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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.

Having Kids

This week we are going to talk about having children! Now before anybody gets excited (pun intended), we are not going to review 10th grade Biology class; I am going to assume anyone reading this column has had that class and doesn’t need a refresher.
I know many of you either already have children or your children are gone; so while I am not directing this column to you, I hope you will garner some use from it, and in any event remember it is in all our best interests to develop strong families, so pass this on to the people you know who would benefit. If you already have children, but had them without doing the planning I suggest, please consider following the advice applicable to you. I also realize we only got married two weeks ago (in our world anyway), but thinking about when to have children or even whether to have them is a discussion you and your spouse should have had several times before you got married.
The advent of modern birth control allows couples to reliably choose when they wish to have children. This ability to choose also implies greater responsibility. The responsibility to both examine your own heart as to if you are ready to be a parent, to talk with your spouse to try determine if they are ready, and last of course to determine if your marriage is ready. Much as I suggested in the column on dating, you are bringing another life to join with yours and because this life has no choice in the matter, you are MORE obligated to ensure you are ready for the commitment.
So again I remind you, before you even begin THINKING of having a child: you should be free of alcohol or drug use, have your temper under control and be healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally. Your marriage should also be on firm footing. If there is ANY domestic abuse or excessive fighting, for example, please go to counseling and heal the relationship before conceiving. If these conditions are not satisfied, you owe it to yourself and more importantly that innocent child to become so before you conceive. Some are tempted to believe a baby will bring a couple closer or heal a damaged relationship; while this may be true for some for a short period of time, a child will stress a relationship LONG after any short reconciliation. So do not have a child to heal a relationship, spend that money on counseling instead.
You may have noticed that my columns tend to focus on preparing for success: whether personal, career, marital, or parenting success is our goal, preparation is key. It is hard work and often isn’t sexy, which is why most authors don’t discuss it and most of us ignore it. In this case another life is dependent upon you to get it right.
Having children should be a wonderful gift and time in a happy life. Give some thought to the suggestions I make to give yourself the best chance to be loving parent and raise a generation of children better than ours. Next week we will discuss the resources available for parents to help them raise great families.

“Marrying” Your Goal Sheets

A month ago or so, I wrote two columns about setting goals and recently wrote on some things to consider before getting married. This week I want to suggest that you combine the information in those columns and have them payoff in a manner larger than if you were to only do them independently.
The best time to go through the process I will describe today is before you get married, but the next best time is shortly after you are married. If you have been married a long time you will still derive great benefit from this process, in fact this process may energize your marriage in a way you may have never experienced.
To prepare for this exercise you (and your spouse) must do the goal setting exercise I outlined previously, if you need a copy of it, just email me. You and your spouse need to do this independently of each other and make sure you dream big. Last, do not look on each other’s sheets at this point, remember, NO PEEKING!
After each of you have filled out the goal setting sheets then you need to schedule a time to sit down together to do the sometimes difficult work of reconciling your goals. This requires time, patience, caring, listening, love, and an unselfish attitude. I recommend getting a responsible sitter for the kids and booking a weekend at a bed and breakfast or favorite hotel. It doesn’t have to be far away or fancy; however, separating yourselves for a day or two will help tremendously as will introducing as much romance as you can to the outing. I just heard the deafening sound of the skipping heartbeats of half the population of Kootenai County. Never fear gentlemen, I have your back. For those of you not comfortable with romance, I will be writing an article on that subject in a couple of weeks.
Once your goal setting sheets are filled out and you are safely tucked away on your romantic interlude, relax. Have a little fun, eat a nice meal and reconnect with your lovely spouse, THEN begin to reveal your goals, hopes and dreams that you have written down. Take turns revealing either one section at a time or one goal at a time. Take care to remember what a precious gift your spouse is giving you, they are telling you things so important to them they might not share it easily. Do not abuse their trust in you; listen lovingly and respectfully, and then help them figure out how to accomplish their dreams.
Put your goals on the timeline sheet, taking care to ensure each of you are fulfilling your goals as you go along. There may be times when one of your goals will be more important than the other, but overtime this should balance out. The idea is to come to an agreement as a couple, but neither you nor your spouse should feel coerced. Doing this exercise once a year is as important to your marriage as your yearly physical with your doctor is to your bodily health so please do not neglect it. You and your spouse will achieve goals with more regularity and you will likely find more happiness and energy in your marriage than you have had in a long time.

