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Friday, December 28, 2007

Teaching Self Control

“Control thy passion lest they take vengeance on thee.” - Epictetus

Last week I wrote the school system should not be responsible for disciplining children, parents should. Because I do not believe in pointing out a problem without providing some kind of solution, I want to reiterate what experts have to say on this subject and pass on some of the tools and techniques they suggest.

Research across the US suggests that a child’s level of self control relative to their peers is largely set by age 10, and while the development of self control will continue as they mature, they will not suddenly become more disciplined than their peers if they were less disciplined at age 10. The primary cause of low self control is believed to be parents who fail to monitor the child’s behavior, and using a loving, consistent, reward and punishment system, modify the child’s behavior. You will hopefully notice none of these methods include corporal punishment. So to that end here are a few suggestions to developing self control in your children:

1. Be a good example. “He preaches well that lives well.” – Miguel De Cervantes. If your children see you flying off the handle at traffic, your spouse, or the child themselves, they will see little reason to exhibit self control. So when disciplining your child, stay in control yourself and explain there are consequences for losing one’s self control. Then calmly explain what those consequences are.
2. When your child is angry, excessively excited, or too wound up encourage them to “take a break”, chat with them a moment about what they are feeling so they learn to recognize the signs of a meltdown.
3. Set fair and reasonable limits. These limits must be consistently enforced whether in public or at home.
4. Make sure your instructions are clear. If you were unclear or if the child did not understand or is not capable of complying that is your shortcoming as a parent, not the child’s behavior. Chalk it up to your own learning.
5. Use appropriate rewards. Small, constant, positive feedback will go a long way to teaching self restraint. This feedback and rewards can be simply, “I am so proud of the way you handled yourself back there, that was very grown-up.”
6. The National Association of School Psychologists have a website ( with age appropriate role playing games to help you speak on a child’s level (as young as 3 to 5 years of age). These games are intended to work on self control in a positive manner and teach parental skills that can be modified as the child grows.
7. Be consistent, be fair, and do what you say you are going to do as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.
8. Last, and by far most importantly, love your children. Hug them, touch them, be unselfish to them, serve their needs before your own, and by all means tell them you love them and are proud of them constantly. When you do this, the child is far more likely to want to please you to hear such things.

Teaching your children self control and self discipline is your responsibility and while the failure to do so is yours as a parent; your child will pay the price for your failure. This can be a difficult job, especially if your own level of self control is low; however the reward for doing a good job is a successful, well adjusted child, of whom you maybe justifiably proud.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Control Yourself!

He who cannot obey himself will be commanded. Such is the nature of all living things. – Friedrich Nietzsche
With the arrival of the Christmas season also comes the end of the Fall semester in school and as such is a good time for parents to take an assessment of where there child is academically and socially. The information for this assessment is garnered from thoughtful questions to your child, from a conversation with your child’s teachers, and quite likely you, your child, and the teachers, all sitting down together. Garnering as much information as possible is vital if you are going to ensure your child’s success both while in your home and then after, once on their own.
Research completed in 2004 at George Mason and Case Western Reserve Universities show that a child with good self control has “a higher GPA, better adjustment, less binge eating and alcohol abuse, better relationships and interpersonal skills, secure attachment, and more optimal emotional responses”. The conclusion in this study is consistent with the other research I found on student discipline and so we can draw the conclusion that if your child has difficulty behaving in the classroom, they will have great difficulty doing well academically and later in life.
Tax payers feel the pain of children that are not in control of themselves at school on a number of levels:
1. School discipline (or the lack of it) is consistently the top reason listed for teacher burnout.
2. Learning is significantly shortchanged when a teacher spends half a class with a whip and chair instead of whiteboard and books.
3. The extra programs that must be provided for discipline problems, everything from in school suspension to entire campuses in some communities, all cost more than general education.
4. Few would argue the discipline problems that manage to finish High School and enter the workforce have obtained the caliber of education as the students that were not discipline problems.
Of note here is the fact that this is a complex issue, without a simple answer. This means laying the problem at the feet of the school system and telling teachers and administrators to “deal with it”, not only hands the problem to people with little ability to fix it, this problem is not the school’s responsibility; education is, while discipline is the parents’ job. Criminology research from Florida State suggests self control is largely taught, or not, by the age 10 and that “Good children [those with self-control] remain good. Not so good children remain a source of concern to their parents, teachers, and eventually to the criminal justice system.”
Corporal punishment has largely been taken out of schools, children from dysfunctional homes are very difficult to motivate and support on a consistent enough basis to make a lasting impact upon, and out of school suspension not only doesn’t help the student behave better, research consistently shows it actually results in worse behavior problems. Only if we as a society are willing to “throw away” large numbers of students will out of school suspension work, and the result of that policy has its own economic costs such as increases in the prison populations and a less educated workforce.
Politicians have been quick to dump the issue of school discipline in the laps of the school system because there are fewer teacher votes than the public at large. We the public go along because it means we don’t have to take a hard look at ourselves. However at the end of the day we as parents, not teachers or anyone else are responsible for our children’s behavior and academic success. For the sake of our kids and the state of our nation; parents had better start doing our jobs.
Next week I will focus on specific things parents can do to instill self control and discipline in their children.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Family Outings

It appears that winter is finally here. After the first snowfall we had that melted soon after it arrived, I am typing this to snow gently falling promising that I will be shoveling the front walk shortly. However, it also means the start of a wonderful time of the year; that of Christmas, a New Year full of promise and winter sports.
At first blush you might be tempted to think this column is for the folks new to our area or visitors, however it has been my experience that many times after living in an area for a number of years, many of us take for granted the activities and opportunities our home region has to offer. So in the spirit of seeing our home with new eyes, or maybe just an excuse to try something you haven’t done in a while, take a look at these ideas of family friendly frigid frolics.
· Downhill Skiing/ Snowboarding- There are a number of mountains locally complete with lodges where you can go for the day or for an entire weekend.
· Cross country skiing/ Snowshoeing- With national, state and local parks available nearby, you and your family can see wildlife and beautiful winter scenery very inexpensively. You will also enjoy the quiet family time, and the exercise wouldn’t hurt most of us either.
· Ice fishing- When they ice over, our own Hayden Lake has ice fishing, and so does Spirit Lake and Lake Cocolalla. Make sure you check with local tackle shops or wildlife authorities before venturing out on the ice.
· Snowmobiling- I did a quick Internet search and found a number of rental shops locally that rent snowmobiles fairly reasonably.
· Sleigh rides- There are several places locally that host horse drawn sleigh rides in the winter (and hay rides in the summer). This is a great family activity or an even better romantic date for just Mom and Dad! My wife and I are going to do this when the kids go see the Grandparents over Christmas Break, but it’s a surprise so don’t tell her.
· Hot Cocoa and Board Game night- Ok, I realize that hot cocoa, marshmallows and a rousing game of Scrabble or Monopoly makes for a fairly sedentary evening; however, when the snow is falling and the roads are slick, there are few better, safer ways to spend an evening. Not to mention a better family bonding experience.
These are just a few ideas; I hope that all of you will write me with ideas of your own if you wish to share them. Including costs and where we can find gear or service providers will be helpful. I will publish another column in the near future to pass the ideas along. Winter is still a great time to be in the outdoors, active and spending time with family and nature, so take full advantage. Besides, if everyone is a little chilly, it will encourage more warm hugs and a few more kisses as well.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Family Meals "Come and get it!"

