buy them whatever they say they need, this over-protection and dependence on their parents prevents them from learning the life skills and personal strengths needed to deal with life and work as an adult.

In her book, Dr. Connell describes “millennials” in detail. She reveals the gap between what these young adults were taught to expect and the realities of a challenging workplace. Like my friend, many employers are concluding that despite their college degrees, too many young adults of this generation are unfit for work.

Most of her book describes solutions – what employers and millennials need to do differently to be successful. According to Connell, these young adults have a lot to learn, things their parents didn’t teach them and things they weren’t taught in college:

  • Accept imperfection
  • Build resilience
  • Develop independence
  • Polish communication skills
  • Foster creativity

Easier said than done. But defining the problem as clearly as Dr. Connell does and outlining realistic solutions is a great beginning.


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Do You Over-Praise Your Child?

Praising a child is a good thing, isn’t it? Doesn’t praise boost self-esteem, which is crucial to achievement, sound decision-making and healthy relationships?

SW magAccording to Heidi Stevens’ superb article, “In Criticism of Praise,” in the January 2015 issue of the Southwest Airlines inflight magazine: not if you overdo it.

She describes a belief among parents of her generation that “the more praise the better.” She and other parents like her have believed that kids should get positive feedback for everything they do, even if what they do isn’t their best effort.

However, she cites studies that prove that praise affirming who they are, e.g. “you’re so smart” or “you have a good mind for math,” can make kids want to avoid seeking out challenges. They don’t want to risk failure, which might show that they really aren’t that competent.

On the other hand, when kids are praised for things they did well, e.g., “it looks like all that research you did this week paid off” or “I could tell you were really focused and hustling out there today,” kids are more motivated to repeat the behavior and try harder in the future.

Also, young people know when praise is genuine and when it’s not. When they receive compliments for their half-hearted efforts, they come to distrust the parent’s opinion. If the praise isn’t valid, maybe the unspoken message is that they’re inadequate.

So even if a parent is well-intended and wants to communicate love and support, over-praising can have the opposite effect. It can lead to lower self-esteem and discourage curiosity, innovation and effort, which are essential to success in school and beyond.

The solution is not to stop praising your child, but to praise appropriately:

  • Notice a worthy effort based on the child’s capabilities right now.
  • Describe the behavior in specific terms.
  • Express your genuine delight.

I recommend that you read the article. You’ll be glad you did.

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Groove – A Device That Can Prevent Texting While Driving

In the U.S. every year, texting while driving causes

  • 1.6 million auto crashes
  • 500,000 injuries
  • 6,000 deaths

According to the article, “Rocket scientist’s idea could put an end to texting while driving” by Gabriel Noble, “Texting while driving has replaced drinking and driving as the leading cause of teen vehicular death, responsible for 20 percent of all teen highway fatalities in the U.S.”

A quick review of “distracted driving”…

Scientific fact: The human brain can’t pay attention to more than one thing at a time. This limitation is necessary for survival. Without it, information would flood the brain from every direction, and our perceptions would be chaotic and our thoughts would be unmanageable. We “multi-task” by switching attention back and forth, an inefficient way of doing two things at once. However, when one of those things is driving a car, dangers can come up quickly. If your attention is focused on a cell phone screen in one of those moments, it would be impossible for you to sense the danger. You could become one of those 1.4 million horrible crash statistics, maybe even one of the deaths.

Car_crash_2In 2008, Scott Tibbitts, a NASA engineer, was scheduled to meet with Dave Sueper. Sueper never made it. Unfortunately, a teenager ran a red light while texting and slammed into Sueper’s car, killing him. He left behind a wife and two kids. Himself a father to teen children, Tibbitts was so disturbed by the tragedy that he began thinking and talking to other engineers about a way to make it impossible to send or receive a text message while driving.

Years later, the result is a clever device called “Groove,” which makes it impossible to send or receive text messages while the car engine is running.

The article quotes research that says 90% of people believe it’s wrong to text while driving. It also says that 30% of people admitted to doing it.

Does your teen drive? Does your teen have a cell phone? Does your teen send and receive text messages? What are the chances that your child would be tempted to send or receive a text message while driving?

Read the article. Watch the video.


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Teach Your Children Well

“Teach Your Children Well” (1969) written by Graham Nash, performed by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

crosby_stills_nash_and_young_performing-27720I first heard this song in a bunker in Vietnam. It touched my heart before I understood the lyrics. I returned safe but with a perspective I didn’t understand. As the years went by, the song resonated with those troubled times, and as a father, the lyrics began to make sense. Today, as I talk to parents, the lyrics have a profound meaning.

You, who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so, become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye

Teach your children well
Their father’s hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by

Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you would cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

And you (Can you hear?) of tender years (And do you care?)
Can’t know the fears (And can you see?) that your elders grew by (We must be free)
And so, please help (To teach your children) them with your youth (What you believe in)
They seek the truth (Make a world) before they can die (That we can live in)

Teach your parents well
Their children’s hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picks, the one you’ll know by

Don’t you ever ask them why
If they told you, you will cry
So just look at them and sigh
And know they love you

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My Top 5 List of What Parents Can Give Their Adolescent Children

Nearly every parent knows that growing kids need unconditional love. And of course young children are powerless and innocent about most things, so they need our support for food, shelter, security, clothes, medical care, etc.

A big theme of my writing about parenting is that by the time children reach adolescence, they also need understanding and respect, which we adults can give them by using effective communication skills. A failure to do this inevitably results in rebellion and defiance – and worse.

adult-male-mentoring-boy2-230x300Raising a teenager is all about the steady process of helping them prepare for the challenges of adult life. Because that’s where all the joy and tears are headed: they will ultimately leave home and try to make it on their own. We know that all too many young adults have trouble doing that, and they fly back to the nest. I’m sure this isn’t what you hope for.

So what else can you give your child – besides love, support, understanding and respect – that will help her or him be ready to move on the next phase of life?

Here are my Top Five…

A work ethic. The principle: don’t buy it for them, have them earn it. Don’t do it for them, let them figure it out and do the work themselves. Imagine what will happen to a university student or a new hire if the young person doesn’t know what it means to work hard. You got it. Failure. Support your teen’s efforts to make money. There are hundreds of examples on the web. Young people who have never had a job not only are lacking a key element on their resume, they have a gap in their experience, which they will have to overcome later. Give the gift of work.

Critical thinking. The school system should provide abundant opportunities for your child to learn to analyze situations and solve problems. But wait a minute, not so fast. Many teachers are under pressure to prepare kids for standardized tests by getting them to remember facts, not think about the how and why of facts. Too many school systems feel they need to raise these test scores to get more funding, so they make that a higher priority than preparing your child for life. So, Mom and Dad, it’s actually up to you. How do you help your child to become a robust critical thinker, which is profoundly important to success in life and work? The answer is actually simple. Encourage them to think for themselves. Don’t tell them what the problem is, ask questions to get them to think it through. Don’t tell them what the answer is. Don’t preach, lecture or give advice. Ask open-ended questions to get them to figure things out. If you want your child to end up with a fine mind, they have to wire their developing brains for critical thinking. To learn how to think, they have to do a lot of thinking. The window for developing this foundation closes when adolescence ends. So its on you to give them the gift of judgment.

The ability to imagine the future. Would it surprise you to know that few teems think about their future? Maybe not. They don’t think about preparing for adult life. They don’t think about leaving home. They don’t think about what next year will be like. They probably can’t even visualize the end of the semester. They think they’re immortal because dying is too far in the future for them to acknowledge its reality. The reason is that the part of the brain that connects the dots is still under development, a work in progress. Imagining future consequences is a skill they have to learn. And it doesn’t just happen. They have to wire their brains for this kind of thinking. I like to use visual images to help them see their present life from the perspective of a whole life, such as knots in a string to indicate the years of a long life, or a jar of marbles. Help them visualize what they want in the foreseeable future: a vacation trip, making the team in their favorite sport, having a car. Help them set a goal a create a plan for achieving it. Later, as adults, if they have trouble setting goals they won’t achieve them. An adult who can’t create a plan for achieving something probably won’t get it.

Strong self-esteem. Most of the trouble that teens get into happens because they’re vulnerable to peer pressure. They feel needy about having friends and they don’t want to risk being left out by standing their ground and refusing to get involved in high-risk behavior. The antidote to this vulnerability is strong self-esteem. Teens who have a strong sense of self and like who they are feel more comfortable about choosing the right friends. They are less likely to be desperate for friendship. You can do your part by affirming their strengths, encouraging them to get involved in activities, and acknowledging their achievements and worthy efforts. Don’t go overboard with praise, getting all gushy for every small thing they do. A teen can smell out false praise in a microsecond.

Wisdom. After puberty you’ll have about six years to pass on to your child the skills, experience, knowledge and wisdom you have to give. Have you ever had a friend who told you, “My grandfather used to say that…” Or, “My mom was always telling me…” It’s true that not everything you tell a child sticks. But if you do it in a loving, non-critical, non-preaching way, you’ll be surprised how much of it sticks. So be generous about sharing what you know. If you don’t, your child will go into adult life somewhat naive and will be behind the learning curve about life. I recommend you check out my Pinterest board, “Cool Stuff for Teens,” which has quite a bit of wisdom and other practical knowledge aimed at teens. I set it up to benefit young people; maybe your teen will find it interesting.

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The 12 Most Important Insights for Parenting Teens

A common question from parents:


“There’s so much advice out there, a lot of it is conflicting. What should I focus on? What’s most important?”

Over the years, I’ve read most of the classic books on parenting, and I’ve given the key issues a lot of thought. I don’t always agree with everything I read, but I’ve noticed that many of these authors agree on what I feel are “the important things.” So without having to read all their books, what are the major lessons?

The question is worth answering, because adolescence is a difficult time for a young person and for parents. It’s easy to make mistakes, and the stakes are high. Having done my “due diligence,” here are what I feel are the major insights. Of course, there’s more to parenting than this, but this is my “big picture” list of what to do and why, without the how-to (ample subject matter for 12 books).

Start when they’re still small. While your child is in elementary school, appreciate that adolescence is coming next. Begin before puberty to learn effective communication skills and create family expectations for discussing things openly and honestly. Before they start pushing for independence, establish non-negotiable rules and norms such as, “we talk things out.” And “all of us have to pitch in as a team in to make our family work.”

Accept that a teen’s pushing for independence is natural and good. After puberty, it’s necessary for a young person to begin the long, slow process of leaving the nest, seeking greater independence. Help your child do this by having them earn their independence by showing greater responsibility.

Keep your primary responsibility and goal in mind: to prepare your teen to be a happy, successful adult. To be ready for the difficult challenges of life, they’ll need lots of skills and strengths, and the only way to learn them is to practice them. Don’t put your child behind the learning curve, having to struggle to catch up later in life. Don’t feel it’s your responsibility to do for your child what they should be doing for themselves. A child who remains dependent on you won’t be ready for adult life. Give opportunities—one step at a time over a period of years, to exercise the skills, strengths, responsibilities your child will need.

Teach and manage behavior with contracts. Agree on contracts for them to earn greater freedom and privileges as a consequence of carrying out greater responsibilities. Enforce consequences consistently. This is how the world works.

Don’t make parental power your primary tool. As adults, you have all the power—physical size and strength, wisdom and experience, money and resources. They have none. Traditionally, most parents have instinctively used this power to control their teens. If you do this, you’ll incite defiance and rebellion. Instead, make a conscious decision to master and use the communication skills that involve interacting with them on an adult level—to listen, give feedback, encourage, guide learning, stimulate thinking, and resolve conflict.

Encourage them to think for themselves. The critical thinking part of the brain is forming its foundation during adolescence. The only way to wire their brains for this is by doing it. They’ll need to use it or they’ll lose it, because the window closes after adolescence. Consciously help them to become skilled thinkers and problem solvers.

Make them feel understood and respected, as well as loved and supported. If they feel by how you talk and act with them that you’re giving these things, it will be hard for them to be defiant and rebellious.

Help them learn the value of hard work. If you give them everything they want, you’ll create an attitude of entitlement. You can’t buy your child’s love with gifts. It may stroke your ego, but they’ll learn they don’t have to work to earn the things they want. The greatest gift you can give them is a work ethic. Support their efforts to find opportunities to earn their own money and be independent.

Liberally share what you know. Small children are innocent. They lack knowledge and wisdom about life. As they get older, they need to learn as much as they can. To walk the difficult path of maturing toward adulthood, share as much knowledge and wisdom as you can. Lots of honesty and truth-telling.

Get help—create your “village.” It’s nearly impossible to do it all yourself. Consciously recruit and nurture a network of adult mentors for your child.

Explain your parenting methods. Be overt with them about what you’re doing as a parent and why. This helps them accept what you’re doing, nurtures respect, and helps them learn effective parenting from you. Make sure they understand the realities of growth, health and safety. For example, don’t just forbid alcohol and drug use; explain why–how it can derail teen brain development, causing lifelong deficits in critical thinking.

Support their self-esteem. Don’t overpraise or give unearned praise, but show your appreciation when they’ve accomplished something appropriate to their level. Catch them doing things right. Affirm their strengths. Support their interest in activities that can exercise their thinking abilities and build a strong sense of self. The goal: they become competent and confident in who they are, which they will need to withstand peer pressure.

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Conscious Parents Can Take Luck out of the Equation

My parents weren’t what I call “conscious parents.” They were good, caring people who raised eight children, with varying results. By “raised,” I mean they did the best they knew how to give us food, shelter, clothing and the necessities of life. But not with much wisdom or forward thinking. For example, there was no plan to send any of us kids to college. They took it day by day, and so did my brothers and sisters. I always loved Mom and Dad, but it was amazing how much they didn’t know about how to be parents.

CloverBut I got lucky. Many, many things happened to me when I was young, and while much of it wasn’t what I’d call fortunate, some of it was out-of-the-blue life-changing good luck.

LUCKY – For some unaccountable reason – and after 60 years I still can’t quite put my finger on it – I was obsessed with making A’s. Being acknowledged as the No. 1 student in my class was very important to me. I never made a B in 12 years of school and was always first in my class, graduating as valedictorian.

LUCKY – After puberty, in addition to being an Eagle Scout and top student, I was a kind of out-of-control prankster. I was saved from that troubled path when my father was reassigned to Germany, a whole new world, and I put that aspect of my past behind me.

LUCKY – The grades, among other things, helped me get an appointment to West Point. Even though I had never actually lived in Kansas, the Kansas governor appointed me. Four years later I graduated with a B.S. degree in Engineering and a commission in the Regular Army as a second lieutenant.

LUCKY – During my year in Vietnam I went on over 200 combat missions, was decorated several times for valor, and survived. I made it home without a scratch on me. Amazing.

LUCKY – At West Point my English professors liked my work so much they asked me to return to teach English. So the Army paid for my graduate school at Duke University. I worked hard and used the time to fulfill the requirements for a Ph.D. Later my dissertation was accepted and I was granted the degree.

LUCKY – In my 30s I thought of myself as a poet, but 20 years in the Army strengthened the logical part of my brain, and I outgrew that side of me. Today, 100% of my writing is about telling the truth about relationships for parents and teens, to help as many young people as I can grow up strong and skilled to meet the challenges of adult life.

I’ve been lucky in other ways, too. I’m happy with my life and the work I’m doing, and I know it’s the product of a lot of learning and hard work. But truthfully, luck has been a major factor. My life really could have turned out a lot differently without some big breaks. I feel grateful for them, but I don’t know who you’re supposed to thank for good luck. So I simply “feel fortunate.”

Some of my brothers and sisters didn’t have the same luck I had and turned out quite differently. The same is true of a lot of kids. For example, some get lucky and have adult mentors, and others don’t.

These days, I’m busy writing a book for parents. Its purpose is to give them some important knowledge and skills that will help them be “conscious parents,” so their kids won’t have to rely so much on luck. I guess now I’ll need some more luck myself as I search for a good agent and publisher.

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Bonding with Teens – The Secret Sauce Is How You Talk to Them

Teens are different from younger kids in lots of ways. They may not be adults yet, but they aren’t little kids anymore. If you talk to them as if they are, you’ll push them away.

They need your guidance, but they’re experimenting with independence and new feelings. Because they’re young and naive, they make mistakes.

This can be frustrating for parents, causing them to react emotionally. Blame. Shame. Criticism. Ridicule. Put-downs. Sarcasm. Lectures. Sermons. Control. Punishment. Orders. Threats. Bribes. These are classic ways parents react while they still have the power.

The problem is, reacting to teens this way has horrible side effects.

WISE-AUNT-COVER-iStock_000004745007-300x234You have an ace card. As long as you hold it, you can play it. It’s this: from day one, your kids have needed the Love and Support that only a parent can provide. Teens may not know it, but they’re still desperate for this.

When you give them Love and Support, it draws them closer to you.

But teens need more than this. They also need Understanding and Respect.

It’s hard being a teen. They have a lot of things to figure out. They know they aren’t complete yet. They aren’t adults. They lack wisdom and maturity, and they know it. When you say things that show a lack of Understanding of their situation and their needs, it’s frustrating.

And when you communicate in ways that express a lack of Respect, it attacks their self-esteem. For someone who is struggling to be worthy, this is incredibly painful.

So when you talk to them in ways that show a lack of Understanding and Respect, it makes them want to distance themselves from you. “You just don’t get it,” they think.

If you hurt them with your words often enough, they’ll decide your love and support isn’t worth it. You’ll lose your ace card. After that, it becomes a game of tolerating you in order to get things they want.

Communicating with teens is a whole new ballgame. The challenge is to interact with them using skills that practically no adult alive today was ever schooled in. In my opinion, this is the main reason that most parent-teen relationships suffer.

You may want to listen to this podcast.

Or you may want to read this article.

It’s not going to be easy, but once your kids reach puberty, you’ll probably need to change the way you talk to them.

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“Your Teen” Online Magazine – A Great Resource for Parents

Your Teen magI’ve discovered Your Teen, a weekly online magazine that’s a great resource for parents of teens. The current issue has these articles…

“Why a Working Gap Year Is Worth Considering for Your Teen,” by Tim Elmore.

“Move-Out Skills 101: Making Lunch”

Video Series: “Healthy Sexuality” featuring Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

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From Michael Gurian – The Decade of the Boy

For the last several months a group of writers has been focusing on the issues of boys and men by collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers are posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today is our final post, featuring once again New York Times Best-Selling Author, Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys, The Mind of Boys, and The Purpose of Boys.  He is also the co-founder of the Gurian Institute.

gurian2President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative has the capacity to do great things for our sons.  Over the last three decades, we have seen the gradual decline of important markers for all of our boys-mental health and behavioral wellness, academic performance (noticed both in low grades and low standardized test scores), college attendance, and career strength.  These issues face boys throughout the industrialized world, as data from the latest OECD study shows.  Boys are struggling to succeed in cultures that seem to believe that 1) boys are privileged and will do fine without boy-specific support and/or 2) boys fail to flourish because they refuse to give up masculine dominance and defect.  White boys fit, for most pundits, in the former category and boys of color fit, for the same or other pundits, in the latter.

As a mental health counselor, I began working with boys and their families in the late 1980s.  My hometown, Spokane, Washington, included only a handful of therapists who specialized in male health (out of hundreds of therapists in the area). Caucasian, I came from a troubled background, having been the victim of both physical and sexual abuse as a boy: both my heart and head longed to help families of the next generation to live better lives.  As my counseling practice evolved, I worked with children and families of all races, creeds, and colors, and discovered two important things about boys.

  • First, one group of boys did not corner the market on pain; all races and groups of boys were hurting, including white boys.
  • Second, boys of color were, on average, so far off health and wellness markers that the situation felt epidemic.

As I began public and political outreach regarding this situation, walls of denial rose in social service and governmental agencies.  Everyone cared about children, but caring about boys was difficult, given the political fervor with which our culture was being taught that all males have either unearned privilege or a deep rooted defect of masculine villainy, while all females are potential victims of the privileged and villainous males. Though most professionals knew the truth–only some males have privilege and/or are defective and only some females are victims–political reality lived in a power paradigm that allowed for blanket denial of the needs of males.

As I began writing about this, my wife and I had two daughters-we saw plainly the issues girls face in society, but, too, we realized how difficult the lives of boys had become.  Having daughters helped me to find no zero sum in either privilege or suffering, and remain an advocate for both boys and girls.  It also helped me understand the androphobia our academic and government cultures had developed-a fear of males and masculinity.  That fear was driving much of our society’s policy decisions.

Perhaps the single most obvious evidence of the tacit androphobia has been our culture’s systematic degradation of father-attachment.  Over a period of five decades, with special impact among children of color, fathers began to disappear from millions of child-raising units.  A new meta-study,  Proposal to Commission to Create a White House Council on Boys and Men recently confirmed that without fathers and/or father-figure males embedded into the lives of boys, social construction of healthy adult male life dissolves, and thus dissolves the safety of females as well as much of the stability and adaptability of a civilization.

For decades, boys of color have been trying to inspire us to look at all of this-they are weeping, yelling, and pushing at us to look more carefully at our superficial political ideas about males and masculinity.  As their physical health markers have remained low, their mental health markers have declined, their behavioral issues, including violence, have increased, and their motivation to live and serve have diminished, they provide a crucible for understanding the state of boyhood and manhood in America. We have barely listened.  I will never forget a comment by a Department of Justice official over a decade ago regarding when I asked him why so much money is spent on programs to help girls and women (which, we both agreed-both of us fathers of daughters–is money well spent) but so little on males.  He said sadly, “We do sort of budget for males-in our prison budgets.”

Interestingly, even when white boys began to kill classmates in schools across the country, our government barely reacted with in-depth process.  These white boys entered a conversation about violence and its causes that had begun regarding boys of color in urban areas, but in the media and in political spheres analysis of the struggles of these boys dissipated very soon after it exploded.  Our gender politics keep us from dealing with the real issues boys and men face, very few of which involve unearned privilege.  Most male issues, including the issues faced by boys of color, involve our society’s inability to nurture the nature of males themselves.  We have spent many powerful decades understanding how to nurture the nature, dreams, and hopes of girls and women and will continue to do so.  However, we have not spent much time on the complex nature of our boys and men.

What Works with Boys of Color

After a successful two year pilot study at the University of Missouri-Kansas City from 1997 -1999, reported in Boys and Girls Learn Differently, a national network was formed in Colorado Springs, Colorado to provide pilot programs, train professionals, and conduct research in issues facing children of both genders, especially students and children in distress.  Over the last fifteen years, this grass roots network has developed training programs for schools, parents, communities, and policy-makers that close achievement gaps, lower discipline referrals, generally improve student behavior, embolden parent involvement, and improve teacher effectiveness in both public and private schools.

Here are some data from schools that have utilized the teacher and community training on behalf of boys of color.  More than 60,000 teachers have been trained in the Institute’s programs and interventions, from more than 2,000 schools, with some of those schools becoming “Model Schools.”  We believe the reason for the success of these programs is their holistic nature:  they provide teachers and others the training they did not receive in their college, graduate school, or medical training regarding the whole boy.

This holistic training is not a new curriculum; rather, it helps teachers and others teach and mentor boys (and girls) in all present curricular, extra-curricular, and behavioral areas.  Its holistic nature grows from its fidelity to all three fundamental areas of child development:  nature, nurture, and culture.  This whole-boy heuristic draws on brain scans and cultural anthropology, biochemical data and parental influence, racial and ethnic belonging as well as the cultural and racial elements of male isolation.

The following HEROIC logic-model is one of the holistic paradigms our team has developed from and in our work with boys of color.

Honor (Compassion and Character development)

Enterprise (Important and Sacred Work)

Responsibility (from Responsibility comes Respect)

Originality (Personal and Ethnic Identity Development)

Intimacy (Attachment in Key Bonds and Relationships)

Creativity (Making, Doing, and Creating Everyday).

Because boys of color often feel a double-layered sense of isolation, their communities need support to help these boys discover three safe circles of family development (nuclear, extended, and communal). As our team works in disadvantaged communities, we ask for conversation on outside-the-box proposals toward the HEROIC such as the development of simultaneous mentoring programs–for early childhood age boys and for adolescent boys–in which men mentor the adolescents simultaneous to adolescents mentoring the younger age boys.  This is a three-generational attachment and mentoring program that can nurture all parties toward greater mental and emotional health. We also believe a serious conversation should begin among national policy-makers about a “National Citizenship Draft” in which all young people of all races engage in mandatory one year paid national service during late adolescence.

Over the last fifteen years, we have discovered one portion of what works and what doesn’t.  Especially with boys of color, any program or intervention that focuses on only a single element of nature, nurture, or culture does not tend to work.  Some quick cultural gains can appear from any intervention, of course, but those gains are quickly lost.  If nature, nurture, and culture are not knit together in theory and practice, educational and community dilemmas constantly reappear.

The Decade of the Boy

My Brother’s Keeper is a much-needed initiative toward greater public health.  I hope it will help our nation launch a “decade of the boy” that will bring to high offices and public forums all of the grass roots work that is going on successfully in so many impoverished and disadvantaged communities, and all of the new holistic logic-models available.  Hopefully, too, this “decade” will last longer than a decade-to solve the problems that all our sons face we will need the same kind of social investment that we’ve made over the last fifty years as we’ve worked to solve problems faced by girls and women.

If you would like more exact information on the specific issues boys face, please click If you are interested in research-based interventions to assist schools and communities in solving issues faced by boys of color, please click  On behalf of our whole team, I join colleagues from around the country to applaud the White House.

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When a Son “Hates” His Mom

This guest article comes from Tim Wright, author of Searching for Tom Sawyer. In this personal story, he illustrates the shock and disorientation parents feel when they aren’t conscious that their child has reached puberty and has begun the second phase of growing up – preparing to move away from parents and family to make their own independent life.

When our son was little, he and mom had a very close, happy relationship.  Mike was a sweet boy who had no problem giving mom hugs and asking her lots of questions.  He was her little boy.

afro-american-mom-son-300x199But then Mike moved into the early stages of puberty and the relationship changed…dramatically.  With tears in her eyes, Jan asked me one day why her son hated her. What Jan didn’t know at the time was that Mike was at a crucial point in his life—the point where he had to start moving into manhood.  And the movement into manhood meant he had to begin to pull away from his mom. Most moms I know aren’t prepared for that moment.  They don’t understand it.  So as their boys start moving into manhood moms often feel lost. What’s a mom to do?

Mom, the good news is that you play a vital role in the kind of man your son will become, even in those years when he seems to pull away from you.  Here are some positive ways you can shape his life:

Pour your mother’s love into your son.Though there will be times when your son seems to resist your love, he will never stop needing or craving it.  How you demonstrate that love will change as your son ages, but keep reaching out to him, keep taking an interest in his life, keep praying for him, and keep hugging him (as much as he will allow).  Remember, when men mug in front of a video camera, 99% of the time they say, “Hi, mom!”  A boy never outgrows his need for mom’s love.

Teach him about women: You will be a primary teacher for your son on how to relate to girls.  Teach him to be the man you want him to be for you, for his future wife should he marry, for a potential future daughter, and for all of the women he will interact with during his life.  Give him insights into a woman’s world so that he can navigate his way through it with honor and goodness.  It takes a mom to instill in her son a deep understanding of women.

Immerse your son in masculine energy: As cultures throughout history have always known, it takes a tribe of men to raise a boy into a man. To become men boys need masculine energy poured into them.  They need positive male role models to follow. The key to building boys into good men is to surround them with great men—their own dad (if possible) and other men—who can model responsibility, love, compassion, fatherhood, and manhood to these men in the making.  Churches, Boy’s Clubs, Big Brother, Scouting programs, and other boy-focused organizations can partner with you in raising your son into manhood.  This is especially crucial for boys being raised by single moms.

Give your son an honorable vision for manhood: Moms, to the best of your ability, paint a picture of manhood for your son built on honor, courage, commitment, sacrifice, love, compassion, forgiveness, wisdom, and grace.  When you see your son acting honorably, affirm him.  When he acts less than nobly, use it as a teaching moment and call the noble out of him.  But remember, mom, a boy ultimately needs men to instill in him a vision for manhood.

Give your son purpose: Your son was created to save the world.  Testosterone is the fuel of super heroes (although at times it may seem like the fuel for driving mom insane!).  As you see his emerging gifts and talents, affirm them in him.  Once in a while look him in the eye and tell him you know that God has created him for something very special.

Let your boy become a man.  At some point, around puberty, your son will need to distance himself from you, as my wife experienced.  He needs to leave behind all of the feminine energy that has been shaping his life (you and the overwhelming majority of his teachers) and enter into the world of men.  This is going to be extremely hard on you.  You will wonder at times what happened to your gentle, loving little boy.  You will wonder at other times why your son hates you.  There will be lots of tears and doubt.  But this is an absolutely crucial time in the life of your son.  Let him go…but let him go into the hands of dad (if dad is around) and other good men.

Learn all you can about boys.  The more you know, the better equipped you will be to raise your son into good, honorable manhood.  (I recommend you look at Michael Thompson’s book, It’s a Boy!)

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Boy Is Beautiful

A guest post from Mark Sherman, who has four grandsons and wants boys who act in typical boy ways to feel good about themselves. Society, at least in schools, may be sending a different message.

Boy-is-Beautiful-photo-by-afgmattersI remember well in the 1960s when African-Americans started using the phrase “Black is beautiful.” They were primarily talking about physical appearance, because until then, so many black people did what they could to look white—including expensive and painful hair straightening. Actually, the movement went beyond physical appearance to include pride in culture. A few years later came two short sentences—the title and opening lyrics of a James Brown song—which went even further: “Say it loud! I’m black and I’m proud!”

These were major attempts to deal with self-hate. And looking back, it’s clear that they were necessary steps toward true liberation. Virtually every minority group has had to deal with self-hate, and there are remnants of it still remaining—whether in Jews, Asians, Latinos, or African-Americans.

For any of these groups, the most important members who needed to hear this message of pride were children, human beings in their formative years, who were otherwise growing up feeling that there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit the expected mold.

Women dealt with issues of self-esteem too, perhaps most vociferously and most successfully, and they certainly transmitted this new sense of pride to their daughters (as did the fathers of daughters). Probably the phrase most often said to girls today, and it is one that has been said for years, is “You can do anything!”

But we need a scapegoat, don’t we? Whether or not life is a zero-sum game, the fact is that it is or certainly feels like one to most of us. And in some cases, like the gender of who is in the top 50% of a high school class, it is. And if girls and young women are going to get all kinds of encouragement to succeed, someone is going to fall behind, and that someone is very possibly your son.

And even if he is not going to fall behind, he is very likely to get the message—from school among other places—that there is something inherently wrong with him if he is a boy who acts like many—probably most—boys have always acted. It may not often be front page news, but every parent and grandparent of boys knows that the grade school classroom is often not boy-friendly.


I have four grandsons, who range in age from four months to eight years. My second oldest is seven, and he has already gotten in trouble in school on several occasions. My oldest has had an occasional problem in school as well. And these are fundamentally good boys. Yes, I’m biased, but I’m not blind, and what I see when I visit them are normal children, bright and caring children, who simply act like boys.

My sons, the fathers of these two boys, have both expressed major issues with the policies of “zero tolerance” that now appear to dominate schools. And how does this policy manifest itself? Take the example of my 7-year-old grandson, whose father got a call one day at work to say that he had to come and pick up his son, who had been suspended for the rest of the school day—for drawing a picture.

What was the picture? Was it a gun? A bomb? The scene of an explosion? No. It was an anatomically correct stick figure of a man. Yes, it was a man with a penis.

My son was very upset—not with my grandson, but with the school, for forcing my son to leave work in the middle of the day to pick up my grandson for what my son felt was an absurd reason. And my daughter-in-law also thought it was ridiculous, as did my wife, and my son’s in-laws, who are far more conservative than we are.

I think my son handled it beautifully. My grandson was upset to be sent home, and felt like there was something wrong with him.  And that is how kids feel; you have to be pretty grown up to feel that maybe there is something wrong with “the system.” My son told him that there was nothing wrong with what he drew, and that he should feel free to draw anything he wanted and write anything he wanted, anything—at home.

“But the school has its rules,” he said to him. “And when you’re at school you have to follow those rules.”

Good point, but as many articles and books point out, those rules more often make it harder for boys than they do for girls. There wouldn’t be books like educator Kelley King’s Writing the Playbook: A Practitioner’s Guide to Creating Boy-Friendly Schools if there wasn’t a problem with boy-unfriendly classrooms.

And the worst of it is that boys who act like “traditional boys” are beginning to think that there is something wrong with them. Some people get upset with the expression “Boys will be boys” because they see it as excusing violent behavior. But neither I nor my sons are suggesting that violent behavior should be excused.

However, even in innocuous acts that barely touch on violence, things seem to have gone too far. Most “zero tolerance” stories that we see in the media involve boys who do anything even involving the shape of a gun, no matter how harmless. In a recent story, two second-grade boys were suspended from school for pretending their pencils were guns and that they were “shooting” at each other.

There’s a lot more that could be said here, and I will say it in a future piece. But for now, I will say that while I applaud the efforts to make sure that boys who don’t fit the “traditional” boy mold are not picked on and are truly accepted for who they are, I feel that we must extend this same tolerance to boys

who do act in the more traditional ways. Otherwise we run the risk of making them feel that there is something wrong with them.

And this can lead to self-hate. Boys have to feel good about themselves. But this will be hard for them as long as so many well-meaning adults—often including teachers and school administrators, but sometimes including their own parents—make them feel that their natural behaviors are somehow wrong.

Sure, boys can be difficult. But it is imperative that they not be led to feel there is something wrong with them. And this isn’t simply about my grandsons—who I adore. It’s about all boys, who are someone’s sons and grandsons, and who deserve a society that treasures them every bit as much as it does their sisters.

Say it loud! I’m a boy and I’m proud! Yes, boy is beautiful. – See more at:

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How to Help Teens Grow Strong for Adult Life

Lon Woodbury

Lon Woodbury

On April 14, 2014, I was interviewed by Lon Woodbury on LA Talk Radio. The topic was how parents can join with other adult mentors to create a village to raise a teenager to be strong for adult life – which is the whole point of parenting!

Click here to listen to the on-demand recording of the interview. Scroll down to April 14, 2014, and click on Play or Download.

You can follow Lon Woodbury on Twitter @strugglingteens.


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Effective Communication Skills – The Game-Changer for Parents of Teenagers

Teenagers know they’re growing up, and they don’t like being treated like little kids.

They need the wisdom and guidance of parents and other adults.

But they hate lectures, sarcasm, put-downs, screaming, commands, threats, ultimatums, shaming, judging, and blaming.

Don’t you?

Letting frustration and impatience get the better of you leads to this kind of communication.

They’re already pushing for more independence, and talking to them like this pushes them away.

It puts your relationship with your child in jeopardy.

It puts the success of your parenting in jeopardy.

adult-male-mentoring-boy2-230x300There are best, most effective ways to listen, give feedback, encourage, guide learning and stimulate thinking.

Very few adults have these skills.

Very few parents have these skills.

We weren’t taught them when we were growing up.

We picked up interpersonal communication habits haphazardly, “on the street,” so to speak.

As parents, they aren’t serving us well.

Very few parents appreciate how ineffective their communication skills are.

Very few parents appreciate that they can improve the way they communicate.

They don’t know what it takes.

They rationalize that their communication skills are good enough.

They rationalize they don’t have time to change.

But the stakes of ineffective communication are high.

The successful maturation of your child is at risk.

Your relationship with your child is at risk.

Effective communication skills make a huge difference.

Teenagers feel understood and respected.

The skills stimulate critical thinking during adolescence, while the window for laying the foundation for critical thinking is still open .

The skills strengthen the bond between parent and child.

They model effective adult-to-adult relationship skills.

Unconditional love and support are important, but effective parent-teen communication skills are a game-changer.

You can begin learning more about these all-important skills
by watching the 4-minute video at

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Sad and Shocking – Cyclist Injured by Texting Driver Who Says She Doesn’t Care

Damaged carThere was a sad, shocking story in the media about a 21-year-old woman who was texting while driving and hit a cyclist, putting him in the hospital for months and possibly disabling him for life.

The carelessness of the driver and the injuries of the victim are sad and shocking enough. But even more so was the attitude of the driver: “I, like, just don’t care.”

According to the Huffington Post article, the only aspects of the incident that seemed to bother her were the damage to her car, the fine and the suspension of her license for several months. With that kind of callousness, I wonder about the difference between her and a violent criminal.

If all young people were like her our world would be in real trouble.

Another thought I’m having: Yes, young people can really grow up to turn out like this. It would be impossible for a child to become this kind of adult if she had been raised by good, conscious parents. During her adolescence, much of what needed to happen apparently wasn’t happening.

Such is the case with many parents: unconscious. unskilled, busy, dealing with a variety of life issues. This incident is an example of the result that can happen when kids don’t get the support and guidance they need. A sad, shocking example.

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The Heart of Masculinity

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features Rick Johnson, author of The Power of a Man and the soon to be released, A Man in the Making. It addresses an important question all boys have and which must be answered well: What is masculinity? What does it mean to be a man?

power-of-manAll boys want to know how a man is supposed to act.  Our model of that role is what teaches our sons what it means to be a man.  But for those of us who were not blessed to be raised by a good role model, what does this look like?  Below are some thoughts on authentic masculinity.

An authentically masculine man puts aside his needs, desires, wants–and sometimes even his dreams–for the benefit of others. He does this without fanfare and frequently without anyone even noticing. His life is not about his individual rights, achievements, or happiness; it’s about making life better for others. His sacrifices are part of his character and give his life significance. He meets these sacrifices with the stoic nobility that God granted all men by right of their birth gender.

A real man has honor. He stands tall as the fierce winds of adversity blow around him. He cherishes and protects women and children. He knows he has an obligation to mentor those who follow in his footsteps. He recognizes his sphere of influence and uses it for good. He understands that life does have fundamental truths and lives his life according to a firm set of principles. He uses his God-given warrior spirit to fight for justice and equality. He stands for something. Too many men today stand for nothing—they are directionless.

Men who exhibit authentic masculinity live lives of significance. They lift up others to help them achieve their potential. They make sacrifices in order to make a difference in the world–for everyone, not just their own family. They have passion and vision and are genuinely interested in giving of themselves for the betterment of others. And they probably don’t make a big production out of doing it either. Men like this are other-centered, not self-centered. They are other-focused instead of self-focused. Authentic men live to a higher standard in life.

In the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, a young widower blacksmith first meets his father as he travels to defend Jerusalem during the Crusades. His father introduces himself to his son for the first time and asks forgiveness for never having been a part of his life. With nothing to keep him in his village after the death of his wife and child, the young man follows his father and trains to become a knight. In the short period they are together before his father’s death, the young man flourishes under his father’s tutelage and follows in his footsteps, becoming a man of honor. Throughout the movie the young knight relies on his father’s instruction and example. In one powerful scene near the end of the movie while he is preparing the city of Jerusalem against attack by overwhelming forces, he endows knighthood upon the city’s commoners defending the city by quoting the same oath that his father did to him:

Be without fear in the face of your enemies,
Be brave and upright that God may love thee,
Speak the truth even if it leads to your death,
Safeguard the helpless.
That is your oath!

The local high priest admonishes him by saying, “Who do you think you are? Can you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?”

As the knight looks him in the eye and boldly proclaims, “Yes!” you can see all the men who have been charged with the challenge to greatness swell with pride and determination. They do in fact know that the expectations and exhortations of greatness can make a man more than he would be without the knowledge of God’s vision for his and every man’s life.

Manhood as defined by the Bible requires men to put the needs and best interests of others before their own. It’s about living sacrificially. A man uses his strength and influence to help others and defend those who cannot defend themselves. Read how manly this verse sounds and how it speaks powerfully to a man’s heart:

“I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him…I made the widows heart sing…I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.” Job 29:12,13,15-17 (NIV).

Authentic men are passionate, fierce, and noble—they care. In fact, they are a little dangerous, but it’s a good dangerous. You might not see this passion on the exterior, but it’s bubbling under pressure just beneath the surface, forcing its way into every area of his life. They have a spiritual longing for adventure, for a battle to fight that’s bigger than themselves, for significance in their lives. Like modern-day gladiators they stand in the ring facing the challenges of life with courage and passion.

When you see a man with a passion for something bigger and nobler than himself, you are looking authentic masculinity in the eye.

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Six Secrets To Your Son’s Success In School

Helping Boys LearnFor several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers are posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features Dr. Edmond J. Dixon, who brings 30+ years of experience from the teaching world to bear on issues surrounding boys. He is the author of Helping Boys Learn, a book for parents and teachers.

“Let’s face it; I’m stupid. You know it, I know it, and my parents know it!”

These words were spoken in anguish and anger to me by Chad, a 12-year-old student in my office. He reflected a profound problem that I could no longer ignore as a school principal. I had seen too many boys who did not succeed in school. I knew he was not stupid, and his parents saw him as a smart, if unfocused, child. But our opinions no longer mattered. His experience in school had convinced him otherwise. He dropped out a few years later, and I was saddened, but not surprised.

Your own son may not become a drop-out, but if he is like many boys, he dislikes school, does not apply himself to the fullest and is willing to let the girls in his class achieve more highly. Statistics show that this leads to boys who are increasingly unprepared for a world in which high levels of education and social-emotional intelligence are required. Without even knowing it, many of our sons are falling behind.

If we change how we approach their learning, we can help these boys be more successful, productive, and happier–without disadvantaging girls. More importantly, I have identified 6 “secrets” parents can use to profoundly affect a boy’s learning success:

1. He Learns Where the Action Is – Neuroscience has confirmed that boys develop more brain-wiring for movement than girls at early ages. This is why they love to move, fidget in class, and want to be wherever the “action” is. It also explains why they can sit still for so long playing video games: Those games are saturated with movement!

2. He Learns In the Game – Boys have profound learning experiences within the context of games because they receive a shot of testosterone when they set goals and achieve them. They love games and competition and if they see learning as something they can compete and “win” at, they achieve higher. However, if they don’t think they can win in school because they aren’t smart enough, they will often refuse to play the game.