A Case for Public Education

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” – James Garfield
On May 15th we will have a chance to vote on the level of funding for our local schools, so I thought a review of the history of education in the US might be helpful for people to make an informed decision. In the interest of academic honesty I should note that I have four children in the school system and my wife is a substitute teacher, but lest anyone believe I am incapable of setting either bias aside, I am more than happy to provide my list of sources upon request.
Our nation has not always had public schools, so education was often not available and was certainly not free, with the inevitable result being; only the wealthy were educated. While Thomas Jefferson was the first American leader to suggest instituting a public school system, it would take until 1852 for the first state, Massachusetts, to begin compulsory education. New York followed the next year and by 1918 all states required at least an elementary school education. It is interesting to note that Jefferson believed the government should be in charge of education so it would be free of religious influence and should be available to all regardless of status or income.
The aftermath of the Industrial Revolution necessitated an educated workforce; so High Schools really hit their stride in the 20th century as the nation educated its youth, and as such most states required school attendance through the age of 16. By 1996, 85 percent of teenagers had graduated High School compared to only 6 percent in 1900. We now find ourselves in the Information Age; with advances ever accelerating, communication speeds increasing, boundaries of all kinds shrinking or disappearing all together. In this age, and for the foreseeable future, education will be more important than ever before in human history.
Horace Mann, an early advocate of public education and a Massachusetts Representative from 1827-1833 said, “Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man, - the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” This places many demands on education, especially in educating children from troubled homes. If we are to avoid going back to the days of unequal education in which the rich and successful were virtually guaranteed to stay rich and successful because they were the only ones with access to quality education, then we must meet these kids where they are, and in many cases this means alleviating their suffering before we can educate them.
For those you of you who no longer have children in the school system, you may be tempted to believe educating other people’s children is not your responsibility. If the above reasons are too indirect to convince you, then how about your desire to have a nurse or doctor to service your health needs, firefighters to come to your rescue, military forces to keep you free, and every other function of society to include the fast food worker to count out correct change?
Given these reasons, my wife and I will be voting YES twice on the levy; once for the replacement levy and once for the small increase to compensate for inflation and the state’s reduction of funding. We wholeheartedly urge you to do the same, not for the benefit of teachers or politicians but for the benefit of your nation and your future.

Getting Married

This is another column that if you are already married you might be tempted to skip, however there will still be plenty of good information for those of us who are already married (and of course my sharp wit as a bonus), so I encourage you to read this whether single or married and to pass it on to those you believe can benefit.
The best time to think about getting married is years before you begin seriously looking for your life partner. As I mentioned in previous columns, figuring out what you want for your own life as well as becoming a functional, healthy, mature, loving, human being are all things that should be accomplished before seriously looking for a mate.
Because I'm sure all of you have done the things I've just mentioned, we are going to press on, assuming you have found a partner who is also functional, healthy, mature, and loving. One might be tempted to think that if you have done what I have suggested, all that is left would be to pick china patterns. However, building a relationship is analogous to building a house, and in the previous columns we only laid the foundation for tying two lives together; we have not yet begun to put up walls or a roof.
In this analogy, a couple should build the walls and roof before honeymoon plans are started:
1. Take your individual goal sheets and begin the hard process of honest communication to reconcile those goals. Keep in mind, honest communication is paramount. Love’s early flush can keep a couple from honestly communicating, thinking to spare their intended’s feelings. This never works in the long run.
2. Make sure you cover these topics as a minimum: where you wish to live, children (how many, when, etc.), financial priorities, religious beliefs. Blended families have the additional challenge of step-children and any ex-spouses.
3. Attend marriage classes or pre-marital counseling, preferably over the course of several weeks. Go with an open mind and open heart to pick up invaluable communication and compromise skills.
4. If this is a second (or more) marriage, you really should try to figure out why your other marriage failed (and no, it was not all your ex-spouse’s fault).
5. You and your partner should both read books on healthy relationships such as “The Five Love Languages” or “Before you Say I Do: A Marriage Preparation Manual”.
Almost any church you wish to get married in is going to require a meeting with the marrying official, during which you will likely be asked questions on the topics I covered above. However this short session is not nearly long or in depth enough in my mind and will not provide the kind of tools you will need to build a successful marriage. If your future spouse refuses such help and counseling or can’t be bothered to work in order to have a successful marriage, a large red flag should go up in your head.
Surely there are a number of Marriage and Family counselors in your area, as well as churches and parenting organizations that are glad to help. If you cannot find the proper resources, email me and I will send you a list. Please do not ignore the hard work of your marriage; the sooner you start, the more rewarding the relationship will be for both of you and any children you may have.