In 2005 the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a list of benefits gained by having dinner together as a family that include: getting along well with your family, getting good grades, eating healthy foods, and avoiding drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. Fifty-eight percent of teenagers ate dinner with their families at least 5 times a week, however the breakdown of the figures tells a bit of a different tale. Fifty-five percent of 12 year olds, or pre-teens, ate dinner with the family seven nights a week, but only 26% of 17 year olds do the same.
Meals together give us far more than biological nutrition; as children get older, they are often absent during meal time when they need nurturing and guidance that meal time conversation and togetherness can provide. With four very active teenagers, one of whom is a college student, I know as well as anyone the challenges of getting everyone on the same place at the same time. However, as with most things in life, the more family meals you share the easier they are to plan for and the more successful and beneficial they are.
Nutrition is also better during shared family meals than when everyone is on their own or even when everyone is together, but each having their own dinner. Shared family meals tend to mean less soda and fried foods, but more fruits and vegetables.
By now you are saying to yourself, “Great Mark, we are all so busy I can barely keep track of my family enough to get them fed at all and now you want me to feel guilty because we aren’t all around the dinner table?” To which let me assure you, “No, I do not want you to feel guilty or bad and my wife and I feel your pain”. So let me provide some suggestions as to how you can get everyone together more often.
· Decide as parents that meal times are a priority, how many times a week you are going to have family meals together, and what nights those will be. The nights may change if someone has a sports season or school event that conflicts. But remember, you are the parent. If the kids can’t drive yet, then they only go where you drive them. If they can drive and still live at home, some negotiation may be in order, but you have the final say.
· Be creative. If dinner simply isn’t possible, say because of work or school schedules, then eat breakfast together instead, or a combination of the two.
· Keep meals simple. Try to precut, or even precook anything that can be so preparation time is minimized.
· Say some sort of blessing. Even if your family is not particularly religious, voicing gratitude for the meal and to your family members for sharing it with you is certainly appropriate.
· Turn off TV! Unplug or turn off ringers on phones and cell phones.
· Sit around a table, facing each other. No standing or TV trays. No one leaves until the meal is complete.
· Ask good, specific questions, “What was one good thing that happened to you today?” or “What was one thing you learned today?”
· Remember that whether it’s scheduling family mealtimes, or the conversation during the mealtime, you will get better with practice.
I hope you find these tips helpful, if you have solutions that work for your family, email them to me and I will pass them along to the rest of us. Keep in mind that you only get to have a family of your own for a very finite, all too short, period of time; family meals will help you make the most of it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Values

Well, before the gluttony of our feeding-frenzy Thanksgiving Day feasts could wear off, many of us were engaging in gluttony of another kind: Black Friday. At least as far back as 1841, marketers and retailers have been using the image of Santa Claus to entice holiday buyers to part with their money. Over the years this marketing device has taken a life of its own, and now Christmas buying accounts for approximately 25 percent of annual consumer sales.
I acknowledge that at this point in history, our Christmas buying may well float not only our economy, but several other nations’ economies as well; however, as this column deals with family issues and not economics, I am comfortable with framing this issue as it relates to families. The Christmas buying so often bemoaned has not always been our tradition. In fact, the Christmas holiday itself has not always been popular in the US. In the 1600’s the Puritans made it illegal to mention St. Nicholas, exchange gifts, sing carols, etc.; however, some of the early settlements enjoyed Christmas as best they could with the challenges of early American life. Christmas did not become a Federal holiday until June, 1870.
Christmas marketing took a turn toward what we know today when in 1931 Coca-Cola began using Santa in advertising and in 1939 Montgomery Ward handed out a poem about everyone’s favorite reindeer, the subject of which was later recorded as the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by Gene Autry; which continues to be the second most popular song of all time, right behind “White Christmas”. The recognition that a time of gift giving in the name of love, could be marketed to and even enhanced by said marketing, was coupled to our capitalist economy and consumerism society, all but drowning out the original purpose for the holiday.
I believe you will find it very difficult to fight our culture, especially on an issue that permeates our economy so completely. So I encourage you to behave as if in a rip tide and swim parallel to culture, not against it. In practical terms this means three things:
· Insure your family understands why your family exchanges gifts. Gift giving is one of the five love languages and has been an almost universal way to express love as far back as we have a historical record; so make sure you take the time to have age appropriate conversations about this process, being grateful for the gifts and more importantly, the love behind them.
· Make a renewed commitment to serving others during the holiday season. Most charitable organizations find themselves in greater need of help and financial assistance during this time of year, so you should be able to easily find an organization worthy of your time and money. Serving others, especially those who have a greater need, tends to help us realize the proper place our own challenges belong.
· Reevaluate your spiritual life and your personal growth. In almost every culture, in almost every time in history, the marking of the passing of the year has long been a time of reflection and making changes. Take advantage of the school holiday and begin this process by talking as a family one evening with hot cocoa and s’mores. You can draw up a plan of action for the coming year and follow up during your family meetings.

The key take away for this week is to try to avoid the guilt and angst the holiday season can bring by embracing the positive of the holiday season, as opposed to trying to struggling in a fight you can’t win. Communicate love, both inside and outside your family during the holiday season and you may find yourself making a statement against rapaciousness after all.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Holiday Relatives

Most of us have relatives that cause us stress at family gatherings every year. Children coming back from college, children’s spouses, elderly parents less tolerant of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, Aunt Edna who always seems to have something caustic to say, and Uncle Ed (maybe because of Aunt Edna) always seems to have too much of the holiday “spirit”, can all wreak havoc on our own enjoyment of the holiday season. For the most part we can’t choose our relatives but you can enjoy this time of year and keep your sanity if you follow some simple guidelines:

  • If you have children coming home from college, remember to negotiate expectations in advance such as: plans over the holidays, bringing home boy/girlfriends, visiting friends, household rules such as curfew, also try to discuss grades beforehand so there are no ugly holiday surprises.
    Celebrate in a location that makes life as easy as possible for the majority of members. If someone finds it difficult to travel because of pregnancy, infirmity or illness try to bring the gathering there. Just because the gathering is one member’s home doesn’t mean they have to do the majority (or any) of the cooking.
  • While on the subject of cooking, if you have special dietary needs or wants, don’t expect the hosts to provide for your situation. If you are diabetic or vegetarian, bring your favorite dish with a little extra so others may try it as well.
    If you are the host, invite a stranger to the gathering. By inviting a friend to the occasion who has nowhere else to go, prevents them from spending the holiday alone and can add a complementary personality flavor to the kitchen flavors, while sometimes bringing family members together as they make the guest feel welcome.
  • Learn to ask for, and accept, help! If you are kept prisoner in the kitchen, then not only are you run ragged and can’t spend time with family; they do not get to spend time with you either. Everyone from children, to adults not cooking, can do chores like set and clear the table or do dishes.
  • Last, try to think of “the other” first when making decisions or before getting angry when your expectations aren’t met. Whether “the other” is your parent, your child, your spouse, sibling or an ex-spouse, try to put their needs first without resentment, but with patience and a sense of love. You may find the feelings reciprocated, but even if you don’t, you will have found the true meaning of the holiday season.
    My family and I wish you all the best of holidays, full of love and family. Happy holidays!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Choosing a University

This column should be a note of encouragement and validation for some students and their families, and a big nudge for other students and their families. If you are deep into the application process of choosing a University and filing out financial aid paperwork, then this column should serve as a check that you are headed down the right path; however, if you are still struggling with what school to go to, and are procrastinating filling out the FASFA and scholarship applications, then this should be a reminder to get with the program.
I strenuously argue that you should first find the right university for you, and then figure out how to pay for it. There are so many options today to finance school; lack of funds is rarely a reason not to pursue an education.
Another philosophical decision you must make, is why are you going to school. Are you going to play a sport, find a spouse, are you there to get a piece of paper to make more money, or are you there to actually become educated? I can’t argue enough that the last reason is the only reason to attend a university. This is a critical decision because if you are there for any reason other than becoming educated, where you go is of little importance.
In general, there are three things that must be done simultaneously to successfully to attend a University. First keep your high school grades up. Some seniors get Senioritis in the spring, this malady doesn’t look good on your transcript and reflects poorly on your maturity. Second, make the best choice you can in picking which university to attend. Last, apply for financial aid.
Choosing a university is a bit like choosing a car; much of the decision is personal preference, and you should “test drive” as many as you can. While you should try to avoid attending, and getting kicked out of, a large number of universities, visiting as many as you can is a good idea. Visit at least one small, medium and large university, even if you believe you know what size school you wish to go to. The visit will confirm or deny your belief and make you more comfortable with your decision. Talk to friends, family and alumnus of the universities you are considering.
Decide if you want to attend a local university or one further away. If you want to go out of state, and there are a number of good reasons to do so, make sure you visit the campus before making your decision final. Visit both public and private schools as they each have a different feel to them and you may find a preference for one over another.
Once you have taken all factors into account: quality of the institution, cost, friends already at the school, size, geography, location (urban or rural), and any other factors effecting your decision, then choose three schools; one you aren’t sure you can get into, one you are confident you will get into, and then one you are certain to get into. Remember, if you don’t get into your dream school, perhaps you can go there for graduate school.
Last thought. If you didn’t do well in high school, you didn’t take college prep courses, or if high school was more than a few years ago; it is never too late. Regularly people in their twilight years are featured for finally graduating from college. You can take basic courses here locally at NIC, sometimes called stem work, and then move on to a four year school. Help is available from counselors at the High School, the local colleges and the school you wish to attend. Just remember, only consider accredited schools and stay away from diploma mills. Education should be a life-long path; sometimes the path is steep and difficult, but the views along the way are breathtaking beyond belief.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Developing Respect

Ignoring a child’s disrespect is the surest guarantee that it will continue. – Fred G. Gosman

The Brits are having a terrible time with their youth; gang violence, vandalism and the general terrorizing of citizens. Social research shows this problem has been many years in the making and until a few years ago, the behavior was more than a nuisance, however less than criminal, and therefore very difficult for anyone to stop. The police could not stop the behavior for many of the same reasons our legal system is limited and if the victim tried to stop the youths, especially by physical means, then the police would be forced to arrest the victim. Now the behavior is very violent, more than minor crime, but very difficult to deal with because of sheer numbers of youths involved.