3. He Learns With Humor – Boys love “funny” things. They often can veer into inappropriate or crude topics, but humor is an important tool for boys learning. It helps them feel comfortable with new concepts, engage in teamwork, and take on new challenges. It is a therefore a very effective way for adults to leverage boys’ interest and commitment to learning.

4. He Learns Through Challenge – In their desire to release testosterone by winning boys are drawn to challenge. It helps boys learn because through challenge they discover things about themselves and their environment. When used by parents and teachers, it can improve the motivation and resilience of boys when faced with difficult learning tasks.

5. He Learns By Mastery – Success for any boy ultimately comes when he takes ownership for his own learning. When looking at anything they have to learn, boys’ brains have evolved to want to know its usefulness. In other words, what is it good for? If they can find a good answer to this question, it deepens their desire to understand the way something works and learn skills so as to master and control it.

6. He Learns For Meaning – Because they want to understand the usefulness of what they learn, boys need to see the reason for it. “Why do we have to learn this?” is more than a way for a lazy boy to avoid doing work. It is essential for him to understand the importance and meaning of the task at hand. If a a parent or teacher can help him see how his learning fits into the larger picture a boy will increase his interest and commitment in the classroom.

You may be wondering how you can apply these understanding to help your own son. Happily, there are some very simple things you can do, but it works best if you know the place to start. To find out, take the 3-minute quiz at or check out our Parent Community.Together, we can help every boy reach his potential as a learner!

A pioneer in the field of Cognitive-Kinesthetics for learning, Dr. Dixon is a human development specialist with 30+ years of experience as a teacher, administrator, researcher, author – and parent of boys! He is the founder of the KEEN Differentiated Learning Group, an organization dedicated to helping struggling learners, and the creator of KEEN 5X, a series of strategies for classroom engagement and learning which has been used with more than 50,000 students and teachers. His latest book, Helping Boys Learn is published in parent and teacher editions. A dynamic and popular presenter, he has spoken throughout North America on education topics. For more info visit

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Anderson Cooper Bears Witness – To the Value of a Work Ethic

One of the cries of the heart from many of the parents of grown children is that their kids are still living at home, that they don’t have the focus and will to make their way in life.

Parents know that making a life for yourself involves hard work.

But the kids don’t seem to get it. It’s as if they don’t understand work. The pattern they’re familiar with is dependency on mom and dad. There’s no fire in the belly.

There’s no mystery to this. If that’s the way these young adults are, it’s a pattern they learned during adolescence. Why work if your parents always give you what you want? Why put in the effort if your parents rescue you and do the hard things for you? Why learn a trade or prepare for a career if you’re going to inherit a trust fund?

Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper

Read this brief article about Anderson Cooper, one of the most successful TV journalists in the world. He gives credit to his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, one of the wealthiest women in the world…

More about instilling a strong work ethic in your child:

The Silver Spoon Syndrome – Give the Gift of Work

Larry Winget’s Work Ethic Message to Graduates

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The Miracle Skill of Parent-Child Communication

mentoringMy dad wasn’t a good listener, and my mom wasn’t much better.

But I have no bad feelings about this. It was just an aspect of how things were back then. In 1960, only a few people on the planet realized that effective listening was crucial to a parent-child relationship. Even fewer understood that it was a skill you could work on and improve.

The Strong for Parenting YouTube channel has published a brief, 2-minute video that makes some great points that every parent should consider.

YouTube Preview Image

More insights about how to listen to a child…

The Top 5 People Skills for Parents of Teenagers

Why Listening Is the Master Skill

Listening – The No. 1 People Skill

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Bye-Bye Dirty Dozen, Hello 7 Key Parent-Child Communication Skills

PETFor me, the best book ever written about parent-child communication was Dr. Thomas Gordon’s P.E.T. – Parent Effectiveness Training, a 1975 classic that is still widely used today.

It isn’t easy to raise kids. Sometimes they’re sweet and adorable. But growing up means they have a lot to learn. This means they’re getting into trouble, misbehaving, making mistakes, and creating problems. Parents are already dealing with stress and challenges, so kids’ behavior can evoke emotional reactions.

Gordon referred to these reactions as the “Dirty Dozen,” a list of common communication mistakes that cause resentment and alienation in relationships.

I think twelve is too many to remember, so I’ve consolidated the list to my “self-defeating seven”:

  1. ORDERING (commanding, directing, controlling, threatening, ultimatums)
  2. ARGUING (debating)
  3. LECTURING (moralizing, preaching)
  4. GIVING ADVICE (instructing, solving)
  5. CRITICIZING (judging, shaming, blaming)
  6. PUT-DOWNS (sarcasm, name-calling, jokes at child’s expense, verbal abuse)

Parents are only human, and in difficult and frustrating moments, every parent who ever lived has dealt with their child using one or more of these emotional reactions.

Why? Because they’re tired, frustrated and under pressure. Because that’s how their own parents handled things. Because they work.

Well, they may work fairly well with little kids, who are innocent, powerless and dependent.

But by the age of 12, when puberty kicks in, when the child is more experienced, when the pre-teen or teen is pushing for more independence and no longer wants to be treated like a little kid anymore…no, the “self-defeating seven” stop working. Instead of compliance, you start getting anger and rebellion.

In fact, continuing to deal with a teenager this way is a perfect prescription for damaging the relationship and burning the bridge of communication, which is essential for guiding and influencing the development of your child to become a happy, strong, successful, independent adult.

There’s a better way. It involves using a handful of basic parent-child communication skills.








If your child isn’t a teenager yet, that’s not a problem. It’s an opportunity. You can start learning and using the skills now, so they’ll be there for you when you need them most. And your child will get used to relating to you this way. Using these skills with kids creates wonderful outcomes:

  • Communication actually happens – connecting, resolving, encouraging.
  • You relate to the child on an adult-adult level, which is what they want.
  • The bond between you grows stronger.
  • The child’s prefrontal cortex (the rational, “executive area of the brain) is engaged and exercised, helping to create a fine mind.
  • You model the most effective parenting and interpersonal skills for your child to follow.
  • You’re reinforcing the same effective communication skills that work best with other adults, such as your spouse, friends or colleagues.

The problem is, very few parents are already adept at any of these skills. Practically no adult alive today was introduced to them as a part of their formal education. We learned to deal with each other in a haphazard, unstructured way, “on the street” so to speak. And almost none of us had parents who were role models for this kind of behavior. So typically, conscious, caring parents will have to improve the way relate to their growing teens.

You can see this as a monumental problem, another example of how unfair the world is. Or, if you want to avoid the classic parent-teen emotional issues, you can get to work.

I recommend starting with Dr. Gordon’s book. As I write this, you can get a used copy for 1 cent on!

Then, consider the online coaching system, Strong for Parenting, which is designed to help parents ingrain all seven of the above skills.

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Boy Behavior or Bad Behavior?

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette, psychologist and author of six books on parenting and counseling kids and teenagers, including The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don’t Play Sports Survive Bullies and Boyhood (2012).

By mistaking unchecked behavior for undeveloped behavior, we allow unacceptable behavior in boys and men to be seen as just another part of “being a guy.”

small boyYears ago I knew a mother who had eight kids, the last six of whom were boys. The brothers were energetic, scrappy kids who were polite and rather likable when outside of the home. But inside? Well, let’s just say they fed off each other’s impish troublemaking and made watching over them a virtual nightmare.

This mom believed firmly in teaching kids to be good citizens of their home. Yet she remained unusually accepting of her sons’ casual avoidance of responsibility and their indifference to how their behavior affected the family. “I don’t know what it is with boys and their socks . . .” she’d say, or, “I don’t know why they have to bother their sisters so much whenever it’s time for bed.” I always got the feeling that she spent her evenings picking up stray socks and plates and nipping at her sons’ heels like a border collie, herding them through their showers and into their beds, thinking to herself something along the lines of, They sure run me ragged, these guys, but I guess that’s what boys do.

In most cultures around the world, boys do seem to enjoy a reputation for doing rascally, mischievous things that amuse grown-ups and make them think, Well, there’s a boy for you! It’s gotten to the point where some parents believe the “masculine spirit” is actually endangered if boys are socialized at too early an age. Under the doctrine of “letting boys be boys,” these parents wait too long to teach their sons the difference between being loud and rambunctious, and being loud and rambunctious at times or in places when it bothers other people. They wait too long to teach their sons that being competitive, even aggressively so, is terrific but that it should never become an excuse to make someone else feel diminished. Sometimes, they wait too long to teach their sons that circumspection, empathy, and kindness are not exclusively feminine qualities.

Years ago, author and feminist-critic Christina Hoff Sommers warned us about the dangers of failing to see the difference between boys, and boys who behave badly. She pointed out that when we don’t take the time to differentiate between the two, we leave room for things like aggressive behavior or personal rights violations to be understood as a natural part of being male, rather than as a red flag. We stop short of looking for other reasons why a boy might be reckless or combative or uncharitable, such as upbringing, emotional problems, socioeconomic factors, or the particular mythology surrounding masculinity to which his parents subscribe.

I recently heard about a study showing that in the United States, girls three to six years of age have a much better ability to regulate their emotions and their behaviors than boys of the same age ( Interestingly, this gender difference in self-regulation wasn’t found in any of the three Asian cultures included in the study. The lead author’s take-away was that here in the US, we expect girls to be more self-regulated than boys. Mine is the flip side of the coin: that in the US we don’t expect and therefore don’t teach boys to be as self-regulated as girls. And so—surprise—they’re not. I think it’s not unlike what happens with our teenagers, who don’t really have to be or even want to be all that moody and defiant. It’s just that somewhere along the line, adolescent “Sturm und Drang” morphed from a bio-physiological susceptibility into an assertive, self-fulfilling prophecy-disguised-as-developmental-theory lulling parents into complacency about their teen’s less-than-becoming behaviors. We’ve come to believe they’re hard-wired to act that way, but no—they go there because we let them.

Taken as a group I believe it’s fair to say that boys will always demonstrate more over-the-top, risk-taking, trash-talking behavior than will girls. But respecting the differences between genders shouldn’t mean we offer up exemptions to boys from behaving well. I can see how it might be physically or emotionally harder for a lot of young boys to keep their aggressive or competitive urges in check than it is for young girls, but it doesn’t mean we don’t ask them to do it. It means we help them do it by steadily encouraging and supporting their ability to exert control over their actions, and by getting them to see those actions as a function of the choices they’re making rather than as behaviors they can’t curb.

The “boy as lovable scamp” is an appealing abstraction of young masculinity, but it’s also a seductive one. It dresses up a regressed edition of a male and marches it around as something to be adored. The problem is, little boys with a puckish sense of humor often are adorable; it’s part of what makes the slope between boy behavior and bad behavior so darn slippery.

But with the bigger boys come bigger problems. The romantic veil that gets placed over the careless behavior of young boys can mask more serious transgressions later on, when these young boys become young men. The shrewd ones take advantage of this all the time, oscillating between charismatic confidence and a waggish charm for the audience of females they hope to disarm, and then seduce. This bad-boy-as-sexy-boy creates problems not only for the girls who end up taking these boys at face value, but for the “good” boys too, who, by comparison, come off as lacking in mystery or menace and, in the end, are desexualized.

The wish to protect children from early and unseasonable stress is a longstanding American tradition and many American parents consider it their right. However, when it ushers parents and educators away from holding children accountable for behavior that they could, in fact, control, such protection becomes a disservice. In addition, it communicates the unfortunate message that accountability is something to accept only when it can no longer be avoided. Otherwise, why such resistance to it? I find that an interesting but sad subtext to this conversation about the socialization of young children, because I think what kids need from us is the message that being in control of one’s emotions, actions, and reactions is something that truly empowers. It feels good, not restrictive or burdensome. People who live their days at the mercy of their emotions aren’t happy. They don’t feel free. Things happen to them and they don’t understand why. When we instead help our boys—including our very young ones—gain a sense of mastery over their bodies, and develop an awareness of the impact of their behavior on those around them, we offer them a leg up on the challenges they’ll face in life, and contribute to the raising of great boys who, later on, become great men.

Dr. Janet Sasson Edgette, psychologist and author of six books on parenting and counseling kids and teenagers, including The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don’t Play Sports Survive Bullies and Boyhood (2012).

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Recipe for Disappointment – Making Assumptions about Your Teen

carThe dad lets his son borrow the car. “Be sure to have it back by six. I’ve got an important place to be tonight.”

“No problem, Dad.”

Six o’clock comes and goes. With no sign of his son, he makes the call. “Where are you? I said I needed the car by six.”

“Oh yeah. Sorry, Dad. We were playing video games and I lost track of time.”

Dad assumed his son would respect his needs. Wrong. The boy had no idea what his father wanted the car for. He was focused mostly on his own needs, as usual.

Dad assumed his son understood that if he couldn’t be trusted to return the car on time, he may not get to use it again. Wrong. His son wasn’t thinking about future consequences at all. In fact, his mind was focused on the present moment, as usual.

Dad assumed his son shared his sense of responsibility. Wrong. Responsibility is something you learn. Dad has a finely ingrained habit of being responsible. His son still has a lot to learn.

Not that the son or any teenager is a bad person, though Dad was disappointed, anxious and upset.

In fact, Dad was guilty of a common type of fallacious thinking: PROJECTION.

Projection is the tendency of human beings to assume that other people are pretty much like them. Same perceptions of the world, same general experiences, same values, same attitudes, same reactions to events.

Of course this isn’t true at all.

Projecting the way you are onto other people is a lazy way of thinking about them. The truth is far different. A person’s skills, knowledge, experience, personal history, culture, beliefs, values, attitudes, personality, perceptions, ways of thinking – and more – are unique to every person. We are much more different from each other than we realize.

This is especially true of teenagers. They’re going through a phase of life most adults have long ago forgotten about. In addition to the aspects of uniqueness I’ve already mentioned, these kids are just beginning to create the kind of adult they will eventually become. In many ways, they’re generally weak in thinking skills, emotional intelligence, social skills, life skills, and wisdom. The son’s physical growth may be impressive and he may be a good kid, but he’s still naive about almost everything.

In short, the father made a mistake when he assumed that he and the son were on the same page. The reality is that the son and the father may never be on the same page.

I say “son” strictly for the purpose of illustration. Daughters are no different.

What should the father have done?

For starters, he should make an effort to appreciate the vast differences between him and his son. He can’t just assume that his son “gets it.”

What he can do is describe very specifically the behavior he expects of his son, why it’s important, and the impact not delivering on his promise will have on the father. He can explain that he’s loaning his son the car because he’s trusting the boy to be responsible and do what he says he will do. It’s a chance to prove that he’s responsible and can be trusted…or not.

And if the trust is violated, the appropriate consequence follows. The next time the son needs the car, he’ll have to make other arrangements. Trust will have to be earned again, and it will take time. It will be a tough lesson, but it will help him grow up to be a strong adult.

Every parent already knows that raising a teenager isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to resist the temptation to assume your child thinks and acts the way you do. It isn’t easy to remember all the ways you’re different, to be realistic about who this teenager is. In the flow of a busy life, it’s much easier to project who you are onto your child.

But the consequences of this assumption will very often be disappointment.

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Mentoring Boys – The Challenge of Improving Communication Skills

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features Dr. Dennis Coates, creator of Strong For Parenting, an online coaching resource for parents.

“It takes a village to raise a child.” – African proverb

adult-male-mentoring-boy2-230x300In his classic parenting book, The Wonder of Boys, psychologist Michael Gurian claims that “three families – not one” are needed to raise a healthy child to be a happy, successful adult. The first family is the “nuclear family”—the parents and grandparents who raise the child. The second family is the “extended family”—teachers, coaches, relatives, caretakers and other adult mentors. The third family is the surrounding culture and community—media, churches, government and other institutions.

Gurian makes the case that raising a boy to be a strong adult takes so much effort that a mother and father simply can’t do it all. This has always been so, but today both parents may be working; modern life is more complex than it used to be; new media present new risks; and at a time when boys need guidance the most, they’re spending much more time away from home than with their parents.

Of course the traditional “tribe” or “village” is no longer a typical part of modern culture. In our mobile society, grown children often move away to create lives far from where they grew up. They may move many times, and their own children may be growing up in a community of strangers.

Furthermore, many nuclear families these days are headed by single parents. This is especially tricky when the single parent is trying to raise a child of the opposite sex. Moms have never been boys, and dads have never been girls, so they may not fully understand what their child needs.

Today, caring parents attempt to create a modern-day version of the village by getting their boys involved in programs that will put them in contact with teachers, athletic coaches, counselors, ministers and other youth programs leaders, who parents hope will help their boy grow up strong for life.

That potential for a positive impact is real and significant. The classroom, sports, work, and other youth programs can demand that a boy acquire specialized knowledge and skills, dealing with difficult challenges, striving against adversity, and working well with others. Like sharpening an ax against a grindstone, boys can become stronger by dealing with life’s inherent challenges. With the facilitation of a skilled mentor, the boy’s efforts can lead to building aspects of character strength such as composure, cooperation, commitment, compassion, effort, excellence, initiative, integrity, perseverance, responsibility, self-confidence and self-discipline. These are the kinds of strengths that will help young men succeed in school, university and later in work and life.

But there’s a problem. For nearly 40 years I’ve been delivering training programs, assessment tools and learning systems to millions of working adults, the kinds of adults who will comprise this modern-day village; and what I’ve learned is that few of these adults have the kind of communication skills that are essential to effective mentoring. They’re not very good listeners. They don’t know the best way to give feedback, whether positive or negative. And they don’t know how to coach a boy to transform a life experience into a life lesson.

These deficiencies are not the fault of the adults. When we were growing up and learning how to deal with each other, we weren’t taught effective communication skills. While these are probably the most important skills a person can learn, the irony is that they’ve never been a part of anyone’s formal education. The assumption has always been that people learn how to interact through normal socialization. The idea has never caught on that there are ideal ways to communicate and that there quite a few interpersonal skills that can help people interact well with each other—and can be taught.

Those of us who were lucky enough to have excellent role models while growing up may have acquired a few effective communication skills, and these abilities no doubt helped us succeed. But these are exceptions. Most of us grow up with communication habits that make relationships difficult.

The problem is that the ability to engage with young people is crucial to the effectiveness of an adult mentor.

For example, most people mistakenly believe they are good listeners. The goal of listening is to “get the message,” to understand exactly what the speaker is trying to say. Most people don’t even realize when a “listening moment” is happening, because they think they’re involved in conversation, which is quite different from listening. They might be doing something else at the time and not give the speaker full attention. Or they might do more talking than listening in order to share their own stories and opinions. They might even interrupt the speaker to get their own points across.

When adult mentors fail to listen well, they can misunderstand what a young man is trying to say. During adolescence, most boys are seeking greater independence, pushing away from their families and other adults. When they try to connect with an adult and they get the feeling that they haven’t been heard, most of them will feel disrespected and misunderstood, and they’ll stop trying.

Another key mentor-youth communication skill is the ability to guide learning, a powerful skill that most adults have never heard of.

When it comes to teaching skills and techniques, a good approach is instruction, followed by demonstration, then lots of practice and coaching. To convey concepts and knowledge, lectures are often effective. However, neither of these approaches works well at all when teaching life lessons. When most adults spot a learning opportunity, their instinct is to lecture, to make sure the lesson is made clear.

The problem is that young boys don’t react well to lectures. Even if they know the adult means well and is right, they don’t like being preached to. The lesson belongs to the adult but not to the boy, and it can be perceived as a put-down. He may endure the lecture in silence, discounting what he’s been told.

A better method is to ask open-ended questions that guide the boy to discover the lesson:

  • “What happened?”
  • “Why do you think it happened that way?”
  • “What were the consequences?”
  • “What do you think is a better way to handle that situation?”

Most adults aren’t familiar with this way of transforming life experiences into life lessons; but when it comes to helping boys grow stronger, it’s practically the only approach that works.

Other important mentor-youth communication skills include giving feedback, giving encouragement, dialogue and resolving conflict.

Few adults have mastered any of these best practices, and I’ve never met an adult who was good at all of them.

And yet, the adults in a child’s life want to have a positive impact. They’re doing the best they can, but typically they aren’t conscious of issues about the way they communicate. Even if they were, they wouldn’t know what to do about it. They may not appreciate that improving only a few specific skills can make a world of difference.

One of the difficulties I’ve encountered in my years working with adults is that improving skills like these takes much more than watching a video or reading about it in a book. A line from “The Matrix,” one of my favorite movies, comes to mind: “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Changing a long-ingrained behavior pattern takes a long-term program of modeling, reinforcement, feedback and encouragement. Like an athlete working on skills, the adult has to “do the reps.” The reason is that when it comes to interacting, adults don’t consciously decide how they’ll communicate. They do what we all do: they react out of habit. They have to wire their brains for new habits of communicating.

To deal with this challenge as a developer of adult learning systems, I designed ProStar Coach, a brain-based, online coaching system for developing communication skills and personal strengths. My recent focus on youth has led me to create versions of this program for young people and the adults who mentor them. Anyone who is interested in these learning platforms can learn more at

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It’s Never OK to Say ‘Gay’ When You Really Mean ‘Stupid’

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features New York Times best-selling author Rosalind Wiseman, author  of Masters and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World (2013).

Rosalind Wiseman

Rosalind Wiseman

Imagine you’re driving carpool. Your child is sitting shotgun, constantly scanning the radio for everyone’s perfect song. The other three kids are rehashing their day. Everything is good until you hear one of the boys say to another, “Dude, you better improve your basketball skills! Do you have any idea how gay you were in PE class today! If it gets any worse you’re going to have go play on the girls team!” You immediately tense, look in the rearview mirror to gauge the kids’ reaction, and wonder if you should say something. In that instant several thoughts go through your head. You know it was bad but kids say words like that all the time. All the other kids seem to be laughing. If you say something you’re going to embarrass your child. It’s inappropriate to set rules for other people’s kids. And then the moment passes and you feel like you’ve lost your opportunity.

You don’t say anything. Many well-meaning parents can relate to this scenario. But the hard truth is that this is the adult behavior that supports bullying. These are the actions that come across as not wanting to be “the parent” in difficult situations because you’re afraid your child will get angry with you.

If you want to do your part to stop bullying, you have to understand the dynamics at play in that car and you have to say something. You have to clearly communicate what you stand for. So here are some suggestions for how to manage the situation.

When you hear the rude comment, take a deep breath, focus on what you’re about to say as you pull the car over, and put it in park. Take your seat belt off, and turn to face the kids in the back seat, while ignoring your son’s silent begging or death stares. As you make eye contact with all of them say,

You: “Josh, I just overheard you tell Mike that he was gay to insult the way he’s playing basketball.”

Josh: “It’s just what we say! It doesn’t mean the same thing now! Mike doesn’t mind do you?”

Mike: “No, they’re just messing with me. I know they don’t mean it.”

You: Here’s the deal. Using words like gay, or like a girl to put someone down is just unacceptable.”

Josh: “But it’s not our fault if the girls are terrible at basketball that’s just a fact! And gay just means stupid.”

You: “That’s not the issue. The issue is using those words to make someone feel worthless and not as good as you are.”

Josh gives you the stare that you are crazy and annoying. Your son stares out the window pretending he was born into a different family.

You: “If any of you want to talk to your parents about what I just said, please do so. Everybody got it? Good—anyone want to drop by the park on the way home?”

It’s important to end by encouraging the kids to talk to their parents about what you said. Not only because it’s smart to be transparent when you have these teachable moments with other people’s children but it also protects you from any of the kids coming home and accusing you of “screaming and totally freaking out” to their parents.

By the way, this strategy works any time kids say inappropriate and/or mean things around you. I had one mother use this strategy in the car after years of silently putting up with her daughter and her friends trashing other girls. It was important for her to realize how her silence had contributed to the girls’ feeling that they could be so mean and cruel to others. Once she stood her ground, the girls’ behavior improved at home and school.

And one last point. Yes, in the moment when we speak out, we will absolutely embarrass children. In the short term, they won’t like us one bit for getting involved. But it’s only in these moments that our kids see evidence of what our values look like in action, that they really get what’s important to us. They understand that they have a mom or dad who is willing and able to take a public stand when you see people being cruel. That’s a lesson they can take with them for a lifetime.

(This article was first published on Family Circle Momster.)

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Team Sports – Part of the Answer for Parents of Teens

You know about the tragic circumstances that teenagers can get involved in: pregnancy, STDs, alcohol and drugs, bullying, depression, food disorders, suicide, breaking the law, rebellion, gangs, poor grades, dropping out of school, running away from home. You read the news. Other parents tell their horror stories.

You want the best for your child. But there are so many ways to go wrong. What can you do?

Girls hoopsOne single initiative won’t be enough. But there is one thing that can make a big difference – participation in team sports. Read this article, by Fitzalan Gorman. Here are some of the facts she gleaned from her research:

- Some studies found that students who participated in sports did 10% better in most academic subjects

- Other studies found that the GPA of athletes was a full point higher than nonathletes.

- Female athletes had a 40% greater chance of graduating from college than non-athletes.

It makes sense that athletes perform better in school and more successfully avoid trouble. Participation in team sports is challenging and working hard to achieve team goals can make a kid stronger as a person for later challenges in life. The ax doesn’t get sharper until it’s pressed against a grindstone.

  • It isn’t easy to add a sport to an already busy schedule and show up for practice.
  • It isn’t easy to work on physical conditioning.
  • It isn’t easy to learn and follow the rules of a game.
  • It isn’t easy to acquire and refine new skills, and every sport involves skills that take time and effort to master.
  • It isn’t easy to get along with a variety of different teammates.
  • It isn’t easy to accept a coach’s corrections.
  • It isn’t easy to compete against other teams.
  • It isn’t easy to play a role while functioning as a team.
  • It isn’t easy to put a mistake behind you during the flow of a game.
  • It isn’t easy to keep trying when the other team is ahead.
  • It isn’t easy to keep your cool and stay focused when the contest gets physical.
  • It isn’t easy to give a total effort when you’re tired.
  • It isn’t easy to exercise sportsmanship and grace in defeat.
  • It isn’t easy to work hard to get better during a long season.
  • It isn’t easy to rehab from an injury.

I’ve written about this in a brief book called The Sacred Purpose.

Some of the references cited in Gorman’s article:

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Signs Your Son Is Using too Much Tech (And What To Do About It)

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Gregory Janzt, founder of The Center and co-author, with Michael Gurian, of Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs To Thrive.


Dr. Gregory Janzt

Boys have a hard enough time concentrating, contemplating, and reflecting — all executive functions centered in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area where teenage males are naturally not as fast to mature as we may like. So the last thing we need is for our sons to spend too much time with technology that inherently encourages surface-level, multi-tasked, short-term thinking.

Signs He’s Using Too Much Tech

  • Would he rather spend time with technology than people?
  • Is he choosing technology over physical activity and time outdoors?
  • Does he use tech devices during mealtimes?
  • Is most of the time he spends with friends on tech devices (i.e., texting, playing video games, watching television)?
  • Is tech usage distracting from time he should be spending on homework?
  • Does his greatest sense of joy or accomplishment seem to come from tech usage?
  • Does he seem fatigued and/or irritable, particularly after long periods of tech usage?
  • Does he have a hard time concentrating, particularly after long periods of tech usage?
  • Does he get anxious if he is away from his tech devices for too long?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions, your son may be using too much technology, and it’s probably a good idea to consider new (or revised) rules for his tech use.

Introducing New Tech Rules

1) Talk to your family about tech pros and cons.

While he will likely be resistant to a conversation that suggests limiting his tech usage, you are best served bringing it up within the context of your tech usage as a family. Explain to him that as grateful as you are for all the ways technology helps improve your lives, you want to look closely at your tech usage to be sure there is a healthy balance of things.

As a family, brainstorm a list of pros and cons. All the ways technology helps improve your lives — like providing information, connecting you with friends, and providing services of convenience. And all the ways it can threaten your quality of life — like distracting from homework, making you tired, taking time away from family and friends.

Note, going forward, make it a point of performing the same tech assessments, and subsequent (applicable) limitations, on all members of your family. After all, the vast majority of us would be better off spending less time with technology. Plus, this way your son won’t feel singled out.

2) Assess your son’s tech usage.

Even if you already believe your son is too dependent on technology, consider the fact that he’s probably using it even more than you know. Spend a week paying attention to how your son is using technology, including computers, smartphones, video games, and television. Keep a journal, making note of what he’s using and for how long.

Think beyond the boundaries of your own home. Reach out to his childcare provider, teachers, and parents of his friends. Ask them what technology he is exposed to when he’s with them, and for how long. And if your son currently is allowed technology in his bedroom, don’t forget to include in your calculation of a guesstimate of how much time he’s on tech devices in the privacy of his room.

Note, it is helpful if you can perform this tech usage assessment on all members of your family so that your son doesn’t feel as though he is being singled out.

3) Limit tech time.

Once you have a good idea of just how much time your son is spending with tech devices, talk to him about limiting the amount of time he will be allowed to use technology going forward. The more control you can give him over his new tech schedule, the more he will welcome the change. For instance, if you want to cut down his overall technology use by 10 hours a week, let him choose the how much time he would like to eliminate from tech device. That said, make sure there is an even distribution of things. For instance, the last thing you want is him eliminating time on his computer and smartphone just so he can spend all his tech time playing video games.

4) Keep tech out of the bedroom.

If you haven’t already, prohibit the use of technology in his bedroom. This means no TV, no computer, and no smartphone. He won’t be happy about this, but explain to him that this will give him an opportunity to use his bedroom as it’s intended — to rest and recharge.

5) Monitor his tech activity.

Play his video games. Watch his television programs. Visit the websites he frequents. Read his texts, emails, and posts to his social media pages. This need not be done in secret. Let your son know that the privilege of using the tech devices you provide him with is your right to monitor his activities. The more accustomed he already is to his tech independence, the harder he’ll fight you on this. Don’t give in. It is your right, as a parent, to do this. And there are plenty of computer monitoring programs and apps to help you do just that.

6) Hold off on a cell phone.

The sooner you allow your son a constant tech companion, the sooner you introduce the possibility of technology dependence. Try and protect your son from the tether of tech addiction as long as you possibly can, at least until he starts middle school.

7) Say no to new tech toys.

Parents invariably feel the pressure to give our kids the latest and greatest of everything, particularly the newest tech devices. Resist at all cost! Your son does not need a new smartphone every time a new version comes out. (None of us do.) An upgrade is perfectly fine now and then — in a smartphone, computer, or television, for that matter — but wait until the waning performance of the existing device actually warrants a new purchase. In this manner, you can teach your son how to appreciate what he has, how to wait patiently for what he wants, and how to be a responsible consumer who doesn’t perpetuate society’s increasingly “throw-away” mentality.

8) Set up consequences for violations of tech rules.

Your son is going to make mistakes, like sneaking extra tech time or using inappropriate language in texts, emails, or social media posts. So before you initiate tech limitations, set up a clear set of consequences should these rules be violated. The most effective consequences are those in which you confiscate the device for a specified period of time.

9) Revisit the rules now and then.

Finding just the right amount of tech usage requires a learning curve. You may find your initial rules don’t do enough, or maybe they do too much. Plus, as your son grows and changes, so do his habits, interests, and needs. For this reason, it’s a good idea to revisit your tech rules now and then. Maybe once a month for the first six months, then very three months thereafter. And if you happen to forget, congratulations, as what you’re doing is probably working.

Find more insights into raising boys in today’s tech-intensive world in Raising Boys By Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs To Thrive, by A Place Of Hope founder, Dr. Gregory Jantz, and Michael Gurian.

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A Tale of Two Coaches – One Gets It, One Doesn’t

What informs my insights about parenting? The real world. And a lot of that is just stuff I read in the local paper. Today I read two stories about coaches.

Here in Texas there has been a scandal due to “Friday Night Tykes,” an Esquire Channel TV series about youth football. It shows coaches screaming violent profanity and encouraging little kids to injure the opposing players.

YouTube Preview Image

In one scene, Charles Chavarria, a San Antonio kiddie football coach, is shown gesturing to a helmut earhole. “Y’all can hit everybody right here.” he said. “They’re going to lose players one at a time.”

After this episode aired, he was banned from coaching for a year by the Texas Youth Football Association.

Chavarria is an example of the kind of coach who doesn’t understand the purpose of youth sports. Striving to win is important, because it instills a work ethic and other important behavior patterns. But it’s a huge mistake to make winning the primary goal. It’s an even worse mistake to encourage young athletes to win at all costs. The true purpose of participation in youth sports is not to prepare young athletes to compete at the next level. It’s to prepare them for life. It’s to develop the values and life habits that will help them meet the challenges they’ll face later as adults.

Chavarria doesn’t get this.

Many parents get this wrong, too. Participation in competitive team sports is one of the few activities that can have such a positive impact on a child. But coaches and parents who don’t understand this can do damage.

rudy bernal

Rudy Bernal

By contrast, I read an article about Lanier High School basketball coach Rudy Bernal, who is retiring after 31 years. All of his players come from Mexican families, and none of them is over six feet, three inches tall. And yet, they went to the post-season play-offs in 11 of the past 14 seasons.

He works to instill strong self-confidence. “If I’m remembered for one thing, I hope it’s that I got my kids to believe they could beat anybody,” he said.

His coaching style is to demand high standards of fitness and skill while showing his players that he cares about each one of them personally. In one incident he showed them a video of an opponent putting on a dunk exhibition. One of the players was Chris Bosh, who is now an NBA All-Star playing on the Miami Heat.

“They’re not going to dunk on us. Not one time,” he told them. Although Bernal’s players were heavy underdogs when they met this team in the State semi-final, they upset them 50-48.

In his 31 years, only one of his players went on to play NCAA Division I basketball.

Coach Bernal was using the sport to make his players strong. Yes, physically strong. But also strong for life.

Coach Chavarria was using the sport to create a winning record, regardless of the means, instilling anti-social values in the process.

What kind of coach does your child have? If you’re not sure, show up for practices and games and find out. If winning is more important than youth development, remove your child from the program. And find a team that has a coach who can be an effective mentor to your child.

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Why Teens Rebel – In Case You’ve Forgotten…

When they’re little you read to them, hoping they’ll love books and reading and learning.

Before you know it they’re in school, beginning a journey that will teach them about the world.

And in half a dozen years, puberty begins the physical and mental development towards adulthood.

They start pushing for independence. A good thing. You want them to learn to fly away from the nest to create their own life.

Meanwhile, they experiment with adult-like behavior. The danger is they’ll misunderstand what it means to be an adult and make bad choices.

One thing they learn: lots of bad things are happening in the world.

Government leaders acting in their own self-interest and misleading the people who elect them.

People believing these and other lies, denying obvious facts, and accepting nonsense instead of truth.

Adults cheating on their spouses, so many marriages unhappy and ending in divorce, so many broken families.

Hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year to finance foreign wars that seem to have no purpose.

All over the world, people killing each other, including innocent women and children in the name of power and religion.

Business leaders exploiting their employees while setting up their own mind-boggling salaries golden parachutes.

Food products that endanger health being manufactured and sold for profit.

The culture pumping out toxic waste, poisoning the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat…causing health problems, species extinction and climate change.

School teachers working hard to get kids to pass state standardized tests, so teachers can keep their jobs…instead of passing along real wisdom and helping young people learn to think for themselves.

Teens begin to understand that the world isn’t fair and never will be, and the imperfections of adults seem more obvious than their good qualities.

This includes mom and dad, who they once thought were perfect – a big let-down, enough to make them feel disillusioned and angry.

So it’s no mystery why teens rebel, why they reject the society adults have created for them, why they love the music of anger and rebellion.

You probably experienced similar emotions when you were young.

And now you are the imperfect parent.

problem teenIf you react emotionally instead of communicating effectively with them, you can easily push them over the edge.

Angry, emotional kids. Disrespectful kids. Goth kids. Truant kids. Clueless kids. Wild kids. Kids who join gangs. Pregnant kids. Runaway kids. Kids binging on alcohol and drugs. Addicted kids. Kids with issues. Kid who hate who they are. Kids who drop out of school. Kids who break the law. Kids in trouble. Suicidal kids.

All dangerous and tragic and not on the path towards becoming mature, happy, successful adults.

And the biggest factor that either engages them or causes them to disconnect is your communication skills.

The stakes are huge.

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Justin Bieber and Dennis Rodman – What These Two Men Have in Common


2012 photo by Joe Bielawa

Poor Justin Bieber. I read that he was arrested, forced to wear a jump suit and photographed for a mug shot because he was drag-racing in Miami in a rented Lamborghini. Oh, and he failed a sobriety test, DUI for alcohol and drugs. And resisting arrest. And driving with an expired driver’s license.

Reading this gave me a sensation of déjà vu, as if I had read about this incident months, if not years before. All the news about Bieber lately has been bad news, run-ins with the law. All the photographs of him, even the nasty mug shot in the paper, make him look like a 13-year-old boy, but in fact he’s no longer a teenager – a boy-man, a man with a boy’s brain.

I’ve never listened to him sing a song all the way through. I clicked on some his music videos on YouTube and his voice sounded so irritating to me that I had to click off. It reminded me of Britney Spears, an entertainer from a different generation. I had to click off her videos, too, because I couldn’t distinguish her voice from the voices of her backup singers. I guess in both cases their success was about sex appeal, arousing teenagers to frenzies of mindless adoration so they transfer money to the accounts of the celebrities.

My own rock star adoration was Elvis Presley, back in the 1950s. I remember channeling quite a bit of money in his direction, too. His appeal was his sexuality also. But he had a terrific singing voice and his sexuality was an order of magnitude stronger than that of Justin Bieber. Back then, even the guys acknowledged his affect on girls and adopted sideburns, daring hair styles, turned-up collars, one-sided smiles and a Mississippi drawl to emulate him. Old men today still think of him as “The King.”

Dennis Rodman

1995 photo by Steve Lipofsky

Poor Dennis Rodman. Back from North Korea, where he debased himself before that boy-man dictator, not only has he ducked in shame to the nearest rehab facility, the FBI is investigating him for violations of federal sanctions. Again, all this seems like déjà vu, reading about a fully grown man who should know better, wasting his dwindling resources on foolish nonsense, making himself look bad to the world.

Why? Is it deliberate because their shooting star is on the descending side of the arc, because bad publicity is better than no publicity at all?

I don’t think so. Like Brittney – and probably even Elvis – Justin and Dennis had a particular talent for grabbing people’s attention, and so millions and millions of dollars flowed into their bank accounts. But they had bad judgment. They didn’t get the big picture. They rarely thought of the consequences of their actions. They just impulsively did bizarre, shocking things and caused problems for themselves. Irrational things that people their age should know better than to do.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know what’s coming next. I believe the ultimate cause of adults acting like crazy teenagers is that this has become their behavior pattern. During adolescence, when the prefrontal cortex was under development, they should have been exercising critical thinking and logical judgment. But instead they were becoming big stars, making tons of money, and were indulged to do whatever they wanted to do. No one was there to coach them to think things through. So at the end of adolescence the developmental window closed, the final foundation wiring for critical thinking was minimal and patterns for impulsive, irresponsible behavior had been ingrained.

The result – a child who grew into an adult who rarely uses good judgment, a loose cannon on deck, a danger to himself and to others. It’s the kind of drama that has always been the stuff of novels, movies, and yes – the daily news.

For parents, a caution. The same thing can happen to any teenager, but without the potential for becoming a celebrity with tons of money. If their prefrontal cortex isn’t wired for critical thinking during the sensitive period of adolescence, down the road the same thing can happen. Grown men who still act like boys. Grown women who still act like girls.

The process is unseen, silent, slow, difficult to understand and has enormous, permanent consequences. But if your child is a teenager, I guarantee you that it’s happening. It’s an opportunity to construct something wonderful. Or not.

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Jed Diamond – A Gender-Specific Approach to Healing

Jed Diamond, Ph.D.

Jed Diamond, Ph.D.

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of raising boys to become men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges parents and the community face in the 21st Century. Twice a month these writers will be posting the same original article on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers. Today’s post features Jed Diamond, Ph.D., whose latest book is entitled: Stress Relief For Men: How To Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well.


Depression runs in my family. I became aware of that fact when my father took an overdose of sleeping pills when I was five years old. Growing up I had little understanding of what had happened or why he was hospitalized and disappeared from our lives. But I did grow up with a hunger to understand depression and a terror that I would become depressed myself and face my own suicidal demons.

When I was 40 and going through my own bouts of depression, I found a journal he had written in the year before he was hospitalized and I got a better understanding of his suffering and my own. Here are a few of the entries:

June 4th: Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work, Yes, it’s enough to make anyone blanch, turn pale and sicken.

August 15th: Faster, faster, faster, I walk. I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family. I try, try, try, try, try. I always try and never stop.

November 8th: A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education.

Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.

Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to end his life. Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same. For nearly 40 years I’ve treated more and more men who are facing similar stresses to those my father experienced. The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today.

During that period my mother also became depressed, but it was quite different than my father’s experience. Where he was often irritable and angry, she was more often sad and weepy. While he pushed people away who wanted to help him, she drew close to her friends and neighbors. In working with men and women over the years I’ve found other differences in the ways males and females deal with their pain and suffering. Here’s a chart that summarizes my experience.

Males are more likely to act out their inner pain and turmoil, while women are more likely to turn their feelings inward. Certainly there are depressed men who fall on the female side and vice versa, but generally I’ve found these differences to hold true for most depressed men and women I’ve worked with over the years.