Finding and Being a Mentor

Last week we talked about dealing with adversity, a topic that virtually every person will have to address many times. Part of the process of overcoming adversity is to find a mentor so the following are my suggestions:
1. Each of us needs different mentors for the different aspects of our lives: career, hobbies, marriage, parenting, and spiritual. Over time your mentors may change as you grow.
2. Decide what you are looking for in a mentor. If you are just looking for “connections” to grease the skids toward your goals, then you are networking, not looking for a mentor. A mentor may provide a connection here or there, but that is not their most important function. They are there for advice and to tell you what they learned on their path to your goal.
3. Tell everyone you meet your goals and aspirations. If people don’t know your goals how can they help? Besides, the more people who know your goals, the more that can hold you accountable to achieving them. Even if a person cannot help you directly, they may introduce you to someone or an organization that can help.
4. Join organizations related to your goal. Their members will have knowledge, expertise and people available to answer questions and maybe provide contacts.
5. Cultivate the people who express an interest in your goals and let them know their coaching is important to your success. Most people want to be helpful and while a few will refuse for one reason or another, most will help.
6. Once you have found a mentor be sure you set limits as to what each of you will do and make it clear that either one can walk away without hard feelings. This enables each person to decide for themselves their comfort level and how much effort each of you will put in the relationship.
7. You have already attained certain talents and education that you should be passing on to others. If you are a ten year old, maybe you can demonstrate to your younger sibling how to get in and out of Mom’s cookie jar without getting caught, and if you are 80, maybe you can mentor a 50 year old on how to age with grace.
8. Be diligent in providing the best mentoring you can. Be patient and kind (you probably didn’t get it right the first time either).
9. You may well receive far more benefit from mentoring than being mentored, so I encourage you to mentor others at every opportunity.
My point in this article is that each of us needs mentors in every aspect of our lives for support and help. Can you figure life out on your own without this help? Probably. But you will certainly be more successful the more help you have; besides, life is more fun when we work together!
Next week get your best duds on, we will be getting married!

Dealing with Obstacles

In our last column we talked about dating and how to find a good adventure partner, this time we are shifting gears a bit to talk about how to overcome obstacles when pursuing our goals. At some point everyone has a goal in mind they really would like to achieve, but are stymied by a usually unforeseen obstacle to that goal. The impediment can be money, time, a person or just bad luck.
The preferable time to overcome an obstacle is during the goal setting, planning stage. If you can identify any obstacles that might thwart you from achieving the goal when you set it, you have a much better chance of overcoming the obstacle with little difficulty. This is why I suggest identifying all obstacles you can think of when you write down your goals (the columns two and three weeks ago covered this process).
However, let’s say that you followed the process I outlined and you missed an obstacle that has now bit your backside. What to do? Well the first thing to do is to remember that obstacles, challenges and failure are part of the process and that EVERY successful person you have ever known or heard of experienced these things on their path, so you are in good company. For example, Thomas Edison had to try 10,000 times to make the light bulb work and that invention has worked out pretty well for all of us!
The next step of the process is to review your past successes, remember those successes likely had setbacks as well, and realize your setback is temporary if you choose it to be. No, do not skip this part; it is important and besides it only takes a few minutes.
Now review the obstacle or failure and what went wrong. Make sure you are willing to admit your shortcomings and responsibility in the failure. You can’t fix them if you don’t and besides you will just repeat the mistakes again if you don’t fix them.
After reviewing your plan and where it went awry, ask yourself if you can tweak the plan or is a whole new approach necessary? Make a new plan taking what you have learned into account. Stick with me here; don’t skip a step in your excitement to get back into the fray.
Part of your new plan should contain a list of other challenges, obstacles and opportunities that may crop up and the contingencies to deal with them effectively. This step includes identifying the people in your life that can help you with your plan. For many people this is the scary part of the process. You have to tell people of your new plan. If you don’t tell them how can they help you?
This brings us to the last step in our discussion for the week; find a mentor. A mentor is usually someone that has already walked the path you are attempting and you may have several different mentors for each of the different parts of your life.
I know you are chomping at the bit to know how to find a good mentor, but we are at the end of our time for the week. So reread this column, think about it and pass it on to someone you love. Be patient, this is all part of MY plan for our time together.