The Brits current difficulty is largely the product of the eroding of societal values and morays; specifically, a healthy respect for others as a whole and authority figures in particular. I use our friends’ plight across the pond as a parallel to our own. I was explicitly asked to write about developing respect by several adults in our community that see a lack of respect in our children. A couple of them are people that work in local schools, or with youth groups; however, I was most persuaded by the folks that provided anecdotal evidence from their daily lives such as in a checkout line or in a movie theatre.

I offer the following as what each of us can do to stem the tide of disrespect many see all around us:
- Make it a point to be respectful of everyone you meet regardless of age or position in life. You cannot reasonably expect respect unless you willingly give it first.
- Insist you are treated with respect by others. If you are not treated with respect, then POLITELY inform the other person you do not appreciate being treated poorly and you kindly ask them to treat you in a respectful manner.
- As with any desired behavior, start as young as possible. Insist children speak to adults using their proper title, even if that title is merely Mr/Mrs/Ms; as this practice consistently reinforces society has a hierarchy, and who is in charge in the relationship. If you are an adult, let’s say over 30, don’t try to be “cool”, “hip”, “fresh” or anything else; take on the role time has so unfairly given you, and help the rest of us by holding youth accountable to societal standards.
- In a similar vein, insist they use Ma’am and Sir to you and to other adults for the same reason above. The use of Sir and Ma’am is a big reason the South has always been considered the most polite region in the US; however, as more people than can be culturally assimilated have moved into the region, they are slowly getting away from this practice, and it has begun to have a negative effect on their youth.
- Last, help the children you are around develop self respect; without self respect it is very difficult to have respect for others. Encourage them in dress and habits to show respect for themselves and others. If you are a parent, fashion and haircut choices should be made with an eye toward the adult you would like them to become; just because school dress codes are non-existent, too loose, or not enforced, does not preclude your parental privilege in mandating your child’s dress.

Respect for others is not an optional attribute in a functioning society, especially as population densities rise. The only way children will learn respect for themselves and others, is if we as adults, teach them respect, hold them accountable to their behavior, and model respect to them and each other.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Character Education for Kids

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. . . Intelligence plus character- that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

My kids recently took their mid-term exams for the semester and that event caused me to think again about education and ultimately its purpose. Herbert Spencer said, “Education has for its object the formation of character”, and Teddy Roosevelt famously remarked, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

A hundred years ago schools very unapologetically taught morality and character. For example when I was a boy in Texas every morning began with the Lord’s Prayer and then the Pledge of Allegiance and closed with the National Anthem. And if you acted up during any of these, your teacher would warm your little bottom for you right there; no need to even go to the Principal, your needs were served right there with a smile. This kind of instruction was seriously affected when society began the debate on whether religious instruction belonged in public schools, and if it did what that instruction should look like. A debate that is neither settled, nor likely to be settled, any time soon.

The greatest challenge to character education comes from the high values we place on separating church and state as well as individual freedom and autonomy. These philosophical challenges coupled with the make-up of the US becoming ever more diverse, to overcome both our interest and ability to address every religious, moral and ethical outlook in a scholarly way. As we usually do in public policy, we immediately threw the baby out with the bath water and with few exceptions stopped teaching morals, character and ethics.

Schools have had a reawakening to the ultimate purpose of education and teaching ethics, morals and character. They are using literature and physical education as the primary vehicles for this education; however, the ever increasing trend of using standardized tests to gauge school performance are limiting the time available for character development.

If you wish to be helpful in this discussion, the literature on the subject suggests the following:

  • Read to, and then provide, books to your children that illustrate character, ethics, morals and values like Aesops’ Fables and The Book of Virtues by Bill Bennett.
  • Encourage them to read biographies of individuals that exemplified values you wish to teach. If you email me I can provide a list.
  • Collaborate with your child’s teacher about how to use these materials in projects and school assignments. As children get older they are able to think more deeply, with more insight and apply what they have learned to their own lives.
  • Use movies, TV shows and other media to illustrate good and poor values; however, here use this time to ask them what they think. This can be a great time to influence their choices of entertainment and gauge where they are in developing their character.
  • Last, be a good example! It is difficult to overemphasize the impact of a good example on your child’s development. “He preaches well that lives well.”- Miguel De Cervantes

Education is important as a life-long activity, not just because of what it teaches us about the world around us, but for what it can and should, teach us about ourselves. Be engaged in the debate of character education; demand from teachers, administrators, and law makers that character education become a cornerstone of education again. While there are certainly challenges in presenting the material with honesty and sensitivity to others, we stand to gain so much for our trouble.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rites of Passage- Driving

Over the past weeks we have looked at a number of rites of passage- specific times in our lives that mark the end of one phase of life and the start of another. This week we will look at the statistically most dangerous rite of passage (unless you count death as a rite of passage); becoming a teenage driver.

In case you doubt the veracity of my claim; be warned, if you are a parent of a teenage driver I may just scare the wits out of you, here are a few statistics:
- Across the US between 5,000 and 6,000 teenagers die in traffic accidents every year (by comparison we have lost 3,834 service members in Iraq- as of my writing this). While the circumstances are obviously different, we do not focus our attention or political will to the problem very well.
- Another 300,000 will be seriously injured. Yes, 300,000 per year.
- In Idaho alone in 2005, there were 66,637 licensed drivers between the ages of 15 to 19. Those teens had 7,309 collisions, of which 326 were considered fatal or serious, resulting in 38 fatalities, and 377 serious injuries.

OK parents, do the little “shiver thing”; the worst is over, here is the good news. Research indicates that parent behaviors are related to teen driving outcomes; so the manner and frequency you talk with your teen about your expectations and then your subsequent management of unsupervised driving, can positively impact teen independent driving behaviors. If we as parents are going to have this positive impact upon our teen drivers, we have to first identify behaviors associated with safe and unsafe driving such as: using safety belts, obeying traffic laws, and reducing distractions such as friends in the car, cell phone use, changing CDs, eating or drinking and applying make-up.

Parent-Teen Agreements can be a powerful tool to help both of you. The contract should be written not oral; you can find examples on the Internet, and it should spell out both behaviors and the consequences of those behaviors. You should include rewards for good behavior as well as negative consequences for mistakes. The most powerful part of the agreement is the “zero tolerance” policy for alcohol or drug use while driving. As these are also illegal behaviors, having a license revoked may be the least of the teen’s concerns.

Another set of behaviors that a parent should take into account is the maturity the teen displays outside the vehicle such as academic achievement, obeying curfews, attitudes toward peer pressure, and general behavior. One study I found even correlated rebellious and deviant behaviors with unsafe and impaired driving, and showed that better academic performance appears to be a buffer against risky behaviors.

Idaho has one of the most liberal age requirements in the US for drivers. Some Idahoans argue our agrarian lifestyle was the rational for allowing teens to drive so young, but that way of life has largely passed. Dave Carlson, AAA Idaho Director of Public and Government Affairs, argues the minimum age should be raised to reflect current Idaho way of life; however, so far little political traction has been made.

Be engaged with your teen and make sure they can ask you questions and voice their concerns, and that you voice yours. Use a Parent-Teen Agreement and stick to it, pointing out the consequences of poor choices when driving, and last, maybe most importantly, set a good example to your kids in your own driving. While turning the keys over to a teenager is likely to always cause no small amount of trepidation, these steps will increase the chances of another successful step toward adulthood.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Rites of Passage- Dating