Female depression

Male depression

Blame themselves Feel others are to blame
Feel sad, apathetic, and worthless Feel angry, irritable, and ego inflated
Feel anxious and scared Feel suspicious and guarded
Avoids conflicts at all costs Creates conflicts
Tries to be nice Overtly or covertly hostile
Withdraws when feeling hurt Attacks when feeling hurt
Has trouble respecting self Demands respect from other
Feels they were born to fail Feels the world is set them up to fail them
Slowed down and nervous Restless and agitated
Chronic procrastinator Compulsive time keeper
Sleeps too much Sleeps too little
Trouble setting boundaries Rigid boundaries and need for control
Feels guilty for what they do Feels ashamed for who they are
Uncomfortable receiving praise Frustrated if not praised enough
Finds it easy to talk about weaknesses and doubts Terrified to talk about weaknesses and doubts
Strong fear of success Strong fear of failure
Needs to “blend in” to feel safe Needs to be “top dog” to feel safe
Uses food, friends, and “love” to self-medicate Uses alcohol, TV, sports, and sex to self- medicate
Believe their problems could be solved if only  they could be a better (spouse, co-worker, parent, friend) Believe their problems could be solved if only  their (spouse, co-worker, parent, friend) would treat them better
Constantly wonder, “Am I loveable enough?” Constantly wonder, “Am I being loved enough?”


Chart found in my books, Male Menopause, The Irritable Male Syndrome, and The Whole Man Program.

Gender-Specific Medicine Saves Lives

For too long, we’ve assumed that sex and gender differences are not important in health care.  But a new field of gender-specific medicine is emerging that can save lives.  We now know that there are differences in everything from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer’s.  For instance, it was once thought that symptoms of an impending heart attack were the same for women and men.  Now we know that women often have different symptoms than men and millions of women are getting proper treatment as a result.

Likewise, understanding the difference ways that men experience depression can save millions of men’s lives who might otherwise be lost.  We know that the suicide rate for males in the U.S. is 3 to 18 times higher than it is for females.  Many men die and suffer from undiagnosed and untreated depression because we haven’t understood the ways in which male depression manifests.

I have made it my life quest to help men, and the women who love them, to live well at all stages of their lives.  At MenAlive our team brings together people and resources from all over the world to help people realize their dreams of a fulfilling life.  I hope you’ll join us.

Jed Diamond, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is Founder and Director of MenAlive, a health program that helps men, and the people who love them, to live well throughout their lives. He is a pioneer in the field of male-gender medicine. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network. He is also a member of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP), the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male and serves as a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Gender and Men’s Health. He is the only male columnist writing for the National Association of Baby Boomer Women. He also blogs for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, Scribd, Menstuff, ThirdAge, and other venues. He is the author of 11 books, including international best-sellers, Surviving Male Menopause and The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression. His new book Stress Relief for Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well will be available in April, 2014.

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A Powerful Parenting Skill – Get Kids to Think for Themselves

My wife, Kathleen Scott,  contributes regularly to the San Antonio Express-News Travel section and sometimes to the Food section. She also is working on a third draft of a mystery novel.

I think it’s remarkable that she made a successful transition from commercial banker to writer. The skills involved in each are totally different. How many people have done that? Since I have a Ph.D. in English and make a living writing nonfiction, from time to time I serve as a kind of live-in editor and writing coach. In the past, whenever she asked for my input, I’d listen to her concerns or read a passage and then give her my recommendations.

The other day, I decided to take a different approach. She brought up a difficulty she’d been having with her writing routine, and I wondered what would happen if I encouraged her to think it through for herself. It went something like this.

Kathleen - “I’m spending way too much time selecting photographs for my articles. When I research a piece, I take hundreds of pictures. I have to upload them all, sort out the bad ones, name the good ones, organize them and find the best ones for the article. It takes hours and I don’t get that much for an article.”

I immediately thought of a couple things she could do to reduce that task. But instead of suggesting them, I asked: “How important is it to you to cut back on the time you spend?”

Kathleen - “I’ve got to do something about it. I spend so much time on it I could make more money flipping hamburgers.”

“Have you got any ideas?”

Kathleen - “Well, I probably take too many pictures.”

“Could you cut back and still deliver good pictures?”

Kathleen - “I think I take multiple pictures of everything because I’m afraid I won’t have everything I need for the article.”

“Do you really need to take so many pictures?”

Kathleen - “Probably not. I know from experience that I’ll always get enough good pictures for the piece. They only use three or four of them. I take a lot because I might want to use them for other articles later.”

“Is that working for you?”

Kathleen - “In retrospect, I may never use them. I probably should just do a good job covering the important things for the piece.”

“How would you do that?”

Kathleen - “I do a good job planning my articles. I think I’ll meet with my editor to get a better feel for what she likes and doesn’t like.”

“Sounds like that could really reduce the time you spend sorting through them.”

Kathleen - “Yeah. Hey, you’re really good at this…”

Cool…immediate feedback! I didn’t have to give advice and she worked out her own solution. This approach to coaching is different for me.

I picked it up in an excellent book called Quiet Leadership (2006), by David Rock. It’s one of the most useful books on leadership that I’ve read in a long time. He begins by talking about how the brain learns, which endeared me to him immediately.

His core premise:

Our job…should be to help people make their own connections. Instead of this, much of our energy goes into trying to do the thinking for people, and then seeing if our ideas stick….

If we are to help other people think, we might develop a whole new set of skills–such as the ability to create the physical and mental space for people to want to think, the ability to help others simplify their thinking, the ability to notice certain qualities in people’s thinking, the ability to help others make their own connections.

This is an amazingly effective approach to take with teens. Instead of offering them your own thoughts, stimulate them to think for themselves.

The thinking part of their brain is still developing, but this process will end after adolescence. It’s a critical time to learn to think, but it takes practice. You can help by listening well, resisting the impulse to give advice, then asking the kind of questions that will get the child to think about the problem. More about this…

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Michael Gurian: If I Were a Parent of a Boy…


Michael Gurian

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of raising boys to become men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges parents and the community face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same original article on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features New York Times best-selling author, Michael Gurian, whose book, The Wonder of Boys, is credited with launching the modern boy’s movement. 


In working with her family therapy clients over the last twenty years, my wife, Gail, has said, “If I were a parent of a boy, I would really be worried.” She is referring to her fear for the social, economic, emotional, and spiritual lives of America’s boys.

As we raised our daughters, we asked our girls what they thought of the gender landscape around them. Gabrielle (then 16) came home from school in 2006 and said, “We had a discussion in social studies about boys and girls—everyone was talking like girls had it hard but boys had it easy. They were in denial.”

Davita (then 19), came home from college for the holidays last year and reported a discussion with her college friends. “I’m really glad I’m a girl, not a boy. The boys aren’t sure what to do, but the girls are doing everything.”

These discussions were anecdotal, of course. Both girls and boys, and women and men, can experience suffering in our world. Girls don’t have it easy. Women don’t have it easy.

But it is also true that boys and men are in substantial trouble today. They increasingly fill our principal’s offices, ADD/ADHD assessment clinics, and rolls of the homeless and unemployed. Boys and men are more likely to be victims of violence than girls and women, commit suicide at four times the rate of females, and suffer emotional disturbance, behavioral and other brain related disorders in higher numbers. They are suspended or expelled from school in much higher numbers than girls, receive two thirds of the Ds and Fs in schools, and lag behind girls in standardized test scores in all fifty states. They abuse substances and alcohol at higher rates than girls and are incarcerated at exponentially higher rates (for more data in all these areas, please see

Especially telling, the majority of government and philanthropic funding for gender friendly-programming goes to programs and innovations to help girls and women. The existence of this funding is to be celebrated, but the disconnect between the reality males face and the social justice attention males get needs to be examined by each of us.

We are in denial about our males.

I believe this denial will continue (and we will ultimately rue and mourn the dangerous, socially debilitating consequences) unless we change our academic, media, government, and philanthropic programming to include a new ideological truth: just as the traditionalist paradigm regarding girls and women needed to be deconstructed and replaced by the feminist paradigm in the last century, the feminist paradigm, especially as it regards boys and men, needs to be deconstructed and, at least in part, replaced now if we are to meet the needs of both genders.

Why does it need to change? Because it posits that females are victims of a masculine society that oppresses them systematically, and this isn’t true in the developed world anymore. While individual girls and women can be dominated and demeaned by individual boys and men (and vice versa), we do not live in a culture that systematically teaches girls and women that they are second class citizens and boys and men that they are superior.

While some areas of life are still male dominant (mechanical engineering, senior leadership at some corporations and some areas of government), other areas of life and work are female dominant (management, medicine, education, mental health professions). The original feminist paradigm posited systemic male dominance in our culture, but male dominance is only systemic in small pockets of the culture and female dominance also exists in others.

Can our culture open its mind to our new reality? To answer yes, we will need to make a distinction between gender issues in the developed world and the developing world. In many countries in the developing world, systemic and brutal patriarchy does prevail and the feminist model of male dominance/female victimization is essential for encouraging social justice. My own parents, while they served in the State Department, helped build schools for girls in Afghanistan against impossible odds. In that world, systemic degradation of females was and is prevalent.

But in the developed world, we can’t keep operating out of a gender lens that blinds us to reality. If we do continue to remain blind, we will continue to avoid fulfilling our most human of imperatives: to take care of our children. If we do not fix what ails our sons–if we do not love them in the ways they need to be loved–we will create an increasingly dangerous society for girls and women, too. No parent of either gender wants that.

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013. Michael Gurian is the author of The Wonder of Boysand co-author of Raising Boys By Design (with Gregory Jantz, Ph.D.).

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Adults Can Improve the Way They Mentor Youth – And Make a Difference

Adults care a great deal about the youth in their communities.

They want fewer kids to be at risk.

They want more kids growing up to be strong, happy, successful adults.

boy and mentorThey’re willing to be mentors to young people.

And it’s important that they do, because it takes a village to raise a child to become a strong, happy, successful adult.

Parents have always needed the help of other caring adults.

But there’s more to mentoring than having a good heart. More than giving advice. More than spending time. More than giving them things.

To have an impact, an adult mentor needs to build a positive relationship with the child.

This requires effective communication skills.

There’s a best way to listen. A best way to encourage. A best way to engage in dialogue. A best way to resolve conflict. A best way to praise and offer constructive feedback.

The problem is, most adults have only average communication skills.

Or worse.

This includes parents, teachers, coaches and youth program leaders.

This isn’t good enough. When an adult fails to communicate in the best way, a teenager can feel misunderstood and disrespected.

So they distance themselves.

The old “generation gap.”

They turn to their peers for respect and understanding.

The blind leading the blind.

The fact that most adults have weak communication skills isn’t their fault.

Decades ago, when they were in school, no one taught them how to communicate effectively. These skills have never been a part of a school curriculum.

People had to learn how to interact by watching adults and by trial and error “on the street.”

We all did.

If adults in “the village” are to be effective mentors to children, they’ll need to improve the way they listen, encourage, dialogue, resolve conflict, praise and offer feedback.

But reading a book or watching a video about it won’t be enough to change their behavior.

Like learning any skill, it will take practice. Lots of practice.

Skills and habits are ingrained when people do things repeatedly over time.

To change their communication patterns, they’ll need to consciously apply the best models in the real world with real people.

Repeatedly over time.

This is the only way to replace an old habit with a new one.

For the brain cells to wire together, you gotta do the reps.

Only then will the new way feel comfortable and automatic.

Learning a new skill or changing a habit is never easy.

It helps to have models, feedback, accountability and encouragement.

In other words, coaching.

The good news is that this kind of 24/7 long-term coaching is available today.

It’s worth looking into.

Communities desperately need parents, teachers, coaches and youth program leaders who can communicate effectively with youth.

We need mentors who have the skills to make a difference in a child’s life.

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Internet Bullying – What Parents Need to Know and Do

From Amanda Kostina at the WhiteFence Savings blog, this insightful guest post…

Learning that your teenager has been the target of bullies is both heartbreaking and infuriating. The discovery that your child is party to the torment and agony of a classmate, however, can be even worse. No parent wants to believe that a child they’ve raised could be so cruel, but the truth is that bullying is a very real problem. More kids than you might think can be involved in the bullying of their peers, and the practice is not constrained to only the “bad” kids. Even good kids can find themselves swept up in the mob mentality that leads to bullying and harassment. The most effective weapon in a parent’s arsenal is simple prevention. Stopping such behavior before it begins is imperative, especially online.

laptopThe Internet has changed not only the way that kids learn and interact with the world, but also the way that they bully their less popular classmates. It wasn’t all that long ago when kids who were bullied could at least enjoy something of a respite when they were away from school grounds. In today’s always-connected world, a group of committed bullies can make sure that the torment is incessant. Cyber bullying is insidious and overwhelming, leaving young victims feeling as if they have no way to escape their tormentors. Making sure that your child is not part of this growing group of cyber bullying teens will require a bit of work and dedication, but it’s far from an impossible task.

Monitor Your Teen’s Web Presence

There is a fine line between respecting your teen’s privacy and willfully turning a blind eye to their online antics. It’s important to provide your child with some semblance of privacy and independence, but it’s equally important to make sure that you’re aware of their habits. Friend or follow your child on their social media sites or have them accept a friend request from a trusted adult. Remember that your teenagers’ brains are not fully developed, regardless of how mature they may seem at times. Your kids need guidance, and they need you to keep an eye on their online behavior. This will not only prevent them from becoming either the target or the perpetrator of cyber bullying, but also ensures that they’re not engaging in unsafe activities that could make them the target of online predators.

Be Conscious of Cell Phone Usage

It seems like modern teens always have a smartphone in their hands. These mobile devices make it easy for kids to stay connected with their peers and explore social interactions, but they also present an almost constant opportunity for cyber bullying. Talk to your teens about how some messages and actions can be construed as bullying, but also make a point of establishing an “open phone” policy. Make sure your kids know that you will monitor their phone use and that any indications of bullying will be met with a zero-tolerance policy.

Talk About Bullying

All too often, parents assume that their teens know what bullying is and know better than to engage in such behavior. The truth is that bullying is a complex problem, stemming largely from the fact that some teens don’t realize that what they’re doing is bullying. Make sure that your teens understand that there’s much more to bullying than simply taunting someone at school or being physically violent. Establish an open line of communication about bullying, making sure that your teens are well informed on the issue. Encourage kids to not only abstain from bullying, but to take an active stance against bullying behavior from their friends and peers.

Consider Your Own Behavior

Just as teens can have a skewed perception of bullying, so can their parents. Think about the language you use during discussions about harassing or bullying behavior. If you’ve held a stance asserting that bullying is the result of “kids being kids,” you’re sending a message of tacit approval to your children. Realize that bullying is more than roughing someone up for their lunch money, and that it’s a very serious issue for today’s teenagers. Online harassment and bullying can have tragic results, and is never just “kids being kids.” Consider the attitudes you’re modeling for your teens and whether or not you’ve been inadvertently sending the message that online bullying isn’t all that serious. Even when your kids become teenagers and seem to disregard your actions and opinions, they’re still looking to you for cues as to how they should react in a given situation. Make sure the message you’re sending is one that openly disdains bullying it all its forms.


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Kid Hacks His Education, Hacks His Life

Logan LaPlante

Logan LaPlante

You’ll want to watch this video all the way through. This 13-year-old boy is amazing. You’ll wonder how young Logan LaPlante could become so smart, so articulate, so mature, and so happy after only one year of adolescence! As you watch, see if you can discover the answer. It makes me wonder what the next 10 years of his life will be like.

Could you do what you saw this child do on-stage? What kind of education or child development led him to be who he is today? His parents aren’t in evidence in the video or his presentation. But they must be doing something terrific. Can you tell what it is? Can you see what’s wrong with our education system?

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Forty years ago, I was in graduate school at Duke University, in over my head, learning as hard and fast as I could to catch up to my classmates. It paid off – I earned my Ph.D. four years later.

It was the most intense period of learning in my life. I remember thinking from time to time, “What are the most important things I’ve learned? If I could learn anything, what would be at the very top of the list of things to know?”

The answer was wisdom.Molecular Thoughts

Wisdom is truth to live your life by, thoughts that can guide you to make the best decisions, find joy and fulfillment, take advantage of opportunities, and overcome the challenges and the adversity of life.

My conclusion: wisdom belongs at the top of the list of things to learn.

I’ve been collecting wisdom ever since, thousands of quotes that have guided my life. I share many of these quotes in the Strong for Parenting program. I also post several of these quotes every day on Twitter. And I post them on my Pinterest board, “Quotes to Inspire Parents.”

While collecting these quotes through the years, I was always painfully aware that I didn’t start paying attention to wisdom until I was over 30. It would have made a big difference if I had had access to wisdom as young person.

Teens aren’t stupid. They can handle wisdom. In fact, they need wisdom – the more the better, in my opinion. I think adults should be sharing more of this with teenagers than they do. With more wisdom, maybe kids would make better decisions, and fewer of the kind of mistakes they’re famous for.

This is why I have this other Pinterest board, “Power Thoughts for Teens,” thinking that parents might share some of it with their kids.

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For Parents Only – How to Manage Your Teen’s Use of Social Media

iphoneIn the 21st century, young people use social media to relate to each other.

There are upsides and downsides – even dangers – to this activity.

You want your child to have friends, but real relationships, not virtual ones. You don’t want your child’s identity stolen. You don’t want an online predator to victimize your child. You don’t want your child to be bullied. You don’t want your child to commit an indiscretion that can’t be undone.

But you can’t forbid your child to participate in the social media-based teen  culture. At least not without creating a heap of other problems.

So what’s a parent to do?

The Liahona Academy, a residential treatment center for troubled boys, has produced an excellent guide for parents who want to be smart about social media and how to manage it.

The download is free, and it’s good, helpful information.

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Good Advice for Parents – Pound the Rock

Parenting a teenager may be the hardest thing you ever do. It can sometimes seem like a thankless, hopeless endeavor. You have your dream – to help your child grow up to be a strong, independent, happy, successful adult. But most of the time, it may seem as if your best efforts aren’t working.

The next time you feel this way, remember this quote:

Stone-Cutter“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” 

- Jacob Riis, American journalist (1849-1914)

It may be that you have to invest some time in improving your parent-teen communication skills. It may be that you have to do what you know best with no visible impact, but – like the stonecutter who pounds the rock – someday what you’re trying to do will seem to bear fruit. Very likely, this is how raising a teenager works.

Don’t give up.

(Image courtesy of

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Sexting – The Legal Consequences

Teens and sexting is increasing in popularity in the US. With so many teenagers having their own private cell phones, sexting has quickly grown into a new threat for kids. Unless you fully understand the harm and consequences of it, your child could be at serious risk.

Teens need to know about the consequences of sexting. The best way for parents to educate their teens is to become educated about the dangers of sexting themselves. Your teens need to understand the legal, criminal, emotional and psychological ramifications of teen sexting. Teens simply don’t think about their futures the way parents do. As a parent, protect yours by educating them on teens and sexting today.

What is sexting?

Sexting involves using email or a cell phone to send sexually explicit images or messages to others. The word “sexting” is a combination of the words “sex” and “texting.” It began as a trend that involved teenagers texting nude images of themselves.

Adults have also joined the bandwagon, engaging in sexting as well. Yet, the consequences of engaging in sexting could be much more severe and serious when teens are involved.

The Law Behind Teen Sexting

Possession or Promotion of Child Pornography is a serious crime. Anyone involved can and will be charged with a felony. What does this have to do with sexting? Well, the actual law states that it’s against the law to transmit or possess sexually suggestive or nude images of any child under 18 years old. Here are some details related to this law:
It’s illegal to intentionally or knowingly possess any images depicting a minor engaging in any type of sexual act.

It’s a crime to promote or distribute any type of sexual images of minors. This includes transmitting, circulating, distributing, emailing, sharing and texting.

When a teenager sends a sexually suggestive or nude picture electronically to someone else, the minor is committing a crime. Even if the images are of himself/herself, they are in violation of the law.

The Consequences of Teen Sexting

Some adults don’t take teen sexting very seriously. They believe it’s simply an act of two teens sharing amongst themselves. But, some serious, irreversible damage can be done. Teen sexual behavior can be so easily influenced. Sexting effectively aggravates the emotional and mental consequences of the behavior.

Traditionally, teen relationships are all about the lows and highs of dating, while gaining experience and maturity. Yet, technology has become such a great influence that new consequences are continuously developing. When sexting occurs, it often involves photos of others being shared with multiple people. This results in embarrassment, shame and bullying.

The bottom line is that sexting images of anyone under the age of 18 is illegal. Yet, for the victim, the consequences go far beyond legal ramifications. Once a sext is sent, it becomes a permanent part of the viral world. Even if you delete the image out of your phone, it will never, ever go away.

That’s because once it has been sent, you have no control over who forwards, shares, posts, emails or sexts it to someone else. And, as you know, once it hits the internet, it’s “out there” forever. So, later on in life, your teen’s college recruiters and potential employers can see it too.

This guest post was contributed by The Liahona Academy for troubled teen boys.

Picture-Alert is a child protection app for parents.


Photo courtesy of


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Build a Bot, Train a Brain

What if there were a teen extracurricular activity that was fun, wholesome, kept kids off the streets and the couch, while permanently wiring their brains for critical thinking, problem solving and social skills? And oh yeah, I forgot… and a chance to win a lucrative scholarship!

robot competition

Such an activity is a high school robotics competition, the topic of a story by Scott Huddleston about kids at Lee High School in San Antonio, Texas (Lee students rule in robotics).

While other kids were hanging out at the mall or getting in their daily seven hours of entertainment media screen time, these students were working as teams to create robots designed to perform specific tasks. The Lee students did so well in a recent local competition they were chosen to compete at the state level.

I’ve written many times about the limited window of opportunity for teens to exercise the prefrontal cortex – a “use it or lose it” race against time that every adolescent who ever lived has run, even if they weren’t aware of it. Those who exercise critical thinking and problem solving the most end up with the most expansive platform at the end of adolescence. The unused brain cells in the prefrontal cortex gradually are eliminated. It’s actually pretty easy for a kid to go through adolescence without doing much critical thinking, and the permanent consequence is a lifetime of limited intellectual capacity.

Yes, for a parent, this ought to be a scary thought. After all, what can a young person with limited intellect accomplish in life? Unless you live under a rock, you’ve seen plenty of young people like this, and lots of older people who when they were young wasted this amazing developmental opportunity.

Parents can do something about it. The idea is to put kids in situations where they have to think for themselves. There are lots of ways to do this, and one of them is to get their child involved in mentally stimulating activities, such as chess, a challenging hobby, an entrepreneurial venture, 4-H or an internship. Does your kid’s school have a competitive robotics program? Check it out!

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Critical Thinking – What It Really Is and Why You Should Care

Cerveau - lobes

Frontal lobes in blue

These days, parents are hearing about the “teen brain” in the popular media. The message is that the “prefrontal cortex,” the area of the brain in charge of critical thinking, is still under construction – that this a big reason why the behavior of teens is often emotional, impulsive and risk-taking. For them, using critical thinking is like an infant trying to walk before it has wired its brain for the ability to do so.

My consistent message about the teen brain goes beyond this interesting explanation. There are life-long consequences to this final phase of brain development. What’s happening is the wiring of the baseline skills for critical thinking. Each time an adolescent exercises critical thinking, the circuits for this mental capacity are reinforced, while the unused brain cells in the prefrontal cortex are slowly being eliminated. A kind of “pruning” or “sculpting” of the prefrontal cortex is taking place. And because not all young people exercise much critical thinking during these growing-up years, the foundation for critical thinking they end up with will vary widely.

I think that parents need to care about this, because the adults their children become will be empowered or limited by their ability to exercise critical thinking. Some young adults will have the brainpower to pursue high-paying professional careers, and some won’t. And I think they should know that there’s much a caring parent can do to optimize the growth that can take place during this developmental phase.

But to grasp the gravity of these consequences, you need to know what “critical thinking” is. Do you? Some people think it’s the tendency to criticize, a notion that widely misses the mark.

Like “love,” a helpful definition of the concept of critical thinking can be hard to pin down. Wikipedia has collected a variety of descriptions:

  • A way of deciding whether a claim is true, partially true, or false.
  • A tool by which one can come about reasoned conclusions based on a reasoned process.
  • The mental process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information to reach an answer or conclusion
  • Disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence
  • Reasonable reflective thinking focused on deciding what to believe or do
  • Purposeful, self-regulatory judgment which results in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, as well as explanation of the evidential, conceptual, methodological, criteriological, or contextual considerations upon which that judgment is based
  • Using reason in the formulation of our beliefs
  • Disciplined, self-directed thinking which exemplifies the perfection of thinking appropriate to a particular mode of domain of thinking

Does this help? It boils down to the skill of “connecting the dots” about how things relate to each other and about cause and effect. This allows a person to foresee consequences, use judgment, make rational decisions, control impulses and plan. In other words, it’s the mental capability, along with language, that makes human beings different from all other species on Earth.

Pretty important stuff, huh? We’re talking about intellect here. But will the child you care about do the work – exercise critical thinking early and often?

Maybe not. After all, teenagers don’t even know what’s happening to them. Brain development is an invisible, silent process.

In the past, because parents were also oblivious to this dynamic, the encouragement and stimulation for kids to think was unintended and haphazard. Maybe some parents, coaches, teachers and other mentors took a special interest in certain kids and pushed them to think. And maybe sometimes the kids didn’t blow it off. In other words, some kids were luckier than others.

This is essentially why, if you think about the people you encounter in your life, some folks have superior minds, and some don’t.

And that’s why parents should care, why they ought to learn how to help their child construct the most robust foundation possible while the developmental window is still open. (See “How to Give Your Teen a Superior Mind” above.) You really can take luck out of the equation.

Because at the end of adolescence, the window closes. It’s use it or lose it, and the end result is permanent.

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Forget Halloween. Here’s Something Really Scary – Rebellious Teenagers

For this post I’ve included an interesting video. Or maybe you’ll find it a shocking video. Watch it all the way through. Don’t click off just because it’s disgusting.

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The clips were recorded by the teens themselves. There are thousands of videos like this posted on YouTube. Why? Because the kids thought what was going on was cute and cool.

Rebellious-TeenagerBut let’s step back from their clueless perspective and assess what’s going on.

1. They’re not using good judgment. The prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain used in foreseeing consequences, impulse control, judgment and decision-making, is in a sensitive developmental period, when the foundation for critical thinking has to be wired – or not – for life. That construction is not happening. Instead, the prefrontal cortex is being bypassed in favor of the amygdala, which is the seat of emotion. All the teens in these clips are 100% oblivious to these consequences.

2. At the same time, they ARE wiring their brains for the kinds of emotional patterns you see here – rebellious behavior, risk-taking, impulsiveness, etc. Translation – what you see is on the way to becoming their habitual way of behaving. With more of this kind of mindless history-making, these habits will get wired and persist into their adult life.

3. The alcohol and drugs they’re using to get high are negatively affecting their prefrontal cortex during a sensitive period of development. The risk is that they will retard or derail normal development of the critical thinking part of their brain, which would limit their intellectual capacity for life.

Well, there’s more, such as the risk of addiction and what they’ll do next after they shut off the video camera. But this is enough to explain why what you see is neither cute nor cool.

If you’re the parent of a teenager, could this happen to your child? Since most of your teen’s life happens outside of the home, I think it’s fair to ask this question: Do you feel lucky?

Teenagers feel the need to assert independence, question the status quo, and experiment. Their bodies are maturing, including their sexuality. But they don’t understand what’s happening to them. Why not? Most of the time, no one has explained it to them.

Most young people give in to peer pressure because they’re desperate to be accepted. Girls are more susceptible to relationship pressure than boys. What can save them is strong self-esteem. As a parent, do you know the best ways to encourage strong self-esteem? Have you been consistently applying these strategies?

Most young people rebel because they feel they can’t relate to their parents. Efforts at communication fail. This unfortunate outcome is common among parents and their adolescents, because even though they’re good people and mean well, they aren’t skilled communicators. Teens feel they aren’t heard or understood or respected and they shut down. Not good communicators themselves, they just give up and pull away.

Considering the potential immediate and long-term consequences, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs. But it’s real. And as I said, pretty common.

And no, it doesn’t always work out for the best once they grow up, in spite of the praying and wishing and hoping. Actions have consequences.

If you’re interested in improving your parent-teen communication skills, you might want to learn more about Strong for Parenting, an online coaching system for helping parents connect with their kids while stimulating the teen’s intellectual growth.

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The Danger of Teen Substance Abuse – Permanent Brain Damage

Doctors always warn expectant mothers not to use alcohol, drugs or tobacco during pregnancy. By now, the reasons why are common knowledge. Here’s an excerpt from

fetus“Taking drugs during pregnancy also increases the chance of birth defects, premature babies, underweight babies, and stillborn births. Exposure to drugs such as marijuana — also called weed, ganja, dope, or pot — and alcohol before birth has been proven to cause behavior problems in early childhood. These drugs can also affect the child’s memory and attentiveness. In addition, some findings show that babies born to women who use cocaine, alcohol, or tobacco when they are pregnant may have brain structure changes that persist into early adolescence.”

It’s important advice. The blood of the mother goes directly to the fetus. When these chemicals reach the still developing brain and body of the unborn baby, they can interrupt normal development. The consequences are often horrible.

Right now a young woman in our extended family is pregnant with her third child. She’s conscious of these dangers and is very careful about what she puts into her body.

All parents know that when teens abuses substances, their already limited ability to use good judgment is reduced, and, well, just about anything could happen. An accident. Unprotected sex. Breaking the law. And even if their child avoids these dangers, there may be a hangover the next day.

But what most parents don’t understand are the long-term dangers. Recalling the caution for pregnant mothers, exactly the same dangers exist when a teenager drinks alcohol or uses drugs. One area of an adolescent’s brain – the prefrontal cortex – is in a critical phase of development. So just as these chemicals can damage the developing brain of a fetus, they can derail normal development of a teenager’s prefrontal cortex. The young person could become mentally impaired for the rest of adult life — the equivalent of permanent damage to the part of the brain that handles understanding, logic, evaluation, critical judgment, decision making, creativity and planning.

In this case it’s not the mother who is using and causing the damage. It’s the adolescent. But the danger and the consequences are the same.

Teen pot

So add this to the bad things that can happen to teenagers. The next time you hear about high school or college kids binge drinking or getting high on marijuana, remember this. It’s not about sewing wild oats. It’s not about kids having fun while they’re still young. It’s about risking permanent brain damage.

For advice about protecting your child, check this helpful article from Steps to Recovery.

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Grant Hill Mentors Young Duke Basketball Players – It Takes a Village

NBA basketball legend Grant Hill

This video shows basketball legend Grant Hill sitting down with young players of the 2013-2014 Duke basketball team and talking to them not about basketball, but about LIFE.

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I’m sure every parent would love to have an adult role model like this spend time sharing insights and wisdom with their child.

It’s nearly impossible for parents – by themselves – to prepare a child to become a happy, strong, successful adult.

It takes a village.

Parents need to enlist the help of extended family and community to help pass on the necessary values, strengths and life skills. Relatives. Ministers. Youth program directors. Coaches. Counselors. Teachers.

But not every coach connects well with young people. Not every teacher is ready to accept the role of youth mentor. So much depends on their communication skills.

To help adults improve the skills they need in the mentoring role:

For coaches, Strong for Mentoring Athletes.

For teachers, Strong for Mentoring Students.

For relatives and adults working in youth programs, Strong for Mentoring Youth.

Meredith Bell and I talk about the importance of the “village” or “tribe” in a young person’s life.

What’s more important than helping children through the difficult adolescent years to become happy, strong, successful adults?

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Parents – How and Why Teens Risk Their Futures and Their Lives

From Tina Marconi of, we have this timely guest post that gives parents a heads-up about adolescent risk-taking and the horrendous consequences.

A guy smiking.Taking healthy risks is an essential aspect of childhood development, and is one of the best ways for kids to learn about cause and effect and the consequences that come from their actions. Parents should encourage youngsters to take safe risks when the situation arises.

But there are a host of not-so-healthy risks that come into the picture when little ones grow into teenagers. To adults, it often seems as if teens’ daredevil antics and harebrained schemes are as baffling as they are enraging, but there is a scientific reason behind teens’ risky behavior that boils down to neural chemistry, reward signals and development as they move into adulthood. While dealing with this behavior isn’t easy, parents can make a more concerted effort to curb dangerous impulses by understanding the most common risky behaviors that teenagers adopt.

  • Speeding – Whether they’re trying to impress their friends or drunk on the heady prospect of being in control of a car without adult supervision, one of the most common risks that teens take is driving at a high rate of speed. Thankfully, there are devices that will allow you to monitor the speed at which your teen is driving these days.
  • Texting and Driving – There is a sense of urgency, especially in social settings, that causes teens to be less than cautious when they’re behind the wheel and an incoming text alert gets their attention. Distracted driving is dangerous driving though, which is why a strict no-texting-and-driving policy should be backed up by apps and parental control software that prevents such risks.
  • Experimenting With Drugs – Teenagers are well aware of the risks of experimentation with illicit drugs. Most are raised with the “just say no” attitude, and there are entire school programs dedicated to educating teens on the dangers of drugs. That doesn’t change the fact that curiosity, the desire to rebel and a need to assert an adult level of independence drives many kids to try these substances.
  • Binge Drinking – Seasoned adults have a variety of reasons for social drinking, but teenagers have only one goal: to experiment with something they’re not supposed to be using while altering their mood. Alcohol poisoning and bad decisions borne of lowered inhibitions are both very real prospects, however, which is why it’s important for parents to discuss the matter with their teens in real-life, honest ways.
  • Truancy – Some teens skip school to avoid bullies or a classroom setting they are struggling in, while others skip simply because they can. From asserting independence to practicing avoidance, skipping school for any reason is still a common and risky situation.
  • Vandalism – While older generations took a “kids will be kids” approach to dealing with vandalism, that’s not the case today. Even when it’s meant to be a harmless prank, the destruction of property is something parents must take seriously. You can be assured that law enforcement won’t see this risky behavior as a joke.
  • Trespassing – From the thrill of hanging out in a forbidden place to the more practical application of simply finding a place to hang out away from the prying eyes of adults, trespassing is another common risk that teens take. It’s also a crime, which is why parents shouldn’t turn a blind eye to such habits if they’re discovered.
  • Having Unprotected Sex – Few parents look forward to having a talk about sex with their kids, but some of the riskiest sexual behavior of teens stems from a lack of understanding and information. Unprotected sex can lead to teen pregnancy and the contracting of sexually-transmitted diseases, which is why parents must have a frank and honest discussion about the importance of using protection.
  • Self-Harming – Self-harming behavior like cutting is, according to a 2002 British study, more common among teenage girls. Most parents would never dream that their kids are cutting themselves, but it is common and it is incredibly risky. From cutting deeply and sustaining real injury to contracting an infection through open wounds, this damaging, risky impulse can have very serious consequences.
  • Crash Dieting – Spurred on by the media’s fixation on physical perfection paired with the inherent insecurity of adolescence, crash dieting and even eating disorders are a common risk that teens take in a bid to obtain their skewed ideas of physical beauty. Parents should discuss these issues with their teens, even if no signs of eating disorders or problematic relationships with food are present.

In addition to the dangers of drugs and binge-drinking cited above, unlike mature adults – teens risk permanent damage in their prefrontal cortex, the brain area in charge of critical thinking and judgment. The reason is that during adolescence this area is still under development. So just like a mother who is warned not to ingest drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, teen substance use can derail normal brain development and limit their intellectual capacity and future success as an adult.

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Comedian Louis C.K. on Raising His Daughters

Louis C.K.

Comedian Louis C.K.

“I’m not raising kids. I’m raising the adults they’re going to turn into.”
- Louis C.K.

An empowering, realistic distinction!

Instead of seeing their teenager as a kid who’s been in the family for more than a decade, parents need to recognize that they’re working with an “emerging adult.” An infinite number of outcomes are possible, so they need to remain conscious of the goal: to prepare the young person to become a happy, successful, responsible adult.

By the way, Louis C.K. is a really funny guy. Here he is on Conan, talking about his kids and cell phones…

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Over 300 Teens Trash Retired NFL Player’s Home – And Do Untold Damage to Themselves

I read a disturbing news report posted by NPR. You should check it out. And especially check out the victim’s website


Speaker & former NFL player, Brian Holloway

The victim was former New England Patriots pro football player, Brian Holloway (1981-1988).

While he was visiting Florida, his New York country home and property were broken into by teenagers.

Over 300 young people showed up to party.

Alcohol and drugs.

They shattered windows and ruined the floor. They punched holes into the walls and spray-painted them with graffiti.

They stole valuables from the house.

The damages are estimated at more than $20,000.

They took pictures of themselves getting wasted and trashing the place and posted them on social media.

Brian’s children picked up on the tweets and notified him, and he called the sheriff, then rushed home.

He then set up a website dedicated to helping the teens make amends and turn their lives around. He invited all of them to a party to own up and help clean up.

Only one teenager showed up.

The kids’ tweets and photos were posted on his site, and the authorities have used them to investigate the incident.

So far no charges…

But many of the parents were outraged and actually threatened violence and lawsuits against Mr. Holloway. They were angry at him for posting the photos that the kids took of themselves while getting wasted and trashing the place, photos the kids themselves proudly posted on the internet.

Apparently they are worried that the exposure and possible charges will make it hard for their kids to be accepted into the college of their choice.

And of course it doesn’t reflect well on the kids’ upbringing.

So one is impelled to ask: “What kind of parenting did these kids get that led them to get involved in this?” The values just aren’t there. The respect isn’t there. The compassion isn’t there.

And the judgment. No, that was definitely not happening.

Here’s what IS happening. In the near-term, they may have to face charges. There will be consequences.

But far worse, getting wasted on drugs and alcohol at this age will permanently damage their brains. Like a fetus in the womb, brain development is underway. Pregnant mothers are warned that ingesting these substances can derail normal development. With teenagers, the part of the brain under development is the prefrontal cortex, which handles reasoning, judgment and decision making.

Obviously, this isn’t the first time these kids have gotten wasted. Some damage has probably already been done – permanent damage. Perhaps their actions and reactions are clear evidence of this.

In just a few years they will be “adults.” If the parents think adolescence is just a phase and they’ll outgrow it and will magically transform into mature, responsible, successful adults, they are mistaken. The damage that is done cannot be undone. The behavior patterns they are wiring now will become habitual – a part of who they are later as adults.

The parents shouldn’t be angry. They should be scared.

The insights in the “Superior Mind” ebook could have prevented all this. Not enough people have this information.

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Gloria Estefan Gives Credit to Her First-Grade Teacher

Gloria_Estefan_2009I recently read an article by Marissa Villa in the San Antonio Express-News, “Singer Estefan hasn’t forgotten the lessons of a teacher.” Popular singer Gloria Estefan was only six years old and couldn’t speak English, but her teacher, Dorothy Collins was able to communicate with her in a caring, encouraging way, which made a lasting impression on the superstar.

Half a century later, the impact is still felt. During a recent visit to San Antonio, the singer arranged a meeting with Collins. Like many people who have achieved success in life, Estefan gave credit to a teacher who mentored her. “You’re a part of my being a celebrity,” she told her.

This story is a wonderful example of why people enter the teaching profession: to make a difference in the lives of their students. Of course this has to happen one relationship at a time. It starts with compassion, but then communication skills are essential. Some teachers are gifted this way, and others aren’t.

Today, it’s possible for any teacher to have the kind of skills that Dorothy Collins had. The online coaching system, Strong for Mentoring Students, was created to help teachers improve seven key communication skills, so that relationships with young people have the hoped-for impact.

In an ideal world, emotional reunions like this one with Gloria Estefan would become a regular event.

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It Takes a Village

Myles TurnerThis is Myles Turner, a 17-year-old boy from Euless, Texas. He has worked hard to prepare himself to be a highly recruited college basketball player. Next year he’ll join some lucky top program like Duke, Kansas or Kentucky and earn his way into the pros.

“I want to take time to give a shoutout to my aunt Deborah and my grandma! They have supported me ever since I picked up a basketball and that means so much to me. That support has helped me so much and I really appreciate that.”

Yes, he has parents who care about him. Yes, he has a great high school basketball coach. But when he has a platform for thanking the adults who helped him, he gives credit to his aunt and grandmother!

It takes a village to raise a child to become a strong, happy, successful adult.

Sometimes a kid just gets lucky. Sometimes caring adults just happen to be there to notice a young person and offer support, encouragement and coaching.

But a smart parent doesn’t trust luck, doesn’t just let it happen. A wise parent proactively recruits other adults for a circle of mentors who together will make a big difference in a kid’s life.

Both my sons are grown men. But if I could do it all over again today, I’d be working on my own parenting skills and strengths, using the Strong for Parenting program. And I’d definitely talk to certain family members and good people in the community to engage that circle of mentors. These would be people who know my sons, who spend time with them, who care about them. And to help them be the best mentors they can be, I’d recommend these resources:

Because it takes the right communication skills – and several key personal strengths – to relate well to a young person.

A cool story about a mom who took the bull by the horns and created a village of mentors for her kids.

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Feedback Done Right – Motivating Kids to Do What You Want

Compliments. Praise. Recognition. Affirmation. Gratitude. Appreciation. Positive feedback. Positive strokes. Pats on the back.

Good stuff!

Unfortunately, most of the feedback we give our kids is negative. You know – CRITICISM. When we’re bothered by something they’ve done and we want them to stop or make a change.

To really impact their behavior, what kids need is more of the good stuff. Actually three or four times as much praise as criticism would be about right. It’s amazing how motivating a compliment can be!

If it’s done right, that is.

Here’s the secret…

Instead of giving a general compliment, mention the specific action that pleased you. AND – how you really feel about it.

Situation: Your daughter actually straightened up her room before going to school.

General feedback: “Good job, Sweetie!”

Specific feedback: “I love the way your room looks!”

General praise is OK. You could have said something like, “You’re great, Honey.” No harm done. She’d know did something you liked.

But by being specific, she knows exactly how you feel – and exactly what pleased you.

So she knows what to keep on doing right.


Another example…

Situation: Your son called you to let you know he’d be a half-hour late coming home.

General feedback: “I appreciate you, Jason!”

Specific feedback: “Honey, I really appreciate it when you let me know where you are and when to expect you. Then I don’t worry. We’ll hold dinner until you’re back.”

Kids need more compliments. More praise. More valid boosts to their self-esteem. They want to know that we notice when they’re doing things right!