Finding an Adventure Partner

If you are currently single, pay close attention. If you are married you will still get some value out of this, but frankly it will likely involve more hard work on your part.
Most successfully married couples will tell you, if you marry well, with the right attitudes, this most important relationship can be a great source of strength and help. However, if you marry the wrong person or without the right tools and attitudes, you will likely be in for a long, hard road.
For single people the first, most important, thing you can do to have a good marriage (society hasn’t come up with a better basis for a healthy nuclear family) is to first become the kind of person, the type of person you want to marry, would want to marry. I know, I know, that was involved and convoluted. I can only say I am sorry but I don’t know an easier way to say it, or for that matter to actually do what I just said. However, let me provide an example; if you wish to marry someone patient and kind, you have your best chance by becoming patient and kind yourself.
We tend to marry people like ourselves, for better or worse. One of my professors is a Family counselor and he tells his students, “We marry spouses with our same level of dysfunction. If you are highly dysfunctional, you are likely to marry someone highly dysfunctional; if you have a low level of dysfunction, you are likely to marry someone desirable.” This comment of his tells us to lower our own level of dysfunction and become our better selves more of the time. For all of you who have already left the marriage station, all I can suggest is that you work to become the kind of person you WISH you had married and you may be surprised to see your spouse move your direction.
In practical terms, where do I suggest you start?
1. If you drink to excess, STOP, and get help.
2. If you use drugs in any way other than for a legal, medicinal purpose, get help.
3. If you hurt others or yourself when you lose your temper, get help and learn productive ways of dealing with stress and pain.
4. No, you cannot do it on your own; you need help figuring out why you relied on these crutches in the first place.
Dating, or finding an adventure partner is a lot like fishing. If you wish to find big largemouth bass, go south to any number of fine freshwater lakes; however, if you are after trout you won’t find any down there, you are better off up here in the great Northwest. Likewise, if you wish to find a civic minded, healthy (emotionally, mentally, and physically), interesting, and mature partner you are unlikely to find them in your local nightclub or watering hole. If you are looking for someone to be a good partner; try asking family and friends, look in your college classrooms, your local church or a volunteer organization and be clear and honest as to what you are looking for; both to yourself and others.
If you are fishing in nightclubs, your blurry eyes may tell you he/she’s a keeper; but you are more likely to find when you get them home, you caught a minnow.
Next time we will take our next step in realizing your goals; overcoming the inevitable obstacles that will come your way.

Goal Setting Part II

Go find the goal setting sheets you wrote last time we were together. If you didn’t do so; don’t worry, I’ll wait. (I’m probably slaving over my next column anyway.) Aren’t they buried under those papers on the counter?
In our last time together we left off having written your goals down under the appropriate headings and me extolling you to pay no attention to those who try to deter you from accomplishing ANY goal. A word of caution here. If someone is asking how you will overcome an obstacle to your goal, thank them; you will probably have to figure out how to overcome this obstacle and several others you can’t yet see. However if you are being told you aren’t smart, pretty, fast, big or talented enough to do something, ignore it; they are speaking from either fear or jealousy (and no, I don’t need to have met you to know that).
Now I want you to review your goals and ask yourself if what you wrote really reflects what you want. Those of you wondering, “What the HECK possessed me to write ‘run a marathon’, I don’t even own running shoes”, feel free to erase now.
Once you have eliminated any goals that really aren’t you, ask which of the goals you have listed are most important to you. There may come a time when you will have to prioritize one goal over another. There is no “right’ answer here, what is “right” for you may not be what would be “right” for me or anyone else.
The next step is to write the goals down in logical order. For example if you wish to be a veterinarian, your best chance is to graduate from college with an undergraduate degree, and for your best chance to go to college you need to do well in high school. Once your goals are in order, under the proper heading, then write the following under each goal:
any steps you can identify to achieving the goal, any known obstacles to the goal,
any possible solutions to those obstacles (including anyone that might be able to help)
a due date assigned to each of step to the goal.
The last step in this part of our process is to publish our goals. No, I don’t mean here in the paper; I am referring to telling friends and loved ones your goals and asking for their help and support. Ask them to hold you accountable to accomplishing your goals and allow them to share in your success.
I could waste a lot of ink providing stories, proving this system works. Instead I am going to ask you to spend a few minutes worth of effort and have just a little faith in both of us. I know you will be very pleased in the reward for your effort.
Next time we will share some thoughts on finding a partner on the adventure of life. Hopefully, a few of you will tell me I’m a genius in the story comments section; I am sure the rest of you will use the same section to tell me I am an idiot.