The decision of when to allow children to begin dating can be a difficult one. A word about definitions is important; the word “dating”, is well, somewhat dated and likely your kids do not use that word the way most parents do. However because “dating” is a word parents understand, we will continue to use that word to mean any activity in which young men and young women begin to explore the meanings of courtship and relationship, and finding a potential mate.
Harvard sociologist, Martin Whyte argues that if producing stable marriages is the goal of dating, then dating, as conducted in America, is a failed method. However, most of us are parents not sociologists, and as such dating is the institution we have to work with. So let’s begin by covering the basics:
- Teens will want to date. Girls usually before boys, but as my daughter says, “Get your big-girl panties on”; you will need to step up to the parenting plate as both sexes want to date eventually.
- Dating is a learned behavior. You must talk with them; values, concerns, your own age appropriate lessons learned, are all valuable topics.
- Have discussions about “the rules” before dating time begins. I hope it goes without saying that trying to determine when your child should be home, as they walk out the door, is too late. But, neglecting to come to agreement with your co-parent is also a sure way to fail.
- Be a good role model. The more your children see you work on a healthy, functional relationship, the better the chance they will know how to engage in healthy, functioning relationships.
A few words on teen dating violence. Almost two-thirds of teens report they had been or knew someone that had been in an abusive relationship. This should be part of the dating conversation you have with your child. Tell them the warning signs of abusive relationships, some of which are: acting jealous and possessive, name calling and insulting, angers quickly, threatening the teen/family/pet or themselves, unwanted touching and alcohol or drug use.
Help your teen to feel comfortable reporting such behaviors to you by helping them realize you love them, will protect them, and they are not to blame. While not foolproof, prevention is the best cure, so help your teen to keep high self esteem and make communication open. Your receiving messages from your teen is at least as important as your transmitting. Ensure your teen has access to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 1-888-293-6118, the Idaho Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention Project web site:, or call the Women's Center, Inc. at 664-9303 for advocacy, information and assistance.
While we only have one kid of four in the dating process, I offer our basic rules as a synthesis of professional advice and research on the topic, and fodder for parental discussion.
- No dating until sixteen. However two of our four have skipped at least one grade so that rule is a bit flexible.
- We meet all dates, boys and girls.
- All dates are subject to inspection. Inappropriate dress, haircut standards, or lack of respect for us or our teen means the date will be rescheduled after deficiencies are corrected.
- We as parents reserve the right to amend these rules and curfews as appropriate based on behavior, grades, maturity, and our comfort level with the person our child has chosen to date.
Learning to negotiate the give and take of relationships, while sweetened by the flush of romance is heady stuff indeed and something neither parents nor teens should treat lightly, but like other potentially dangerous teenage behaviors such as driving, is a special time and a life-long skill that can be rewarding on many levels.

Romance Seminar

This week I need to take a break from our look at Rites of Passage to make an important announcement. At 7pm, on October 17th, there will be a Romance Seminar as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the Human Rights Education Institute on Sherman Ave.
You may be asking yourself why are we talking about Romance during Domestic Violence Awareness Month? I am glad you asked! This is an appreciative inquiry (AI) look at the problem; which is to say we look at what is good, right and works, as opposed to looking only at the bad, wrong or broken. The idea being that if couples are engaged in loving, fun and functioning relationships, they are far less likely to abuse each other, emotionally or physically.
The evening is free to attend and we will have romantic raffle packages donated by local businesses with the proceeds going to the Women’s Center and the Human Rights Education Institute. The largest package is a Wedding Vow renewal ceremony and a night at the Greenbriar Bed and Breakfast. There is a wonderful food basket donated by The Olive Oil Company and flowers by Creative Touch Floral. We are going to have a lot of fun, learn some new things, and share ideas on what it means to be romantic. I will be the facilitator for the evening and a number of people have put a lot of time into a fun and educational evening.
The aspect of the evening we are most excited about is having invited our local High School Junior and Senior classes to this event, and we have designed two raffles specifically for those students. We know that Date Rape and Domestic Violence issues begin when youth start dating. This evening is a bid to stop that cycle by explaining to them a better way to behave in a relationship. This type of education is of particular importance when the right kinds of behaviors are not modeled at home.
I have pointed out the critical importance parental examples play, in modeling for young people appropriate relationship behaviors, in past columns. This modeling is why it is so critical for parents to behave in a romantic manner to each other in front of their children, even if they do not believe they have another reason to do so. On a related note, if you are behaving romantically only for this reason don’t be surprised to find yourself much happier and satisfied in that relationship.
This seminar is about romance, not love nor sex, although romance snuggles nicely up against both of those topics. For my part I will not be discussing anything salacious, and I am hopeful audience members will be tasteful in their questions.
So please, make a date to invest in your relationships and come have a fun, informative evening that will benefit a great cause. I hope to see you there!

Rites of Passage - Wearing Make-up

Make-up has been worn to enhance or to cover one’s facial features since 4,000 BC and most of the ancient civilizations, from Egypt to Rome and Greece participated in the wearing of make-up. From antiquity throughout the Middle Ages, makeup ingredients included everything from arsenic, lead, animal fat (still used today), to crocodile excrement. While the ingredients may have changed over the years, the reason for make-up hasn’t.
According to Dr. Anthony Napoleon, noted plastic surgeon and PhD in clinical psychology, “Make-up and all other rites of passage are the expression of secondary sexual behaviors”. In our phone conversation, he maintained the role of makeup in society is like a weapon in the arms race of sexual behavior. For example, the enlargement and rounding of the eyes and the coloring of lips are biologically intended to be sexual cues to attract a mate. One young lady wearing make-up to school means that in order to compete for male attention, other young ladies are forced to wear make-up as well. He urges parents to realize this before allowing children to wear make-up, ensuring they are ready for this step.
In a related manner, self-esteem issues are wrapped into this parental minefield. The research I reviewed suggests that self-esteem, particularly in girls, is a product of two primary influences. The first influence is body shape, with body weight the leading aspect. The next factor is the mother’s self-esteem, with high maternal self-esteem correlating with high self-esteem in the daughter. Low self-esteem is consistently the highest predictor of high risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse issues and engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviors.
I caution parents to realize the cosmetics industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that permeates our society in a myriad of direct and subtle ways. One way not usually realized is through sociological and scientific research that encourages girls to use these products to improve skin and to raise self esteem. Both of these claims are debatable at best, so be very careful when reading such “research”, and try to ascertain if you are reading real research or a marketing campaign. Real research is usually peer-reviewed and the sources used are listed, allowing the reader do further digging if desired.
I have always thought it odd; on the one hand we tell our daughters that they are beautiful, and roughly at the start of puberty when their self-esteem and self-confidence are typically at their lowest levels, we hand them make-up suggesting that it will make them more attractive. Your daughter is far more likely to enjoy self confidence and self-esteem if she exercises her inner beauty of developing academically and athletically, while becoming a moral, ethical person. These things coupled with active mentoring from her mother and a few select positive female role models will go infinitely further than “self-esteem/confidence in a bottle”.
Not to be underestimated in this process is Dad’s contribution to his daughter’s self image. Dad can help by providing positive lessons based on his own early experiences of what he found attractive both as a young man and now as a mature person a little further down life’s path.
Make-up use permeates our society, and such a high percentage of women have used this self-esteem crutch for so many years (6,000 and counting), that parents have their work cut out for themselves in helping daughters find a more authentic and lasting source of positive self image. However, because of earlier menarche in young women, lowering dating ages and the constant media bombardment of false images and poor role models, the stakes have never been higher for our young women.

Rites of Passage- Puberty

For most people, this rite of passage is one of the toughest to get through. Partly because adolescence marks changes across the spectrum of who we are: academically, emotionally, physiologically, and of course socially; but also because this time of our lives lasts several years. Dr. Michael Meyerhoff outlines the differences between historical and modern adolescence, “Of course, things used to be simpler and more straightforward back in the old days. A young person’s spurt in size and strength, plus the biological capacity to reproduce that accompanied puberty, were really all that was necessary to enter adulthood. The rules and requirements for mature behavior were so basic and clear that the mental abilities, emotional stability, and store of experience attained by the early to mid-teens were quite sufficient to handle whatever was involved.”
Today information overload is almost universal, the amount of information and number of experiences adolescents need to have to be prepared for adulthood are far greater than in the historical past, and therefore the parenting challenge is far greater. Dr. Phyllis Bronstein helped write an article in Family Relations in which she and others conducted a longitudinal study of fifth graders following them into seventh grade. They augmented this study with research conducted by others to use parenting behaviors to predict middle and high school adjustment.
After reviewing the relevant research on both supportive and authoritative parenting, the parenting characteristics that provide the best chance for positive adjustment are:
1. Support- referring to affection, approval, love and nurturance. Providing a sense a self worth, both by example and direct, simple communication.
2. Attentiveness. Really listening to your kids and eliciting from them their feelings, ideas, interests and experiences. If you are responding using single syllable words, or worse, talking when you should be listening, you are probably not being attentive.
3. Responsiveness. Is a broad category including, considering, acknowledging, and actively responding to the needs your child expresses including, reassurance, information, and companionship. Specifically, Dr. Bronstein suggests, “Parental responsiveness, which models empathy, altruism, responsibility, and open-mindedness, and lets children know that needs can be met through relationships with other people, seems likely to enhance social development and the ability to make friends. In addition, parents' allowing their children's input into decision making presumably can enhance both children's problem-solving abilities and their sense of self-worth, which can foster their successful handling of the greater academic challenges that middle school offers”.
4. Guidance. Providing direction, information, guidelines and limits for children, enabling them to learn appropriate cultural behaviors, life skills and good judgment. Obviously you can’t guide your child if you’re not having quality interactions to begin with.
5. Receptivity to emotions. Allowing your child to express their emotions increases their level of resilience and ability to cope with academic and social stressors.