So with a little effort, you can go from good feedback to great feedback. You can give the best compliments in the world.

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About Sunny – Is a Single Mother’s Love Enough?

About SunnyI recently streamed the movie, About Sunny, starring Lauren Ambrose, an accomplished but relatively unknown young actress. Whenever a movie is excellent in every way and I want Netflix to give me more suggestions like it, I always rate it 5 stars.

Released in 2013, “About Sunny” didn’t enjoy broad distribution. This isn’t surprising. No action, no special effects, no sex, no violence – not much of what pleases typical audiences. Also, regardless of a film’s high quality, theaters rarely show movies that are so realistic that they’re painful to watch.

This is the gritty story of Angela, a young, divorced mother who struggles horribly while raising Sunny, her 8-year-old daughter. Making the right choices isn’t Angela’s strong suit. She married the wrong man to father her child, she gets fired from her job, and she seems clueless about encouraging her child’s education. Most of the time, her car doesn’t start. In short, she’s having an awful time holding it all together.

Who is this mother?

  • She’s a single parent without an extended family or community to help her.
  • She’s addicted to nicotine and recreational drugs.
  • She’s trying to do what she can, but her ability to make good decisions is limited.
  • She’s emotional and crude – not a great communicator.

But she’s not abusive in any way. She’s not cold or distant. The one thing Angela has going for her as a mother is her powerful love for Sunny. Love is the ultimate prerequisite, the foundation and motivating force for everything else a parent needs to do. This truth is often misinterpreted to mean that love is enough, that it will conquer all. The story makes it painfully clear that this is not the case. Angela’s mistakes put her in such a bind that she considers giving Sunny up for adoption, in effect “selling” her child to a nurturing couple that takes an interest in her – for $20,000.

In the end, Angela’s love for Sunny is too powerful to allow this permanent fracturing of the mother-daughter bond. But I couldn’t cheer for the young mother because she’s still who she is and her desperate situation persists. Looking into the future to Sunny’s adolescence , I could only foresee a compounding of issues, and then Sunny growing up to be a troubled adult, perhaps much like her mother.

I was intrigued by the movie because it’s about parenting, and how personal limitations can lead to drastic problems for a parent. Moms and dads need all the help they can get, and Angela had little or no preparation for the challenges she faced.

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7 Practical Ideas for Nurturing the Parent-Teen Bond

Thanks to Maureen Denard at for this guest post. The adolescent years can stress a parent-child relationship. This article has several practical ideas for helping the bond to grow stronger.

In a world where there never seems to be enough time to get everything done, connecting with your kids and forming real, lasting relationships with them can seem more difficult than ever. There are ways to bolster your connection to your kids and find ways of fostering strong relationships, though, even when time is at a premium. These tips can help you make the most of your relationship with your children, laying the groundwork for an environment of love, close bonds and trust.

Turn Screen Time into Family Time

Instead of retiring to separate rooms at the end of the day to zone out in front of different screens, why not take the chance to turn screen time into family time? Arrange regular family movie nights, get invested in an age-appropriate show that everyone in the family can discuss and bring family game night into the 21st century with party-style video games that encourage group participation.

Have Dinner Together Regularly

When everyone has their own practices, school and work demands to attend to, it often seems easier to grab meals where you can and hope that everyone is having reasonably healthy dinners while they’re on their own. However, kids from families who regularly eat meals together at the family table tend to perform better in school, are less likely to be and are more likely to finish high school than those who eat alone or in front of the television. Even if you struggle to carve out time for your family meals and rely on pre-packaged convenience food, make a point of having dinner together at the dinner table at least once each week.

Start Your Own Book Club

Books like the Harry Potter franchise and others of their ilk have mass appeal, drawing in and captivating readers of all ages. The next time you decide to pick up a book, why not choose one from your kids’ bookshelves or select a great read from the Young Adult section that your teenager is interested in reading at the same time? When you read the same books, you’ll be able to form your own family version of a book club and find plenty of fodder for conversation at the family table.

Look for Common Ground

If you and your teenager are both fans of classic rock, make a point of trading playlists with one another on a regular basis. Talk to your kids about areas in which you share common ground, and cultivate those interests. When you’re able to talk about hobbies or activities you both share, you’re able to connect on an entirely new level. It’s also a great way to show older kids that you aren’t quite as out of touch as they imagine.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

More than anything else, knowing that you’re always there to talk and that you truly will listen encourages a strong bond between you and your children. Make sure that your kids know there’s nothing you can’t or won’t talk about with them, and that you’re always available when they’re in need of advice, a sounding board or even just to discuss their day.

Establish a Judgment-Free Zone

Set aside one particular area in your home and call it the “judgment-free zone.” Let this be the area where your kids can come to you with any fears, questions or concerns and where they are able to talk freely, without fear of repercussions or judgmental treatment. Knowing that you’re not going to scold or judge makes it easier for your kids to come to you with difficult situations, which will make your bond that much stronger.

Make Time to Spend Time

Put down your phone, turn off the television and step away from the computer when your child talks to you. Make eye contact, and listen intently. Your kids need to know that they’re the most important part of your life, and that they’re not competing with work or the television for your attention. Make time to spend time with your kids, and leave room in your schedule for one-on-one time with each of your children individually.

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Dinner with the Smileys – Extended Community Fills in for Absent Father

If you’ve never gone to war or if you’ve never had to stay behind when your spouse is deployed, you can never fully appreciate the worry, loneliness and hardship of trying to raise a family not knowing if or when the family will be together again.

Or how the returning veteran will be changed by the experience.

Michael Gurian, renowned therapist, author and parenting expert, claims that a mother and a father need the help of extended family and community if their children are to grow up to be happy, strong, successful adults.

How much more difficult this will be for a mother whose husband is absent!

Dinner with the SmileysSarah Smiley tells her moving story in her book, Dinner with the Smileys, which she also summarizes in her article in Parade magazine.

When her husband left for a one-year overseas tour, the family decided to invite an adult from the community each week for dinner. They started with the kids’ teachers, but then invited the chief of police, a U.S. senator, a former governor, artists – over 60 people from many walks of life, including less fortunate people. These dinners led to friendships, activities and field trips, an incomparably broadening experience.

With creativity and optimism, Sarah transformed a potentially disturbing time into a uniquely educational and formative experience for her kids.

It does take a village to raise a child to be the kind of adult you hope for. And there are many, many ways to create that village.

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The Generation Gap – A Failure of Parent-Teen Communication

A teenager made a dumb mistake and damaged a tool.

His father, angry, shouted at him about carelessness and irresponsibility.

No love, understanding or respect was communicated in the heated interchange.

The boy felt like a failure and resented his father for putting him down.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident.

It was a pattern. It was how the father felt he needed to deal with his son.

Feeling like a loser, the boy made friends with other boys with low self-esteem.

Eventually, they did things together that got them in trouble with the law.

The parents’ raised voices got even louder this time.

The boy sensed a great distance between him and his parents.

He shut them out, rebelled and went his own way.

He ignored his parents’ threats and warnings and thought about dropping out of school and leaving home.

Instead, he “medicated” with alcohol and drugs until he graduated.

He joined the Army fresh out of high school and was soon deployed to the Middle East.

There he was severely injured by a roadside I.E.D. He survived but lost his right arm. He was discharged with a disability.

For years, he was depressed and found it hard to hold down a decent job.

His parents tried to help him, but it took years for the young man to heal his psychic wounds and repair his relationship with his parents.

Does this story seem improbable to you? I hope not. It’s an accurate summary of what happened to a member of my family. It was hard for me to watch this drama play out.

Sadly, this scenario of parents unwittingly alienating their adolescent children, damaging the relationship in the process, is all too common. In fact, it’s classic. Like the ideal marriage, the ideal parent-child relationship – what parents hope for – is not the rule, but the exception.

Could things have turned out differently for the family in the story?

Maybe, but it would have required the parents to use communication skills they didn’t have.

This saddens me, because it’s rare for parents to have the best communication skills.

Which means that parents, not teens, are responsible for this kind of vicious cycle and the erosion of the parent-teen bond.

But ironically, it isn’t their fault.

Learning effective communication skills was never a part of their education. Not in high school and not in college.

I believe that by far most parents are doing the best they know how, even though they’re making it hard for their kids to become happy, strong, successful adults.

From the perspective of the high stakes of failed relationships, this shortcoming in education may sound crazy, but it’s the norm. Kids pick up ways of dealing with each other in an unconscious, random way.

What teens want most are love, understanding and respect. And the way parents talk to them all too often fails to communicate this.

Think “generation gap” – why young people, so naïve and with so much to learn, think their parents and other adults are clueless.

The fact that so many parents have suffered through variations of this scenario has motivated me to develop an online coaching system for parents, called Strong for Parenting.

It focuses on improving seven critical parent-teen communication skills. It also coaches parents in ten specific ways to be strong while raising an adolescent.

If you’re a parent, grandparent, or care about someone who is, I think you ought to look into it.

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Smart-Phone Apps That Can Help Keep Your Teen Safe

Teens want smart phones. The good news is that these popular devices can help you stay in touch with them when they’re not right there in front of you. Even more. There are apps that can help you keep them safe. This guest blog post comes from Tina Marconi of

life360Parenting a teen can be very worrisome these days. From news stories about teenagers that have gone missing to the startling statistics on how many accidents are caused by texting and driving, it’s no wonder that many parents sit at home and bite their fingernails until their kids are home again. Since letting kids have some freedom is a requirement if they are to ever lead independent adult lives, one thing that can give parents peace of mind is safety themed iPhone apps that can look out for kids when their parents aren’t there to do so. There are applications that have been created to ensure safe driving, steer clear of predators, find a lost teenager and assist in medical needs. There is even an app for kids who may be suffering emotionally. Knowing your child has these safeguards and tools at his fingertips can help you breathe easy and offer your teen child some guidance when he is venturing off on his own.

Life 360 Family Locator – Life 360 Locator is a must have for families with teens. The app lets the family know where each family member is located. If your teen is missing, you can find out his whereabouts if you have this app installed. They can also find you if they are lost in a large shopping center or amusement park. The app also lets your teen know what safety points and threats are nearby them. Price: Free

Canary – Canary is essential for driving teens and the peace of mind of their parents. This app knows when the vehicle your teen is in is moving more than 12 miles per hour, and it notifies parents if the phone is being used in any capacity during this time. The app also sends parents updates as to how fast their child was driving and where she has traveled. Price: Free

FBI Child ID – This app was developed by the FBI so that parents have a convenient place to store identifying information on their children, such as photos, height and weight of each child. This information can be sent to the authorities with one click if your child goes missing. Price: Free

Sex Offender Search – This app will let you know if there are any registered sex offenders in your area or in the neighborhood where your teen is spending time. You can also sign up to be alerted if an offender moves in to your neighborhood. Price: Free

DriveScribe – Reward your teen for being a safe driver! DriveScribe is a driving coach that monitors your teens driving and allows you to sponsor them so that they can accumulate points that they can trade in for gift cards. Price: Free

Teen Safe – Teen Safe is an iPhone monitoring system that also monitors Facebook and other online interactions. Parents will see all text messages, call logs and contacts. While this might feel like an invasion of privacy, if your child was ever in danger, this would be a good thing to have in order to track them down. Price: Free for six days, then $14.95 per month.

Pocket First Aid and CPR Guide – This app shows videos, illustrations and text in order to easily reference adult, child and infant CPR and First Aid. It can be easily accessed in an emergency situation and has a search function to make information simple to find. It also has a medical profile section so your teen can easily access medication, allergy, insurance and doctor information if they need it. Price: $1.99

Lock-Screen Pro – In case of an emergency, Lock-Screen Pro acts as a medical alert bracelet. It makes your teen’s home screen wallpaper show pertinent information, such as allergies, emergency contact numbers, and more. This is helpful for first responders in case anything goes wrong when your kids are away from home. Price: $1.99

Talk Life – Talk Life is a social networking app for people, mainly teens, who are struggling with mental health or self-harm issues. It is an anonymous site that users use to help one another and vent their hardships. Price: Free

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Top Three Coaching Skills for Parents of Adolescents

Recently Meredith Bell and I featured a live teleseminar for parents, Three Coaching Skills for Parents That Will Transform Your Relationship with Your Teenager.”

We focused on what we believe are the three most powerful skills among the seven coaching skills featured in the Strong for Parenting online virtual coaching program for parents:

  1. How to listen to a teenager so that she feels understood.
  2. How to guide your teen to learn from experience.
  3. How to stimulate your teen to think for himself.

If you missed the teleseminar, this is your chance to listen to it from beginning to end. Or if you were on the call, you can refresh your memory about certain points.

Listen to the teleseminar…

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The Silver Spoon Syndrome – Give the Gift of Work

Jennifer was a clerk at an auto parts store in Vista Hills. She got the job because Jackson, her husband, was a mechanic at the Chevrolet dealership and was friends with the owner. But she, like her husband, was a hard worker and added a lot more value than was reflected in her paycheck. It was tough when she got pregnant, but she had earned the owner’s loyalty, and she kept her job. They had a son. And later, three more sons. It was the kind of hard-working lower-middle class family that struggled financially but found ways to pay the bills. They knew they’d never be able to send their kids to college.

Woody, their oldest boy, was a good student and a middle linebacker on his high school football team. He had a lawn-mowing service until he was old enough to get a job in the Chevrolet dealership. He saved his money, bought a junker and fixed it up. Still, he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps. His real passion was in construction. He was hired by a local builder and after seven years he started his own home improvement business. Over the years it grew, and he expanded into new construction. By the time he was forty his operation had become a 100-million dollar commercial construction company with contracts all over the state.

Fran, who lived in a spacious home on a horse ranch just outside Vista Hills, didn’t know Jennifer. She spent her days gardening, playing tennis and shopping with her friends. Her husband, Ted, was a partner in his father’s law firm. They had a son and a daughter. Ted’s plan was to send his son to Harvard Law School so the boy could join the law firm. Their lovely daughter would marry into wealth.

Sinclair, their son, drove a Corvette to a private school and was very popular. He didn’t take his studies seriously, so he wasn’t accepted into any of the Ivy League universities. But he attended the University of Miami, where he spent a lot of time partying with his buddies. And girls, of course. He didn’t share his father’s interest in law, and that career never happened. After graduation, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. So he returned home where he spent most of his days playing golf at the country club. He was a scratch golfer, but by the time he was forty he was still living at the ranch, having settled into a comfortable lifestyle.

Both Woody and Sinclair ended up with similar economic advantages. In fact, they became acquaintances and sometimes played in the same foursome at the Vista Hills Country Club.

They were two very different people, though, and the interesting part of the story is what happened next.

But I’m not going to tell that story, which is a fictional composite story. Instead, I’ll tell you about some of the real people the story is based on.

About fifteen years ago, a retired CEO friend of mine called to ask for a favor. Would I talk to the son of his best friend to help the young man decide what kind of work he’s best suited for? The “young man” was in his early forties, and he hadn’t worked a day in his life. Instead, he had used the proceeds of a trust fund annuity to support a comfortable lifestyle. He got into trouble when interest rates fell and he dipped into the principal to make up the difference. When his parents refused to bail him out, he was faced with getting a job. He had no idea what to do next.

I decided to talk with him on the phone before committing to a coaching session. After putting him at ease I asked him, “Assuming you could make good money doing anything you want and enjoy the work at the same time, what would you like to do?” After a long pause he said, “How about racing cars?”

I told him about a career assessment that would reveal the kinds of work he’d find most enjoyable. “I’m not really interested. Can we work this out without the test?” He and I never made it to the coaching session. I didn’t think I could help him. He expressed no interest in any career, and he would do anything to avoid getting a job.

On another occasion, I spent a couple days coaching Ben, my retired friend’s oldest son. He had pursued several opportunities set up through his father’s influence, but he had failed at each of them. At this point, he didn’t know what to try next. My goal was to find out what his passion was or, failing that, what he was interested in.

After two days, I discovered something strange and unexpected. He had no passion or interest in anything except his three children. It was as if the fire in his belly had gone out. Or maybe there had never been any fire there in the first place. The only thing he showed an interest in was the future date when the first phase of his trust fund would kick in. I couldn’t tell my friend this. Instead, I recommended that Ben study to become a certified financial planner. I knew Ben wouldn’t want to do it, but he had a family to provide for and this seemed to suit his experience and personality.

And then there was this boyfriend of a friend of mine, who was living off of a $150 million inheritance. He was one of the oddest people I’ve ever met. No matter what topic came up in conversation, he dismissed it as silly and uninteresting. It wasn’t arrogance. Like Ben, the fire in his belly had gone out. He honestly didn’t understand why people cared about things. Which is OK, I guess, financially speaking, if you have $150 million in the bank.

I could tell other stories, but I learned that all these people had two things in common. One, they had never had to strive for anything in their lives. Everything had been given to them.

And two, they had no desire to work at anything. They had never worked before, they weren’t familiar with work, and they didn’t want any part of it.

Tragic. Why did this happen? The answer comes from Aristotle, who said this over 2,000 years ago: “Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it: men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts, we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave.”

These people had grown up without having to work for anything. Consequently, work was strange and unthinkable to these success-disabled people.

And this from Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski: “The only way you’re going to grow is to be in difficult situations.” These inheritors of wealth had never known difficulty, so they had grown into adults who had no idea how to deal with it.

I hasten to say that not all children of wealthy families turn out this way. If made to work and earn their way while growing up, they can learn to be achievers. The problem comes when the parents feel that because of their financial advantages, it’s their role to protect their children from challenges and make sure they have whatever they want.

Also, parents don’t have to be wealthy to make this mistake. A friend of mine sent her daughter to private school and had to deal with an interesting issue. Most of her daughter’s friends came to school in brand new cars. And of course she wanted one, too. My friend informed her daughter that she was 16 and could literally have any car she wanted – if she was willing to pay for it. Today this young woman is a fast-tracker in an investment brokerage firm, full of self-confidence and positive self-esteem.

“I didn’t want my kids to have to struggle the way i did when i was young.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this. They feel that being a good parent means giving their kids everything they didn’t have. They don’t appreciate the cause-and-effect connection between their own early struggles and their subsequent successes in life. In my opinion, protecting kids from the challenges of life is the second greatest mistake a parent can make. The greatest mistake, of course, is the failure to express unconditional love.

I must also add that not all disadvantaged kids use their adversity to become strong for life. There are plenty of success stories, but there are probably many more stories about people who blamed others, accepted their condition or were beaten down by it. Adversity can be a magical door of opportunity, but it takes strength to walk through it.

It all comes down to this: parents need to heed the words of Aristotle and Coach K. Whether they are disadvantaged, live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle, or are “set for life” financially, it’s important to give kids a chance to strive and earn what they want. Youth passes quickly, and this window in time is when young people prepare themselves for adult life.

Parents who consciously arrange opportunities for their kids to work hard, strive and learn the behavior patterns of personal strength – and then support them with coaching and encouragement – are giving them one of the greatest gifts of all.

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Imminent Death Transforms a Good Dad into a Great Dad

Remember the plane that crash-landed in the Hudson River in 2009? And the heroism of the pilot who kept his cool, saving everyone on board?

Here’s a personal perspective from Ric Elias, one of the passengers of that plane – what went through his mind as the plane barely cleared the bridge and he saw the water rushing up at him.


According to him, those few seconds changed the way he looked at his life and clarified what’s important to him.

It changed him from a good dad to a great dad.

I’m sure it had a similar impact on some of the moms on board!

Piggyback on what he learned…

Watch the TED Talk video!

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Single Mom Creates a Village to Raise Her At-Risk Son

wonder of boysIn his classic book, The Wonder of Boys, Michael Gurian makes the claim that “three families – not one – raise a healthy boy to healthy manhood.”

The first family is the “nuclear family,” the parents and grandparents who raise the child.

The second family is the “extended family” – teachers, coaches, relatives, caretakers and other adult mentors.

The third family is the surrounding culture and community – media, churches, government and other institutions.

This is what people mean when they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Gurian calls this “the boy’s tribe.” He claims that when the village or tribe isn’t working together to create an adult who contributes to society, commits to his family, and grows spiritually, then boys will feel insecure and confused and will seek ways of creating their own extended families and villages, often destructive ones.

Gurian claims that raising a child to be a strong adult takes so much effort that the mother and father simply can’t do it all. They need help.

He makes a good case for the three-family concept, but we all know that modern life makes this kind of multi-adult support system hard to achieve. Furthermore, it’s shocking to acknowledge that so many nuclear families these days are single parents. That usually means a mother trying to raise a boy by herself, which is troublesome, because mothers have never been boys. Most mothers understand what girls need far more than than they understand what boys need.

Eric RogersRecently, I read a moving story about Eric Rogers, an undrafted rookie who is working hard to earn a roster spot on the Dallas Cowboys (“Strong women helped rookie avoid gang life,” by Tony Orsborn, San Antonio Express-News, July 27, 2012). During training camp, his paternal grandmother died from cancer at the age of 70. According to Rogers, his “Grandma Doris” helped his mother keep him out of trouble as he grew up in a neighborhood dominated by gangs. His father was out of the picture, serving time on drug charges.

It was these two strong women, his coaches and other mentors who helped Eric get a scholarship to Cal Lutheran and an invitation to work out for the Cowboys.

“My mom is my father figure,” he said. She would tell him: “Be a leader, not a follower. Just because your friends do something, you don’t have to.”

From his grandmother he learned that “no matter what obstacle you face, keep battling.”

And that’s what he was doing in the Cowboy’s training camp. He wasn’t in jail, which is what happens to too many young men who are raised without fathers – and without a supportive “tribe.”

Instead, he was putting his work ethic on display. Dallas Cowboy’s head coach, Jason Garrett, said of him: “He was one of those players that got better before your eyes.”

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Oprah Winfrey’s Wisdom – A Source of Inspiration for Parents

oprahFew people alive today have been quoted as often as Oprah Winfrey. Her life journey has taken her far, far from her humble beginnings. Despite her amazing success and vast experience, she remains a plainspoken woman.

Maybe this is why her quotes hit home so often. Her words speak loud and clear to parents. Over a dozen of her quotes have been collected for the content resources in the Strong for Parenting program. In order to acknowledge her influence on our work, we created this brief video:

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From Boys to Men – Tales of Two Adolescents

Recently I attended a large family reunion and talked to a lot of young people I hadn’t met before. The conversations I had with two different 22-year-old young men left me wondering.

Shane seemed like a loner in this crowd. He didn’t relate to the younger kids, and he seemed uncomfortable mingling with the adults. I saw him sitting on a folding chair, staring off into evening sky, so I sat down next to him.

After I got the conversation going, the overall impression struck me: this is a boy, not yet a man. He had dropped out of community college and was living at home. I asked him, “If you could make a living at it, what would you like to do most?”

His reply: “Ride my dirt bike.”

“Do you think you could make a living at it? Like go pro or something?”

“No, I’m not that good. Only a couple guys make money on the racing circuit. They’re on a whole other level.”

I met the other young man while dropping off some luggage for my brother-in-law. Chris waved from the front door and skipped down the steps to meet me. “Sir, let me take that for you. I have a place for it.”

duke_universityHis energy level, confidence and strong sense of self-esteem contrasted with my impression of the other young man. I was wearing my Duke Basketball t-shirt, so I grinned and said, “I hope you don’t mind. I went to school there and I’m a big fan.”

“I just graduated from UNC, but that’s no problem. I’ve applied to the Duke graduate school. I want to get into their Environmental Science program.” Clearly, he had a vision for his future and had set goals for himself. This dude was a man with a mission!

Both these fellows were 22 years old and came from solid middle class families; but they had followed different paths growing up, and their journeys had taken them to two different places in life.

I was reminded of this experience as I read the San Antonio Express-News recently. Staff writer Ann Ley’s front-page article: “Teen driver charged with manslaughter.”

According to witnesses, 19-year old Antonio Flores was racing another vehicle when he sped into a left-turn lane to pass a truck. He hit the truck and slammed into a utility pole. Three high-school girls were with Flores. The two in the back weren’t wearing seat belts and were killed. Flores’ previous arrests included assault causing bodily injury and assault on a public servant causing bodily injury.

In another section of the paper was a story about Joshua Gonzalez, who had recently returned from an exciting trip to Turkey. According to Emily Miller’s feature, “Trip to Turkey life-changing adventure for S.A. musicians,” he and his friends had learned about Turkey from a former school teacher. Determined to visit Turkey, the boys started raising money. They took Turkish language courses 20 hours a week, formed a band and played for tips on the street, sold snacks and got a few corporate sponsors. They paid for the trip themselves and had the experience of a lifetime.

Once again, the contrast between Antonio and Joshua is remarkable. Both were about the same age and were raised in Hispanic families in the same city; but once again the life journeys of two adolescents had brought them to two different destinations.

I’m the kind of guy who reads these stories for more than entertainment. I ask “why” a lot.

So why? Why do young people of roughly the same age and background turn out so differently?

Of course we can’t know the whole answer for sure.

But here’s my guess. Kids learn to think by doing a lot of thinking. This is where parents, teachers and other adult mentors come in. Some boys, during early-to-middle adolescence are stimulated by parents, teachers, coaches and other caring adults to THINK. Boys who think a lot are exercising their prefrontal cortex, which is still under development. As they do this, they are wiring their brains to create a foundation for critical thinking, judgment and impulse control.

Boys who are growing up without this stimulation are not acquiring the same level of mental skill. They end up not being able to connect the dots so well, reacting to life emotionally and going with their impulses.

This aspect of adolescent development has been the focus of my research and development for several years now. My goal is to make parents everywhere aware of this dynamic of the teen brain and what parents can do to help their kids achieve greater mental capacity.

I invite you to download my free ebook about this, How to Give Your Teen a Superior Mind.

And learn more about the Strong for Parenting program, which helps parents develop the skills and strengths they need to interact effectively with their growing children, while helping the parents wire their kids’ brains to become more robust thinkers.

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Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem – The Right Way

Self-esteem is how people see themselves – their worth, who they are.

Low self-esteem can build from making mistakes, from not forgiving oneself, and from too much criticism from authority figures such as parents, elders, teachers, or employers. Young people can end up with a low opinion of themselves and conclude that they aren’t worthy of trust, friendship, or love. This can affect the kind of people they associate with. It can affect whether they’ll try to excel. Low self-esteem hurts, and eventually even little things can cause pain, discouragement or depression.

Not what we want for our kids!

Self-esteemI do like this quote.

But unfortunately, loving parents can try to nurture strong self-esteem the wrong way. Many parents have been told – and believe – that they should make a habit of praising their child for nearly everything they do. The problem is, kids sometimes don’t try to do their best. They experiment with behavior that can thwart their ultimate self-development and maturity. Praising and rewarding a child as a matter of parental policy can backfire.

Kids may be innocent and lack experience, but they aren’t stupid. When they’re showered with unearned praise, they know they don’t deserve it. When they begin to question the parent’s judgment, praise will lose its value and credibility; and the child may come to distrust any positive feedback from the parent. When praise is given, they could conclude that it’s untrue, which would lead to lower self-esteem – the opposite of what the parent hoped for.

It’s a common parental mistake. But there’s a right way to praise a child.

Yes, you want to give positive feedback far more often than you give negative feedback. You want to change your pattern of catching them doing things wrong to catching them doing things right.

In other words, notice when they’ve made an effort. Notice when they’ve accomplished something significant as seen from the child’s perspective, rather than an adult perspective. Even if they made a mistake or came up short, the fact that they put forth their best effort is what counts.

This means: Be there when it happened, describe what you observed in specific detail, and tell your child how pleased you are.

“Yes, Honey, the other girl beat you. But your backhand was terrific today, and I loved how you broke her serve four times. You really kept your head in the game, even though she was ahead.”

“Thank you for putting your toys away. You put things where they belong, and your room looks so much better.”

“I’m proud of you for standing up for your little sister when those kids were calling her names.”

Praise your child for the actions that make you proud, behavior that shows he or she is growing up to be the kind of person you want them to be. Earned praise, not false, empty praise – praise your child instinctively knows is sincere.

A revealing conversation on this topic!

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Life is Hard – And Then You Strive

I’m recalling a moderately distressing experience that started with a phone call. My wife was about to return home from a shopping excursion at a mall about 30 miles away when her car wouldn’t start. She asked me to drive to the mall to give her a jump-start, because it would be quicker than waiting for roadside assistance.

Thirty minutes later, I had my jumper cables out and got her car started. She asked me to follow her back in case something happened along the way. Everything was fine until she turned off the Interstate at our exit and stopped at the intersection. The motor stopped running again and wouldn’t restart. This was distressing because this intersection is one of the busiest in our area, and it was at the end of a day of Sunday water recreation for many (drunk?) drivers.

Fortunately, the left-turn lane was blocked off for construction, and I maneuvered to the left of her car so the cables would reach. I got the car started again, but while idling it quit again. With more stoplights ahead, we realized that we might not be able to drive the car home. So we called our insurance company for a tow truck to take it to the dealership. I instructed my wife to put the car in neutral so I could push it out of the traffic lane. We then had to wait for over an hour until the tow truck arrived. Even though the dealership was closed, the driver knew how to leave it in the service area for us.

We didn’t make it home until after 10 pm. The next day I found out that the battery had to be replaced. It was a seven-year battery that had been in use only two years. New battery, service and tax came to $170. And so it goes. We put a positive spin on the experience. My wife said, “It was a good thing the car quit right next to an unused lane.” I remarked that yes that was lucky, but it was the “it could have sucked worse” kind of luck.

The ordeal reminded me of another bottom line: Life is hard. It’s not easy to create a life for yourself, have a family and hold it all together. A million crises just like this one are standard issue. Dealing with this incident took more than money. It took effort, rationality, composure, patience, decisiveness, optimism and maybe one or two other personal strengths.

I thought: The real purpose of being a parent is to prepare kids to handle domestic crises like this when they’re grown up and on their own.

And this: You don’t prepare your kids for real life by giving them everything and doing everything for them.

They learn to solve problems by solving problems. They acquire a work ethic by going to work and earning a wage. They get stronger by doing hard things. Love is good. Shelter, clothes, food and safety are good. An education is good. But beyond that, kids have a lot to learn – the kind of skills and behavior patterns that you learn by doing them over and over. And the kids who aren’t learning these things aren’t preparing themselves and are going to be at a serious disadvantage in the adult world.

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Tim Wright – Innovator of Modern Rites of Passage for Youth

By the time young people reach high school, they’re launched on that phase of personal growth we call adolescence. It’s a ten- or twelve-year journey in which a boy can become a man and a girl can become a woman. I say “can” because this growth is much more than physical. All of the survivors of adolescence will grow up physically. But many will begin adult life unprepared, weak, immature or damaged.

Adolescence is a perilous time. As teenagers push for more independence, they experiment with identities, trying to find out who they are. Because the decision-making part of their brain is “under construction,” it’s hard for them to foresee consequences, control impulses and use good judgment.

So bad things can happen. Family conflict and a breakdown of communication. Truancy and declining academic performance. Vandalism and breaking the law. Bullying. Risk-taking and thrill-seeking. Gangs. Unprotected sex and unwanted teen pregnancy. Depression. Suicide. Alcohol and drug abuse.

Even the young people who are able to dodge most of these perils can show up at the workplace missing the values, work habits and skills that employers need.

Primitive cultures had extremely effective rites of passage structures to transform young people into the kind of adults the community needed. In our time, only remnants of these rites exist.

The bottom line: young people today are mostly on their own as they to try to figure out what it means to be a man or a woman. Without the kind of guidance that has mostly vanished from our culture, youth almost always get it wrong.

I know this description of adolescence sounds depressing. The truth is, many parents are consciously learning how to build a bridge of communication with their teen, and they’re doing smart things to prepare their kids for the challenges of adult life.


Tim Wright, pastor of Community of Grace

And there are people like Tim Wright, pastor of the Community of Grace congregation in Peoria, Arizona, who is working earnestly to create rites of passage programs appropriate to the youth and culture of our time. To date he has facilitated four such programs for 14-year-old boys, called “Following Jesus: A Heroic Quest for Boys.” He has also developed a similar program for girls: “Following Jesus: A Wisdom Journey for Girls.” The programs provide Christian “confirmation” experiences, which are similar to the Jewish “Bar-Mitzvan” and “Bat-Mitzvah” traditions.

Wright sees rites of passage not as single events, but as part of an ongoing effort to mentor youth throughout adolescence. To achieve this, he is designing a new “marking the moment” program for 16-year-olds. He also envisions other follow-up marking programs for youth in the later stages of adolescence.

To reach beyond his congregation, he and author Michael Gurian have created resource kits to share their model with other communities. Their work is a part of a growing trend to replace what has been lost by creating modern rites of passage. Some programs are helping schools to adopt rites of passage. One book, Boy into Man, by Bernard Weiner, describes how parents can band together to create an effective rite of passage experience for their kids. Another book, The Thundering Years, by Julie Tallard Johnson, tries to empower the youth themselves to create their own rituals.

Parents who care need solutions like these. For more information about what’s happening at the Community of Grace, check out As I discover more innovative resources like as this one, I pin them to my Pinterest Board, Rites of Passage for Youth.

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10 Important Lessons Moms Can Teach Their Sons

A boy who grows up without the guidance of a father is at a disadvantage, even at risk. But the role of the mother, who more often than not is the primary nurturer, has an enormous influence. This guest post was shared by Barbara Williams of Find A Babysitter.

Teaching children valuable life lessons and instilling the values and morals that will shape the adults they become is arguably the biggest and most important responsibility that mothers are tasked with. After all, your adorable son with his toddler lisp and wide eyes will eventually grow into a man who has to navigate the world on his own. His perceptions of women and the relationships he has with them will have a foundation in the relationship he has with you. These are ten of the lessons that mothers should teach their sons so that they grow into capable, well-adjusted and decent men.

How To Properly Care for Himself – When kids are small, they need an adult to cook and clean for them so that they stay fed and reasonably hygienic. It’s easy for moms to fall into the trap of continuing to cater to their children as they get older and more capable of handling such tasks on their own, especially with their sons. Boys who grow up understanding that Mom doesn’t exist solely to cook and do laundry and are taught to do those things for themselves will fare far better in the real world than their coddled peers.

That He’s Not Inherently Better Than a Woman – Gender equality is important, and the first lessons that little boys learn about women come from the most important woman in their lives: Mom. It’s your job to instill values and equal-mindedness into your son as he gets older, so that he grows up with a strong respect for woman and an understanding of equality between genders.

Real Bodies Don’t Look Like Magazine Ads – When parenting experts talk about body image problems and the way that the media shapes kids’ perceptions of their own bodies, they almost invariably discuss the impact that unrealistic portrayals of the human body have on young girls. In a world where an estimated ten to fifteen percent of people suffering from an eating disorder are male, and stigmas attached to the issue are so strong that men refuse to even discuss the matter, it’s of vital importance that women teach their sons the truth about human bodies. Your son needs to know that not only will he have a hard time finding a mate that looks like a Victoria’s Secret model, but that the bar set by male underwear models is equally unhealthy and unrealistic.

That Feeling His Feelings is Okay – Despite all of the progress society continues to make in terms of accepting male sensitivity and emotion, there are still plenty of adults that throw around terms like “boys don’t cry.” Your son needs to know that it’s okay for him to feel his emotions without them being minimized and without being shamed for them.

That Throwing Punches Only Makes Things Worse – The image of an underdog knocking out the big bully might make a splash in kids’ cinema, but it just causes problems in real life. Between zero-tolerance policies at school and the simple fact that violence never truly solves anything, boys need to know that it’s just not a good idea to get physical.

To Follow His Own Path – The oddball kid that marches to the beat of his own drum might not have a cadre of buddies that follow him around everywhere. In fact, he may only have one or two close friends that are equally unique. While every mom wants to know that her son is well-adjusted and fitting in socially, it’s more important for him to follow his own path and have faith in himself. After all, a kid that’s capable of thinking for himself and going against the tide of popular opinion is one that will stand strong for those convictions later, when the pressure to experiment with drugs or alcohol rears its adolescent head.

How to Make at Least One Meal Very Well – In addition to being able to feed himself after he moves out, a young man should be able to make one meal without worry or stress. Whether he’s entertaining a romantic interest as an adult or just cooking a meal for his buddies, knowing how to put a well-executed meal on the table is an essential skill for any young man.

To Establish and Maintain Boundaries – When parents think of instilling the ability to set boundaries and to maintain them, those lessons are normally focused on the daughters of the family. Boys need to understand that not only are they allowed to have personal boundaries, but that it’s essential. Moms should teach their sons from an early age about not only respecting the boundaries of others, but also knowing how to set their own and to adhere to them.

Be Passionate About Something – The All-American ideal of a boy might be a strapping young lad with a string of athletic accomplishments, but there are just as many boys with an interest in the sciences or arts. Instead of pressuring your young son to be an athlete or to participate in sports, encourage him to follow the thing that he’s passionate about without reservations. Moms should teach their sons to find the thing that they’re passionate about, and to pursue it will all of their hearts.

Just Help – Whether it’s picking up a dropped notebook in the hallway or helping someone across the street, one of the most valuable lessons a mother can teach her son is simply to look for those that need help and to help them. Performing routine kindnesses throughout the day without a need for recognition or repayment not only builds character, but also builds better citizens who are willing to do their part.

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My Vision: New Rites of Passage Appropriate to the Modern World

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1st Corinthians 13:11.

In the modern world, boys don’t understand what it means to be a man. They want to put away childish things, but what really happens is that they become obsessed with the childish things of teen culture. They have no clue what it takes to be a man. And even into their 20s, and sometimes their 30s, many still don’t know how to act like men, still haven’t put away childish things.

In ancient times, communities had rites of passage that took boys away from their mothers, rigorously tested them, taught them what it means to be men, and ceremoniously welcomed them into the adult community. They were never considered boys again. They no longer associated with the kids in the community. They worked alongside the men. They put away childish things.

teen girlThey had similar ritual ceremonies for the passage of young girls into womanhood.

In modern times, only remnants of such rituals remain. The formalized rituals that remain have little or no impact on the young person. After their bar-mitzvahs, bat-mitzvahs, driver licenses, Demolay rituals, debutante balls, quinceanera parties, and high school graduations, they are still kids who are thought of and treated like kids. They are still enthusiastically involved in their favorite childish things.

In my youth, I got lucky. I got involved in life experiences that made me into a man, and many of these involved rites of passage, even if that wasn’t their true intention. Very few young people are lucky enough to have such experiences.

This is one of the reasons why adolescence is such a confusing time. There are no community rites, teachings or passages that profoundly guide young people into adulthood. Kids are adrift to figure it out for themselves. And with a child’s perspective, they almost always get it wrong. They think it has to do with clothes, social media, make-up, pop music, tattoos, alcohol, drugs, risk-taking or sex. None of these things have anything to do with becoming the men and women we want them to become. None of these things help them find their identity or build the kind of character it will take to survive and thrive in the adult world.

Something of utmost importance to modern life has been lost, and we’re paying a high price for it. A million suicide attempts by teens every year. Over half a million teen pregnancies every year. Teens abusing alcohol and drugs and teens overdosing on exposure interactive electronic screen devices – both of which wire their brains for emotional reactivity rather than intellectual skills. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What can a parent do to help transform their child into a happy, successful, responsible adult? Unfortunately, there’s no single best answer to this question. As far as rites of passage go, some parents have tried things. There’s the mother in England who constructed an initiation rite of passage for her 13-year-old boy. There’s the dad who organized other dads to give their sons their own 21st century equivalent of a tribal initiation into adulthood. I’ve started a Pinterest board on this topic to act as a portal for resources on this topic. Still, realistically, the answer we’re all looking for isn’t out there.

This is one of the reasons I write for this blog. I think about this question all the time.

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Teens Rise [Fall?] to the Cinnamon Challenge – An Epidemic of Low Self-Esteem

“The Cinnamon Challenge.” Young teens dare each other to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon in less than a minute without water. Many teens see it as a popular way to have a lot of fun. Part of the excitement is to make a video of yourself doing it and post it on YouTube. I checked and found this video, viewed over 10 million times….

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It’s not only hard to do, but apparently dangerous. One teen, Dejah Reed, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, reported that she almost died from the experience. The powder got into her lungs and her right lung collapsed. She couldn’t breathe and her father rushed her to the hospital, where she stayed for four days. It caused a lung infection and she had trouble breathing normally after she left the hospital.

My wife: “Why would anyone do anything so stupid?”

I had a ready answer: “Honey, these are teenagers. It’s not so easy for them to analyze the consequences before they act because their prefrontal cortex is under construction. So they do silly things for no good reason. Plus, many of them are being dared to do it. They’re vulnerable to peer pressure.”

I once knew an adolescent who wanted to demonstrate how cool and smart he was. So he yanked his pants down, pulled out a cigarette lighter and ignited the jet stream as he passed gas. No, we didn’t have to take him to the hospital. The trick worked. But even though some of his friends were awed by this act of daring, I remained unconvinced that he was either cool or smart.

And so it goes.

Why are teenagers so desperate to be considered cool by other kids? Why are they so vulnerable to peer pressure that they tattoo and pierce their bodies, have sex with people they don’t like, and spend hours every day texting each other?

When I was in high school I remember a couple of really smart, confident guys. Even though I made straight A’s, I knew these guys were a lot smarter than I was. One of them achieved a maximum score of 1600 on the SAT. He was a good-looking, low-key, confident and considerate fellow. But he was definitely not a member of the cool crowd, and I knew he absolutely didn’t care. I admired that.

He would have felt sorry for anyone who wanted to make a video record of himself trying to eat a spoonful of cinnamon.

Why are some kids so self-assured, and others so desperate for the approval of others?

The answer is that some kids don’t have strong self-esteem. This is one of the perils of being young. They haven’t had much time or opportunity to do things that prove they are capable and worthy individuals. Also, the young lack knowledge and experience, so they make a lot of mistakes. So they may crave respect and friendship, but deep down they doubt that they are worthy of it.

So in hopes of being accepted by kids they think are cool, they desperately conform to whatever is expected of them.