Goal Setting Part I

As I mentioned in my introductory column, this space is dedicated to helping parents raise happy, healthy (in all aspects of health), productive, loving families. To that end, I believe the best place to start is at the beginning, which is to say, LONG before you have a family. Dr. Steven Covey suggests beginning with the end in mind, “Where am I headed? What do I want when I get there?” We are going to use a modification of the process I use with audiences around the country. This column, and certainly its author, have limitations; hence the necessity of modifications.
The questions I pose are more difficult for people to answer than you might think. When I ask audiences how many of them periodically go through this process in a formal way, less than half in the audience will raise their hands. The people who raise their hand are almost always eliminated after the next question, “How many of you write down the results?”
Given the price of gasoline, before starting on a long trip you would probably look at a map, especially if you had not traveled the route before. This goal setting exercise is nothing more than making a map of your life; deciding on a destination, and then planning how to get there. I also suggest you read a bit on the subject; I like Dr. Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.
After reading, reflecting, and answering the first two questions I have posed, take out nine pieces of paper and write one of the following headings at the top of each sheet: Broad or Overall, Spiritual, Service, Family, Physical Fitness, Career/Financial, Education/Self Improvement, Battery Charging/Fun, Mission Statement. If you find one of these headings do not apply to you then replace it with a heading more useful. Keep in mind, spiritual goals do not just mean church, and education is not just formal schooling.
Once you have written down the appropriate headings, write down, in any order, your fondest dreams and wishes for your life. Do not worry about if you think you can achieve them; you CAN, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The most important part of the process maybe what you DON’T do. Do not listen to those that would tell you that you are wasting your time or that your work will not bear fruit. Sometimes people we know and love tell us such things because they have been hurt or disappointed in the past, and in wishing to spare you their pain will try to discourage you from taking a chance; and sometimes people are just jealous, petty, and mean.
After you have completed this part of the process, I want you to set these papers aside for now; we are going to revisit them in our next column.
You might be tempted to skip one or more of the steps I have just outlined. DON’T! This process can be difficult and require a faith you are not sure you have; however, the reward for the process is the first step toward a life of success in all you choose to do.

Intro Column

Let me begin by saying I have a great life. I get to write and speak on leadership issues, making organizations of all kinds better. I get to pursue a PhD in a subject I love. My wife Dawn is a teacher, currently working as a sub in our district. Our oldest is an Eagle Scout, an athlete, an IB student at CDA High and is currently in Washington D.C. as a Senate Page for Senator Larry Craig. The other three of our kids are a couple of years behind, but on similar trajectories. However, if you think Dawn and I have it easy as parents you would be wrong.
In all times, in all places parenthood is quite an adventure. In times past, raising a child to adulthood was sometimes as much about luck as good parenting. Mother and child surviving childbirth, avoiding common diseases and injuries, hunger, and political strife all took their toll.
While statistics tell us our chances of successfully raising a child to adulthood in the US has gotten better, as parents it is still an adventure. For most of us, our definition of success has changed. Long ago, keeping a child healthy enough to learn a trade and earn a living was the goal, over time helping the child obtain a high school education defined success. After WWII, the G.I. Bill began to change our standards of success when large numbers of Americans were able to obtain college degrees and the Veteran’s home loans made it easier for many to own their own home.
Those veterans raised the parenting bar in expecting, for the first time, that their children would go to college. The greatest generation’s children raised THEIR children to go to “good” colleges, and the race was on. Ask almost any parent now and they will tell you their hope is not that their child will go to college for an undergraduate degree, but that their child will go on to a professional school such as law school, med school, vet school, or to get an MBA for example.
Getting in to these schools has become so competitive that kids begin competing for advanced classes in Jr. High; earlier in many places. In addition, many schools are now looking for “well rounded” students; consequently kids must be in a variety of activities, preferably as a leader in some of them. Many universities are now looking for service hours in the community as well.
For those of you who do not have children in school allow me to provide an example. I am an educated person and was in advanced classes in a good High School, but my experience does not compare to my children’s. This year my son and his seventh grade classmates, learned how to do Punnet Squares (a technique to determine all the possible combinations of genetic alleles) in a regular science class. I learned to do this same technique as a High School senior in a college level, advanced biology class. You may accurately extrapolate this acceleration of knowledge across all subjects.
So what does this mean for parents? The first thing it means is you need to be there for your kids, not just physically but emotionally as well. A stable, nurturing home life, reading to them every chance you get, making sure they see you read as often as possible and letting them know you find education important are early keys to success.
One of the ways we increase our odds of raising great kids is to do high adventure trips with our kids such as our trip across the US two summers ago and our upcoming trip from Rome, Italy to Edinburgh, Scotland this summer. We also do shorter, weekend excursions. The purpose of all our trips are education and family time certainly, but they are also about removing our kids for a time from influences that can make parenting harder and replacing those messages with our own. No one reading this column will agree with me on every issue, but hopefully this column will be a source of resources and advice to parents and the families they are part of. It still takes a village to raise a family and I intend to make this column a source of help and inspiration to everyone in our village.