There is an old saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. I believe nowhere is this truer than in our relationships with our children. It is virtually impossible to tell them too often how much you love them, or show them too much by taking an active interest in them and their challenges. To end for today, I challenge every parent to tell each of their children at least three times a day, “I love you” and “I am proud of you”; then listen, really listen, for the response. It might just make adolescence your favorite rite of passage.

Rites of Passage- Starting School/ Adjusting to a New School

“It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated.” – Edith Hamilton
If Edith Hamilton is correct in her comments on education, and I believe she is, then starting off on the right foot, with a positive attitude toward school in general and learning in particular, is vital to “the pleasure” of becoming educated. The positive attitude toward school I am referring to is never more important than when a child is starting school for the first time, or going to a new school.
Whether your child is going to school for the first time or changing schools, some things to keep in mind are:
1. Everyone goes to school for the first time at some point and all of us survive the experience so share your experiences as a student, but emphasize the happy ending.
2. While it is true we all survive the experience, for most of us it is a very stressful time so try to ease their fears. This is a great time to begin to teach what a wonderful thing change and growth really are.
3. The attitude you show is very important to how your child reacts, so make sure you project a positive one. Your attitude is the biggest influence on their attitude, and their attitude is the biggest influence on their academic success.

Some things you can do to ease the transition are:

1. Communicate a positive attitude about starting school or the new school.
2. If you can, take your child by the new school to see the school and meet the teachers and staff. Your child may actually get to see the classroom they will be in.
3. Make it a time of celebration. Going to get pizza the night before going to the new school or letting your child know you will be going after their first day can give them something to look forward to.
4. Since we have already started school, celebrating the first report card is also a great idea. If things have gone well, celebrate them; if things have not gone as well as you hoped, use this as a time to discuss what went well and what hasn’t gone so well. Then just like in sports, have a “do over”. “Do overs” are a wonderful thing, and adults tend to forget about them; on an unrelated note, you should also allow yourself “do overs” when necessary.
5. Volunteering at the school is a great way to be connected at your child’s school. If you can help during the day, there are a myriad of things you can do to help, if work prevents you from helping during the school day, then volunteer to be in the PTA or other parental organizations.
Whether starting school for the first time, moving into a new school district, or just moving up to middle or high school, these changes can be very stressful for your student. Changing friends, teachers, surroundings and increased difficulty all conspire to make life difficult for your child. You can, and should, help them with this transition by being involved, directly and daily, in their lives. Your kids and their education will love you all the more for the hands on parenting.

Rites of Passage

“Youth is a blunder; manhood, a struggle; old age, a regret. - Benjamin Disraeli
For all of us there are events in our lives, either challenges or milestones, sometimes both, we must negotiate as part of the process of growth and maturation. Over the next few weeks I will be discussing some of them, providing my own take on them, supported by research and expert opinion when applicable and possible.
I will cover childhood challenges such as the first day of school, the onset of puberty, teenage challenges such as driving, dating and when to allow the use of make-up. Rites of passage are not limited to young people; adults face their own challenges such as Selective Service registration, marriage, parenting, empty nests, retirement and death. I encourage all of you to send me suggestions on which of these milestones are the most problematic. It is not my aim to provide solutions to these issues, but hopefully provide suggestions to make them less challenging and begin a discussion in our families and our community at large.
There are a number of things to keep in mind when providing help and advice to someone facing a rite of passage. While these milestones are common for most of us, our view of these challenges is anything but common. By in large, perception is reality; so you must be respectful of the reality of the person undergoing the change.

1. Rites of passage are not the same for everyone- reaching puberty maybe particularly difficult for one young person and a piece of cake for another, while some of us will age gracefully and others will not, so don’t assume.
2. Ensure you do more listening than talking.
3. Be empathetic- remember that you probably went through this same challenge or one like it. If you negotiated it well then try to keep in mind not everyone can face all challenges with the same grace you had; and if you did not fare as well as would have liked, then try to ease the passing for someone else.
4. Celebrate these times. They mark the passage of our lives and highlight the fact that growth is a journey not a destination.
5. Be a good example. If you are in a time of transition, or rite of passage, do it well and seek help if you need it. If you are mentoring or parenting someone in a rite of passage strive to live as good example so they can see where they should be headed.
6. Meet all challenges, regardless of the circumstances, with the same unconditional love and acceptance you wanted (and will likely want again) when you meet your own rites of passage.
Life is a wonderful ride, wholly unique to each of us, yet marked by events common to all of us. These events are typically our greatest challenges in life, but the commonality of these experiences is our greatest strength; we can, and should, help and mentor each other through them and in the process learn more about ourselves as well. “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

Family Meetings

As your kids get older there are certain conversations every parent dreads, partly because if you hear things such as a child drinking underage, becoming or even thinking of becoming, sexually active. . . Well as a friend of mine says, “Now you have drama”. The problem is bad news is not wine or cheese, it most certainly doesn’t get better with age. The only hope you have to effect the situation is to know about it, and likely the only way you will know about it is through honest communication.
So, I want to shift gears a bit this week and talk about a method of improving family communication, namely the family meeting. Family meetings are a great way to improve communication across all relationships inside the family dynamic, but they are subject to the same shortcomings as their corporate counterparts; namely lack of focus, and those “in charge” talking when they should be listening.
The following suggestions can be used around the kitchen table or in the boardroom with great effectiveness:
1. Mom and Dad should co-chair the meetings initially, but eventually you will transition to everyone sharing in this duty.
2. At the first meeting be sure to remind the family everyone is expected to contribute, to be considerate to the others and to actively listen. Be sure to be clear that no one will be punished, physically or emotionally, for saying what they feel in a meeting.
3. Go around the table, allowing each person to say something positive about how things are going in the family. Parents should offer encouragement and praise for good things mentioned.
4. Next ask the youngest family member to identify a challenge they are having or something that bothered them. This can be school, sports, or something inside the family dynamic. Work your way through the family to the oldest.
4a. An alternative is to have an Agenda sheet on the refrigerator where anyone can write issues to be discussed at the next meeting.
5. As problems are raised, family members should be encouraged to brainstorm proposed solutions.
6. Parents should ask open ended questions such as, “What do you think the problem is?” or “How do you think we could fix this?”
7. Go around the table again, talking about where the family is on the goals the family established for itself when you completed your goal sheets.
8. Go over the family schedule for the week and try to resolve any conflicts.
9. Last, each family member should say something they appreciate about one of the other members. It can be thanks for help on homework, naming a kind thing they said/did or how the family member lifted their spirits during the week.
10. Close the evening with either an activity or dessert everyone enjoys (watching TV is most definitely NOT what I have in mind here). If the first few meetings don’t go as well as you might hope, don’t give up on them; evaluate what didn’t go as well as you would like and make adjustments. Over time you will find family meetings to be another valuable tool in your kit bag of keeping your family communicating and functioning well. Family meetings are a great chance to keep your finger on the pulse of your family, a chance to teach your children how to handle conflict resolution, and get everyone in the habit of communicating the good, the bad and the ugly.

Be a Good Sport

With the first cool breezes of fall come the sure knowledge of two things: one school is starting in a matter of days, and two school sports are all ready in full swing (no pun intended, ok, well maybe a little). While most of us enjoy school athletics, not all of us act according to our better selves. I mean with the referees and umpires all needing a good optometrist and the ball not always bouncing in favor of the most deserving team, who can blame us?
Dr. Darrell Burnett says our kids do. He has done research into the 10 things our student athletes say we should refrain from doing in order to be loyal fans, good role models and loving, supportive parents. His advice is great, so I am copying it verbatim in order that we all might be reminded of our better selves more of the time.
1. Don’t yell out instructions.
2. Don’t put down the officials.
3. Don’t yell at me in public.
4. Don’t yell at the coach.
5. Don’t put down my teammates.
6. Don’t put down the other team.
7. Don’t lose your cool.
8. Don’t lecture me about mistakes after the game.
9. Don’t forget to laugh and have fun.
10. Don’t forget that it is only a game.
I realize how difficult it is to sit on one’s hands or keep one’s mouth shut when the game is on the line or the home team is losing badly. However, most of these embarrassing behaviors are not just uncalled for, they are counterproductive as well. They can also be damaging to you and your child’s relationship in the long run; if nothing else they are a bad example of sportsmanship and can be particularly harmful if a college scout is also watching.Have fun this school year and enjoy watching our student athletes compete, but really giving the home plate ump the collapsible cane really wasn’t very funny. Ok, well maybe it was a little funny, but please don’t do it again.