If you want to prepare a child for the gauntlet of adolescence, help build his or her self-esteem. I’m not talking about praising every little thing the child does. This misguided tactic doesn’t work because the child isn’t stupid. He quickly figures out that the praise has no credibility or value because it’s awarded regardless of whether the child put forth a strong effort.

Self-esteem can only be earned. First, the child accomplishes something at his or her own level. Next, the child acknowledges the value of the achievement. Adults can help by noticing and by confirming the achievement with feedback.

Imagine a scenario in which an adult family member describes a situation to a child, maybe something that’s been in the news. He then asks the child what he thinks about it. The adult listens and encourages the child to continue, asking open-ended questions. He shares his own thoughts without trying to contradict what the child has said. He asks the child what he thinks of that. He then concludes by saying something like, “You know, I really like talking to you. You have some interesting ideas.”

I know this kind of conversation between adult and child is relatively rare in our culture. But if adults consciously tried to affirm kids’ capabilities and worth, maybe by the time puberty arrived they would feel a strong sense of self, a liking for who they are.

And when their teenage peers encouraged them to do stupid things, they would feel comfortable not going along with it.

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1 Million Adolescent Suicide Attempts Per Year

Recently a huge tornado devastated a small town in Oklahoma, killing 24 people. Stories and images of the destruction were all over the Internet, the newspapers and television news. The coverage reminded me of when in early June, 1966, I walked among the ruins in Topeka, Kansas, after a tornado plowed through that city. As far as I could see in any direction, no home was left standing.

But as I considered the news of this most recent tornado, I was aware that something else almost as horrible and shocking had also happened that day, and the media weren’t covering it. More than a dozen young people from age 10 to 24 had died senselessly that day – by suicide.

That story wasn’t being covered because the same thing happened the day before. And the same thing was going to happen the next day, and the day after that. More than a million young people attempt suicide every year in the U.S. So this is old, stale news. If the media reported this awful tragedy every day they’d go out of business.

It’s the job of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to track causes of death. According to their report, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens. One out of every six teens considers suicide. Half that number, or one out of twelve, will actually attempt it, although. only one out of every 200 attempts actually succeed. That’s more than 4,500 teenagers dead at their own hand in 2011 in the U.S. Teens aged 14 to 16 are more susceptible than older teens. More girls consider it than boys. More boys than girls actually follow through.

The trend has been getting worse in recent years. Experts cite bullying as a possible contributing cause. But there’s more to it than that.

Teens are more emotional than younger kids or adults. The reason is that the part of their brain that handles critical thinking, judgment and impulse control is “under construction.” So when they have adversity in their lives, they react emotionally, which makes it hard for them to understand the reasons for their hardships or to envision solutions. This can lead to depression and feelings of hopelessness.

When there is so much to learn, teens make mistakes related to almost everything, which can lead them to feel stupid or ashamed. This can aggravate feelings of low self-esteem at a time when they desperately want to be popular. Most kids that age aren’t sure who they are. They feel they aren’t attractive enough, smart enough, or popular enough. They may feel unloved.

And these days, The typical family is under a lot of pressure. Financial problems. Marital problems. Many parents are so busy trying to cope that they don’t connect well with their teenage child. Other parents neglect or abuse their kids – psychologically, physically, or even sexually.

Teenagers often find it hard to envision the future. They can feel trapped in what they perceive as a hurtful, meaningless situation. It’s not easy for them to think clearly about how to deal with their problems.

And many teenagers don’t have a realistic view of death. Movies and video games haven’t given them the realistic perspective that their life – their existence – will end once and for all, that death is permanent, truly the end. Suicide can seem like a way to express how they feel, a way to escape and make people feel sorry for causing them pain.

If you’re a parent, you’ve heard about teen suicide. But you’ve probably thought, This could never happen to my child. I hope you’re right. I hope you have good communication skills and you’ve been able to maintain the bond with your child. As a parent, I hope you exercise awareness, compassion, intuition and patience. When your son or daughter acts depressed, I hope you don’t blow it off.

One suicide attempt for every 12 teenagers is pretty scary odds.

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The Internet’s No. 1 Parenting Podcast Series

PodcastBadgeHave you been listening to the weekly Strong For Parenting podcasts? If not, then you’ve been missing something!

For more than 20 years, Meredith Bell and I have been having fantastic conversations about things that are important to us. Frequently at the end of one of these sessions, one of us would say, “Wow. We should have recorded that!”

Thanks to Skype, recording high-quality conversations is now a snap. So once a week, we turn the recorder on. Usually the topic is related to parenting. Our talks, which last 25-30 minutes, are insight-rich.

If you’re a parent or grandparent or if there’s a young person in your life you care about, I strongly encourage you to listen to one of these podcasts. Once you do, I think you’ll discover that you want to check some of the other titles. And become a regular weekly listener.

Here’s what you’ve been missing…

  1. “Conscious vs. Unconscious Parenting” January 4, 2013
  2. “Adolescence – The Second Dozen Years of Growing Up” January 11, 2013
  3. “How to Prepare for Your Child’s Adolescence” January 18, 2013
  4. “Connecting and Bonding with Your Teen: Communication Skills That Matter” January 25, 2013
  5. “Effective Listening: The No. 1 Parent-Child Communication Skill” February 1, 2013
  6. “Listening: Coaching Tips for Parents” February 8, 2013
  7. “Major Breakthrough for Parents of Teens: The Untold Story” February 15, 2013
  8. “Changes in the Teen Brain – Opportunity or Disaster?” February 22, 2013
  9. “Wiring a Teen’s Prefrontal Cortex – The Long-term Consequences” March 1, 2013
  10. “Laying the Foundation for a Superior Mind – What Can Parents Do?” March 8, 2013
  11. “A Scary Danger Zone – Teen Abuse of Alcohol and Drugs” March 15, 2013
  12. “The Power of Vocabulary – A Tale of Two Verbs” March 22, 2013
  13. “Teen Girls and Teen Boys – Their Brains Are Different!” March 29, 2013
  14. “What You Need to Know about Improving the Way You Communicate to a Child” April 5, 2013
  15. “After Puberty You Need to Change the Way You Relate to Your Child” April 12, 2013
  16. “You Need to Be Strong to Parent a Teen” April 19, 2013
  17. “How the ‘Strong for Parenting’ Program Works” April 26, 2013
  18. “Composure: Keeping Your Cool When Things Get Hot” May 3, 201
  19. “Can You Inoculate Your Teen to Withstand Peer Pressure?” May 10, 2013
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From Teen to Adult – Take Luck Out of the Equation

I’ve written often about how important it is for teens to work on exercising the critical thinking part of their brain (for connecting the dots, analysis, judgment, self-control and decision-making). Parents need to know that this part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex (PFC) – is undergoing a sensitive window of development – a once-in-a-lifetime period in which the PFC can wire a robust foundation for critical thinking.

Or not.

Reflecting on my own adolescence (a period of about 12 years that begins with puberty), I now realize that it was mostly LUCK that I was forced to exercise this part of my brain a lot, which gave me a foundation for critical thinking that I’ve been building on ever since.

I understand that not everyone is so fortunate. Most kids survive adolescence and become adults without using their PFC much, so they end up with a minimal foundation for critical thinking…with profound consequences – for life.

Yes, I appreciate now that I was LUCKY. It wasn’t anything I was aware of at the time. As important as this aspect of brain development is, it wasn’t something I consciously worked on. It was back in the 1960s, after all. Certainly my parents had no knowledge of this process and so did nothing to help me.

I was amazingly LUCKY as a young person in another way, too. As LUCK would have it, I experienced 9 different powerful rites of passage that helped me grow into an independent, responsible adult.

Some people go through adolescence without any such experiences.

The thing that made the biggest difference? As I said, it was LUCK. I just got LUCKY at that time of my life.

What about your kids? Or other young people you care about? Given the momentous consequences of these aspects of growing up, are you relying on LUCK? Are you hoping something positive will happen? Do you even know that this process is actually going on during the teen years? Are you CONSCIOUS of this, and are you seeking to understand these processes and learning what to do about them?

One thing you can do that will open your eyes to what’s going on and what you can do about it: my ebook, How to Give Your Teen a Superior Mind, which you can download free.

I wrote it to help parents take LUCK out of the equation.

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I Got Lucky – My 9 Rites of Passage

rite-of-passage-masai-girlsI’ve been reading about traditional and modern rites of passage. So far, the two most helpful books have been Crossroads: The Quest for Contemporary Rites of Passage, ed. Louise Carus Mahdi, et al (1996); and From Boys to Men: Spiritual Rites of Passage in an Indulgent Age, by Bret Stephenson (2006).

A consistent theme: Long ago, “primitive” cultures evolved effective initiation rites to guide young people from childhood to adulthood. Modern adolescents feel the same powerful need to break away from childhood, prove themselves, find their identity, and be acknowledged by and accepted into the adult community. But traditional rites of passage have for the most part been diluted or discarded, and most young people are left to find their own way, often with disastrous results.

My reading has caused me to reflect on what happened to me during my own adolescence. My conclusion: I had amazing luck in the rites of passage department.

  • At age 13, I earned the rank of Eagle Scout after two years of hard work.
  • At age 14 in the Explorer Scouts I experienced the “Order of the Arrow’ initiation ritual.
  • At age 15 my father was assigned to Germany. Our family was on a waiting list for housing, and I had to take his place to help my mother control my six younger brothers and sisters for six months until we could join my father.
  • At age 18, after 12 years at the top of my class, I gave the valedictory address at my high school graduation.
  • At age 18, I survived the West Point summer “Beast Barracks” training and was accepted into the Corps of Cadets.
  • At age 19, I was “recognized” at the end of “Plebe” year and became an upperclassman.
  • At age 22 I graduated from West Point and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the a Regular Army.
  • At age 22 I was married in a Mormon temple with my grandfather officiating.
  • At age 22 I successfully completed the Army Ranger School.

Each of these rites of passage required that I accept a “call to adventure” and survive an ordeal, a test to prove myself. After successful completion I was recognized by my community in a way that made me feel I had arrived at a new level in my life. In other words, I was involved in several structured processes that helped me develop personal strengths that would empower me throughout my life and careers -and be recognized for doing so!

Nine of them! How lucky is that?

One of my most intense ordeals happened soon after my adolescence. As a young captain I served in Vietnam as an advisor to Vietnamese infantry units. During that year I participated in over 200 combat missions. I was given several awards for valor and service, but at the end the acknowledgement and acceptance back into my community was non-existent. Instead there was confusion and alienation. I remember an incident during my graduate studies at Duke University when an enlightened coed called me a “baby killer.” So my service in Vietnam never became a true rite of passage.

And it wasn’t a rite of passage experience for the three dozen of my West Point classmates who died on the battlefield. And soldiers returning from combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t made to experience developmental rites of passage either – a huge opportunity wasted.

Young people will always need to be challenged, tested, guided and accepted in a powerful way in order for them to define who they are and feel they’ve put childhood behind them. But modern culture has abandoned the old structures without replacing them. Gangs, high society, and college fraternities and sororities have their initiation rituals, but these are pathetic remnants of ancient traditions. It’s a tragic, mostly unrecognized shortfall that has left our youth adrift.

The consequences of teens trying to find their own way towards being adults – unwed teen mothers, gangs, crime, substance abuse, and suicide. And yes, middle-aged offspring who still live at home and who have never become adults.

Given that the rituals that served ancient and primitive cultures are inappropriate for our time, is there a way to recreate effective rites of passage for today’s youth that are appropriate for modern life? It’s something I think about a lot these days.

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Teaching Kids about Identity Theft

Julie Myhre of

Identity theft is a real problem and, sadly, children are not exempt from having their identities stolen. Recently, Nancy Parker of connected with Julie Myhre, who covers identity theft for Nancy graciously shared the text of their conversation for a guest post on Strong for Parenting Blog. Here is what they had to say.

eNannySource: How does identity theft happen?

Julie: Identity theft occurs when someone gets a hold of someone else’s personal information and poses as that person or uses that information to create their own fake identity. This information can be a full name, social security number or a bank account number. It’s usually easier for identity thieves to get information about an adult because adults have a lot of personal information about them; however, it is important to also remember that children can be victims of identity theft too. There are a lot of different ways that adults can be hacked; some of these include not having privacy settings on social media, clicking on phishing emails or pop-ups, losing a wallet, throwing away documents that contain personal information, and ATM or credit card skimming, among others.

For children, identity theft occurs a little differently. Child identity thieves are looking for their victim’s Social Security number. Since children don’t have any credit history, it makes it easier for thieves to use their Social Security number and a false birthday to open credit cards. The unfortunate part about this is that people who were victims of child identity theft don’t usually realize it until they are older and trying to apply for a credit card or loan. Thieves usually gather children’s personal information from sports team applications, school documents and any other documents that would have your child’s Social Security number on it.

eNannySource: How is it prevented?

Julie: There are a lot of different steps that you can take to prevent identity theft. One of the major ways to prevent identity theft is to sign up for an identity theft protection service. Most of these services monitor your personal information regularly and alert you if they notice any suspicious or possibly fraudulent activity. A good amount of these services also offer family plans, which will allow you to protect your whole family – including your children – from identity theft.

Some other options to prevent identity theft include shredding all documents that contain yours or your child’s personal information, checking your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly, monitoring your credit report and, lastly, knowing what you and your child post online. A lot of people don’t realize how much information they post about themselves and their family on social media. It’s fine if you want to include some personal information – such as your full name and photo – but make sure that you set your profile to private. Monitor what you and your child post on social media, and check the privacy settings regularly – at least monthly.

eNannySource: What basic things can parents teach children to avoid identity theft?

Julie: Parents should teach their children about identity theft in a similar manner that they teach them about strangers. If you think about it, it’s essentially very similar – someone you don’t know is trying to take something from you. Parents just need to teach their children that their personal information is private and they should not reveal any of it to people they don’t know. Children won’t understand the details of identity theft, so it’s important not to go into too many details. The bottom line is personal information should be kept personal, and it’s important that parents recognize that and teach it to their children.

eNannySource: What age do parents have to start worrying about identity theft?

Julie: Parents should begin to think about ways to protect their child from identity theft as soon as their child has a Social Security number.

eNannySource: Is it worth investing in some type of protection?

Julie: Yes, in most circumstances identity theft protection is worth the investment. The value of identity theft protection isn’t necessarily in the active personal information monitoring, because the reality is that people can do that part themselves. Instead, the value lies in the identity theft recovery that these services offer. In the instance that yours or your child’s identity is stolen while you’re signed up for an identity theft protection service, you are provided with all the information and tools you need to recover yours or your child’s good name. Identity theft protection services represent you when you’re dealing with the banks, credit bureaus and creditors. It lightens the load on the victim’s side and helps alleviate the nightmare of identity theft. The identity theft recovery assistance is a valuable tool to have if yours or your child’s identity is stolen.

eNannySource: What about the Internet? What are the top tips for parents of kids who use the Internet?

Julie: The most important tip that parents need to follow when their children use the Internet is to monitor what your child is doing and posting on the Internet. Have open communication with your child and make them aware that they shouldn’t be putting any personal information on the Internet – even if it’s your home address in a private message to a friend. Check in with your child and make sure these rules are being followed on all platforms, including the computer, cell phone and tablet. Check your child’s privacy settings on their phone and social media once a month to make sure the information they post on the Internet is set to private.

Julie Myhre is the Content Manager at You can review identity theft protection reviews and learn more about identity theft on the site.

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A Good Idea – Raise Your Child to Be an Entrepreneur

This article from the online Wall Street Journal got my attention: “How to Raise an Entrepreneur,” by Barbara Haislip. It not only quotes some of the great entrepreneurs of our time about the personal strengths that matter, it suggests tips for parents to ingrain these behavior patterns. Here are some of the recommendations highlighted in the article:

  • Ask questions constantly to stimulate the curiosity.
  • Put kids in new situations that allow them to explore.
  • Get them toys that require them to solve problems.
  • Require them to do high-quality work at home and school.
  • Teach them how to control anger and other negative emotions.
  • Get them involved in sports to learn teamwork and how to deal with failure.
  • Help them observe their community for what it needs and for examples of entrepreneurship.
  • Encourage outdoor activities that require risk-assessment and risk-taking.
  • Teach the “Golden Rule” in relationships.

Of course a brief article like this can’t cover everything. To the above list, I would add:

  • Teach kids how to manage money – bank accounts, credit cards, investments.
  • Expect them to find work and earn money for the things they want. Getting a job is good, but a kid can often earn a lot more money by recognizing the difficulties in people’s lives and organizing a business to fill some of these needs.
  • Encourage and reward creative efforts.

Yes, this is a lot to remember and a lot to do. But a lot is at stake – who your child grows up to be and what he or she will end up doing in life. In a busy day, be on the lookout for “teachable moments” and opportunities to offer support or do one thing that will nudge the child in the right direction.

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You’ll Be a Man, My Son

Once upon a time when my youngest boy was about 18 years old, we were walking together and he asked me, “Dad, what does masculinity mean to you?”

A loaded question. I sensed that he was aware that he was growing into manhood but was unsure what it meant to be a man – and not a boy – and whether he was there yet. I didn’t want to affirm popular stereotypes of masculinity, such as sex appeal, power, popularity and aggressiveness.

After some thought, I said, “A real man is a person of strong character. Anyone can be physically strong, but a real man is strong as a person. Life is challenging. A real man does the hard things. He does the right things.”

In a sense, I’ve been writing my answer to this question ever since. Much later, after my son reached middle age, I reminded him of this incident. He laughed. “Yeah, I remember you gave me some generic answer.”

“But do you feel that you became the man you wanted to be? When did you finally feel you were really a man and no longer a boy? Was there something in your life that convinced you to feel that way?”

In our so-called modern world, powerful rites of passage no longer exist to effectively initiate young people into the adult community, with its roles, responsibilities and privileges. As a result, many men his age still aren’t sure of their manhood. They aren’t sure what it means to be fully mature or whether they’ve achieved this status. We had a most interesting conversation.

I recently reread a classic poem that has always been a favorite of mine. If I had had the presence of mind to do so, I could have given it to my son when he was 18. It’s by Rudyard Kipling.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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Inspiration for Parents to Do the Hard Things

working momsQUESTION: What can you do as a parent that is super-easy and super-safe and super-quick that will reward you with great fulfillment?

ANSWER: Well, how about the next time you take a break, look around you and mindfully appreciate your family and the marvels of the natural world around you?

That’s a biggie, yes. But beyond that I can’t think of a thing. Almost everything else worth having for your family requires a huge commitment, effort and overcoming adversity.

In short, you have to exercise character strength, or what I call personal strength.

You get stronger as a person by exercising this kind of strength. Not just by reading about it. And not just by valuing it. You can feel inspired by these, but you have to take the next step. You have to actually be strong when the situation in your family calls for it. It’s like physical strength. Like a muscle. You get more muscle by exercising the muscle.

So inspiration can be the first step. I find these statements to be particularly inspiring…

“It’s not the honors and not the titles and not the power that is of ultimate importance. It’s what resides inside.” – Fred Rogers, American TV host (1928-2003)

“The most important of life’s battles is the one we fight daily in the silent chambers of the soul.”David O. McKay, American religious leader (1873-1970)

“What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.”Thaddeus Golas, American author (1924-1997)

“Anyone can have a good day. The question is what do you do on a bad day. That’s when you’re being tested. In a very tangible sense, a bad day shows your innermost essence more than a good day.”Arthur Golden, American novelist (1956- )

“We must take care to live not merely a long life, but a full one; for living a long life requires only good fortune, but living a full life requires character.”Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman playwright (B.C. 4 – A.D. 65)

“Your decision to be, have and do something out of the ordinary entails facing difficulties that are out of the ordinary as well.”Brian Tracy, American author (1944- )

“Let us live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”Mark Twain, American novelist (1835-1910)

“Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is who you really are while your reputation is merely what others think of you.”John Wooden, American college basketball coach (1910-2010)

“You have to ‘be’ before you can ‘do,’ and do before you can ‘have.’”Zig Ziglar, American author (1926-2012)

“Success is not measured by heights attained but by obstacles overcome. We’re going to pass through many obstacles in our lives: good days, bad days. But the successful person will overcome those obstacles and constantly move forward.”Bruce Jenner, American Olympic track champion (1954- )

“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” – William Ellery Channing, American clergyman (1780-1842)

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”Dalai Lama, Tibetan religious leader (1935- )

Inspired? Then take the next step. Apply this inspiration the next time you deal with a problem with your children. The more you do the hard things, the easier they’ll get.

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What a Parent Can Do about Bullying – 30 Great Blogs

The following guest post comes from Hannah Anderson of Full-Time, a website that regularly features new articles with good information for parents, baby-sitters and nannies. This article, shared with permission, focuses on bullying, one of the toughest issues for parents. What should you do? Where can you get good information? Well, the front-end legwork has been done for you. This article contains links to 30 of the best blogs on bullying, organized by topic. Enjoy!

It is estimated that as many as 70% of children become the victim of bullying at one point in their lives. Despite increased efforts by support groups, charities and schools, the problem persists. However, bullying is not confined to the classroom and playground – bullying exists in the greater community, online and in the workplace. Bullying leaves the victim feeling isolated, worthless and often depressed or suicidal. The culture of bullying is present in every country across the globe, with no sign of being eradicated. These 30 blogs deal with every aspect of bullying, related research and support.

Bullying in Schools

Children are the easiest targets for bullies, whether at school, in the community or at home. A child who is being bullied at school may be too afraid to report the problem for fear of reprisal from the bullies. Awareness and support from peers, teachers and parents can make all the difference for someone who is a victim of bullying. Just knowing that there are people who care can often prompt the victim to address the issue and reach out for help. These five blogs focus on bullying in school.

Anti-Bullying, School Initiatives

School initiatives aimed at raising awareness of bullying help victims come forward, as well as educating teachers, pupils and parents on the social constructs involved in bullying cultures. These initiatives are invaluable in finding new and effective ways of combating bullying. Many of the programs are designed by teachers and pupils with support from anti-bullying groups and charities. These five blogs look at some ways of setting up anti-bullying initiatives for schools.

Anti-Bullying Support Groups and Charities

Without the work of anti-bullying support groups and charities, many more lives would be destroyed by the trauma of bullying. These groups work tirelessly to raise awareness, gain funding for research and offer support to the victims of bullying. Those who have been bullied often find it easier to talk to strangers, as the feeling of weakness makes it difficult to open up to family and friends. The groups and charities in these five blogs offer a light at the end of the tunnel for victims of bullying of all ages.

Personal Experience Blogs

For the victims of bullying, often times, only another sufferer can truly understand what it is like. Through shared experiences, victims can learn to face up to bullies, open up to their parents and teachers and to put an end to their ordeal. Stories and blogs that deal with personal experiences of bullying also help put things in perspective, letting the victim know that they are not alone. These five blogs are home to victims of bullying, both past and present, who offer their support and understanding to other victims.

Bullying and Harassment

As the Internet and online world invades more of our everyday lives, cyber-bullying is becoming an ever increasing problem. The ability to remain anonymous makes it easy for bullies to attack a victim, with little risk of ever having to face them in real life. Social networking means that a victim can be bullied by thousands of people online through orchestrated attacks. As awareness of this problem grows, anti-bullying groups are fighting back. These five blogs help parents and victims understand the dynamics of online bullying, how to stay safe online and offer support networks, too.

Bullying in the Workplace

Adults are often the victims of bullying too. One of the places that an adult is most likely to experience some form of bullying is in the workplace. It is difficult for adults to come forward, as they falsely believe that only children are victims of bullies. It is important to know your rights in the workplace and the channels you can use to report bullying or harassment in the workplace. These five blogs are tailored towards victims of workplace bullying.

For more articles related to parenting and nannies, check the “nanny blog” at

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Puberty – The Lost Passage from Child to Adult

The goal of parenting a teenager:  to help the child mature into a responsible, happy, successful adult.

Even parents who consciously keep this goal in mind often have an awful time dealing with teen emotion, rebellion, risk-taking and substance abuse. Things can go south very quickly, with immediate and long-term consequences. The bridge of communication between parent and child can start to crumble, with parents at a loss as to what to do. The parental pain is so acute and enduring that dozens of books have been written to help.

But to my knowledge none of these books acknowledges the biggest mistake that parents make with teens.

rite of passageIn ancient, primitive times, adults in a community were keenly aware of when a child reached puberty. They were looking for it, waiting for it. It was of paramount importance to them. They considered it “coming of age,” a passage from childhood to adulthood. Tribes expected young people to endure a “rite of passage” to prove that they had the attributes needed by the adult community. Only then would they be accepted into the adult world. These tests weren’t academic. They were typically painful, dangerous and grueling, requiring the kind of courage, composure, endurance and resourcefulness adults felt were needed to carry out their responsibilities.

A key element: those who passed the test were no longer considered children. After proving themselves worthy, they were accepted into the adult community, and the passage from child to adult was celebrated.

Today we no longer make a big deal out of puberty or require young people to prove they’re ready to start the journey towards adulthood. Perhaps the closest approximation we have is when a high school graduate joins the service and survives boot camp. Or the bizarre college fraternity hazing rituals or gang initiations. Or the elaborate formal coming out balls for daughters of well-to-do families. Or bar mitzvahs. Or weddings.

These cultural practices are diminished remnants of the ancient “rite of passage.” Most of them do little to help a young person pass from childhood to adulthood. Or they take place several years after puberty, so young people continue to be thought of as children long after they could have put childish things behind them.

The consequence: most adults don’t even notice when a child reaches puberty. So there’s nothing in the culture to formally acknowledge that this life event signifies that a young person needs to join the adult community and begin taking on adult responsibilities. What happens instead is that a mother will take her daughter to the drug store, buy her sanitary products and tell her, “Goodness, you’re a big girl now.” With most boys…nothing.

So the years go by. A preteen turns 13 and maybe there’s a party. A kid reaches the age of 16, gets a driver’s license and is allowed to drive the family car. After the 18th birthday, the child is no longer legally a minor and can vote, though rarely is this status adequately explained to a child. At the age of 21, a person is legally allowed to purchase and consume alcohol. But all the while, there’s no overt acknowledgment that these young people aren’t kids anymore. Most parents still talk to their teens the same way they did when they were little kids. They don’t consider their teens to be novice adults, so there is no adult-adult level communication. A child can leave home, go to college or enter the service, and most parents will still be dealing with them on a parent-child level. Or worse, they don’t leave home and continue to act like adolescents.

I don’t say this to put shame or blame on parents. They swim in the sea of their culture, and the culture has lost this aspect of requiring young people to start acting like adults. And dealing with young people on an adult-adult level requires as shift from a parent-child approach to communication to an adult-adult approach; and I’ve never met a parent who had the right communication skills to do this. Their parents weren’t skilled communicators, so these skills weren’t taught at home. And they weren’t taught in schools. They weren’t taught anywhere. Today, many large organizations have recognized that these skill deficits weaken leadership, team effort and productivity, and they’ve invested in “people skills” training.

What are these skills? Well, there are dozens of people skills. But to keep it simple, I believe these five are crucial for a parent to establish an adult-adult relationship with a teen:

  • Listen actively
  • Encourage your child to think
  • Help your child learn from experience
  • Engage your child in dialogue
  • Resolve conflicts together creatively

It’s important to start dealing with a child on an adult-adult level early, because it takes several years to grow into adulthood. Before puberty may be too soon. But with the physical changes that come with puberty, a child will be ready. A child will understand, welcome and benefit from being treated this way.

These five skills have the added benefit of stimulating the development of the child’s prefrontal cortex, which is in a sensitive period of basic development throughout adolescence.

What’s a parent to do? For one thing, these days I’m busy writing a book to address this need. Also, I’ve created an online coaching system called Strong for Parenting, which helps parents learn these and other adult-adult communication skills.

Meanwhile, parents everywhere are oblivious that anything monumental is happening when their child reaches puberty. Little in the relationship changes. They still communicate with the child the same way they did before puberty. The difference is that this approach no longer works.

Teenagers know they aren’t little kids anymore. They know they’re on a path to adulthood, and they hate it that their parents and most other adults still treat them like children. This makes them angry, emotional, and rebellious as they tune out and turn to experimenting with sex, drugs and other risk-taking behavior. None of this helps them mature into responsible, happy, successful adults. And the immediate and the long-term consequences pile up.

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The Greater Influence on Teen Behavior – Nature or Nurture? Surprising Answer…

It was one of the coolest weddings I’ve ever attended, the reception turned into a lively celebration, I was doing the kind of dancing I do only after I’ve had way too many drinks, and my friend and I were catching our breath. We were talking about his kids and out of the blue he asked me: “So, where do you land on the question of nature or nurture?”

Ah yes, the old question. Which has more influence on behavior? Nature (the hardware) – your genes take care of that part of it. Nurture (the software) – that’s the job of parents, teachers and mentors. Which has greater influence? My brain had to shift gears away from the raucous music to consider it. But I knew where I stood on the issue, so it didn’t take me long to reply.

I shouted into his ear: “In my opinion, it’s neither nature nor nurture. It’s choice. Our genetic inheritance gives us our start-point, our potential and limitations. After that it’s about learning. Like a computer, we upload the software and the data. But ultimately, we’re not driven by either. We make choices. Kids make choices.”

“Choices? I never heard that answer before.”

“We’re different from animals because we can think, ponder and reflect before we act. It’s not just instinct, habit and stimulus-response. We can make conscious choices. We can decide what we want to do. You take Person A and Person B and you put both people in exactly the same situation, and they may not make the same choices. And their actions will have consequences.”

“Choice,” he repeated. He looked a little dazed. I’m pretty sure he had dispatched as many drinks as I had.

“We’re responsible for our actions. For what we learn. For what we do. For what we become. For our lives. You can’t account for a person’s actions by saying it’s something he’s born with, and you can’t say the world programmed him to do it. We choose to do what we do.”

I don’t remember all the details of that night, but I it seems to me my friend changed the subject.

The question he asked is an important one, and it’s worth discussing. But you don’t have to take my answer as the final word. Check out this brief video featuring author Stephen Covey.

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The Kids in Your Life Need You to Be Strong

Are you a parent or grandparent? Then you have first-hand experience with the uncountable problems, issues, mistakes and failures that are always a part of helping a young person grow up to be a happy, successful adult. It’s truly wonderful when you can achieve that goal and have your relationship with that child grow into adulthood. All too often, it doesn’t happen.

This brief, inspiring video reminds me that the kids in our life need us to be strong. Being there for young people is so challenging that you often have to dig deep to draw on personal strength.

This is just one of the cool videos featured by the Strong for Parenting YouTube channel. The others are worth watching, too.

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Are You a “Conscious Parent”?

In another post, I talked about a movie that portrayed a dysfunctional family that included two well-intended but – as I described them – “unconscious” parents.

I put my own parents in that category. I knew that my mom and dad loved me. They were doing their best to provide for me and my seven brothers and sisters. As the oldest, this meant that my mom was so busy with the younger ones that I had an awful lot of freedom.

My mother was an intelligent woman, but she hadn’t graduated from high school. Mothering young children was her joy and purpose in life. Her own mother had 16 children. With a house full of kids, this was quite a job for my mother! She focused on one necessity at a time, one crisis at a time. She had a lot to do just to keep us safe and under control. When I left home at 18, I had a two-year-old brother who today has no memory of me at home with the rest of the kids.

My dad had a career as a personnel manager in the Army. He would come at night, eat dinner with us, and then watch TV. On weekends we would sometimes do things as a family. There were times when he was deployed overseas.

“Parenting” wasn’t a concept my parents were familiar with. They never once thought that there was anything to be learned about being parents or raising kids. You had kids, you took care of them, they were your responsibility, they went through “phases,” and after a while they grew up. My parents assumed that when we were finished with high school we would move out and make our own way in life. Neither mom nor dad were college graduates, and they didn’t plan for any of us to go to college. Only two of us did. One of my sisters got a music degree and became a high school music teacher. I got an appointment to West Point, served a career in the Army, and along the way earned a Ph.D. from a prestigious university.

Two of my brothers dropped out of high school. They struggled to keep jobs and never found careers. Another brother became a substance abuser and was murdered in Miami.

“Unconscious” parents aren’t trying to avoid common parenting mistakes. They aren’t aware that there are parent-child communication skills and that you can learn them and improve them. They aren’t aware that the goal of parenting is to help prepare their child to become a happy, successful adult, and they aren’t making a point of passing on life skills and life wisdom.

This doesn’t mean they’re bad people, although there are an astonishing number of neglectful or abusive parents. In my experience, most parents are “unconscious parents.”

So what is a “conscious” parent?

They know that unconditional love is vital, but not enough. They know they’re responsible for providing food, shelter, safety and other basic needs, but they appreciate that this isn’t enough, either.

They understand that the goal of parenting is to help a child grow up to become a happy, successful adult, and they’re consciously trying to make this happen by teaching life skills and passing on life wisdom. They’re working to help their child think for himself and stand on his own two feet. They’re trying to instill responsibility and a work ethic, rather than a sense of privilege and entitlement. And they’re not leaving any of this to chance. They’re doing what they can to arrange for teachers, coaches, and other adult mentors to help them.

They want to know more about what’s happening during child development. They seek to improve their parenting and communication skills. They’re looking for resources to help them become even better parents.

Are you a conscious parent?

You could say that my work and my passion these days is to encourage parents to be conscious about their calling, and to help them in their personal development journey to become the best parents they can be.

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The True Horror of Spring Break

The women were carrying dishes into the kitchen. Woody grinned, cocking his head towards the study. “I want you to see something,” he said.

Woody sat behind his desk and pointed the remote at the TV. Cody settled into a large chair.

“What you got?”

“I want you to see something. It’s on this video.” said Woody.

Cody watched as giggling teenage girls appeared on the screen. They appeared to be drunk. One of them turned to face the camera and raised her t-shirt to expose her breasts.

“Hey, wait a minute, Woody. What’s this?”

“Hold on. It’s one of those ‘Girls Gone Wild’ videos. I want you to see something.”

Cody didn’t feel comfortable. He hadn’t seen this side of Woody before. “Look, man, maybe we shouldn’t be watching this with Jill and Mary Beth in the other room. Why are you….”

“Just hang on there, ol’ buddy. It’ll only take a minute. I want to show you something. Here…it’s coming up. Watch this.”

GGWTwo girls were exposing their breasts, sassily rocking their hips back and forth. There was a lot of female squealing going on in the background. Woody hit the pause botton.

“There,” he said. “The tall one on the left. Look at her, man. You have to admit she looks just like Sharon, doesn’t she? This is Daytona. Didn’t you say Sharon went to Daytona Beach on spring break a couple years ago? Doesn’t she look like Sharon? You think it’s her?”

Cody gazed at the frozen image, numb in his chair. She did look an awful lot like Sharon. Actually, she looked exactly like Sharon.

“What do you think, old man? Is it her?”

Not many girls were that tall, and the left-side pony-tail was her signature look that year. And that smile. But he didn’t want this young woman to be his daughter, who was now in graduate school studying to be a landscape architect. He struggled to remain calm, because he didn’t know what to say, and a mixture of anger, outrage, and embarrassment was rising within him.

“It couldn’t be her,” said Cody. “Besides, what are you doing with a video like this? Has Jill seen it?”

“No, I wanted to show it to you first. I got it from Kenny. He thinks it looks like Sharon, too. I thought you’d better see it.”

“Look, Woody. Don’t show this damn thing to anybody else. It’s not Sharon, but I don’t want everybody in the world thinking it is. It’s embarrasing as hell, man. And for God’s sake, don’t show it to Jill or Mary Beth….”

This scenario never happened. The conversation just popped into my brain intact when I saw one of those “Girls Gone Wild” video commercials on a cable channel. I couldn’t help myself. I guess I have an over-active imagination. I remember saying to my wife, “I wonder what a father would say if he happened to watch this video and recognized his daughter half naked with one of these sex-crazed idiots hanging on her. I bet he’d think, ‘So this is what I got for that hundred grand I paid for her college education.’”

The world is strange, and the scenario isn’t all that improbable. All the young women in these videos have fathers, right? Whenever I see one of these commercials, I think of the parents and the shock they’d feel watching the video.

As bad as that would be, it’s nothing compared to what could have happened that Spring Break weekend in Daytona. She could have been arrested. With her fun-loving nature and giggly-girl judgment seriously impaired by alcohol, she could have contracted a sexually transmitted disease or become pregnant. Or both. She could even have been raped.

Or worse. How often did she participate in wild parties like this? Was she already launched on the road to acoholism?

But none of these dangers are the worst-case scenario. The worst thing that can happen is the most likely thing to happen. She could have suffered permanent brain damage.

This sounds like an over-statement, but it’s not. I’m not talking about an adult losing a few hundred brain cells. I’m talking about permanently limiting the creation of the foundation for higher-order intelligence during a sensitive time of brain development.

During the adolescent years, the prefrontal lobes – the part of the brain that handles understanding, reasoning, foresight, decision-making, planning and other “executive” functions – in short, higher-order intellect – is under construction. It’s a one-time window of opportunity to establish a person’s foundation for critical thinking. At the onset of adolescence, this window opens; in the early 20s, it closes. The foundation is set. During the rest of your life you can build on it, but the foundation limits the kind of structure you can build.

The process is exactly like what happens during infant brain development. Mothers are strongly cautioned against using drugs or alcohol during pregnancy because they can disturb the development of a baby’s brain and body in the womb. The child could be born with horrible defects.

Neuroscientists now know that the same developmental process is underway in teenagers’ brains. If the child drinks alcohol during adolescence, it can derail normal development of the all-important prefrontal cortex.

This is the real horror of Spring Break. The week-long party is big business for the resort community, and the residents put up with a lot in order to benefit from the revenue. And mommies and daddies smile that their kids are making a little history with their friends. It’s all just a part of being young, isn’t it? We survived it and so will they.

They have no idea. If parents were told about the risks, I imagine some of them might say, “That’s alarmist bullshit. What are you talking about? Kids need to sow some wild oats, get it out of their system. I did crazier things than that when I was a kid, and look at me now. I made it through just fine.”

It’s one of the unique features of human intelligence – the ability to be confronted by the truth and then claim it’s not so.

Listen to this revealing conversation…

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Free Resources – Help Your Teen Wire a Smart Brain

Every time a teenager tries to figure out why something happened, tries to understand the relationship between thing A and thing B, tries to see the connection between cause and effect, foresees possible consequences, evaluates options, solves problems and consciously makes a decision, she is exercising the prefrontal cortex, the “smart” part of the brain.

The brain cells that fire together, wire together. So when a teenager thinks about these things, it stimulates her brain to wire the foundation circuits for critical thinking and judgment.

Some teens do this a lot. They’re the lucky ones. The foundation they’re constructing during adolescence will set them up to learn and deal with life at the highest level.

Others don’t do much of this kind of thinking. They react emotionally and impulsively, seek excitement and fun, and take foolish risks. So they’re busy wiring their brains for this way of thinking, instead.

The problem is, the wiring is permanent.

If there’s a young person in your life you care about, you can make a difference. To find out how to help a child construct a superior mind, here are some resources…



Free ebook

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Health Alert for Parents – Eating Breakfast Cereal (ANY Brand) May Be Bad for Your Kids’ Health

Hey, moms and dads! What are you feeding the little kiddos for breakfast? Their favorite cereal? So easy! So many choices – both sides of an entire aisle at the grocery store. And nutritious!

Wait a minute. Not so fast. There’s something you don’t know about breakfast cereal.

Before you let your children eat any more of this stuff, there are some things you need to know. And once you get it, well…you may not want to feed it to them anymore.

Check out this article.

By the way, Humans Are Not Broken is a great nutrition website. Lots of truth-telling.

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Dad Gets Lucky – Gives Sons Christmas Present with Profound Permanent Consequences

It was the Christmas of 1982, and my boys were 10 and 12 years old.

I didn’t think twice about what to give them. It just seemed like a great idea at the time – identical Commodore 64 personal computers. The C64 was one of the first PCs ever made. The computer itself was integrated with the keyboard housing. All you had to do was hook it to a monitor. Even though it became the best-selling PC of all time, by today’s standards it was a primitive piece of hardware. It had only 64,000 bytes of memory (today’s PCs have 30,000 times as much memory).


To my delight, the computers were a big hit. Before long, my sons had traded with their friends to get copies of every video game produced at the time. When they got tired of the games, they learned how to use a basic programming software so they could create their own programs. They became obsessed with how computers work and they learned one programming language after the other.

This relentless effort stimulated the brain cells in their prefrontal cortex to connect into circuits. By the time they were were grown, both of them had established vastly expansive and robust foundations for critical thinking. And since that wiring is physical in the brain, it’s permanent.

Everything they’ve learned since is built on that foundation. My oldest son earned a Ph.D. in computer science and has had a varied career as an IT executive. My youngest son became a brilliant software engineer who has created several highly successful bleeding-edge “killer app” programs that are used world-wide.

The thing is, they didn’t know they were wiring their adolescent brains. Obviously, I didn’t know anything about the brain either. Like all other parents of my generation, I couldn’t have told you the difference between the prefrontal cortex and a hot rock. I wasn’t consciously trying to give them a “superior mind.” I wouldn’t write that book until 30 years later.

No, I just got lucky as a young parent (and so did they) when I gave them those computers for Christmas.

Of course, most parents and their teens don’t get lucky like that.

This is why I wrote the ebook, How to Give Your Teen a Superior Mindto take luck out of the equation. It includes excerpts of the most important insights and strategies from a larger book I’m writing for parents who want to give their teens a huge advantage as they prepare to be happy, successful adults.

The ebook is available right now as  a free download on the website,

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5 Magic Questions – Help Your Teen Learn from Mistakes

Fact: To learn from what happens to you, you have to take the time to think about what happened, why it happened and what you could have done differently. And most people don’t always do that.

Fact: Busy teenagers almost never do this kind of reflection. But they need to, unless it’s okay to continue making the same mistakes over and over again.

This 3-minute video explains a simple method that parents can use to help their teens learn from their mistakes.

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Tip: Just ask the questions and listen. Don’t answer the question for the child, even if you’re tempted.

Cool side-benefit: This questioning technique also engages the prefrontal cortex, an exercise that helps wire the teen brain for critical thinking and judgment. Do you know anyone who cares whether a certain teen learns the lessons of experience while building the patterns of critical thinking and judgment? If so, send them a link to this video.

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Many Parents Avoid Frank Talks with Their Teens – For Good Reasons

Wise Aunt coverI’ve written two books, Conversations with the Wise Uncle (for boys) and Conversations with the Wise Aunt (for girls). Both are fictional accounts about an older relative mentoring a young person during the teen years to give the child a “heads up” about important issues.

The inspiration for these books came when one of my best friends told me about his teen years. When he was 12, his uncle took him out for breakfast. In addition to potatoes and eggs, they shared a long talk. His uncle was relaxed and fun to be with, not at all like his dad, who was stern, demanding and hard to talk to.

In a friendly, casual way, his uncle talked about what the boy could expect during his teen years. He described the physical changes that were about to happen to him as he matured into an adult. He talked about peer pressure, risk-taking behavior and the consequences of sex, drugs and alcohol.

At the end of the talk my friend’s uncle said, “Now I want you to promise me something. When your friends want you to go along with them and something inside you doesn’t feel right, I want you to stop and think about what could happen. I want you to remember the things we talked about. Will you do that?”

My friend told me this talk with his uncle was the most important conversation of his life, that it helped him steer clear of all kinds of trouble during his teen years. Not that he was a perfect kid, whatever that is. But most of the time when he was tempted to do something he knew he shouldn’t, and usually it was something fun or exciting, he remembered what his uncle told him. He said having an uncle who leveled with him about the consequences of bad decisions was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.

Many adults don’t feel comfortable talking to kids about these things. I know this because I’ve been engaged in a long-term anecdotal research effort, in which I ask adults about their teen years. I have yet to find another person who had anything like this “heads-up” talk when they were young. I know I didn’t. How about you? Were you one of the lucky ones?

Hence the inspiration to write this book – to suggest to parents what to talk about and how to talk about it. And if desired, to give the book to the teen to read as a supplement to these conversations.

But why is it that parents fail to talk to their kids about these things? Why are they reluctant to coach them about things like sex, peer pressure, and addictive substances? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far…

  • Their own parents didn’t talk with them, so they don’t have that model to work from.
  • Their memories of their own teen years are mixed and muddled.
  • They aren’t sure what needs to be covered, or how to go about it.
  • They’re afraid they’ll get it wrong, give bad advice.
  • Times have changed. Teens today face some new issues.
  • It may be hard to get their their teen to listen to what they have to say – the old “generation gap.”

These concerns are well-founded. Here are some issues today’s parents may not realize that teens need coaching and encouragement about…

  • Teen brain development – awareness of the sensitive period for developing critical thinking skills
  • Alcohol and drugs – how they can permanently derail developing this area of intelligence
  • Life and death
  • Faith and spirituality
  • Learning and preparing for adult life
  • How skills and habits are formed
  • Why personal strengths are crucial to success and how to develop them
  • Why communication skills are crucial to success and how to develop them
  • Why working on personal development as a teen will give them a huge edge later in life

You can see why I wrote the Wise Aunt and Wise Uncle books. Even parents who would do anything to give their kids an edge to grow into happy, successful adults could feel inadequate to the challenge of coaching them in some of these areas.

Sneak preview…

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Latipha Cross – Teen Hero

One of the images I took away from Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed, was that of a crying teen girl being consoled by her girlfriends in a school cafeteria - because her daddy bought her the wrong kind of brand new car for her 16th birthday.

His point: children like this rich kid will typically end up in college, but so do many disadvantaged kids who worked hard to get there. The children of wealth typically have better ACT and SAT scores, but they’re often caught and surpassed by less fortunate kids who have learned to work hard.

1latipha(2)One of these disadvantaged kids was Latipha Cross, a teenager from Detroit who has suffered amazing adversity. Her mother abandoned her. Her father raped her. Her sister was murdered. Her foster parents beat her. She escaped that situation, preferring to live homeless.

In school, she vented her emotions by running track. Her coach said, “She runs angry.” And she never lost a race. Then she got cancer. Immediately after a course of chemotherapy, she broke a Michigan state record for 400 meters. She received dozens of scholarship offers, and she committed to Eastern Michigan University. Then, before the end of her senior year in high school, she was diagnosed with lymphoma.

But the track coach who signed her continued to believe in her. About her troubled past, he said, “If a girl can get through that, then what else can she achieve?” Watch this video segment produced by ESPN:

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” - Confucius, Chinese philosopher (B.C.551-479)

“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger, American actor (1947- )

Not every young person is able to use this kind of pain and hardship to make herself stronger. The stress it produces can overwhelm a young mind. The pain can get expressed as rage.  On the other hand, getting stronger as a person requires adversity. Latipha wouldn’t be where she is now without it.

So was she one of the lucky ones? I don’t think of her that way. I prefer to think she made conscious choices to defeat her past, to put it behind her by running towards a better future. I prefer to think of her as heroic.

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Breakthrough Insights about Teens – The Untold Story

PodcastBadgeI was once a West Point graduate who became a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. After that I became an expert in adult learning, focusing on how skills and knowledge are created in the brain.

But then what happened? Why am I now so passionate about telling parents about the enormous developments in the adolescent brain? What kind of learning journey led me to this focus?

It’s a revealing story. Listen to this brief retelling…

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From Rude Teen to Polite Teen – 3 Practical Strategies

Originally published at, this guest post comes from Anne Laurie, a frequent contributor to that blog. There’s wisdom here. If you do these things that encourage politeness, you’ll probably be on track for building a strong relationship with your teen. Enjoy… 

Teaching a young child to say please and thank you is one thing, but struggling to get your teenager to be polite to you is quite another. The truth is that most teens are more polite to other people than they are to their own parents.  This is due to a number of things, including the fact that you are the person he feels most comfortable with and as a result is more easily frustrated with.  It is also due to the fact that teens are going through a transformation phase and are experimenting with their independence.  Politeness is one area where they tend to test the waters.  However, there are ways to help your teen be more polite while going through this life change.

1. Avoid demanding your child to use polite words – it only causes a power struggle that did not exist before you made the demand.  Saying to a teenager “I am not giving you this until you say please” only creates a struggle for control.  It does nothing to teach the child why he should use polite words.  When a child becomes a teen, the more important thing to teach is tone of voice.  Instead of demanding he talk courteously, tell him why you don’t like the tone of voice he used.  “I don’t care for the way you asked me to do that.  It seems to me like you don’t respect me when you talk to me like that.”

2. ALWAYS speak politely to your teen – this is a very difficult endeavor to be sure, but until every word that comes out of your mouth is said with care, composure and calmly, you cannot expect your teenager, who has hormones that are going crazy, is trying to be independent and yet is scared all at the same time, to be the only one in the room speaking with civility.  If you have a history of speaking with unkind words or tone to your child, now is a great time to turn over a new leaf.  If you do decide to change the way you speak, it is a good idea to communicate this change with any child, especially teenagers.  Your words can help bridge some of the disconnection he feels toward you because of the words you have used in the past.  Let him know that you are aware you will not do this perfectly.   Bad habits are very hard to break.  Ask him for his help in your conversion.  Together find a word or phrase that he can use when he feels that you are not speaking to him with courtesy.  You then need to agree to ALWAYS take a step back when he uses it. You should also work out the same agreement with him.  Maybe it is the same word and maybe it is a different one.  But know that if you break your promise to take a step back when he uses that word, he is going to too.

3. Don’t embarrass him in front of others, especially his peers.  The social world of a teenager is a very difficult place to be.  The pressure he feels from friends is not a small concern to a teenager.  Parents who make light of the pressure their child feels to fit in, be liked or at least not be noticed run the risk of pushing their child away.  There is a very good chance that your teenager will refuse to act polite when around his friends and other children.  It is never a good idea to deal with the conflict at the time of the offense.  It can be very difficult to refrain from correcting your teen around his peers; however, you have to remember that there is a good chance there are other people watching too.  The eyes of judgment can be overwhelming and make you want to set the record straight and demand that your child treat you with respect.  The best thing you can do is to take a step back and talk to your child about it after he is away from anyone else.  He will no longer have the pressure of other people to show off for and you will be able to be calmer about the situation.

Parenting teens can often be a thankless job because the child rarely wants to show his love the way he used to when he was little.  However, watching him begin to grow into a healthy and happy person can be rewarding, especially if the expectation for him to be perfect is not there.  Understanding that at this time in your child’s life he is testing his own abilities, desires and his decision whether or not to show respect is really important to the growing up process.

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My New YouTube Channel – For Adults Who Care About Youth

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I have a new YouTube channel called Strong for Parenting. It will share short, information-dense videos for parents of teens and other youth mentors.

My first video “Give Your Teen A Superior Mind,” packs a lot of powerful info in less than 2 minutes. PLEASE watch it all the way through. This will help establish it with the YouTube search engine.

The link:

If you agree that the information is valuable, please click on the LIKE button below the video. And if you click SUBSCRIBE, you’ll be notified of other innovative videos we’ll be producing soon. Let us know what you think in Comments.

And if you know others who have youth in their lives, please consider forwarding this link to them.

THANK YOU for helping to get this info to as many adult mentors as possible :)

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When Adolescents Get Drunk – Permanent Brain Damage

Drinking alcohol with the expressed purpose of getting wasted? Believe it or not, this is mostly an activity practiced by kids. Watch this brief video…

What can a parent do?

In a calm, non-threatening, supportive way, tell the child about the crucial brain development phase that’s going on during adolescence and how drinking alcohol or using drugs can disrupt normal development, causing limited intellectual capacity as an adult – for life. See my posts about teen drinking and teen use of marijuana.

Set a good example. If you must drink in their presence, do so responsibly. In other words, not as a habit, and never to excess. And never illegal drugs. If they see you do it, they’ll conclude it’s fine for them.

Help the child build a foundation for critical thinking. Kids who think about the consequences are less likely to drink alcohol to excess. Download the free ebook, How to Give Your Teen a Superior Mind at

Help your child boost self-esteem. Help them get involved in challenging activities. Affirm them when they do well. It takes strong self-esteem to resist peer pressure.

Give them an “out” – some things to say to counter peer pressure.

Build your own parent-child communication skills, so you can foster a sharing relationship that will let you talk proactively about these issues.

Don’t be permissive. Get a contract or agreement with a child. Set boundaries related to drinking and other behavior, such as an appropriate curfew with consistent, enforced consequences. Have the child earn trust and more freedom by showing responsibility and accountability.

When you discover their drinking, don’t turn a blind eye. Call them out. Tell them it’s not what you expect of them. Remind them of the consequences to their future life. Don’t dominate or be controlling, but get to know your teen’s friends and their parents. Always know where your teen is, and check. Stay connected by cell phone, or have a destination number.

Once your child becomes a problem drinker, the game changes. It’s time to seek professional help, just as an adult with the same problem would.

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Strong for Parenting Podcast Episode #5 – LISTENING

Very few adults are good listeners. And yet, listening well is the most powerful thing you can do with a teenager.

When your child expresses herself, and you respond, you want her to think, Mom really understands what I’m saying.

You don’t want your child to think, He just doesn’t get it. What’s the use talking to him?

Your relationship depends on it.

I’ve always considered LISTENING to be the No. 1 parent-child communication skill because of its impact, and because it’s a component of most other communication skills. Parents who have poor listening skills while raising an adolescent are in for a lot of painful moments.

Meredith Bell and I talked about what good active listening sounds like in this recorded conversation…

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My Interview with Lon Woodbury of LA Talk Radio – What Parents Can Do to Help Wire Their Teen’s Brain for Critical Thinking

Lon WoodburyLon Woodbury (LA Talk Radio) and I had a great discussion about the teen brain (to listen or download, scroll down to January 28, 2013).

I talked about the big changes going on in the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), the last area of the brain to wire for basic functioning, which is “under construction” during the entire period of adolescence. We talked about the potential near-term and long-term consequences of this brain development, and what parents (and other adults) can do to coach teens to think for themselves, to wire the PFC as extensively as possible. It was a most interesting conversation, definitely worth a listen.

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Parent-Child Communication – Build the Bridge, or Tear it Down

Teenagers…emotional, inarticulate and needy, may try to ask for something or make a statement. Maybe they want to buy something. Maybe they want to go somewhere. Maybe they’re having a problem. But parents are human, too, and not always in a good place themselves. Worried, rushed and tired, they may not think about the best way to respond. They may say the wrong thing in the wrong way at the wrong time.

To the parent, an interchange like this may seem like no big deal. Just another hectic moment in a day of dozens of hectic moments. It’s quickly discounted and forgotten as they move on to the next thing.

But to teenagers, not being heard, not being understood, and not being helped can be a monumental turning point. They could conclude: My parents just don’t get it. They don’t really care about me. Why do I even try to talk to them?

The gap widens, the bond weakens, and the bridge starts to crumble.

And the parents would have no idea that this is the impact they’re having. After a few years of this, the parent might look at a their growing child who is now alienated and aloof and ask, What happened?

What happened was the failure to exercise effective parent-child communication skills.

This was the topic of discussion between Meredith Bell and me recently, which we recorded for a Strong for Parenting podcast.

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Parenting Teens – 9 Great Quotes

In another post, I wrote about a terrific parenting book called CDO Chief Daddy Officer: The Business of Fatherhood, by Chris Efessiou. A highly successful business leader and father, he made a strong case that the fundamentals of effective leadership also apply to being an effective parent. The book is full of actionable wisdom.

I was thinking about this book while reviewing some of my favorite quotes about leadership, and it occurred to me that many of them apply to parenting as well. So to make the point, and to give parents some wisdom from an unexpected source, I’ve translated these quotes, substituting “parent” for “leader,” etc.


Almost everything in parenting comes back to relationships.
“Almost everything in leadership comes back to relationships.” – Mike Krzyzewski, American college basketball coach (1947- )

Outstanding parents go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their children. If kids believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.
“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.” – Sam Walton, American business leader (1918-1998)

A good parent will make a child see what he can be, rather than what he is.
“A good coach will make his players see what they can be, rather than what they are.” – Ara Parseghian, American college football coach (1923- )

A parent is a dealer in hope.
“A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte, French emperor (1769-1821)

And the truth is that the best parents desire to serve their children, not themselves.
“And the truth is that the best leaders desire to serve others, not themselves.” – John C. Maxwell, American author (1947- )

A parent has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.
“The leader has to be practical and a realist, yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.” – Eric Hoffer, American philosopher (1902-1983)

As a parent you should always start with where your child is before you try to take her to where you want her to go.
“As a leader you should always start with where people are before you try to take them to where you want them to go.” – Jim Rohn, American author (1930-2009)

Parenting is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.
“Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and in actions.” – Harold Geneen, American business leader (1910-1997)

There is no more powerful parenting tool than your own personal example….Be what you want your child to become.
“There is no more powerful leadership tool than your own personal example…. Be what you want your team to become.” – John Wooden, American college basketball coach (1910-2010)

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Grow the Bond with Your Child – Forgive the Small Things

As we prepared to go the gym for our morning workout, my wife discovered that she had misplaced her car keys. We searched for ten minutes and finally found them in the car, still in the ignition. Unfortunately, the battery was dead because she was listening to the radio when she left the car the day before.

We called Triple-A, and the tow-truck came to start the car. Problem solved. We went to the gym later that morning.

But somewhere in the process, maybe when I realized she had left the car with the radio on, there was a perilous moment. My disappointment could have escalated to frustration or even anger. I could have thought, “How could you leave the car keys in the car – with the radio on?”

Or maybe I could have actually said the words. Or worse. How about: “Why don’t you pay attention to what you’re doing?” Or “What’s the matter with you?”

couple arguingDo  people actually say such things to people they love? Do parents talk like this to their teenage children?

Of course they do. It wouldn’t surprise me if some version of this scenario happened a million times a day across the planet.

But it’s a costly mistake, for several reasons.

For one thing, it’s hurtful. For example, if you react to your daughter in anger over a stupid mistake, it’s verbally punishing. She’s probably already feeling bad about it. But to have you pile on and put her down would attack her self-esteem. And that’s the last thing you want. Low self-esteem makes a teenager vulnerable to all kinds of bad decisions. Her life is already challenging, and she needs to be strong and confident.

Besides, you love her.

The other reason it’s a mistake is that you’re not in a position to criticize. You’ve done similar things yourself – probably more than once. Who hasn’t? People aren’t perfect. And getting distracted and leaving your keys in the car is a good example of what imperfect people do. As for me, at this point in my life I realize that almost everything that people can do to annoy me are things that I’ve done myself at one time or another.

And besides, it’s a small thing. Trivial. Petty. The correct thing for you to do is forgive her instantly. And reassure her that it’s no big deal.

Do you want your relationships with your child to remain close, even grow stronger as she grows into an adult? It’s all too easy to give in to anger and lash out. It does take a certain amount of strength to keep your composure and deal with your frustration without hurting the person you care about. But if you care about your relationship with your child, you’ll make the effort.

Forgive the small things.

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Podcast #3 – How to Prepare for Your Child’s Adolescence

PodcastBadgeThe second twelve years of growing up – adolescence – are a lot different and a lot more challenging than the first twelve years. Kids know they’re growing up, and they want to know more about the adult world. They’re pushing for more independence. They often react impulsively and emotionally. Pressured by their peers, they may take risks. They won’t accept the same type of guidance and discipline that worked when they were little kids.

There are effective ways of communicating and dealing with an adolescent, but it’s not a good idea to wait until it happens or until you’re in the middle of it, struggling, to ask what you should be doing. Because there’s a significant learning curve. So how should you prepare? Meredith Bell and I discuss what parents can do to gain the insights, skills and strengths you’ll need to deal successfully with a young person who’s growing into an adult.

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Composure – 10 Inspiring Quotes for Parents

My dad was a really nice guy. But I remember that when I was a teenager, he lost his temper with me three times. Yes, exactly three times. And the sad thing is that half a century later I still remember each incident in detail. In my mind, his reactions were overblown and unjustified. But something set him off.

One of the challenges of being a parent is that sometimes what your child says or does will upset you. This is especially true of teens, who while trying to discover themselves and establish their independence, will push against your norms, values, boundaries and cautions for safety.

And when you’re upset, it’s natural to want to say or do something in anger. But even though this is a natural reaction, you pay a heavy price when you give in to it. Some words of wisdom…

“Anger itself does more harm than the condition which aroused anger.”David O. McKay, American religious leader (1873-1970)

“If you treat every situation as a life and death matter, you’ll die a lot of times.”Dean Smith, American college basketball coach (1931- )

The problem is, you can’t focus on everything at the same time. When heated emotions fill your mind, there’s little or no room left for reason. And without the ability to think about what to do, you’ll probably do the wrong thing…

“When anger rises, think of the consequences.”Confucius, Chinese philosopher (B.C.551-479)

“Anger blows out the lamp of the mind.” - Robert Ingersoll, American politician (1833-1899)

“Good judgment, common sense, and reason all fly out the window when emotions kick down your door.” - John Wooden, American college basketball coach (1910-2010)

“Once a word leaves your mouth, you cannot chase it back even with the swiftest horse.” - Chinese proverb

“Every stroke our fury strikes is sure to hit ourselves at last.” - William Penn, British colonizer (1644-1718)

Is acting out of anger your habitual way of reacting? The good news is that you can change habits – any kind of habit. It will be hard to keep your cool at first, but with each success, it will get easier. You may fail a lot initially, but if you keep trying, your success rate will gradually improve. Eventually, staying calm and collected will come naturally.

Composure is what allows you to stay in control in the heat of the moment. Feel the anger, but don’t say anything, and don’t do anything right away. Pause. Give your emotions a few moments to subside. Then ask yourself this: What I can say or do next that will produce the best outcome?

“Keep cool; anger is not an argument.” Daniel Webster, American statesman (1782-1852)

“Walk away from it until you’re stronger. All your problems will be there when you get back, but you’ll be better able to cope.” - Lady Bird Johnson, American first lady (1912-2006)

“Nothing gives a person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” - Thomas Jefferson, American president (1743-1826)

* * * *

When emotions blow, bend like grass. In the quiet, you’ll stand tall.

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Podcast #2 – Adolescence – The Second Dozen Years of Growing Up

When young people turn 18 and graduate from high school, parents often expect them to start doing adult things. Go to college. Join the service. Get your own place. Get a steady job. Get married. Have kids. Even the law grants them new “adult” privileges.

I like the “go to college” option best. Take learning to the next level. Graduate and get that credential. Focus on a career. I like it because college isn’t easy, and striving for four years can help a young person ingrain the strengths they’ll need for life and work. And they might learn how to learn, and how to think.

But make one thing clear: they’re not adults yet. That’s what the science says, and I have some stories of my own to back that up.

To guide their children well, parents need the right perspective on adolescence. Listen in as Meredith Bell and I talk about this….

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Street Smart Kids – Teens Need to Hear This Stuff

Street Smart KidsWhen I was young, the adults around me shared very little advice, wisdom or skills. So by the time I left home, I was pretty naive. I didn’t know how naive I was! All I knew was that I was constantly being confronted with what I didn’t know, and I was always trying hard to catch up. This kind of ignorance cost me countless mistakes – some of them were monumental. And now, from the perspective of 50 years later, I realize that it didn’t have to be that way. There is so much I could have been told. It’s a shame I had to learn the hard way.

I’ve talked to dozens of other adults about this, and their experience is mostly the same. They wish they’d been told a bunch of things before adult life started to happen to them.

This is the purpose of Gordon Myers’ book, Street Smart Kids. According to him, he learned much of his wisdom from the School of Hard Knocks. He addresses a myriad of topics that young people need straight talk about: health, hygiene, habits, decision-making, responsibility, peer pressure, and a lot more. He delivers this wisdom and know-how in a truth-telling, no-holds-barred, conversational style.

Young people need to hear this stuff! Hard knocks are often just too hard. And the right lessons aren’t always learned.

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Strong for Parenting Podcast site is launched!

I recently posted about the concept of “conscious parenting.” I stated that many parents experience life with their children on a day-to-day basis, without thinking about the goals, processes, strengths and skills involved in parenting an adolescent. They may be good people in every way, but they believe that “growing up” is just a time of life that every kid has to live through. And if mom and dad provide love, shelter, food, support, safety and security, their kids will be fine. In other words, they raise kids with a good heart, but without thinking about how they’re parenting.

Conscious parents are more aware of what they’re doing. They have the goal of the parenting clearly in mind. They’re aware of the challenges, and they want to get stronger to deal with them and to improve specific parent-child communication skills. Instead of reacting to their kids off-the-cuff, they consider the best way to react. They study parenting and pursue self-development.

This is the topic of the first of many Strong for Parenting podcasts to come. Averaging 25 minutes in length, they feature weekly conversations between me and Meredith Bell about issues, challenges and skills of interest to parents of adolescents. After countless creative discussions, we decided to beginning recording and sharing them.

Or goal is to help parents be more conscious, wise, strong and skilled about the way they raise their children, especially the kids who have reached puberty and have begun the “second twelve years” of growing up.

So enjoy! And let us know what you think!

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Bad Judgment – The Peril of Adolescence

In this space I’ve often written about how the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain that exercises judgment, is “under construction” during adolescence. And that the only way to wire this area more extensively – to produce a lifetime of intellectual strength and benefit – is to exercise critical thinking and judgment as often as possible during adolescence. (See my free ebook: How to Give Your Teen a Superior Mind).

Kids learn to walk the same way. But until a child masters this skill, the toddler will suffer a lot of falls, even if she’s trying hard to succeed! The same thing happens to teenagers. They suffer a lot of falls, even if they’re motivated and trying hard to think things through (which all too often, they aren’t). My favorite book on this topic is Why Do They Act That Way? by psychologist David Walsh. Teenagers are famous for doing dumb things that get them in trouble and sometimes, cost them their lives.

Like many days, today there were stories all over the news about teenagers who exercised monumentally poor judgment, with horrible results.

I found story #1 online on Shine. An 18-year-old Oregon boy named Jacob Cox-Brown was thrown in jail because he did three really dumb things in rapid succession. First, he drove while intoxicated. Unfortunately, along the way, he hit a car. But two, instead of rendering assistance, he took off – hit and run. And then three, he felt compelled to post about it on Facebook: “”Drivin drunk … classsic ;) but to whoever’s vehicle i hit i am sorry.” Not worthy of a Darwin Award, but a pretty amazing series of bad judgments.

On  I read about three Arizona boys who decided it would be cool to test the ice around Fool Hollow Lake, which had frozen over. One of the boys, because he was afraid or had better critical thinking skills, stayed on the bank. But the other two tried the ice. When it started to crack, they clung to the branches of a dead tree. The boy on the bank called for help and two hours later, emergency personnel got to exercise their rescue skills and equipment.

Also, I read report on about three Alabama teen boys who died in a twin-engine plane crash. The plane crashed about a mile from the airport because the pilot was one of the teen boys. Jordan Ryan Smith had his student certificate, but he wasn’t licensed to pilot the plane. And oh by the way, it wasn’t his plane. And they didn’t have permission. You have to wonder what they were thinking. Why would they think it would be a good idea to joy-ride an aircraft they weren’t qualified to fly – at night, with a low cloud ceiling.

Whenever I tell parents about the perils of adolescence, I share shocking examples of the near-term consequences of the failure to ingrain the thought patterns related to good judgment. But I nearly always worry that they’ll think I’m exaggerating when I say I come across stories like these several times a week.

And I wonder what parents think when I tell them that as sad and scary as these consequences are, they aren’t more awful than the long-term consequences, which begin after the end of adolescence and the sensitive window of development of the prefrontal cortex has closed; and young people who haven’t exercised good judgment during adolescence will have to live with a minimal foundation for critical thinking and judgment for the rest of their life.

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Between Parent & Teenager – Classic Wisdom

Between Parent & Teenager (1967) , by Dr. Haim G. Ginott, was published before many of today’s parents of teenagers were born. Ginott, who has been dead for forty years, was a well-known child psychologist and parent educator. His insight was to encourage parents to use the same respectful approach when communicating with their children that counselors use with their patients. The result was this book, and two other classics: Between Parent & Child (1965) and Teacher & Child (1972).

I loved this passage from the chapter on criticism:

“A minor mishap should not be treated as a major catastrophe. A broken glass is not a broken arm. Spilling glue is not spilling blood. A lost sweater need not lead to a lost temper. A torn shirt does not call for an ugly scene.

Philip, age fourteen, accidentally spilled nails all over the floor. He sheepishly looked up at his father.

PHILIP: Gee, I’m so clumsy!
FATHER: That’s not what we say when nails spill.
PHILIP: What do you say?
FATHER: You say, the nails spilled – I’ll pick them up!
PHILIP: Just like that?
FATHER: Just like that.
PHILIP: Thanks, Dad.”

He contrasts this with typical frustrated or angry reactions: “Look at what you’re doing! Can’t you be more careful? Must you always be in such a rush? Why is it that whatever you touch ends up on the floor?”

Readng this book again after all these years reminded me of how much the world has changed. But I was amazed at how much of his advice remains vital. He coached parents to acknowledge the feelings of teenagers rather than criticizing or ignoring them. When trying to change behavior, focus on observed behavior – not personality or character traits. Address specific events; don’t generalize or speak in absolute terms. And when giving feedback, do so with love and compassion. Encourage your child to think things through and do things for himself.

Not a whole lot of advice! But few parents put this kind of wisdom into practice. I imagine that if they did, they wouldn’t need much more guidance to be an effective parent to their teenager.

By the way, I got a used copy of this wonderful book in good condition for one cent plus S/H at Worth every penny.

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Unconscious Parents – A Review of ‘Lonesome Jim’ (2006)

Seven years after the release of the movie, “Lonesome Jim,” I found it on Netflix. Starring Casey Affleck and Liv Tyler, it’s the story of a man in his late twenties who, after failing to create a life for himself in New York City, returns home to live with his parents while he considers his options.

Actually, that’s too generous. He’s come home because he doesn’t have the kind of mind that’s good at considering options. His plan is just to take life day by day, sponging off his parents as long as they’ll let him. He seems to lack character strength and the capacity for critical judgment.

At first, this is surprising because he seems to have such nice parents. His mother is overjoyed to see him, lavishing love on him and calling him by her favorite term of endearment, “My Pretty Boy.” She seems perpetually cheerful, caring and optimistic. His father is an affable, supportive man. It seems like an iconic wholesome home environment.

Jim’s brother reveals himself to be just as clueless and depressed as Jim. Since he already lives at home, his next step is to deliberately drive his vehicle into a tree.

For me, the drama plays out on two levels. The more obvious theme is whether Jim will get his act together and make something out of his life.

But the other theme intrigues me more: how did such nice parents end up raising two losers? What did they do wrong?

One of the employees in his mother’s business is a low-life drug dealer. He offers Jim some drugs and then asks him to open a bank account for him. Because of his sordid reputation, the dealer can’t do this for himself. Incredibly, Jim agrees, presumably because he thinks he’ll have access to some of the drug money himself.

This mistake comes to a head when the dealer uses Jim’s mother’s business address to receive drug shipments, and his mother is arrested. But his mother learns about bail from the other inmates (not her husband!) and gets released. In a telling scene, Jim feels guilt and self-loathing as he tells his mother about his mistake.

“Where did I go wrong?” she asks.

“I don’t know, Mom. Maybe some people shouldn’t be parents.”

His mother doesn’t know how to take that comment, and I think most viewers won’t either. How is it possible to be so nice, so well-liked in the community, so in tune with basic American values and fail as a parent? A major point of the movie seems to be that even good-hearted parents like these can raise children in a positive environment, but by the time the children are adults they aren’t even close to being prepared for life.

To me it’s an important question, because these aren’t the kind of “problem parents” we hear about in the news. No physical, psychological or sexual abuse. No addictions of any kind. No immorality. Not criminals. Not cold, distant or absent. Not emotionally disturbed. The marriage is still intact. Yes, the boys have to take a large measure of responsibility for what they do with their lives. You can’t put it all on the parents. But parents have a huge influence in what kids learn as they grow up, and somehow these parents failed to pass along some critically important values, attitudes, skills and strengths.

To me this wasn’t “just a story” concocted by Hollywood to make a plot interesting. My own parents were like this – good, God-fearing middle-class people who believed they were doing the best they could to raise a family. But as I look back on it, I’m amazed at what was not passed on to me and my siblings. I worked hard and was fortunate in my life, but some of my siblings turned out shockingly like Jim.

These aren’t “problem parents.” I think of them as “unconscious parents.” They love their children and feel they’re doing everything they can one day at a time, but it never occurs to them that they could learn more about parenting. For example, they wouldn’t be likely to take advantage of a program like Strong for Parenting. They aren’t aware that there are several essential parent-child communication skills, so they aren’t trying to improve them. They haven’t reflected on the purpose of parenting, so they don’t have a good sense for what will best prepare a child to be the opposite of Jim: a happy, successful, independent adult.

I’ve always believed that being a parent is one of the most complex and challenging endeavors on Earth, and it amazes me that you need to be instructed, tested and licensed to drive a car, but in today’s world anyone can procreate and become parents without any any training at all. Given this perspective, I see that a big part of my work right now is to create an increasingly higher percentage of “conscious parents.”

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Change the Game – Help Your Teen Become Strong for Success

2011 photo by Angela George

You know who Tiger Woods is. It’s impossible to imagine anyone on the planet who doesn’t. At the age of 37, he’s already a legend. He stormed onto the PGA tour 16 years ago, and a few months later he shocked the golfing world by winning his first Masters by 12 strokes. Since then he has broken almost every record there is in professional golf.

One of the reasons Tiger Woods was able to outplay his competitors is not very well known. He did something that practically none of his fellow professionals was doing: he worked on physical fitness.

He took the approach that it takes both skill and strength to hit a golf ball where you want it to go, and you need to be an athlete to do this well. When the young Tiger began his career, his fellow professionals weren’t working on physical conditioning. Neither had any of the previous legends of golf , such as Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus.

Now they all do. When they discovered that Tiger was beating them because he had a strength advantage as well as a skill advantage, it got their attention. They learned that to beat him they’d have to work out. As a result, nearly every golfer on the pro tour today can drive the golf ball over 300 yards with accuracy. In the old days, this was considered an amazing feat. Now it’s commonplace.Now all the card-carrying pros are athletes, and working on getting stronger to enhance golf performance is the norm.

In other words, Tiger changed the way the game is played. He changed what it would take to win on the pro tour.

I don’t usually write about golf. My subject is helping parents raise their teens to be happy, successful, independent adults.

But I’m suggesting that parents take a lesson from Tiger Woods. I’m suggesting that parents help their teens become stronger as a person in the areas that are critical to success in life and work – even though they aren’t addressed by the school system.

Yes, there have always been kids who have gone to school, participated in sports and worked jobs while preparing to leave the nest. And some of them have done very, very well. Like the past legends of golf, they didn’t have to work on building personal strength to become winners.

But today many young people are still showing up at universities and in the workplace unprepared. Despite their diplomas, they have a lot of catching up to do – IF they want to succeed in life and work.

I’m suggesting that parents can help their kids get involved in personal development strength-building BEFORE they leave home, not playing catch-up once they show up for work. I’m suggesting that young adults work out to improve critical thinking skills, social skills and personal strengths – the capabilities that their future employers complain most of the new hires lack.

Because a young adult who shows up strong in these areas will be able to write his or her own ticket.

A good start is to read my free ebook, The Race Against Time.

Also, I recommend that you to learn more about Strong for Life, an online personal development virtual coaching system for adolescent youth, which focuses on social skills and personal strengths.

You can change the game. You can help your child work out in vital areas young people normally don’t address, to gain a huge edge in life.

Posted in Books, Parenting, Personal strength, Teen brain, Teen Development | Tagged , , , , |

For Parents of Teens: How to Change Your Child’s Behavior

Father: “Hey, son. I thought I asked you to clean and put away the tools after you use them.”
Son: “Oh. Right.”
Father: “Well, the tools you used last night are still on the bench. Why didn’t you put them away?”
Son: “I don’t know. I guess I forgot.”
Father: “I told you if you want to use the tools you have to take care of them.”
Son: “Sorry.”
Father: “I don’t want you to be sorry. I want you to take care of the tools. And keep the work area clean.”
Son: “I’ll take care of it.”
Father: “Am I being unreasonable?”
Son: “No, Dad. I’ll put them away. I’ll try to remember next time.”
Father: “I don’t want you to try. I want you to do it. It’s not that hard, son. It’s about being responsible. Now go do what you should have done last night.”
Son: “Okay.”

In this familiar scenario, the father is frustrated and angry because he feels his teenage son has let him down again. His son didn’t do what he agreed to do. The father feels justified, and he considers himself a good parent because he’s holding his son accountable for being responsible and organized.

But actually the father handled the situation poorly. Not because he’s a bad parent. His intentions were good. It’s because he’s trying to change his son’s behavior, and he doesn’t understand how behavior change works.

You can tell a child to do something differently. He’ll hear you, understand you, agree with you, and even promise to do it that way.

But that doesn’t mean that he’ll start doing it that way. In fact, just the opposite is more likely to happen. He’ll probably forget and do it the old way.

The reason is that most behavior is habit-driven, not decision-driven. His old way is his habit. The new way is not. Yet.

A habit is a behavior that is physically wired in the brain. The wiring happened because the behavior was repeated many, many times. His brain is physically wired to do it the old way.

For him to regularly do what you asked him to do, he’ll have to create a new habit. He’ll have to rewire his brain.

This will take time and persistence on his part, because he’ll have to try hard to consciously stop himself, remember what he agreed to do, and decide to do it that way. If he succeeds, many, many times, he can rewire his brain. Only then will behaving the new way become automatic.

But even if he’s motivated and making an effort, at first he won’t succeed very often. The old habit will kick in, in spite of his good intentions.

He’ll need your understanding, encouragement and support—not criticism, shame or lectures. These familiar reactions will just erode his self-esteem and self-confidence, which will make it even harder for him.

If the father had understood this, he might have handled it another way:

Father: “Son, you forgot to clean and put away the tools last night.”
Son: “Oh, you’re right. I’m sorry. I’ll go do it now.”
Father: “It’s hard to change a habit, isn’t it?”
Son: “It is. Believe it or not, I’m trying. I just forget sometimes.”
Father: “I know. That’s normal. The key is to keep trying. Will you try harder?”
Son: “Sure, Dad.”
Father: “I know you will. I appreciate it. Keep trying and after a while, you’ll forget less often.”
Son: “Okay.”
Father: “Thanks, Son.”

Not many fathers or mothers understand how behavior change works. But now that you’ve read this far, you do. Now you can try to change your own habit of reacting with impatience and anger when your daughter leaves her clothes on the floor, even though she promised to take better care of them.

Good luck! If you forget and lose your temper anyway, don’t get down on yourself. It’s always hard initially to act differently, no matter how much the new behavior makes sense. A little forgiveness and persistence go a long way. Keep trying and eventually it will get easier.

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Child Brain Development – Hardware, Software, and Data

These days, a  hot topic for parents: teen brain development. Books have been written about it. Nearly every magazine that a parent might read, including National Geographic, has had an article about it. I have written extensively about it.

But in all this writing – even in my own – something basic has remained vague. I’m referring to the phrase, “brain development,” and what is meant by it. If parents are to take all the advice and warnings seriously, they need be clear about what’s going on.

Because there are three types of brain development, and they happen in three different stages of human life. Only one of these stages relates to the teen brain. To make these distinctions, I’ll use the digital computer as an analogy – hardware, software and data.

STAGE #1 – BABY – Building the HARDWARE. The first stage happens while the baby is still in the mother’s womb. For nine months, the growing embryo slowly matures into a human child. Starting with a single cell, after nine months the baby’s brain has segmented itself into the many brain areas and has over 100 billion brain cells. Neither the baby nor the mother gets involved in this construction, except to maintain a healthy, undisturbed environment in the womb – and to be patient. At birth, none of these brain cells are wired together yet. The baby has the basic hardware, but neither the software nor the data.

STAGE #2 - CHILD – Programming basic SOFTWARE. In phases throughout early life, the child programs the many areas of his brain. Unlike computer software, which is an off-the-shelf package purchased and downloaded to the computer’s hardware, the child has to build the program himself. He has to wire his own brain. This happens when the child interacts with his world and exercises the basic functions. This activity causes the brain cells to connect into circuits. Not every child gets involved in the same activities, so not every child ends up with the same basic wiring and foundation capacity. The more an area is exercised, the more extensively it is wired. The last area to be wired is the prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of judgment and decision-making, i.e., intellect.

STAGE #3 - ADULT – Downloading add-ons and DATA. Once a brain area has its basic programming, a young person is then able to build on these networks by learning skills, knowledge and information. For example, once a child programs his brain for throwing, he can learn to throw a baseball or a football. Once he learns to swing a stick, he can learn to swing a baseball bat, a tennis racquet, or a golf club. He can learn facts and concepts about the sport, which would aid in performance. This capacity for learning – acquiring add-ons and data and using the basic software – continues throughout adult life.

In my writing I frequently refer to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the area that is wired for basic functioning during adolescence. I sometimes call this the “smart” part of the brain because it’s involved in executive functions such as analysis, evaluation, decision-making, attention control, and foreseeing consequences. Because no other species has anything close to these capabilities, the PFC is the area that makes us uniquely human. We couldn’t be wise without an extensively developed PFC.

A baby has PFC hardware, but not the the software or the data. So throughout early childhood use of the PFC is minimal until adolescence, when a second massive wave of wiring happens in the PFC. Then the child has a chance to construct the wiring for using these executive functions – for being “smart.” After adolescence is over, it’s about learning – inputting add-ons and data to be processed by the basic software.

This is why I emphasize the development of “adolescent brain” (the software of the PFC) as a critical turning point in a person’s life. It’s the time when a young person can do the thinking that will cause the PFC to wire itself. The PFC hardware has a chance to get some “smart” software.

But remember, not everyone ends up with the same software. Some young people work hard and end up with extensive wiring. Adults can provide learning opportunities and encouragement, but no one can do the thinking for him. An extensive network of wiring in the PFC is like having the most robust kind of intellectual software, a massive foundation that will accept an endlessly rich array of add-ons and data. In other words, a superior mind.

And of course, a minimally wired PFC will not.

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Interview with Chris Efessiou – How to Empower the Developing Teen Brain

Here is the recording of my conversation with Chris Efessiou, author of the excellent parenting book, Chief Daddy Officer. In it I reveal some scary things most parents don’t know about their teenagers. For example,  that the developing brains of teenagers can be permanently damaged by alcohol and drugs. And what they need to do to give their child a superior mind, instead of a limited, simple one.

If you want to know what’s really going on in the teen brain, find out what Chris and I talked about:

“How to Empower the Developing Teen Brain” was broadcast October 18, 2012 on the Voice America “Straight-Up with Chris” show.

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Teenagers vs. Adolescents – A Heads-Up for Parents

Most parents think of their child as “officially” an adolescent when they technically become a teenager on their 13th birthday. And they think their project of raising the child to adulthood is pretty much over after high school, when most of these young adults leave the home to join the service, go to college, get a full-time job or get married and start having their own kids. They think raising a teenager is about surviving a strange, perilous 5-year period.

But there’s a big difference between the concept of “teen” and “adolescent.”

By the time a child reaches the age of 13, she may have already been an adolescent for two or three years. Adolescence begins at puberty. It’s the abrupt beginning of a period of accelerated physical and mental growth and eventual maturation, which ends in the early 20s. So we’re talking about roughly a 12-year period, which begins around age 11 (plus or minus) and ends around age 23 (plus or minus).

So while the teen years are hugely important, the real action is adolescence, which extends before and beyond the teens years. Adolescence starts in middle school, not high school. It spans middle school (grades 6-8), high school (grades 9-12) and four years after that (for many, the college years).