Date Night

As all of you parents are aware, the beginning of the school year is just around the corner. If your household is like mine, you meet this time of year with mixed emotions; glad to have the kids back in school but reluctant to watch your schedule explode with sports, clubs and homework and sad to see the toll those things take on your wallet. However, this time of year can provide another challenge, setting enough time aside to have “date night” with your spouse.
I hear many of you burning up brain cells trying to remember when the last time you and your spouse went out without the kids. If you find you haven’t had a date night in the last month, I am here to help. The first thing you need to remember is how important it is to go on these little excursions. I hope I don’t need to convince anyone of the value of spending quality time alone with your spouse!
I know many of you have objections on the grounds that you are too busy, or date night costs too much. I would remind you that you will be much busier as a single parent than you are with two of you, and you can go on LOTS of date nights for the cost of a divorce attorney; not to mention the hidden costs lack of closeness and low love levels between parents has on the whole family.
But because I am here to serve, I am going to help overcome these two most common objections I hear when it comes to date night. If you believe you are too busy for date night, you need to reevaluate the activities the family is involved in to see if you should scale back to get a breath and regain some sanity. The only thing most couples need is to be reminded to pull out a calendar and schedule a night to get away together.
Perceived lack of funds is also a common reason for allowing date night to fall away. Money concerns are not an obstacle if you think a bit more creatively. For example, find another couple with children roughly the same age as yours and trade off babysitting duties so each couple can go on date night. Another help is to realize the company is more important than the event or restaurant you go to. Grabbing some burgers at a fast food joint and then taking an evening walk around the lake or in a park under the stars, allows a chance to be romantic and talk for around ten bucks. Don’t have ten bucks? Skip the burgers, grab a milk shake and use the time for more walking and talking!
Look in the romantic book you bought a few weeks ago, when I wrote about being romantic, for ideas on how to spice up date night, or look on the web pages I suggested. Relationships take planning and work to make them as satisfying as they can be and no one plans to fail, but they often fail to plan.
“I have no way of knowing whether or not you married the wrong person, but I do know that many people have a lot of wrong ideas about marriage and what it takes to make that marriage happy and successful. I'll be the first to admit that it's possible that you did marry the wrong person. However, if you treat the wrong person like the right person, you could well end up having married the right person after all. On the other hand, if you marry the right person, and treat that person wrong, you certainly will have ended up marrying the wrong person. I also know that it is far more important to be the right person than it is to marry the right person. In short, whether you married the right or wrong person is primarily up to you." –Zig Zigler

Walking the Path of Education

It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated. – Edith Hamilton
Last week I provided some thoughts on how to start your child on the right foot in school and ended with the suggestion providing a safe, loving environment, free of abuse is the start to a great education. This week I continue that argument by suggesting that as your student moves through the education process, it is always vitally important to provide an environment conducive to learning.
In order for educational success to become a reality, you MUST be involved in your child’s education. By this I mean: going to EVERY parent-teacher conference and open house (how else will you know what is going on in your child’s classroom), making sure your child fills out their agenda during the middle school years (if they learn how in middle school, they are likely to continue in high school), checking your child’s homework every night (if you check EVERY night in elementary school you can begin to spot check in middle school) and making sure they get enough sleep and eat breakfast before school.
I suggest a place to do homework free of TV, game playing machines, IPods, and other distractions. I realize that kids are masters of multitasking, but research shows that when children, or adults, are distracted by the radio or TV; we do not remember information as well as when we are totally focused on what we are trying to learn.
Part of an environment conducive to education, is to have a family attitude that education comes first and is a life-long activity; education is celebrated and openly supported in the home. Practical suggestions are: teachers are spoken of with respect, believing being educated is something to be aspired to, post high school education of some type is assumed and homework is done shortly after getting home from school. If a short break is needed to get a snack or do a quick chore, fine, but hit the books as quickly as possible.
After school jobs should be allowed only with the utmost care and everyone needs to remember, while in high school, education comes first. So far we have not allowed our kids to work anymore than doing a little babysitting or a short term odd job or two in the summer. We have gone to great pains to stay focused that behind becoming an ethical and moral person, education is their only job. To that end we hold them to doing their best in school, athletics and outside activities; all of which have become important to university admissions and scholarship opportunities. If you demonstrate in your own life that education is important, give your children’s teachers the support they need, provide a safe and loving environment to learn in, and continually monitor your children’s education process, your children will obtain the best education possible and will likely find the success you dream for them.

Parenting in the Outdoors

If you are a regular reader of this paper, you may remember that my family and I rode recumbent tricycles across the United States two years ago. There were many reasons for the trip: family bonding before I headed to Iraq, education, adventure, and to serve as inspiration to other families.
My wife and I speak to lots of parents and parent groups helping them to learn to use the outdoors as a parenting tool; please contact us if you know of a group that would benefit from such a talk. Three reasons outdoor adventures are such a powerful tool are:
· the adventure is scalable – you can start small when your kids are small and go bigger, faster and longer as your kids get bigger and your expertise increases
· you can incorporate activities your family already likes to do
· the adventure facilitates, rather than interfering with talking to your kids- sports for example are great, but even if you are your kid’s coach you are coaching and they are playing, you aren’t talking
The first step in having fun, safe and life changing family adventures is for you (and your spouse) to determine your goals. Are you looking to improve behavior and grades or do you want to facilitate child development and foster family closeness? Next, sit down with the entire family and determine your family’s interests- do they want to ski, rock climb, white water raft, or something totally new? Then just you and your spouse get back together to determine your family’s capability in both time and money.
There is an almost endless supply of resources for parents to help them get into the outdoors, the first of them being the great Northwest where we are all lucky enough to live. Our area provides the opportunity for year round adventures. There are local Boy Scout troops, guide services and gear companies all of whom can provide contacts and instruction.
Speaking of instruction, if you are unsure of your skills go take lessons; not only will your family have more fun and be safer but you will look cool when you teach them what you learned. They also will provide lots of advice and can actually save money in avoiding false starts and adventures gone awry. Many times lessons are free or very inexpensive.
I am not suggesting that money is not important, however, beyond basic expenses such as food, shelter and education costs, your time is far more important to your family than your money is; so make a renewed effort to spend more time with your family, doing activities that will pay huge dividends in terms of family closeness and opportunities for life lessons. Author and speaker Og Mandino once asked, “All the gold in the world cannot buy a dying man one more breath. So, what does that make today worth?" Please give your family something more precious than money; each other in a loving, fun activity they will remember forever.

Goal Setting for Kids

“Dream lofty dreams, and as you dream, so shall you become.” – James Allen
We have talked about goal setting in our own lives, and then how to marry those goals together inside a marriage; today we need to go over how to teach our children how to set goals and then achieve them. This process is vital to their success because as Peter Zarlenga points out, “To come to be you must have a vision of Being, a Dream, a Purpose, a Principle. You will become what your vision is.”
Goal setting for youth is much the same as goal setting for adults; the first step is to convince them to think big enough. Thinking big enough is on the one hand easier for children, but on the other even more critical. Easier, because kids have not been told by the world to compromise, that they can’t accomplish something, or to be reasonable in what they dream. More critical, because you first have to dream something before you can achieve it.
Before you are tempted as the parent to encourage your kids to “be reasonable” or to not attempt a lofty goal I encourage you to remember George Bernard Shaw, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends upon the unreasonable man." More on point is the great newspaper man, Edward R. Murrow, “Difficulty is the one excuse history never accepts.”
Once you have YOUR head in the correct frame of mind, then you are ready to coach your kids in dreaming big, and you should do so constantly. When the world tries to convince them they are not good enough, fast enough, smart enough or whatever; you should be their cheerleader, their advocate and when necessary their (figurative) kick in the pants.
The first step in all of these roles is to get your kids to write down their goals, in exactly the same fashion I asked all of you to a couple of months ago. If you haven’t done so, you could sit down as a family over a pizza or three and lay out your goals together. You providing a good, direct example will go a long way in this process. I have a goal setting worksheet I have developed that may prove invaluable in this process, and if you email me I will be happy to email it to you.
Goal setting is the first, and quite possibly the most important part of goal achieving, regardless of the endeavor, so please teach your kids how to do this vital exercise. If you will recall, I also admonished adults to publish their goals to the appropriate people in their lives. In this case I suggest you take the finished document to your children’s teachers, they can use it to help motivate your kids in the classroom.
I wish to leave you this week with the following thought, "Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning." -- Mahatma Gandhi