Physical growth takes care of itself. The child’s brain releases a hormone that signals the pituitary gland to start releasing growth hormones into the bloodstream. These chemicals stimulate the child’s body to grow, body hair to appear, and the reproductive organs to mature. There’s nothing you can do to slow this process down or speed it up. It’s a phase of life that every normal person experiences at that age. It just happens, and in the early 20s it stops happening. By then, the child is an adult, physically speaking.

Mental maturation is a different story. It takes place during the same span of time, but the child will have work hard to achieve mental maturity. At birth, every normal, healthy child has the basic brain hardware. All parts of a human brain are formed and present, like a new computer ready for an operating system and other software. These basic “programs” are needed to handle the “data” – sensory input and conceptual and stored memories of that input.

To “wire” all the basic functions of the brain, such as seeing, hearing, standing, walking, and talking, a child has to work hard. The brain areas are developed from back to front – the visual area first and the intellectual area last. To stimulate a brain area to connect into circuits, a child has to exercise the function repeatedly. Fortunately, a child is powerfully motivated to see, hear, stand, walk and talk. It’s how a young person becomes a part of the world and gets what she wants.

The last area to be wired is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), located right behind the forehead. It’s in charge of “connecting the dots,” taking input from other parts of the brain and forming meaningful associations. This allows the brain to relate cause and effect, think logically, analyze situations, solve problems, foresee consequences, use judgment and make decisions. In other words, higher-level thinking. The problem is, most adolescents aren’t internally motivated to do the work. They can usually get what they want without exercising critical thinking and judgment.

So a young adult can grow a fully mature body with a relatively immature intellect – and after adolescence the growth period is over and the person has to live with that body and that mind for the rest of her life. She can continue to learn and deal with her world, using and building on the basic intellectual structure. But she’ll forever be limited to the foundation she wired during adolescence. You can’t build a huge mansion on a tiny foundation.

Obviously, mental maturation is way more important than physical maturation. Everyone ends up with an adult body. But whether they end up with a superior mind – or something much more limited – depends on whether they were challenged and encouraged to do a lot of critical thinking and decision making as a young adult.

So if you’re a regular reader of this blog, strictly speaking my purpose is actually not to help you raise a teenager, but to help you raise your child to be a happy, successful, responsible and independent adult – something that has to happen during the entire dozen or so years of adolescence.

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Parents Then and Now – The Best, The Worst, and In Between

That was then.

This is now.

Attitudes about parenting have changed dramatically during my lifetime. When I was young, my parents were “winging it.” Back then, the word “parent” was a noun, not a verb. You didn’t parent your kids. You raised them. My folks raised eight children without reading a single word about parenting. The word “parenting” probably never entered their minds, not even once. They were bringing babies into the world, caring for them, providing food and shelter for them, and keeping them in line until they were old enough to leave home.

To be fair, it was a different world back then. Being a mom or a dad wasn’t something you read about or learned about. It was something you did. And what you did was guided mostly by how you were raised by your own parents. There were few if any books or magazines to instruct them in the fine points.

Just the opposite is true today. There are hundreds of books about parenting. Pick your favorite guru. And the internet is a limitless source of information for parents. The trick is not to find it, but to sort through it. “Parenting” is a well-understood concept now, and the best parents are in a perpetual learning mode.

Today, the best parents are looking for advice, for answers. They’re the kind of people who would do anything to help their child grow up to be a happy, successful, independent adult. And they know this won’t happen because it’s supposed to happen. They know they’ll need luck, but more than that they’ll need to do the right things, because actions have consequences.

The best parents are preparing themselves. They’re doing the work to create a strong bond with their child, along with habits and patterns for sharing and connectedness – so they approach the adolescent years with a foundation of strength.

They’re working on personal development. They appreciate that they need to improve on their own communication skills, because if they can’t connect with their child, they’ll lose their ability to influence the outcome.

And the best parents know they have to be strong in many ways in order to handle the adversity and challenges that will pop up on a regular basis. They have to keep their cool, be patient, persevere, and remain committed to what works.

I say “the best” because not all parents are trying to be the best parents they can be, just as not all kids are doing their best to prepare themselves for adult life. There’s a spectrum from the best to the worst and all those in between. My parents may have been winging it, but they weren’t the worst parents or even bad parents. They were somewhere in between.

What about you? Are you trying to be the best parent you can be? Are you one of those top 10% of parents who are willing to work on communication skills and personal strengths to get ready for the challenges of helping an adolescent prepare for adult life?

If so, I encourage you to visit the Strong For Parenting website.

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West Point Ingrained My Critical Thinking Skills

When I was in high school, I got an A in every subject I ever took. I didn’t find out until later that I hadn’t learned as much as I thought. But man, I knew how to make A’s!

My dad was in the military, so I knew all about West Point. For years I wanted to go to college there and become an Army officer. The problem is, you have to get an appointment, and many of these decisions are made by politicians. Because we moved around a lot, I didn’t grow up in any single state and I didn’t know any senators, congressmen or governors.

I applied for an appointment from Kansas, my dad’s home state. The governor was a busy man and he asked his staff to study the applications and recommend a choice. I guess my resume was pretty strong, because I was one of those selected, even though I had never lived in Kansas.

Talk about luck! I was thrilled. My boyhood dream had come true.

After I got there, I didn’t feel so lucky. Yes, the experience was pretty much what I had imagined it would be, but much more. All classes were mandatory—over 20 credit hours per semester. I even attended classes on Saturday. I found out there were a lot of guys my age who were smarter than I was. It was humbling. I wasn’t used to that feeling, and I didn’t like it. It motivated me to work as hard as I could, in spite of the pressures, which were many.

There was a lot more to being a cadet than attending class. There was a rule book two inches thick, and I served many weekend “punishment tours” for my failures to comply. Upperclassmen were not allowed to befriend freshmen or call them by their first name. On the other hand, they were allowed to harass us.

On Sunday, attendance at Protestant, Catholic or Jewish chapel was mandatory. We marched in formation to services. We also marched in parades twice a week. I came to hate parades and martial music. We weren’t allowed to leave the West Point campus, even on weekends. Back then, freshmen weren’t even allowed to go home for Christmas.

Participation in a varsity or intramural sport was required every semester. Instead of three months of vacation, most of the summer involved military training. This “system” was designed to put a ton of pressure on cadets and weed out those who couldn’t handle it. More than a hundred of my classmates left or were forced out during my freshman year.

By the time I was a senior I had become a better student, and my GPA was in the top 5% of my class. I was proud and happy to graduate and began my career as an Army officer.

Still, I always thought of my time at West Point as a mixed bag. I’ve return to visit the place several times since then, and there have been some positive changes. But I always felt uneasy and was glad to leave.

Now that I’ve learned that adolescence is a one-time-only chance to lay down the foundation for a superior mind, I realize that I got lucky in another way by attending West Point.

You see, in high school I was able to make good grades without thinking seriously about what I was learning, and I had no mentors who made me think. My real passions were writing poetry and playing golf. I played 18 holes of golf every day, weather permitting. As I recall those years, I realize I did very little to construct a foundation for critical thinking and judgment.

My courses at West Point changed that. They were challenging and sometimes interesting, even though I used very little of what I learned in my career. On the other hand, the courses made me think. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was trying like crazy to exercise my prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain involved in critical thinking and judgment - in practically every course: civil engineering, fluid mechanics, strength of materials, quantum physics, and nuclear engineering required a lot of thought and problem solving. Math courses involved studying a procedure at night and the next day solving three problems on a blackboard without referring to the text. At random, one of us would be called on to explain his work in front of the others – for a grade. Military history was all about analyzing why battles were won and lost. Even English classes forced me not just to read literature, but to understand it.

Yes, the experience was arduous, but my time at West Point was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me. By doing the work I constructed a massive foundation for critical thinking, judgment and problem solving. Today, I use this foundation to connect the dots about learning and development.

So – Thank you, West Point. Of course, going to a school like that isn’t the only way to build a foundation for critical thinking, but it worked for me. It was tough medicine, and it did the job. And when it was over, so was my adolescence.

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Chief Daddy Officer – Loving Father ‘Leads’ His Daughter

This is a unique book on parenting. Chris Efessiou, a highly successful entrepreneur and executive, believes that the personal strengths and interpersonal skills essential to effective leadership also apply to being an effective parent. I’ve always believed this, and in his book, CDO – Chief Daddy Officer, he makes a strong case.

I love the way he gets right to the point, illustrating his message with stories from his experience of raising his daughter. There’s so much to say that parents need to hear, and in this brief book he covers most of the major topics. And they do, indeed, have parallels to being a manager: goal-setting, planning, authority, communication, empowerment, team-building and accountability.

His writing is clear and straightforward, and it contains a lot of wisdom I haven’t seen in other parenting books. Here are some of my favorites:

“Saying ‘Because I told you so’ too many times is like saying, ‘Ask someone else’ or ‘Find out some other way.’ It is a fact of life that children will then ask someone else or find out another way, and at that point you will have lost your opportunity to influence your child.”

“The problem is that too many of us do all our parenting when there is a disagreement or conflict.”

“How often during the course of a week are we taking the time to instruct our children in an important skill or value?”

“Some parents have confused the need to encourage with the idea of getting rid of standards of behavior or performance altogether.”

“If a teenager gets yelled at for missing curfew one weekend and has it overlooked the next, she will not realistically know what is expected of her, no matter what the ‘rules’ are.”

“Above everything else, listening and observing your children shows them you respect them.”

Good stuff! This is a fresh “loving father” perspective on parenting, with hundreds of useful insights. I found that I agreed with the author 100%. If you’re actively parenting a child now and want ideas that work, I strongly recommend that you read this book.

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A Coach and a Miracle – Autistic Boy Becomes Sports Hero

It’s an amazing story. A high school basketball coach gives Jason McElwain, an enthusiastic autistic boy, a role as team manager. In his senior year, the coach promises him a jersey and a chance to play in the game on Senior Night. Luckily, the team has a nice point spread, so the coach puts him in during the last few minutes. The crowd is thrilled and the players are good sports about it, feeding the boy the ball.

And then he makes one long-range basket after another, scoring 20 points, including a buzzer-beater at NBA three-point range, to become the leading scorer of that game. The crowd storms the floor and hoists him on their shoulders – a sports hero! Later, he and his coach are interviewed on practically every national TV venue. They win an ESPY award. They meet the President. Studios want to make movies.

How could this happen?

This is the true story of A Coach and a Miracle, a book by the coach, Jim Johnson, and the co-author, Mike Latona. It’s the story about the  kind of coach you want your child to play for, a man who cares more about developing his players as human beings than he does about winning–even though he cares very much about winning.

And it’s a story about helping mentally challenged kids to reach their full potential, which is far greater than most adults believe it is.

Here’s what happened that night…

If you know a mentally challenged child, you need to read this book.

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Study: Using Marijuana Can Make Teens Stupid – Permanently

A new study has concluded that teenagers who smoke pot suffer a significant drop in IQ that persists even if they stop smoking it later in life.

The article doesn’t explain why, except for this statement by lead researcher Madeline Meier of Duke University: “Parents should understand that their adolescents are particularly vulnerable.”

Well, there is an explanation.

During adolescence, a child’s brain experiences one final stage of brain development. It’s in the area called the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain involved in “connecting the dots” – analysis, judgement, decision making and critical thinking. I sometimes refer to this as “the smart part of the brain,” because what it does makes us far more intelligent than any other animal species.

The PFC is located right behind the forehead. Like all other areas of the brain, development there starts with “blossoming,” when every brain cell there sprouts thousands of tiny connector fibers called dendrites. The connections that are used when the teen exercises critical thinking are reinforced. This causes permanent neural pathways to form, the kind of foundation wiring that gives a young person “a superior mind.”

But it’s “use it or lose it,” because at the end of adolescence, when the developmental window closes, the connections that weren’t used regularly are absorbed by the body and lost forever. What’s left is the permanent foundation for higher-level thinking.

This process – like any earlier phase of brain development – can be disrupted by the presence of alcohol or drugs. For this reason, doctors routinely warn expectant mothers that using cigarettes, alcohol or drugs during pregnancy can permanently damage the brain of the unborn child. After birth, small children typically don’t abuse alcohol or drugs, so more of this kind of brain damage during early childhood isn’t usually a problem.

But brain development isn’t over when teenagers begin experimenting with these substances. And the PFC, the area involved in the sensitive window of development during adolescence, happens to be the area most critically involved in intelligence. If a teen becomes a regular user, the “stupidity” effects won’t last just a few days. Getting high or drunk can cause disruption of normal brain development during a time when the foundation for critical thinking is under construction.

The potential consequences for what might otherwise seem like harmless fun are enormous. The “stupidity” could become permanent.

This is shocking, isn’t it? And very few parents know about this danger. And practically no teens.

But now you know. Is this information shocking enough to share with other parents?

My article about teen use of alcohol…

Teen use of pot is on the rise…

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Teen Sex – A Crisis with a Solution

For the past few years I’ve been interviewing adults about their adolescent experiences. I always ask, “What did your parents tell you about sex?” Ninety-five percent of the time the answer is, “Nothing.”

I remember the one and only time the topic of sex came up in conversation with my parents. I was sitting on my bed reading a book and my mother stopped at my door.

“You know about sex, don’t you?” she asked.

Her bolt-out-of-the-clear-blue-sky question took me by surprise – and embarrassed me. I didn’t know what to say. I thought I knew some things. After all, my buddies and I talked about it endlessly.

So I smiled at her and said, “Sure, Mom.” And she went on her way, just as I hoped she would. In retrospect, I guess she thought she had done her job. She could tell my dad that we had “the talk.” Indeed, the subject never came up again.

The good news – None of my pre-marital sex partners got pregnant, and we didn’t contract any diseases. But it wasn’t because I was informed or exercised good judgment. I was lucky.

This memory was inspired by a documentary I watched recently, called Let’s Talk About Sex. Directed primarily at adults, it’s a realistic view of teen sex in the U.S. and how our culture influences teen sexual behavior.

Obviously, in America sex sells. It’s everywhere – TV, movies, advertisements, and oh yeah, baby, all over the internet.

According to the movie (released in 2009), about 10,000 teens contract a sexually transmitted disease every day.

And nearly 2,500 teen girls get pregnant every day.

Over 70% of teens have had sex, whether or not they’ve taken vows of chastity in their church, and even though 50% of their parents believe they haven’t.

It was interesting to find out that it’s not like this in many other modern countries.

Where do you stand?

Which do you want kids to believe about human sexuality?
A. It’s a nasty, dangerous part of the world out there that you need to protect yourself from at all costs.
B. It’s a natural part of who you are that you need to learn about so you can treat it with respect and responsibility.

Should adults give teens full information about sex?
A. No, the subject is taboo. You’d just be tantalizing them and teaching them how to get in trouble.
B. Yes, because it’s a health issue. Without understanding how to take care of themselves, kids are likely to get in trouble.

If a girl finds out that a guy carries a condom, she should conclude…
A. He’s a creep or a pervert, because he’s probably looking for a chance to use it.
B. He’s responsible, because he wants to avoid STDs or getting a girl pregnant.

You can see that sex education is a polarizing issue, at least in the U.S. The documentary contrasts American culture with European cultures, which handle the issue differently.

If you want to know where I stand…

Kids aren’t getting the information they need. And when they get it, it’s too little too late.

I don’t think sex education should be a health issue. If churches get involved, they should be doing all they can to give full information to teens. The goal should be to dramatically reduce the incidence of unprotected teen sex, teen pregnancies, and cases of STD.

The whole point of the teen years is to help kids learn how to be responsible, successful, happy and independent adults. How can they learn how to handle sex decisions and responsibility without practicing it while re growing up? Do we really want teens to learn about sex from other teenagers, rather than from adults?

Some parents are doing a better job these days; but they’re going against the grain of our culture. Other parents still find it awkward to talk about sex with their kids, so they put off doing it.

Just like my parents.

Of course, teens need a “heads up” about more than sex. Some good resources for parents who want to prepare for these talks…

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Straight Talk for Teens – Young People Sharing Perspectives

One of the perplexing things about teenagers is that they tend to trust the input of their peers more than the advice of their own parents – perhaps because they feel their friends understand their situation better.

Understanding this dynamic and appreciating teens’ acute need for guidance, Lauren Forcella created a website called Straight Talk for Teens, which gives young people access to practical, experience-based advice from a panel of over 85 young people of their own generation (Lauren usually gives her perspective, too).

The service has been online since 2004, so teens can search for or ask for input on an impressive array of topics. The advice is consistently candid and useful, offered from a variety of perspectives.

On tough issues: depression in teens, runaway teens, troubled teens, teen cutting, suicidal teens, teen drinking, texting and driving accidents, pregnant teens, STD testing, gay rights issues, drug use among teens, marijuana and pharmaceutical use by teens, drug rehab, date rape statistics, and overcoming pornography.

On trends and fashions: tattoo cover up, Halloween costumes, emo clothes, prom dresses, and body piercing jewelry.

On relationships, Family & School: parenting teens, advice on dating, peer pressure facts, teens and divorce, overweight teens, healthy eating for teens, home school programs, college majors, time management, stress management, and life skills for teens. Work & Play: We cover summer jobs for teens, job interview techniques, jobs for college students, leadership activities and community service ideas.

And more. The advice also appears in many newspapers as a syndicated column.

Parents, teachers and other adults who work with teens use the site as a window into the mind and world of teenagers. Maybe you should find out what’s going on there…you might learn a few things!

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Teen Hero at the Aurora, Colorado Shooting

Of course we’d all like to know why that orange-haired loser assembled an arsenal and started shooting people at random in a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing twelve. But meanwhile, there have been quite a few interesting stories about the victims of this tragedy. One in particular caught my eye.

Jarrell Brooks

In Mark Memmott’s NPR article, he describes the truly heroic actions of Jarrell Brooks, an 18-year-old young man who shielded a mother, her four-year old daughter and infant son with his body. Although he was subsequently shot in the leg, he protected them as he guided them out of the theater.

Wow. Would you have been able to do that?

Now the interesting part. The young mother was at the theater with another guy – her boyfriend. Where was he? According to an interview cited in The Denver Post, he said he reacted by “hurdling over a row of seats and running for his life, disoriented.”

And after he made his way to safety, I wonder what he was thinking…about the girlfriend and the small children he abandoned.

Jarrell Brooks had the personal strengths of compassion, composure and courage ingrained in his brain.

The other guy didn’t.

It made me wonder what kind of parenting Jarrell had. What kind of life experiences he was lucky enough to participate in that helped him develop that kind of personal strength. What teachers and mentors he may have had that helped him learn how to think straight, foresee consequences and exercise good judgment, even when his life was in danger.

And it made me wonder what was missing in the upbringing of the other guy….

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How Moms of Addicted Children Share and Get Support

The Addict’s Mom. It’s a blog. It’s a forum. It’s a chatroom. It’s a Facebook page. It’s resources and support. Thousands of parents who have addicted children have found help and a place where they can “share without shame.”

The Addict’s Mom was founded by Barbara Theodosiou, who discovered that two of her sons were struggling with addiction. In pain and not knowing where to turn, she  knew that  other mothers had to be going through the same challenge. So she formed her first Addict’s Mom Group on Facebook. That group now has over 3,400 members. This first group spawned other groups, such as The Addict, The Addict’s Dad, and The Addict’s Mom Closed Group. All groups combined number over 8,000. In response to a broader need, in April 2012 Barbara began a membership site that has grown to nearly 2,000 members.

I’ve visited The Addict’s Mom resource groups many times, and these are vibrant, positive communities. The blog features new posts several times a week. Each article shares many resources. The membership site has an active forum, chat room, blog, and more.

If you have an addicted child and need help, this is a good place to start.

The blog

The membership site

The Facebook page

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Playing Chess Can Boost Your Child’s Intellect – Permanently

If you’ve followed my blog, you know I often write about adolescence as the sensitive time of life during which a child’s brain can be wired for basic critical thinking skills. The window of opportunity opens at puberty and closes sometime in the early twenties. Foreseeing consequences, exercising logic and managing decisions can stimulate brain cells to connect. Only the brain cells that wire together will fire together, and they have to fire a lot to form a neural pathway. And it’s use it or lose it. By the time you’re a young adult, the window has closed and whatever foundation for higher-level thinking you established in youth is what you have to work with for the rest of your life.

In my research I’ve found quite a few strategies that help teens take advantage of adolescence to build a superior mind. One of these is playing chess.

I recently read an article, “The Kings and Queens of Brownsville,” by Jazmine Ulloa, which tells the story of hundreds of students in that impoverished, southernmost part of Texas who compete in local tournaments that decide who will go on to compete at state and national levels.

In the Brownsville area, kids begin learning chess in kindergarten and continue to develop their skills in school programs and in college. The tournaments get so much community support that the streets and parking lots of this Texas city of 175,000 are overwhelmed.

The chess program began modestly in 1989 when a teacher named J.J. Guajardo thought it would keep students from getting in trouble. It captured the kids’ interest, grew from a couple dozen enthusiasts to several hundred. Today, playing chess has become what the cool kids do.

The program has produced several national champions and chess grandmasters. Juliet Garcia, president of the University of Texas at Brownsville, says, “The discussion is not really about chess, is it? It’s about how the brain really works.” Local school officials claim that playing chess has boosted students’ self-confidence and developed critical thinking and memory skills. They point to improvements in academics and higher state standardized testing scores. This in a community where a third of the population does not have proficiency in English.

But to get the benefits, a kid has to become a player. He has to do the work. And if he does, the part of the brain involved in judgment will wire itself, affecting the child’s ability to reason, solve problems and make decisions. The advantages throughout adult life will be enormous.

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Low Self-Esteem – One of the Perils of Being a Teenager

It’s unfortunate that so many teenagers feel miserable…

  • Maybe they can’t afford the clothes the cool kids wear – I WON’T BE POPULAR.
  • Maybe they lag behind in reading and basic learning skills – I’M NOT SMART.
  • Maybe they were born into a poor family – I’M NOT WORTHY
  • Maybe they’re small in stature – I WON’T BE PICKED FOR THE TEAM
  • Maybe they weren’t taught good social skills – I WON’T FIT IN
  • Maybe they’re slow to develop physically – I’M NOT ATTRACTIVE
  • Maybe they’re susceptible to acne – I’M UGLY
  • Maybe they’ve made mistakes – I’M A BAD PERSON, I’M INADEQUATE

When you were a teen, did you ever experience any of these negative thoughts? I know I did.

It’s a tough time of life, even a perilous time. I wouldn’t be a teenager for anything in the world. All the above thoughts lead to low self-esteem. The consequences of considering yourself inferior are almost never good.

Teenagers know they’re growing up; they don’t want to be thought of as children anymore. They want to feel grown up. But deep down, they know they’re not. This makes them feel unhappy and insecure, Which leads them to desperately want to be liked, which leads them to be vulnerable to peer pressure, which leads them down the wrong paths.

Some things an adult can do to help…

  • Talk to them on an adult level. Don’t call them names or judge them as if there was something wrong with them.
  • Treat them with respect. Don’t abuse them or infringe on their basic rights as human beings.
  • When they deserve it, tell them what you liked about what they did.
  • Affirm their good qualities, based on actions you’ve observed.
  • Affirm their potential.
  • Pass on wisdom and life skills.
  • Ask them questions that help them think through their own problems.
  • They will make mistakes, so help them learn the lesson rather than berating them.

Was there an adult in your life who made you feel valued and helped you grow stronger as a person?

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When Your Child Is Bullied – What to Do

Bullying is a big problem for a lot of kids. It’s a problem because it happens so often, and an attack on a child, whether physical or psychological, can cause unfortunate consequences. The “if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger” principle is useless here. Bullying doesn’t make most kids stronger. It humiliates the victims, robs them of self-esteem, distracts from a healthy focus on education and other wholesome activities, and can make a kid hate school. An emotionally fragile teen might even consider suicide.

Half the people I’ve talked to about their youth said they were victims of bullying. I remember being attacked by bullies a couple times myself when I was young. I was a small kid, the perfect target. I coped with it by steering clear of these jerks.

One author, Vanessa Van Petten, devotes an entire chapter of her book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded? (2011) to this topic. She tells kids to make a habit of hanging out with groups of friends, especially if one of them is physically strong enough to stand up to a bully. She even conducts workshops with teens and parents. She recommends that victims inform authorities and their parents, so these adults can contact the bully’s parents to confront and resolve the issue.

David Walsh, author of Why Do They Act That Way? (2004) recommends that the victim try ignoring verbal harassment. Bullies like getting a reaction, and when they don’t get it they sometimes stop. If not, he agrees that authorities should contact the parents. As a high school counselor, he would call the bullies’ parents, tell them what was happening, and ask them to make it stop so he wouldn’t have to bring it to the principal’s attention – a tactic that worked most of the time.

Bullies experience the same hormone surge, emotional reactions and aggressiveness that other kids do at that age, but they’re maturing physically faster, and they often feel resentment and anger in their personal lives. They think attacking weaker kids will make them feel better about themselves. The tragedy is that repeated behavior gets ingrained, and a kid who bullies could carry that behavior pattern into adult life. It’s a common mistake, but it makes life miserable for the people around them.

Picking on a defenseless victim marks the bully as a coward, says Larry Winget, author of Your Kids Are Your Own Fault (2010). So they don’t get the satisfaction they seek when their victims fight back and will usually back off when kids stand up to them. Of course this tactic might result in some scrapes and bruises. But Winget feels that the adult world has heartless people who push people around, too, and it’s good for kids to learn how handle bullies when they’re young.

One of my best friends told me a story about growing up in a tough part of town. He said his was the only white family in the neighborhood. Plus, when he was young he was the smallest kid in his class. To get to school every day, he had to walk past older kids who didn’t like him and enjoyed beating him up.

He complained to his uncle, a police officer. His uncle sympathized but had bigger crimes to attend to. So he recommended the defend-yourself approach. He showed my friend his night stick and told him how to make one himself. Handy with tools, he fashioned a formidable club, and his uncle showed him how to use it.

The next time he walked the gauntlet of the tough neighborhood, the bullies approached him as usual. But this time my friend was able to inflict his own damage with a fury of well-placed blows.

He was never bothered again.

When my colleague Meredith Bell‘s daughter was 15 she earned a black belt in karate. Fortunately, she never had to use her skills. But I’m sure she would have been able to defend herself if she had to. Martial arts programs can do more than teach fighting skills. Along the way the best ones teach teach self-respect, self-confidence and other personal strengths.

So if you find out your kid is being bullied, do the child a favor. Don’t treat it as an isolated incident, figuring the problem will work itself out. Do something about it.

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The Teen Years – A Scary Time of Life

I often say that “the teen years are a perilous time of life,” meaning that bad things can and do happen. Sometimes really bad things. Like a teenager being killed. If you think this is an overstatement, consider the sad case of Kristina Lowe. When she was 18, a combination of alcohol, marijuana, speeding and texting while driving caused her to lose control of her vehicle one icy night, killing two of her teen friends.

These tragedies are not uncommon. I live near San Antonio, Texas, and I read news stories like this so often that I no longer collect them.

Recently I’ve been thinking about Bill, one of my best friends when I was a high school freshman. I loved hanging out with Bill because we’d listen to our favorite music while talking about girls. He was good-looking, charming and confident, and he dressed like a college fraternity brother. He had a knowing air about him and often gave me fatherly advice about romance. At parties, he was the man.

After freshman year, my family moved to Germany and I lost track of Bill. But now, more than 50 years later, one of my old friends from that era mentioned in an email that Bill was killed in a drunken driving accident during his freshman year at college. He was driving too fast and ran off the road. It was terrible to hear, but Bill was a super-confident party animal kind of guy. As bad as I felt, the story didn’t surprise me.

Part of the problem is that most teens are not inclined to think about the future. The here-and-now is where the excitement is. The threat of death as a consequence doesn’t bother them because they don’t think much about cause and effect and consequences. They don’t appreciate that life is fragile and precious or that they, too, could die. The only people talking about exciting times are the survivors. The dead have no way to advise them.

This is why the “wise aunt” and the “wise uncle” in my books talk about a long life having a finite, undetermined number of years. In both books, the young person has to cope with the death of a loved one.

Talking to young kids about sex is so awkward and daunting that even today many parents don’t do a very good job of it. The thing is, kids need a “heads up” about other difficult issues, too. That’s why I wrote the books Conversations with the Wise Aunt and Conversations with the Wise Uncle.

Now there are discussion guides for these books so parents, instructors, coaches, counselors and other mentors can carry on intelligent conversations about the most important topics. You can download them FREE.

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Larry Winget – Your Kids Are Your Own Fault

Over the decades, a lot of bad advice for parents has been published. Strategies such as false praise, helicopter parenting and permissiveness may have played to parents’ fears of losing the love of their child, but the consequences have been horrendous.

After watching in-your-face truth-teller Larry Winget’s entertaining speech to 2012 graduates, I decided it was time for me to read his parenting book, Your Kids Are Your Own Fault (2010).

Larry Winget, best-selling author, TV personality and celebrated speaker, describes himself as a one-trick pony. In his own words, “There is one central theme in all that I do. That central theme is personal responsibility.”

Also, he’s brutally honest and forthcoming when he dispenses advice. Reading one of his books is like talking with somebody with a hair-trigger bullshit detector, a grasp of the facts and an absolute certainty about the truth. When he “tells it like it is,” he knows he makes a lot of people feel uncomfortable, but he doesn’t care. Too much is at stake to mince words. It’s a style that doesn’t always go down easy. One of my Twitter followers described him as a “blowhard.”

As I read Your Kids Are Your Own Fault, I found that I didn’t agree with everything he said. But I did agree with 99% of it. And I love his style. For example, the current tendency to diagnose kids with attention deficit disorders and medicate them to be compliant in the classroom is a matter of controversy. Here’s Larry’s take on it, and no, he doesn’t mince words:

“Medication is easier to administer than discipline. It takes ten seconds to get your kid to swallow a pill. It takes a constant 24/7/365 effort to discipline your child.”

“Teachers have twenty-five little monsters who aren’t paying attention and are looking out the window, picking their noses and eating their boogers instead of learning their lessons. When one or two in the class need some extra attention in order to behave, rather than messing with the fragile psyche of the child by putting him in the corner like Mrs. Bowman did to me, some teachers call the parents of the kid and suggest Ritalin.”

“Okay, it’s your kid and not mine. I am just expressing my opinion here. But tell me how the baby boomers, the most productive generation in the history of our nation, were able to accomplish so much without childhood drugs? How did all of us deal with our hyperactivity without medication? The answer: Our parents and teachers busted our skinny little butts and told us to shut up, sit still and pay attention! That’s how.”

I think that’s what my Twitter friend meant by “blowhard.” On the other hand, I agree with Larry on this one. Plus, I like the way he grabs your attention and makes you think about what he’s saying.

He also says:

“Kids mess up. It’s what they do. I see it all the time and so do you. I lived with it for lots of years with my own boys. But sometimes I realized that my kids were messing up because they didn’t know any better. That is often the case; kids don’t do the right thing because no one has communicated what the right thing is. As parents, we often expect something from our kids they can’t deliver because we failed to communicate with them what we expected. When that happens, and the kid messes up, it is actually our own failure, not the kid’s.”

That may make some parents uncomfortable, but it’s the truth. Kids can’t read their parents’ minds. More on this:

“When you communicate your expectations, it is important at the same time to also communicate what happens when those expectations are either met or not met.”

“All actions have consequences. Even non-action has consequences. This alone is a great lesson to teach your child.”

Another example of in-your-face truth telling:

“People tell their kids, ‘You can be whatever you want to be.’ That isn’t realistic. You should not be telling your kid that he can be whatever he wants to be. Why? Because he can’t….The truth is that he can be whatever he has the basic talent for being and is willing to work hard enough to become using that talent. That is a realistic statement based in fact. It doesn’t sound as fairy-tale-like and it doesn’t have quite the ring to it that ‘You can be whatever you want to be’ has, but it’s the truth.”

Multiply the above quotes by 100 and you pretty much have Your Kids Are Your Own Fault: A Guide for Raising Responsible, Productive Adults.

I think kids need to hear the truth. I really do. And I think parents need to hear it, too. That’s why this book is one of my top parenting books.

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Larry Winget’s Work Ethic Message to Graduates

Larry Winget

My colleague, Meredith Bell, has published an article about truth-telling author and speaker, Larry Winget. You’ve heard the phrase, “tell it like it is.” Often called “the pit bull of personal development,” Larry is famous for telling it like it is.

My favorite book by Larry is on parenting – Your Kids Are Your Own Fault – A Guide for Raising Responsible, Productive Adults. I just love what this guy has to say.

As I write this, schools everywhere are graduating their senior classes. It just isn’t possible for any of these gatherings to hear a better graduation speech than the one Larry Winget gave on the set of Fox News. So I’m featuring it here in case you know any graduates who’ll be looking for work and need to know the score.

Watch the video…

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Meredith and I have spent hours talking about the importance of a work ethic. Here’s my article on the awful things that happen to kids who were never encouraged to developed one…

Another great graduation speech – by the late Steve Jobs…

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Why Parents Need a Better Book about the Teen Brain

I’ve been writing about the teen brain for several years now, and I’m currently gathering the most important insights into a book for parents. I’m doing this knowing that during the past eight to ten years dozens of articles and about ten books about the teen brain have already been published. Why not just refer readers to the best of these works? Why another book about the teen brain?

The reason is that while all these articles and books report the research findings, they fail to get to the heart of the matter. Some of them communicate well to parents, but they get the science wrong. Some of them get the science right, but they don’t communicate well to parents or tell them what they need to know. There are several hugely important insights and recommendations that parents of teens desperately need, and they aren’t coming through in these books.

A good example is an excellent book I read recently, Welcome to Your Child’s Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College (Bloomsbury, 2011), by Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., and Sam Wang, Ph.D.

Parents will be engaged by the title. They need to know about their child’s brain, because there are sensitive windows of development with outcomes that last a lifetime. There are certain things parents need to do and not do at certain times, and they need to know what these actions are.

One thing I appreciate about this book is that it’s thorough and responsible. It gets the science right. Better than any book I’ve read, it makes the point that there are specific developmental stages. The authors have studied and worked in neuroscience for years, and the science they cite is up-to-date. I’m an avid reader of books like this, and I loved the extensive glossary, the hundreds of notes and scientific references, and the detailed index. I enjoyed this book far more than the pop science treatments of the teen brain that get some of the science wrong.

But all this rigor becomes a problem. It’s as if the authors wanted to write a book for parents, and they ended up writing a book for other scholars and scientists. For example, the development of the prefrontal cortex happens during adolescence and is hugely important to the development of the basic structure of a child’s intellect. Here’s what the authors have to say about it:

“One sign that adolescent brains are becoming more efficient is that activity is better coordinated between distant brain areas. This improvement is seen in signals varying together (coherency) and traveling over distances more quickly. White matter is only 85 per cent of adult size and continues to grow even into the forties. As white matter grows, axonal fibers are likely to be widening, and fatter axons transmit signals at higher speeds. Because white-matter axons mediate communication between distant brain regions, this change is likely to have strong functional implications – though at present we don’t know what they are.”

And: “In a longitudinal study of children, the pattern of developmental changes in cortical thickness predicted intelligence more strongly than did the adult configuration at age twenty. Dendritic branching in neurons was also correlated with intelligence in a few studies.”

This is a technically responsible way to describe the research. But what does this mean to a typical parent? I’ve been studying brain science for over 25 years and I found the description challenging. If you say important things to parents in a way that makes it hard for them to understand, you confuse them.

The problem is while the authors know their business, they’ve been writing about these topics professionally for scientific peer review for more than a decade, and this is how they’re used to writing about them. But this kind of writing doesn’t communicate to parents. There are some important points to be made, but what parents need to know is mostly buried in this kind of review of research.

I think very few parents will be able to wade through all this technical description. But if they do they’ll be convinced that there are stages of brain development that are important to the successful growing up of their child. But aside from being aware of the stages, what should they do as parents? There’s not much of this in the book, and what’s here is hard to find among the 300 pages of responsible scientific journalism.

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Will Watching Violent Video Games Affect Your Teen’s Behavior?

An issue has been preoccupying my mind – young people who watch violent video games.

In the entertainment world, the video game business is much bigger than the movie industry, with more than $10 billion spent on video game devices and programs every year. In 1996 the US Marine Corps licensed the video game “Doom II” in order to create their own combat simulation game to train soldiers for combat. According to news reports, Norwegian Anders Breivik, who went on a bombing and shooting rampage and killed 77 innocent people, claimed he watched the video game “Call of Duty” for hours on end to sharpen his killing skills.

Only 2 or 3 teenagers out of 100 didn’t watch a video game last year, and half of the top-selling games contained violence. If you kill enough people, you get to go to the next level. The question is, are these violent video games harmful to children?

Dr. David Walsh thinks so. He’s the author of the best-selling book about teens, Why Do They Act That Way (Free Press, 2004), and president and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family. Here’s his position.

There are actually two sides to this issue. One side points to disturbing studies. The other side says the studies are flawed and inconclusive. It reminds me of the public arguments over whether smoking is harmful or whether humans are contributing to global warming. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons.

And here’s my two cents, if you’re interested.

Behavior patterns are created when a person repeats an action often enough that the brain cells involved physically wire together. A life habit results, and the neural pathway is permanent. And the brain doesn’t care whether it’s a beneficial behavior or a destructive one. Repeat it often enough and the brain will wire itself to do it automatically. It’s one of the most important things the brain does; it’s a survival mechanism.More on this…

If a kid plays “World of Warcraft” often enough, his developing brain is going to wire itself for the behaviors involved in playing the game. What if some of those behaviors are the attitude that the game is totally fiction, crazy fun having nothing to do with the real world? Then probably it won’t lead to murder and terror. Maybe the kid will turn out to be a great humanitarian. Who knows what kids are feeling and thinking when they play these games? I don’t. Do you?

These video games aren’t the cause. Like guns don’t cause murder. Murderers with guns do. Money isn’t the root of all evil. It’s the root of a lot of good, too. But money in the wrong hands….

So maybe you think “it’s just a game” and it’s a good way to keep them off the street. Maybe it even gets them interested in computers. Well, it is just a game and it does keep them off the streets, at least for a while.

For me, the bottom line is a question for parents who think it’s cool for their kids to play these games hours on end: “Do you feel lucky today?”

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Your Child Can Develop a Brilliant Mind – Or not…

The human brain has dozens and dozens of areas that perform special tasks. While a baby is born with a complete brain, it’s like a brand new computer with no software and no data. So throughout childhood, the outer layer of the brain, the cerebral cortex – where “programs” and “data” are stored – programs its “operating system.”

Each area of the cortex begins a window of development in which the foundation for that function gets wired up. As the child tries to perform the function – such as sight, hearing, physical coordination, crawling, walking, talking, etc., the brain cells in that area of the brain connect with each other. As brain scientists like to say, “the brain cells that fire together wire together.” At the end of the period of development, The dendrites not used in the programing wither away and are absorbed by the body, and the process of building a foundation of basic capability for that area is over. The more exercise the particular area got, the more it wired itself, and the greater the platform of functionality.

Not all areas wire themselves at the same time. One of the first areas to wire itself is the visual cortex. Newborn babies don’t see much, because that area of the brain isn’t developed yet. But immediately they begin working like crazy every day to make sense of the information sent by the optic nerve to the brain. This is why visual stimulation is so important at that age. A child who is exposed to a rich variety of colors and shapes and textures will grow up with “an eye for detail.” But if a baby were were kept in total darkness all the time during the first year of life, the window of development for the visual cortex would open and close without creating the programs for sight. The child would be essentially blind.

The last area of the cortex to develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is located behind the forehead. This is the area that “connects the dots.” It forms associations and creates meaning and comprehension. So it relates cause and effect, envisions future consequences, evaluates information, performs logical reasoning, coordinates problem solving, decision making, planning, organizing and managing. You can see why they call it the “executive” part of the brain. When we say someone has a “brilliant” mind, we’re talking about the prefrontal cortex.

Scientists now know that this area begins development at puberty. The window for laying down the basic wiring for critical thinking lasts about 12 years – the entire period of adolescence. Exactly like the other areas, development begins with “blossoming,” as thousands of dendrites sprout from every brain cell in the area. But they aren’t connected to anything. Like the other areas, the dendrites connect to other brain cells only when the person uses that brain area. The more it’s used, the more robust the network of wiring. Sometime in the early twenties, the window of development closes, and all the dendrites that weren’t used die off. Use it or lose it.

IMPORTANT – Development of this area is different from development of the other areas, in two significant ways.

First, the stakes are really high. When adolescence is over and a person is a physically mature adult, he or she will end up with a brilliant mind or a dull, simple one – or somewhere in between. I know people who are healthy, skilled and nice people, but they don’t reason very well. They have a hard time with conceptual thinking. On their own, they don’t connect the dots very well. I’m sure you’ve met people like this – good people, normal people, but far from being brilliant thinkers.

For example, I once knew this perfectly normal teenager who had good, decent parents and grew up in a nice, quiet suburban neighborhood. But throughout his teen years and well into his twenties, all he cared about was accessorizing his car. He never once had a clue about what he wanted to do after high school. So after graduation he continued to live at home and finally got a job working in an auto body shop at the age of 31. He fathered a child but didn’t marry the woman. There was nothing wrong with him. But I spoke with him several times and I can tell you for sure that this guy doesn’t ponder cause and effect and doesn’t think about the future. Basically, he wasn’t one of the lucky ones who had adults in his life who stimulated him to think for himself when he was a teenager. His adolescence came and went and he ended up with an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. It could happen to anyone. It happens all the time.

This leads me to the second important difference. The development of the prefrontal cortex isn’t like learning to walk or talk. It isn’t a phase we all go through as we grow up, where we struggle initially but in the end we get the hang of it, we master the basics. Children have powerful intrinsic motivation to use the parts of their brain related to perception, physical coordination, crawling, walking and talking. They desperately want to have things, to hold them and use them. They desperately want to get from A to B. They want to ask for things and get them.

Teenagers aren’t motivated in the same way to wire up their prefrontal cortex. They don’t have a strong desire to think things through so they can foresee consequences, fight peer pressure, control impulses and manage their emotions. They can survive the ups and downs of their teen years without working hard on cognitive skills they don’t even know exist.

So the development of a fine mind isn’t like a phase that kids work through to normalcy. At the end of adolescence, the brain cells in the PFC that didn’t fire together will not have wired together and the unused dendrites will be absorbed by the body. What’s left is the individual’s foundation for critical thinking. For life. There are no do-overs when it comes to brain development.

Yes, later as a adult the person can turn on to learning and build on the end result. But a minimal platform means limitations. It’s hard to achieve comprehension when you aren’t good at comprehending. So it will be hard to build on the basic foundation, and only so much connectivity can be constructed on a minimal platform.

All of this has huge implications for parents and teens. But sadly, what I’ve just written here is unknown to 99.999% of parents and teens today. If you follow my blog posts, you know I’m trying hard to get the word out.

Meanwhile, maybe a kid will get lucky and have a few teachers or other adult mentors who make him think. It happened to me, and it can happen to other kids. Or not. Or a parent can proactively interact with the teen to encourage independent thinking.

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The 3 Most Powerful Ways to Give Your Teen An Edge in Life

It’s amazing what you see when you step outside the box. I’ve been focusing on the special challenge of raising teenagers for over a year now, and I’ve been outside the box the whole time.

Inside the box, you understand that you need to sacrifice and save money for your child’s college education, urge the child to study and get good grades, get the child tutoring for how to take the SAT, and help your child get admitted to a great school. And there’s nothing wrong with any of this, even if getting admitted to a great school is no guarantee of success in life and work.

But outside the box I’ve seen something else…

1. The most important thing a kid can learn when he or she is a teenager is how to think – critical thinking skills, which are handled by the prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain is “under construction” the entire period of adolescence, which lasts 10 or 12 years. It’s a time-sensitive window of brain development, during which a person’s foundation for critical thinking (understanding, evaluating, analyzing, relating, reasoning, problem solving, decision making, planning and managing) is established once and for all. At the end of the period, the window closes. Following the metaphor: construct a small foundation and you are limited to building a small house on it. The key is to construct an ample foundation. This makes a huge difference in your ability to gain “brain power” as an adult.

2. The second most important thing is for a teenager to become strong as a person. These are personal strength behavior patterns that enable a person to do the hard things to deal with the challenges of life and work. In my work, I’ve identified more than 40 personal strengths, such as optimism, awareness, passion, focus, courage, composure, integrity, tolerance, and many more. You can see why they’re so important.

3. Finally, there are communication skills – how to interact with people effectively. There are dozens and dozens of people skills, although in my work I focus mainly on a couple dozen of the more high-impact ones, such as listening, resolving conflict, dialog, guiding learning, stimulating thinking, and giving feedback. Nearly everything we do in relationships and work requires dealing well with people; and when these are handled badly, there are adverse consequences.

These are the game-changers. Imagine how hard it would be to succeed in the world if a person was inept in all three areas!

By the time adolescence is over, most young people have left home and have started to make their way in the world. So prime time to start developing these areas is during the teen years.

But here’s the amazing part. None of these areas of ability are taught directly in our education system. Not taught in high school. Not taught at the college level, either. No courses in critical thinking, no courses in people skills, no courses in personal strength. So how are people supposed to learn this stuff?

You don’t get strong as a person through study. You get stronger in these three areas – critical thinking, personal strengths and people skills – by exercising them repeatedly.

It’s possible to pick up some of these patterns indirectly and by chance. For example, one of my colleagues told me that the most important person in her youth was her economics teacher. When I asked her why, she said, “He taught me how to think.” Lucky her.

Team sports are fine opportunities to build some of the personal strengths, even though that’s not high on the agenda of most coaches, who have their hands full teaching athletic skills, conditioning and winning. And a kid can get some experience with interacting with people by socializing and participating in extracurricular activities.

But these developmental opportunities are unstructured, random, spotty, and depend on luck. It’s kind of like “street knowledge.” Kids pick up things hit-or-miss – the good, the bad and the ugly – hanging out with their friends. It’s no wonder that most people become adults with a lot of unlearning and catching up to do. Which most people never do – they just get by within the boundaries of their limitations.

Isn’t it amazing that something so important is unrecognized by parents and the education system?

There’s so much young teens should be told, but it almost never happens. That why I wrote these books…

Conversations with the Wise Aunt – for girls

Conversations with the Wise Uncle – for boys

Can you think of a better way to give a kid an edge in life?

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A Huge Turning Point in the Life of a Teenager…Usually Doesn’t Happen

What’s the most high-impact event in the life of a teenager – the one that changes everything? Well, it’s not the party celebrating the 13th birthday. Or the first date, although that’s the perspective of many young people.

No, the magical moment in the life of a teenager happens when a caring adult gives the young person a “heads up” about the daunting changes and challenges he or she is about to experience throughout adolescence, along with the consequences of making wrong choices.

I hasten to add that for most teenagers, this magical moment never happens.

In my research about the teen years, only one adult has told me he had a legitimate “heads up” conversation when he was young. Most of the people I interviewed were told nothing when they were teens – not even about sex. I’ve written before about why adults have a hard time having these talks with teens. The magnitude of this lost opportunity is mind-boggling.

That’s why I wrote the books, Conversations with the Wise Aunt (for girls) and Conversations with the Wise Uncle (for boys) – to fill that gap, to tell young people things they need to be told.

The books tell the story of a relationship between a young person and a caring adult who mentors the child during the teen years. The wisdom that is shared is life-changing, the kind that can give a teenager a huge edge as he or she deals with the challenges of the teen years and prepares for adult life.

A typical question: At what age should you give your child the book?

The answer is that if your child has reached puberty, he or she will better appreciate the significance of the conversations. And if your teen experiences the book before high school, the wisdom can help him or her make good choices when challenged by the youth culture and peer pressure.

These insights are so important that they can give your child a major advantage, regardless of age.  I believe the most effective approach is for you to read the book first to get ideas for one-on-one talks with your teenager. Once familiar with what it says, you can say something like, “I found this amazing book for teens. It’s a story about a boy’s (or girl’s) teen years, and it contains a lot of practical wisdom, things most kids never hear about. I wish I’d been able to give you a copy a few years ago, but it wasn’t available then. I’d like you to have it anyway.

Then, after both of you have read the book, you can talk about how the insights can make a difference in your teen’s life.

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Will a Teen Decide Based on Reason, Habit, or Emotion?

I consider myself a serious thinker. But to be honest, I’m not an intellectual. I’m biased towards action.

I have a Ph.D., but 95% of what I know today I learned on my own after earning that degree. So seemingly my head is full of knowledge. Some people have used the word “wisdom,” and that’s probably true, too. But none of this wonderful knowledge ingrained in my prefrontal cortex is worth anything unless it leads to action. In the end, what matters is not what I think about something, but what I do about it. Reflect while there’s still time, but what gets results is action.

There are three ways to get to action…

One is habit, AKA routines, skills, and behavior patterns. Habits are formed when an action is repeated so many times that brain cell dendrites involved in the action have grown together to form physical wiring in the brain. You repeat an action – any action – and the dendrites start growing. After many repetitions, your brain literally wires itself to execute the action. The physical network of brain cells causes the action to happen quickly and automatically, without the need for conscious thought.

Habit-formation is a survival mechanism. After the brain cells that fired together are wired together, the connections are permanent. No delete key. Of course there are good habits and bad habits, but the brain doesn’t know the difference. For good, useful habits, this is a good thing. How far would you get if you had to wake up every morning and have to figure out what to do all over again? Only a habit-forming species can survive.

A second way of getting to action is to react emotionally. It may not be what you usually do, and you don’t take the time to think it through. You just let your emotions trigger your actions. Emotions like anger, pain, fear, worry, panic, excitement, and lust.

A habit typically engages many areas of the brain. In a given situation, your perceptions may excite certain memories, thoughts or feelings, which automatically trigger certain actions. But an emotional reaction involves mostly the amygdala, which is located in the inner “mammalian” part of the brain. When you find yourself in an unexpected situation, if you react emotionally and act impulsively, conscious thought will play little or no part in the action.

The third way of getting to action is conscious decision-making. Faced with the need to take action, you ask yourself, “What’s the best way to handle this?” The process is called “critical thinking.” Instead of doing what you always do, you consider whether you should do something else. You think of the alternatives and imagine what’s possible. You visualize cause and effect. You compare costs, risks and benefits. You weigh advantages and disadvantages. You consider the opinions of others. And you check your gut – whether a course of action feels like the right thing to do. And then you take action.

Conscious decision-making involves the prefrontal cortex, which is the large area behind the forehead that facilitates comprehension, imagination, analysis, evaluation, problem solving, decision-making, planning and organization. This kind of decision can override habit, and it can override an emotional reaction. In other words, it can save you from the effects of a bad habit and the disastrous results of an impulsive action.

But for the conscious decision to be a robust thought process, a person needs strong critical thinking skills. In other words, the prefrontal cortex needs to be well-wired.

What most people don’t know is that this wiring happens mostly during the development of the prefrontal cortex in adolescence, roughly from age 12 to 24. At puberty this area of the thinking brain “blossoms” with many times more dendrites than will ever be needed. If the young person uses the prefrontal cortex a lot during that period, the brain cells that fire together will wire together. After this period, all the unused dendrites will be absorbed by the body. Only the often-used, now wired -up connections remain – an individual’s foundation for critical thinking. Use it or lose it – permanently. Later in life, an adult can’t build a large intellect on a small foundation.

It’s a huge challenge for a teenager, but it’s a momentous opportunity. Will the teen overcome habit and emotions to think things through often enough to wire the prefrontal cortex? Many do. These are the people who become adults with “good minds” and “great minds,” who create happy lives and successful careers.

At the other end of the spectrum are people whose lives are driven by emotion and habit – folks who have a hard time connecting the dots and thinking things through. They may be good people, but they make a lot of poor choices. They may not have the brain power to get a better job, and they may have a hard time dealing with life’s challenges. At the extreme are cruel and abusive people. Criminals. Fools. Maybe you’ve noticed some of these people along your life journey.

Diversity is important; it takes all kinds of minds to do all the jobs that make the world work. But there’s too much hatred and ignorance in the world. We need to grow more adults who think before they act. Yes, if we could do that, the world would be a better place.

I think of the project as “creating better adults.” But such an effort has to start with teenagers. More adults need to do a good job of getting teens to use their prefrontal cortex – so that young people wire their prefrontal cortex while the window of development is still open. Parents, teachers, coaches and mentors – help these kids make better decisions during the wild ride of adolescence, while building a robust foundation for learning and critical thinking as an adult.

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Teen Suicide – What Can a Parent Do to Prevent It?

Johann Eyfells, portrait by Kristin Eyfells

Not long ago I was sitting at a table drinking coffee and talking with Johann Eyfells, the world-famous Icelandic sculptor. At some point, I used the word “luck.”

He quickly seized on the word. “Luck. What is luck?” From a man who has been on the planet 20 years longer than I have and who has energetically read and thought and taught and created that entire time, I knew this was not a question that comes from ignorance. He wanted to engage me at a deep philosophical level. I think he wanted to test me.

“I think luck is just a word we use when something happens to us that isn’t a consequence of our action or failure to act. If the result is beneficial, we say we’ve been lucky.” As an example, I told him about my trip to our meeting. On the way, a speeding car passed me. The driver probably wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing because he cut back into my lane too quickly, and he almost hit me. I told Johann that I considered myself lucky because he was driving carelessly and could have turned even sooner, causing an accident. “I was lucky that he didn’t,” I said.

“So luck is just a way of talking about events that affect us but are beyond our control.” He seemed satisfied with that, and we continued talking. I love these challenging conversations.

But my mind took off in a different direction. I imagined a father sitting on a couch, starring at the opposite wall and seeing nothing. His daughter had committed suicide that morning, the authorities had just left the house, and he was sitting quietly, numb. After a while, he went to his daughter’s room. The bed was unmade, and it seemed impossible to him that his daughter would never return to her room again. He was on the front end of grieving and was far, far from acceptance.

He, too, was thinking about luck. He thought, how unlucky can a man be? He hadn’t seen this coming. It’s the worst thing that can happen to a father. Bad luck of monumental proportions. Then he thought, Maybe it wasn’t bad luck. Maybe I’m partially responsible….

My imagination goes wild sometimes. I was losing track of this precious opportunity to talk with Eyfells, so I put the image out of my mind.

But days later an article in the paper on teen suicide in Russia rekindled these thoughts. Apparently only two other countries (Belarus and Kazakhstan) have a higher teen suicide rate than Russia – three times higher than that of the U.S. According to the author, Will Englund, at a time when young people need to seek their own identity and work towards independence, suicide can be the result of parents demanding unquestioned obedience and social conformity. And in Russia there’s a cultural stigma about seeking help outside the home. “Suicide is an attempt to seek relief from all that, by taking charge.” Russian psychiatrist Anatoly Severny: “At home, you order, you enforce, you punish your kids instead of trying to understand them.”

In the U.S., suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers. On average, about five teens commit suicide every day. More girls than boys attempt suicide, but more boys than girls complete the act successfully. This is a shocking and tragic statistic, but teen suicide is so common that it is rarely reported in the news media.

So, was the father in my imagination unlucky? Or was there something he could have done about it?

Teens aren’t famous for using good judgment. They’re famous for acting based on emotion and impulse. The part of their brain that handles comprehension, judgment and decision-making is “under construction,” so they don’t always think before they act. And it’s hard for them to foresee consequences.

So imagine that this father’s daughter wasn’t popular at school. Maybe she suffered from low self-esteem, and her attempts to fit in hadn’t been successful. Her moodiness and poor performance in class may have drawn criticism from her parents. She resented the restrictions her parents placed on her, and she felt they didn’t understand what she was going through. She believed that neither her school-mates nor her own family members treated her right. She had been bullied at school. She couldn’t imagine a time in the future when people would respect her and like her. She felt her life was miserable and intolerable and there was no one she could talk to about it. If she attempted suicide, it would get their attention. It would teach them a lesson.

Kids at that age can have a hard time relating cause and effect. They may have a poor understanding of what death is. To them, suicide may be an act of rebellion or a way to seek relief. They may not fully comprehend the finality of death.

So what could my imaginary father have done to prevent this worst-case scenario? The answer is simple…

  • Unconditional love
  • Reinforcing self-esteem
  • Strong parent-child communication skills
  • Support and guidance

The “big four,” in my view. But doing these things well isn’t so easy. Adolescence is a perilous time of life, and it takes work to help a child prepare for a happy, successful life as an adult.

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Good Parents, Great Parents

I’m sure many parents of teens dream of someday saying about their grown child: “He’s doing so well. He’s a really, really smart guy.” (Or gal…)

And they hope their grown child says about them, “I had such great parents. They helped me so much.”

Because this would mean that all their love, support and sacrifices paid off.

As a writer about parenting, I sometimes think about my own parents. I have many fond memories about my childhood, as weird as it was. My parents loved me. I always knew that. They never abused me in any way. And they cared about my success. Without a doubt, they were good parents. I think they were always trying to do the best they could.

But to be honest, I wouldn’t say they were great parents. They never thought about parenting as such and never considered learning to be better parents. They weren’t great communicators. Neither of them were college graduates, and neither had above-average minds. My mother was a high school dropout.

So even though I loved them, they weren’t my role models. I never thought I wanted to be like my mom or my dad. I grew up the oldest child in a family of eight children, and my parents were usually busy looking after my younger siblings. We lived a lower-middle-class lifestyle, and my parents couldn’t afford to send any of us to college. They didn’t see that as their responsibility, and they made no plans to help us with higher education. Only one of my sisters and I graduated from college.

And I have no memory that they passed along any wisdom or life skills of any kind. After I left home, I quickly realized that I had a lot of catching up to do. And now, half a century later, I still find myself learning things that I could have learned when I was a teenager. The best thing I got from my dad was a love of sports, which was a great legacy. From my mom, I got the freedom to go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. Sometimes that freedom nearly landed me in serious trouble, but I was lucky. And that freedom helped shape my self-confidence, independence and creativity.

So even though I had good parents and I always loved them and they always loved me, I could never say, “I had such great parents. They helped me so much.”

But that is one of the fondest wishes of many parents of teens – that years later their grown child will have these thoughts.

This is why I write. I write for the parents who care enough to do the work to be the best parents they can be for their teens.

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Aha! Personal Development for Teenagers!

For over 30 years my work has been focused on adult personal development – personal strengths and people skills. My company, Performance Support Systems, has published some award-winning internationally recognized assessment and development systems, all brain and behavior-based. For nearly 20 years our flagship product has been 20/20 Insight, a flexible online platform for administering customized feedback surveys. During that time it has benefited millions of people worldwide – and not just leader-managers – all the people who work around them.

And then one day, not long ago, it dawned on me.

All these people we’ve been helping have been playing catch-up. They were working on areas of individual behavior and performance that they should have learned a long time ago. They were busy replacing old, dysfunctional habits with new, best practices.

Where did these bad interpersonal behavior patterns come from? They certainly weren’t taught them in school. No, they learned them from their families and on the street. They learned how to be and how to act and how to communicate without even knowing they were learning it. Whatever seemed to work.

And then, decades later, they discovered that many of these ways of dealing with people were making relationships difficult. They were causing problems and holding themselves back.

That’s why most people end up using our services, to do the hard work of changing a hurtful behavior pattern. The old way isn’t working anymore. It’s causing too much pain.

So yes, it dawned on me. All these people were learning skills and strengths they should have acquired when they were young. But when they were in high school and college, these areas of ability weren’t addressed. And none of the adults around them, including their parents, could guide these young people or even knew that they needed guidance.

It dawned on me that what we were helping adults learn with ProStar Coach should be made available to teenagers. Yes, no one thought about it back then, and no one is thinking about it now. No one xcept me and my colleagues who work with me on ProStar Coach.

It’s an idea whose time has come: Teenagers need to work on personal development. They need to start now to get strong as individuals so they don’t have to play catch-up later. So they don’t have to experience the pain of ineffectiveness in their work and personal relationship, and then desperately try to go against the grain of lifelong habits to rewire themselves for core skills and strengths as adults.

I know, I know. This idea is really outside the box. It’s so different that you’re probably thinking things like: “Most teenagers won’t make the effort. As soon as they hear about it they’ll laugh and call it bullshit.”

My answer to that is that I expect the vast majority of teens to think this way. That’s what most of them have been saying about mainstream courses for over a century – about subjects like science, math and English.

You can’t make kids learn. They only learn what they choose to learn. I know that.

So I’m not interested in the kids who blow off their education. I can’t help them. I’m really only interested in the 15-20% of teenagers who are already internally motivated to learn.

And I mean I’m really interested. It’s my next big shot at making a difference. At my age, maybe it’s my last big shot. I want to help teenagers work on personal development.

Initially, I’ll communicate this idea to caring parents of teens. Through them, I’ll build a bridge of communication to the teens themselves.

On my blog, I’m known as the “Teen Brain Guy.” That’s my focus. As for the myriad of other teen-related issues, I plan to help parents gain access to all the excellent experts out there who address the more traditional aspects of parenting teens.

I also invite you to check out my two new books for young teens – mostly middle-school kids who are beginning the perilous and momentous 12-year journey called adolescence.

Conversations with the Wise Aunt and Conversations with the Wise Uncle.

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The Story Behind the “Wise Uncle” and “Wise Aunt” Books

For quite a while now, I’ve felt that the kind of personal development that we encourage with adults should begin during the teen years, if not before – that in fact the adult learners we serve with programs like ProStar Coach are actually trying to improve skills and strengths they should have learned a long time ago. To this end, I’ve been involved in an anecdotal research project in which I interview adults about their experiences as teenagers. This effort has taught me a lot about what I call “the teen journey.”

One day while visiting one of my best friends, I asked him if he’d be willing to let me interview him for this project. He agreed, and as I listened to him, he told me something remarkable. He said that when he was 12, his uncle took him out for breakfast. In addition to potatoes and eggs, they shared a long talk. His uncle was relaxed and fun to be with, not at all like his dad, who was stern, demanding and hard to talk to.

In a friendly, casual way, his uncle talked about what the boy could expect during his teen years. He described the physical changes that were about to happen to him as he matured into an adult. He talked about peer pressure, risk-taking behavior and the consequences of sex, drugs and alcohol.

At the end of this four-hour conversation his uncle said, “Now I want you to promise me something. When your friends want you to go along with them and something inside you doesn’t feel right, I want you to stop and think about what could happen. I want you to remember the things we talked about. Will you do that?”

My friend told me this talk with his uncle was the most important conversation of his life, that it helped him steer clear of all kinds of trouble during his teen years. Not that he was a perfect kid, whatever that is. But most of the time when he was tempted to do something he knew he shouldn’t, and usually it was something fun or exciting, he remembered what his uncle told him. He said having an uncle who leveled with him about the consequences of bad decisions was the luckiest thing that ever happened to him.

I’ve learned from this kind of research that many adults don’t feel comfortable talking to kids about these things. Why? Because there’s so much ground to cover, and they know they’re not experts on every topic. Besides, times have changed, and they remember their own teen years as a confusing time of life, a mixed bag of issues, anxiety and fun. So even caring adults may not have the confidence to say the right things. I’ve talked to quite a few people about their teen experiences, and my friend is the only person I’ve ever met who had anything like a “wise uncle” conversation.

It made me think of my own teen years. No one ever sat me down and explained things to me. My dad was always busy with work, and there were times he was away from home a lot. My mom had her hands full taking care of my younger brothers and sisters. During junior high and high school a few adults took an interest in me — a scoutmaster, a wrestling coach, an English teacher, and an elder in my church. Later in life I was lucky to have a few colleagues and bosses who gave me advice.

The problem was, I didn’t always get the coaching when I needed it, and there were huge gaps that I had to fill on my own. Some of this learning came from mistakes. I’m still learning, but it would have been great to have some of this wisdom back when I was a teenager.

When I thought about my friend’s good fortune, I wished that every young man could have the kind of “wise uncle” talk my friend had. A kid could avoid a lot of trouble and misery by hearing these insights at the right time. The long-term benefits would be enormous.

WiseUncleSTANDING-no kindle copy135x188So I wrote the book, Conversations with the Wise Uncle, to give young teen boys the kind of “heads-up” about the teen years that my friend got – and a lot more. It’s not one, but many conversation that took place between two fictional characters, Chris and his uncle, Ray.

ConversationstheWiseAuntSTANDING-nokindle copy135x188When the book was completed, I quickly realized I needed to write a similar book for young teen girls. So with the help of my wife, who is a writer and experienced mentor of young women, we wrote Conversations with the Wise Aunt, the fictional story of Trisha and her aunt Maria and the many talks they had during her teen years.

The teen years represent a young person’s chance to prepares for adult life. But not many teens take full advantage of this opportunity. Typically, adolescence is a confusing, emotional and perilous experience. In most cases, both teens and their parents are ill-informed or prepared to do all the right things. The consequences can be disastrous.

The books are a resource for parents and adult mentors of pre-teens and teens. It can give them ideas and confidence to have similar crucial conversations with their children. I wrote the books to be read by teens, and I encourage adults to hand the book off to their kids. The chapters make excellent start-points for discussions that can give teens the big picture about what they’re going through, and help them use good judgment when faced with a myriad of tough issues.

I encourage caring adults who have teens in their lives to find out about the books. Read them first, and then decide how and when to share them with the teen.

Conversations with the Wise Uncle

Conversations with the Wise Aunt

It’s my wish that in the future, more teens will benefit from conversations like these. That the bonds between parent and teen grow stronger, not weaker. And that in the end a lot more teens grow into wiser, happier and more successful adults.

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Who I Write For – Parents Who Are Willing to Do the Work

At 6:30 AM every morning I leave my driveway and head for the gym. Most days, as I pass a certain intersection, I see a car with its headlights on, parked by the side of the road.

It’s a parent – a caring, protective parent who takes his child to wait for the school bus. It’s not anyone I know, but in my imagination I see him expressing love, making sacrifices and saving for the child’s college education. This is the kind of adult I write for – someone who would do practically anything to help his child grow up to be a happy, successful adult. A person who would even read books to learn ways to be a more effective parent.

The thing is, it’s going to take a lot more than love, sacrifice and a college education. To achieve that happy result, it’s going to take some things this parent doesn’t even know about yet.

For example, he needs to know what’s happening in a young teenager’s brain, the potential consequences, and how to turn all this into positives. Really, really important stuff.

And communication skills. It’s rare that even a loving parent has strong communication skills. Without these skills, it will be hard to maintain the bridge of communication between parent and teenager. And without this connection with his child, there is so much he won’t be able to do, even with a good heart. The man in the car doesn’t yet know specifically what the skills are, and he doesn’t know what it will take to improve them.

So many good, positive things can happen. So many horrible things can happen, the worst things imaginable. The teen years are a perilous time.

I know not every parent is willing to do the work. But many are. And I imagine that the man in the car is the kind of parent I write for.

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Reading Will Help Your Teen Develop a Fine Mind

I have a friend whose dad had a personal library of several thousand books. When my friend was about ten years old, his dad enrolled him in a speed-reading course. Soon afterward, he began reading the classics of world literature.

One great book at a time, he became a passionate reader. As a consequence, he began to ponder the meaning of life. The more he read, the more thoughtful and independent his mind became. At age 15 he left home to pursue a life as a painter. And he continued to read, roughly a book every day for the rest of his life.

At age 70, he is now a world-famous artist. And his personal library contains over 18,000 volumes, almost exclusively nonfiction. And he has one of the most interesting minds I’ve ever encountered.

Of course, his mind isn’t the product of a formal education. He didn’t graduate from high school, and he didn’t attend an esteemed university. He is a self-made man who reads every day and continues to pursue his passion with intensity. The last time I visited him I saw a copy of William H. Gass‘s latest collection of literary criticism, Life Sentences, lying on his coffee table, bookmarked at chapter four.

If you are raising children and want the best for them, a college education can be a huge positive step, but it’s not the ultimate answer. Don’t get me wrong. A college education can  expose young people to ideas, give them learning skills and punch their ticket for that first job out of college. But you need to know that very few professors consciously teach kids how to think. As they see it, that’s not what they’re getting paid the big bucks for. Their job is to pass along the latest information, to give them the answers.

The problem is, even the best knowledge, information and answers can’t guarantee success. In the world of action, it comes down to what you do with what you’ve learned – action – exercising good judgment and decision-making.

If your child ever does acquire good judgment, it will have to be because you and other adults stimulated your child’s mind in youth – teachers, coaches, counselors, relatives, or other adults who cared about your child encouraged her to think for herself.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who had a fine mind. He knew things I didn’t know. He understood things I didn’t understand. He had learned to do things I could not do. I admired him and wanted to be like him. I discovered that he read a lot. So I began to read the books he recommended. It was quite an awakening. And it happened at just the right time, while my brain’s prefrontal cortex, which handles comprehension, analysis, judgment, decision making, planning and organization, was in the sensitive period of development that begins and ends during adolescence.

I was lucky to have a few influences like that. I didn’t start reading serious books until I was 16, but after that I read obsessively.

I earned my Ph.D. from Duke University in 1977, but I like to tell young people that as important as that that part of my education was, 99% of what I know today I’ve learned since then – on my own, from reading.

Reading benefits a young person two important ways. First, it helps build his vocabulary. Having words for things is essential to creating and organizing concepts in the mind. No language, no knowledge.

Second, the content of books can reveal insights which make the child reflect on important issues, to help the child use his or her mind to connect the dots – while programming the prefrontal cortex for critical thinking.

Language. High-level thinking. These are the two mental abilities that separate us from all other species on Earth. And you can get these life-changing powers from reading the best books.

There are many ways to program your teenager’s prefrontal cortex for critical thinking. One of the best is to encourage your child to read.

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Insights for Parents – The Real Nature of Forgiveness

Many parents think that when you forgive a young person, you’re doing something for the child. Yes, your child may regret doing something that hurt your feelings and may have asked for forgiveness. And indeed, telling the child that you forgive may give some psychological relief of guilt feelings.

But the primary beneficiary is the person who forgives. As a friend of mine told me, “To forgive means not dwelling on past hurts or pains, which can torture one’s own spirit.” When you decide to stop reliving the hurt, when you commit to leaving the past in the past and let go of feelings of anger, resentment, and other corrosive emotions, a great burden is lifted.

This is especially true of forgiving yourself. Parenting is so difficult that making mistakes happens nearly every day. You can’t be the parent you need to be if you’re carrying a heavy burden of guilt.

I’ve been collecting quotes for over 40 years, and forgiveness is one of my favorite topics. As these well-known people have said, it takes strength to forgive, but doing so liberates you to move forward with a free heart and mind.

My top 20 favorite quotes about forgiveness…

“To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee.” – Bill Walton, American professional basketball player (1952- )

“Anger is a killing thing: it kills the man who angers, for each rage leaves him less than he had been before–it takes something from him.” – Louis L’Amour, American novelist (1908-1988)

“The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.” – Marianne Williamson, American author (1952- )

“Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom.” – Hannah Arendt, American historian (1906-1975)

“A man who studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green.” – Francis Bacon, British philosopher (1561-1626)

“There is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.” – Josh Billings, American author (1818-1885)

“Forgive yourself for your faults and your mistakes and move on.” – Les Brown, American author (1945- )

“Don’t hold on to anger, hurt or pain. They steal your energy and keep you from love.” – Leo Buscaglia, American author (1924-1998)

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, American philosopher (1803-1882)

“Hating people is like burning your own house down to get rid of a rat.” – Henry Emerson Fosdick, American author (1878-1969)

“If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless.” – Mohandas Gandhi, Indian religious leader (1869-1948)

“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” – George Herbert, British poet (1593-1633)

“Two persons cannot long be friends if they cannot forgive each other’s little failings.” – Jean de la Bruyère, French author (1645-1696)

“Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader (1929-1968)

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person.” – Anne Lamott, American novelist (1954- )

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” – Alexander Pope, British poet (1688-1744)

“Write kindness in marble and write injuries in the dust.” – Persian Proverb

“Forgiveness liberates the soul. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon.” – Nelson Mandela, South African president (1994-1999)

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain, American novelist (1835-1910)

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.” – Booker T. Washington, American educator (1856-1915)

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Sean Covey on Teen Peer Pressure

Teens are famous for doing wild and crazy things without thinking about the consequences. I shudder when I remember some my own antics as a teenager. Of course one of the reasons for this behavior is that they’re experimenting and exploring their independence at a time when the decision-making part of their brain is “under construction.” They’re also particularly vulnerable to peer pressure. A friend may suggest a joy ride, shoplifting, drugs, sex or some other ill-advised behavior. Faced with the disapproval of a friend, it can be very hard to say no.

Most parents aren’t sure how to help their teenagers resist this kind of peer pressure. There are no easy answers, but help may be found in some of the books written for teens.

In addition to my own books, Conversations with the Wise Aunt and Conversations with the Wise Uncle, my favorite book for teens is Sean Covey’s The 6 Most Important Decisions You’ll Ever Make: A Guide for Teens. Covey is also the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.

The six decisions are focused on school, friends, parents, dating & sex, addictions and self-worth.

In the chapter on friends, Covey has some important things to say. For starters, he gives this tip: ‘Choose steady friends who like you for who you are, not fickle ones who like you for what you have.”

He also advises, “The key is not to make friends the center of your life.” He says that most teens make this mistake. Friends are important, but they can move and change. They’re not always rational and they’re inexperienced at relationships, so they sometimes treat each other badly.

Another tip – “Make as many friends as you can, but never center your life on them.” So if friends aren’t to be the center of a teen’s life, then what is?

He recommends making principles the center of your life: things like honesty, respect and responsibility – what I call “personal strengths.” This theme colors every chapter of his book.

His advice:

Don’t center your life on popularity or try to become popular for popularity’s sake. It doesn’t work that way. Instead, just be your best self. If you put your focus there, good things will happen. Then, if popularity comes, fine. If not, fine. After all, popularity is secondary, not primary, to greatness….

Primary greatness, on the other hand, is not what you see on the outside, but what lies within. Primary greatness is your character – who you really are.

This is the foundation for resisting peer pressure, although the chapter has much more to say about this issue, along with others related to healthy friend relationships.

I strongly recommend this book for teenagers. Any teen who reads it from cover to cover will have a clear advantage as he or she negotiates the gauntlet of adolescence and prepares for a successful, happy life.

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Teen Development – The All-Important Core Strengths

A successful, happy life. I guess everybody knows it takes more than than money and beauty. Just ask Bernie Madoff and Kim Kardashian.

And guess what…It also takes a lot more than a good education and business know-how.

I try to stress this point with parents. Yes, kids need a good education. They need basic language and math skills and they need to understand how the world works. So they should pay attention in school, try to learn and get good grades, so they can get into a good university. And when they enter the workforce, they should try to learn the business from the ground up. Parents who care about their kids know this. Most of them are sacrificing like crazy to help pay for college expenses.

What most of them don’t appreciate is that while it helps to get a college degree and land a good job, these aren’t the magic keys that unlock the door to a happy, successful life. Parents could make all these sacrifices and years later their child’s life could take a downturn. Failed careers, failed marriages, and worse…

It happens all the time.

The reason is simple. To build strong relationships and prevail against adversity, a person needs to develop skills and strengths that are almost never taught in the home or in schools. This model illustrates the areas of ability a person needs to develop:

Core areas of self-development

Copyright 2011, Performance Support Systems

Life skills – Practical and commonsense know-how, such as cooking, etiquette, using tools and machines, safety, hygiene, health, fitness, maintenance, etc.

Critical thinking skills – The ability to understand why, cause and effect, relationships, the big picture; the ability to envision future consequences, control impulses, create action plans and manage execution. Schools used to do a better job of this; now they focus more on fact memorization to pass state achievement tests.

People skills – Dozens of skills to get along with others, communicate, lead, sell, influence, etc.

Personal strengths – Dozens of behavior patterns that enable a person to do the hard things to deal with challenges and adversity, e.g., patience, perseverance, courage, composure, integrity, optimism, creativity, and many more.

Some bottom lines…

  • The core areas of ability are deal-makers and deal-breakers. They matter far more than an education and business know-how.
  • People don’t receive development in these core areas in the classroom. And practically no parents know how to nurture them.
  • Nearly everyone becomes an adult without much conscious guidance and development in the core areas.
  • Some adults sense their inadequacies once they begin raising families and competing in the world of work. Some of them try to play “catch-up” in these areas. We call this “personal development.” Most never do catch up.

RECOMMENDATION: Help your teenagers work on personal development. Yes, it adds to the kid’s “full plate,” but it’s important. Is your child intelligent, success-driven and working on getting smarter?  Getting stronger in the core areas of ability will give your teen a huge edge while in school and especially when he or she begins to face the challenges of adult life.

This is why we developed Strong for Success, an unprecedented online virtual coaching service. It’s the world’s most effective self-development system for young people who want to work on core strengths.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011.

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Sex Advice for Teen Girls – Establish Boundaries

The book, Conversations with the Wise Aunt, is in the final stages of preparation and will soon appear as a Kindle ebook. In the chapter, “A Nice Way to Say No,” Aunt Maria explains to her niece, Trisha, how boys are different from girls when it comes to attitudes about sex. This brief excerpt is about how a teenage girl can set boundaries.

“The desire to have sex is a physical urge caused by the presence of the hormone testosterone. The more testosterone you have in your body, the stronger the urge to have sex. It’s biology. This is true for both men and women. Testosterone production is one of the body changes you experience as a teenager. It’s why you start thinking about sex at this age.”

“So if both boys and girls are starting to think about sex, what’s the difference?”

“The difference is that boys have ten times as much testosterone as girls.”

“Wow! They must have sex on their brains a lot.”

“Honey, you have no idea. It’s true that girls think about sex from time to time; but for boys, thinking about sex is like background music playing in their minds most of the time.”

“It’s hard to imagine.”

“Yes. You don’t feel about sex the same way they do. Which is why I wanted to talk with you. To manage your relationships with boys, there are some things you need to do.”

“I’m all ears.”

“Okay. First of all, you need to be the one who sets boundaries in a relationship.”

“Boundaries? What kind of boundaries?”

“I’ll explain, but first do you mind if I ask you a couple questions about Michael?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Do you like him in a romantic way? Is he a boyfriend?”

“No. He’s nice. I haven’t known him very long, and I don’t think he’s interested in me that way. It’s just a lot of fun learning the guitar from him.”

“Is that okay with you? You don’t want him to be your boyfriend?”

“Not really. He’s a little old for me.”

“So you’ve set some boundaries with him.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it sounds like you’ve decided you want to do certain things with Michael, such as learn to play the guitar. But you draw the line at other things, like kissing or dating.”

Trisha went silent. She frowned as she looked at her fingernails.

“Did I say something that upset you?”

“No. It’s just that I haven’t thought about Michael like that.”

“We don’t need to talk about this now if you don’t want. Does it make you feel uncomfortable?”

“No, it’s all right.”

“I only mentioned Michael because you said he was sweet. Usually when a girl says that, she really likes the boy. Has he ever kissed you?”

Trisha glanced over at her aunt, and then began examining her fingernails again.

“He did try to kiss me once, but I didn’t know if I wanted him to, so I asked him to stop.”

“And did he?”

“Yes. We talked about it. He said I was pretty and sometimes he just felt like kissing me. I told him it scared me a little and maybe we better not. So he never tried it again. But I think he probably wants to.”

“How about you? Do you want to?”

“I’ve imagined kissing him. It might be exciting, but I keep thinking I’d better not.”

“Why not?” said Aunt Maria.

“I don’t know. Maybe I’m not ready.”

“Well, Honey, I think that’s a very honest answer. And I think your instincts are natural and good. It’s a good thing to like boys, and it’s natural to want to kiss a boy you care about.”

“But I don’t think about Michael that way.”

“I understand. I’m sure Michael is a fine young man, but from his point of view you’re a really pretty girl, and physically you’re more mature than most girls your age. So when he’s with you, I guarantee that he has thoughts about sex. As I said, it’s nothing against him. It’s the way the male body works.”

“I want it to be about the guitar, not sex.”

“It can be, Trisha. Michael’s not an animal. He has urges, but he’s an intelligent human being. He has the ability to think and make choices. He can control his behavior.”

“But will he?”

“That’s where boundaries come in. You not only need to draw the line for yourself, you need to tell him where the line is. You tell him what you want and don’t want. For example, with Michael you could say something like, ‘I want you to know you’re a terrific person, and I love coming over to learn from you. To me, you’re like the older brother I wish I had. And that’s how I’d like it to stay between us. Not boyfriend-girlfriend. No more kissing or anything. I like our friendship just the way it is, and I don’t want to change it. I hope you feel the same way.’ Something like that. You draw the line. You make sure he knows what’s okay and what’s not okay. Basically, it’s saying no, but in the nicest possible way. Do you think you can do that?”

“I think so.”

“This doesn’t mean you should go through your whole life as a teenager without getting kissed. After all, you might care about a boy sometime.”

“I hope so,” said Trisha. “When the time comes I want to go on dates and maybe even have a boyfriend.”

“That will happen someday. The thing is, when it does you want to know how to handle any situation. Sexual feelings are strong, and if you’re kissing and petting, the two of you could get carried away. It happens all the time.”

“I’ll have to draw the line.”

“Exactly. But where?”

“It seems to me that kissing is no big deal.”

“Personally, I think kissing is a big deal, in a nice way. But kissing can get pretty steamy. It can quickly lead to touching. And once you get excited, it’s hard to say no. If you don’t want him to do this, you have to draw the line at kissing.”

“But it must be awkward talking with a guy about this.”

“You wouldn’t bring it up when you’re first getting to know each other. But later, if you realize you have feelings for each other, he might want touch you where you don’t want to be touched. He might want to have sex. You need to be the one to tell him what’s okay and what’s not okay. Your boyfriend won’t be the one to set limits. They aren’t made that way. They want to get past first base.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s how boys talk about it with each other. First base is kissing. Second base is sexual touching. They get to third base when they get her pants off. You can guess what home plate is all about.”


“When a teenage boy pushes a girl to have sex, he may say things about love. But for most boys the real goal isn’t a long-term relationship. What he wants, deep down, is to have sex. For him, it’s like climbing a mountain. When he finally reaches the top, he’s satisfied. He’s done. In fact, it often happens that the boy loses interest in the girl after he has sex with her, because he got what he wanted. This would make any girl feel awful, because she thought the relationship meant more than that.

“And just as bad, some boys like talking about their sexual experiences with their friends. Then the story can passed along until a lot people know. This would change how people think about the girl. It could damage her reputation.”

“Oh, Aunt Maria, is it really this way?”

“I’m afraid so. Later, when boys mature into men, the good ones have learned more about women and how to treat them right. Sex is a wonderful thing. But there are risks, and you need to take charge of your relationships.”

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. (Permission to use image purchased from

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John Rosemond’s Book: Teen-Proofing

TeenProofingSome of the best authors on the subject of parenting have books about teens. Many of the more recent ones treat the topic of teen brain development. John Rosemond is my favorite authority on parenting who doesn’t talk about brain development.

To be sure, the most important dynamic of adolescence is the final stage of child brain development that triggers all the changes that puzzle parents. Once adolescent brains kick into overdrive and teens start connecting the dots, kids want to figure out who they are, separate from their parents. In addition, the decision-making part of their brain is “under construction,” making them overly emotional and impulsive. If parents aren’t in control, helping the teen to learn good decision-making, the situation can cascade out of control, with disastrous consequences.

Parents need a concept for putting limits on teen behavior while at the same time encouraging independence and discovery. They need to know how to guide a teen with firmness and respect while he or she learns how the world works. No book addresses this core challenge better Teen-Proofing: Fostering Responsible Decision Making in Your Teenager (1998), by John Rosemond.  With detailed example scenarios and on-target Q&A, he clarifies how to teach responsibility while applying the principles of appropriate cons