The Whole Person

"Life is truly a ride. We're all strapped in and no one can stop it.... I think that the most you can hope for at the end of life is that your hair's messed, you're out of breath, and you didn't throw up." - Jerry Seinfeld
Over the last couple of weeks I have discussed the importance of education and then provided some thoughts on how to be more effective as a parent in educating your children. This week I thought chatting about extracurricular activities is worth some time because so many families struggle with balancing academics and extracurricular activities. Few parents today doubt the importance of kids playing sports, learning to play an instrument, studying art or drama; they DO however struggle with tying it all together.
The challenge for parents today is more difficult than ever; with many universities using the “whole person concept” for admissions and scholarship opportunities, there is a tangible payoff to extracurricular activities beyond fun and rounding out a child’s personality. Even High school teams of all kinds are also more selective with more kids trying to be part of organizations with limited resources.
The challenge doesn’t stop there however. With activities starting earlier (some, like swimming can start in infancy) and becoming more competitive for the best teams and traveling competitions, both children and parents have more invested. Speaking of resources, serious time and money can be expended when one considers fees, equipment, uniforms, lessons, and getting to and from practice and the actual activities. The more kids you have in activities, obviously the crazier your life becomes trying to get everyone where they belong.
For these reasons, make sure that the activities your family participates in support the goals you developed a couple of months ago when I wrote about goal setting. Your goal setting sheet will help insure that you continue to lead the activities, not be driven by them.
You also want to make sure the activities are not having a negative effect on your family. Are you still having dinner together several nights a week? Are your kids having trouble doing their homework because of activities? Are the kids getting enough sleep? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests at least nine hours of sleep per night for a teenager. Last, is the family still having fun? If you receive a negative answer when you ask these questions, then perhaps you should scale back your kids’ involvement in the number of activities or how seriously they participate. This process may require some hard choices by everyone in the family, but remember, at the end of the day YOU are still the parent.The bottom line is that everyone needs interests that challenge us and recharge our batteries. Far from being frivolous, they help round us out and add zest to life. However, like spices in cooking they can be overdone; so encourage your kids to try new things and grow in ways they never thought possible, but while they are spreading their wings insure they do so with your help and involvement. Not just in getting there, but making decisions that are best for their long term development and futures.

Starting Down the Path of Education

All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. - Aristotle
A great many authors over the last ten years or so have written convincingly on the rapidly growing economic divide in this nation, and along with this economic divide is a similar educational divide. Which of these divides came first is open to debate, but will have to be taken up by another columnist. Because like most of you, what really matters to me most is how we can ensure more of our kids are included in the group with a superior education.
Those of you who have kept up with my writing know that I believe education, when jacketed by love and compassion, is the magic bullet; as a cure for both an individual’s struggles and for societal strife as a whole. Lord Brougham noted, “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.”
Once you have bought into the indispensableness of education, then the question becomes how to ensure your children are put on the right track to a real education. While on the whole I am not a fan of homeschooling, if you choose that route become familiar with the many organizations available to make it a success for your family. Pay particular attention to the potential advantages and limitations of home schooling and realize that whether you home school or go to some other school system, you will have to augment and tailor your child’s education to get the best education possible for your child.
Read to your children, early and often, LONG before you believe they are getting something out of it. The loving time they spend with you, listening to you, helps with discipline and will instill a love of learning and reading. If you need help, there are reading programs for kids at the library and adult literacy programs at NIC, both of which are free.
A conversation with the elementary school your child will attend or a quick look at the curriculum on the school district web site will provide you with a list of skills your child should have before they start school. At a minimum: an ability to behave and follow simple directions, having learned colors, shapes, numbers, letters, be able to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and understand simple science such as the difference between plants and animals, and the states of matter. If your child can do more advanced tasks such as read aloud, and perform simple math computations such as double digit addition and subtraction, they will be ahead of the game. The most important thing you can do however to prepare your child for school and life in general, is provide a safe environment; one free of substance or personal abuse, but full of love and natural inquiry and curiosity. Last, an attitude that outside of being a good human being, nothing is more important than a great education.

Running a Tighter Ship

As I promised from last week, I would like to share some tips I found at,, and my own experience. These tips are consistent across all of these sites and are for the most part, basic and common sense. I am reviewing them because every parent knows how difficult it can be to remember this advice when YOUR child is melting down, in public, and you aren’t in a position to “just go home”.
Research suggests that children at 6 months of age can begin to understand limits such as not grabbing glasses, not pinching, or to “be nice” when petting a family pet. Using a firm tone of voice, and making sure you are making eye contact, especially when child safety is involved is key at this age.
Say “No” when your child has done something wrong, but ensure that you pick your battles because if your child hears “No” too often they are likely to tune you out. Along with saying “No”, having clearly spelled out consequences that matter to your child is key to the discipline process. A “devastating” consequence to one child will warrant a “so what” to another child, so tailor consequences accordingly.
In my opinion the second most important aspect of discipline is being consistent. If the light sometimes turns on when they throw the switch, but sometimes it doesn’t then the child gets confused and you get frustrated. If a rule is a rule at home then it should be the rule in public (or anywhere else) for example.
Temper your consistency with empathy. If you realize that by stopping to talk with a friend a little too long your child is missing their nap or lunch, try to understand your child’s frustration at having no control over how their day has been inconvenienced.
Offer an acceptable option to breaking the rules. If your child wants to play with something they aren’t supposed to, correct the offending behavior and then try to provide an acceptable alternative such as something they can use to draw or color.
For me, the most important tool in getting good behavior is to model and praise good behavior every chance you get. As much as you can you should praise your child “publically”, such as telling Grandparents or someone else the child looks up to, the good things the child has recently done. This praise should be done in front of the child; because children, like all of us, like to hear good things about ourselves.
Behaviors that should always be corrected immediately: safety issues, respecting adults, health issues, education behaviors, and lying. I hope safety and health issues are self evident, however respecting adults can be influenced by culture. It has been difficult for our children to remember to be polite to adults by saying “Yes Ma’am or No Sir” for example, because here in North Idaho many adults do not find such politeness important and in fact sometimes actively discourage it!
You as parents will set yourselves up for success if you set a non-negotiable policy on when, where, and to what standard homework will be done, and what behavior is expected in the classroom. You will also make lots of points with your child’s teacher if you involve the teacher in opening a line of communication as to your child’s classroom behavior.
Demonstrating truthfulness in your own life and then insisting upon it in your children will be critical as they grow into teenagers. Taking care not to “shoot the messenger” when you hear something truthful you would rather not hear will also forward your cause.In closing, modeling good behavior in your own life, including empathy and using a sense of fairness along with these guidelines, will go a long way to developing a well-mannered, well-behaved, child you can be justifiably proud of.

Running a Tight Ship

For many parents, one of the most difficult aspects of child rearing is discipline. Modern society doesn’t make life any easier for a parent; if you allow your child to throw a fit in a store or restaurant, then people believe you are rude to others and can’t control your child. If you give your child a swat (or two) on the behind, then you can get funny stares or even a conversation with law enforcement.
For the most part, researchers in child behavior are of the opinion that spanking does not work, however the majority of parents do use spanking as one of their tools in the parental tool box and there is small but convincing group of researchers that believe spanking can be effective. So what is a conscientious, loving parent to do? Because neither my own four children nor my counseling background give me the ability to settle this debate in one column, I will offer the following: IF a parent is going to spank it should be rare, and only for the most serious offenses such as safety concerns. If you find yourself spanking very often, or after your kids are in elementary school, please take a parenting class to add to your parenting repertoire.
If you have been following this column, you know that I make a big deal out of the fact that life is a building process and it is very difficult to skip steps and still be successful. In few areas of life is this more apparent than in parenting. Taking the time to find a compatible, healthy, balanced spouse, engaging in premarital counseling, developing a strong marriage, going to pre-parenting classes, and last doing all you can to insure a healthy pregnancy, are all key steps to becoming a great parent to fantastic kids.
I would also suggest in the strongest terms you and your spouse have discussed your parenting philosophies in depth and often. Then age appropriately you sit your children down and chat with them often as well as to your expectations and goals for them. This should most definitely be a give and take, not a lecture. You want their buy-in.
Be empathetic to the fact that at the end of the day they are kids, trying very hard to learn the rules of life, negotiate relationships, get an education, and grow and mature. I believe I can make a powerful argument that kids have it much harder than adults. Besides, how often do we as adults make mistakes, even when we know better? In my case fairly often.
Next week I am going to provide some very specific suggestions to effectively discipline your children. Until then, you will find it impossible to spend too much time with them, show them too much affection, or love them too much.

A Long Flight Home

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of watching the completion ceremony of my oldest son and his fellow Pages after roughly five months of service to our nation as Senate Pages. Both the Majority and Minority leaders spoke at the ceremony and I had the pleasure of meeting them and several other Senators at the reception afterward. I can’t begin to describe the surreal circumstance of having several Senators compliment you on how well you have raised your oldest child and the fantastic service they performed in a historic job. As I am sure you can tell, his mother and I are very proud of Mark, however my purpose is to set the stage, not to brag.
After the ceremony it was time to fly back home, but our flight was cancelled and so we spent over twelve hours in the airport waiting for another plane to bring us home. During our time in the terminal I noticed a man with a baby boy about a year old. I noticed him partly out of habit; after a long Army career, I notice almost everyone. However, I have to admit I also noticed him because the man was travelling with a baby, but without his wife.
On the plane the man and his baby sat right behind Mark and me, and despite my fears, Daniel slept most of the way to Salt Lake where they call home. I learned baby Daniel’s story, how he was orphaned in Ethiopia and how he came to be adopted by the man and his loving wife. I realized that baby Daniel slept so soundly because he had travelled from Ethiopia to Rome to Washington D.C. and then finally to Utah; to begin a new life in the States, safe from the strife and hunger of his homeland. It was a very heartwarming encounter.
I mentioned to Daniel’s dad how appropriate it was, for me at least, that each of us was taking our sons’ home. Me bringing home a son, who I will all too soon have to let go into the world to make his way; while he was bringing home a son at the start of their journey together. I am more than a little envious.
I am certain I did not pass along any profound advice, although if I could have thought of some to give him, I doubt he could have remembered it; he was pretty well toast by the time of our flight. If I could speak with him again I would not provide advice, other than to suggest to him to stay the course he has started. I would strenuously advise plenty of hugs, kisses, conversations, and spending as much time together as he can possibly steal. For no matter the amount any of us barter for, time goes by in a blink and none of us ever, ever, get any of it back.
For the Sunday after the cards, special meals, and presents of Father’s Day, let me suggest you love the children you have, and if you have room in your home and heart, please look into the wonderful opportunities of adoption. I could tell that Daniel, and his Dad, have already gained so much.

A Romance Primer

“Love may make the world go round, but it is romantic love that makes the ride worthwhile”.- Gary Godek
Last week I made the assertion that romance is easy, fun and necessary to a healthy relationship and that being romantic is a key skill to pass on to your children. This week I hope to pass on a few ideas you can use to get those creative juices flowing. The following ideas are all tame but fun, for a list of spicier ideas email me and I will be happy to forward one to you.
To get started you can take a crayon and write short notes on the eggs in your refrigerator such as “I © U” or “143”. Along these same lines, use driveway chalk to write a short message in BIG letters on your driveway so your spouse reads it when they pull in. Buy one daisy and attach a note that says: “She/He loves me- she/he loves me not”, however stack the deck in your favor and make sure the flower has an odd number of petals.
Write a love letter. If you have difficulty look up the Sullivan Ballou letter on the Internet, it remains one of the most romantic, and tragic, letters ever written. You can find it at .
Make three lists to give your spouse: “Ten reasons I fell in love with you”, “Ten reasons I still love you” and “Ten ways you turn me on”.
This idea is just too cool. Make a series of “coupons” the size of a chocolate bar and insert the coupons in the wrapper next to the chocolate bar then re-glue the wrapper with a glue stick. Ensure you do not get glue on the chocolate.
In keeping with summer’s arrival, find, borrow or rent a rowboat. Get a blanket, wine, glasses, cheese, strawberries and chocolate in a basket and row to a secluded spot on one of our local lakes.
Hide one line sticky notes in your spouse’s car. Over the sun visor, in the trunk, on the steering wheel, you get the idea.
Go parking. If you have forgotten how to “park”, ask a teenager for an explanation.
Book a weekend at a bed and breakfast; there are a number of them locally. Use the opportunity to take a long walk and really LISTEN to your spouse. This is a fantastic time to review your goal sheets with each other. To find one try or .
Many of these ideas came from the book “1001 Romantic Ideas” by Gregory Godek. For additional ideas and help try or .
Remember the old axiom, “Time is money”? Well it is a LIE, time is NOT money! You can make money but you can’t create time, you only get what you get so make sure you are spending your time on people and activities according to your life priorities. The Italian poet Torquato Tasso said, “Any time that is not spent on love is wasted”.

A Case for Romance

Couples who have A+ relationships know the secrets of combining creativity and action to produce long-term monogamous love affairs. (In other words, they know the secret of romance.) – Gregory Godek
For many men, this subject is one of trepidation and uncertainty. For many, they do not wish to look foolish or “mushy”, and like so many things in life because they do not practice being romantic, they aren’t very good at it. So to women I suggest you provide lots of appreciation and gentle, constructive coaching. Hints here and there as to the types of things you find romantic are always helpful as well. Buying a book like “1001 Ways to be Romantic” by Gregory Godek will be invaluable.
You may ask yourself why I waited until now to write about romance; AFTER columns on dating, marriage and having children. The reason is simple: it is at this point in a relationship that romance becomes difficult and for many couples they never get back their romantic selves after having children. I think this is sad, and most marriage experts would say the loss of romance is both bad for the relationship and unnecessary.
Further, I would argue there are several reasons to keep romance alive in your marriage. The first is simply it is an expression of love. The second is it reminds us to think of our spouse in loving ways and then to act on those thoughts. If you believe love is a choice as do many experts in the field, then you see how CHOOSING to do something loving for your spouse is key to keeping loving feelings alive. Last, I argue it is vital for your children to see you being romantic to your spouse. It provides them an example of the behaviors they should both emulate and expect later in their own relationships. This last reason is enough for experts to advise that even if you do not have the marriage you wish, you should still be romantic to be a good example. Besides if you are more romantic to your spouse you may develop the marriage you wanted!
Another book on your list should be “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Learning your spouse’s love language will be a great help to you in learning what your spouse will find romantic. “One does not fall ’in’ or ‘out’ of love. One grows in love”- Leo Buscaglia.
Most of our lives are ruled by our cell phones and Blackberries so use them to your advantage. Put a reminder in your phone or computer calendar to do something romantic once a week. At first you will appreciate the reminders, but after a while it becomes second nature for most people. Much like remembering to be romantic, knowing HOW to be romantic takes practice as well, but after a while romantic ideas will come to you from everywhere.
I will include a number of ideas next week that you can slightly change to make your own, but I will close with this week with two romantic gestures that are easy to do and cost nothing (so NO excuses): 1. Call unexpectedly, say simply and with feeling, “I love you” 2. Hold hands and go for a slow walk.

Tools For Parents

In the last column I wrote of the importance of being healthy in all ways before you consider having children; in this column I am taking for granted that you have followed that advice, and you are emotionally, financially, mentally, and physically ready to have a child. Once you and your spouse have made this decision there are a great many things to think about and do in addition to gathering all the “baby things” such as a crib, stroller, car seat, etc.
Before you and your spouse become pregnant, take a basic First Aid class and a CPR class from our local Red Cross. These classes are good to have for any number of emergencies big and small, and will provide a small piece of mind during those nervous first few months of parenthood. Obviously you will take child birthing classes either doctor’s office will recommend or through the hospital you will deliver in.
Either while still trying to become pregnant, or right after, take a parenting class. Not because you will be a bad parent on your own, but because you will be a better parent for having done so. There are a number of parenting classes offered in Coeur D’ Alene such as the classes provided by the Region II Family Resource Center (800) 393-7290. There are now even classes just for Dads, such as the “Idaho Dads Matter” program.
There are a number of Internet sites to provide help as well:,,,, are just a few that a Google search will provide. These websites give detailed parenting advice on everything from conception to college. You can also dial 1-800-448-3000 for parenting help 24/7 from the Girls and Boys Town National Hotline.
Make sure you eat well, do not drink alcohol or smoke, get plenty of rest, and do as the doctor suggests. I realize for many people this seems as though my advice is common sense and therefore does not bear repeating, but I assure you far too many parents ignore this simple, basic advice, and in doing so fail to give their child the best start possible.
Contact with your child; hugging, holding, kissing, talking to, reading with, playing with and just plain spending time with, cannot be done too much. Early childhood research shows it is impossible to “spoil” a baby with too much attention. In fact, children who are given more attention have lower stress levels, better dispositions and less separation anxiety than children who receive less. Take it from someone about to send his oldest off to college; childhood goes by in a blink, do not take one minute of it for granted.
Ensure you go to the doctor for well baby checks and all childhood immunizations. Childhood diseases have largely been eradicated in this country, let’s all do our part to keep them that way and our children healthy.
If you are attending to your parenting duties correctly you will find it more work than you could possibly have imagined (and no, from my experience it never gets easier, just different); however if you have prepared properly, not only will you find your job easier, you will be rewarded with incredible joy. For additional help or advice do not hesitate to email me or any of the resources I have listed here.