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Monday, May 25, 2009

Watch Your &@%*$ Mouth!

Most of us, at one time or another, have let loose with one or more expletives that would do the most seasoned sailor proud. Most of us recognize, that while there may never be a time or place to use such language, there are a plethora of situations we should refrain from swearing.

The other day I was in a home improvement store where I saw a woman walking with her husband, pushing her baby daughter in a stroller. Given my interest in families, I was pleased to see a young, loving family enjoying an afternoon together; imagine my surprise to read the “f-word” written prominently on the shirt in several places. My first thought was “she will need to get rid of that shirt before her beautiful daughter can read,” and that thought was quickly followed by “why is she not more considerate of other people, especially those with children, who read that shirt.”

Jim O'Connor, author of Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing says "In using profanity the speaker is usually just being lazy, avoiding having to use more descriptive words to express himself". "Cursing," O'Connor states, "does little to convey our real message or the fact that our education continued beyond the fifth grade. This laziness of language can have detrimental effects when it is directed at children. In fact, a number of researchers argue this use of language is tantamount to child abuse. Even when children do not show outward effects of verbal abuse, they still learn cursing as a preferred form of communication, and verbal abuse as an acceptable way to treat others.

Most children swear at some point as they are growing up. Often they swear not knowing what the word means, they are just imitating an adult. If they get a desirable reaction such as laughter, or attention for their choice of language, they are likely to repeat it. Before rushing to correct your child, make sure both parents are on the same page as to how important the issue is in your family.

If your child is young, often if you show that the word has no visible effect on you then your child will be less likely to use it again. If your child swears when angry, help him learn to express his anger in more effective language. This will likely take more patience than just punishing the bad behavior; however, in the long run this strategy will not provide your child an increased ability to constructively express feelings and deal with emotions. Suggesting words that are more effective than swear words can be helpful as well.

For older children, explaining why such language is not acceptable and why the use of swear words makes you unhappy. If the use of this language is to impress friends, then you are less likely to hear it so you will have to convince your child of the logic of your position, you won’t punish or reward your way there. However, after your child clearly understands your position on swearing and you have corrected your own language, then you should treat swearing as any other discipline problem.

A reasonable standard, clearly communicated consequences to misbehavior, consistently applied will provide the best chance for success. The challenge for all of us to not succumb to a culture in which swearing, poor emotional response and treating others with indifference is all too common.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, May 18, 2009

To test or not to test, that is the question.

More specifically, to test students for illegal drugs is the question; and the knock-down, drag-out fight, in some places. This topic came to the forefront for my wife and I last Monday, when our youngest daughter Meagan came home and announced she had been selected for a random drug test at school. At the beginning of the year, my wife signed the release allowing the school to test our kids as part of their random drug-screening program.

For a variety of reasons, we are confident our kids do not use drugs, smoke, or drink, and therefore for us (our kids included), we couldn’t care less if the kids are tested. However, if we had the slightest suspicion they were using any of those substances, we would want them tested so we could get them help. I spent an entire career being tested in the Army, my wife has been a teacher her entire career, and our oldest is embarking on a career as a Navy pilot. Given our career choices and family circumstances, you might understand why we didn’t realize the intensity of the debate over this issue.

When Meagan was tested, I began to look closer at the debate; and while I have not changed my mind on the topic, there are a number of contentious points raging across the education, legal and parenting communities. At the top of the list are the privacy issues; although so far, the Supreme Court has decided schools do have the right to randomly drug test students.

Another hotly contested issue is the efficacy of drug testing in reducing the numbers of drug users in school. Critics of drug testing argue kids will shift to designer drugs or prescription medications. I find the best argument against testing in its current form, is that we don’t test for enough substances; alcohol is by far the leading killer of teenagers in comparison to other drugs, and underage drinking costs the US more than $50 billion a year.

On the other side of the debate are those who argue for many kids, knowing they may be tested is both a deterrence and an “out” with their friends, as to why they can’t take drugs. They point out a kid who doesn’t use drugs has nothing to fear from submitting to a test. Further, if experimentation is fueled by peer pressure, then reducing drug use amongst athletes and other student leaders has a ripple effect across much of the student body.

My intent in this column is not to solve, or even advocate, one position over another; my purpose is to begin a conversation in our communities as to whether we wish to expand testing to include alcohol and tobacco, or continue testing our kids for illegal drugs at all. My guess is if you tested every kid, every single day, it would not have the impact of loving parents, modeling good behavior, and communicating the reasons behind that behavior, in a loving and honest way. When a teen’s parents talk to them regularly about the dangers of drug abuse, the teen is 42% less likely to use drugs, and 63% of teens who drink say they initially got the booze from their own, or a friend’s house. Let the debate continue.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, May 11, 2009

Become like Gumby!

If you will recall from your youth, Gumby was a claymation cartoon character who was very flexible. Like Gumby, we should all strive to be flexible, developing the ability to regain our original form after a tragedy. This is the definition of resilience.

There are few things in life a person can count on; but one of those things is the necessity of facing tragedy, either yourself, or a close loved one. While the bad news for us as emotional beings is the commonality of tragedy, the good news is the almost equal commonality of resilience in the face of such tragedy. One might even argue tragedy is necessary for our personal growth.

A testament to the universality of grief and resiliency came to me after I proposed this topic on my Facebook page. Several people wrote to me telling their own stories of grief, healing and resiliency. So the question becomes how do they, and by extension we, increase our capacity for bouncing back after tragedy and even becoming the stronger for having lived through the experience?

Mental health professionals counsel that resilience, or the ability to cope and even thrive, under difficult circumstances is a group of traits or a skill set anyone can develop. This development is best begun as a child, is never too late to develop and we should all be strengthening. Mentoring others to greater resilience is a good thing to practice, for it not only benefits the person you mentor, it reminds us how to be resilient during our own tragedies.

The American Psychological Association suggests ten ways to build resilience and the first is making connections. The love of family members and close friends is important, and should be cultivated long before tragedy strikes. If family is unavailable for some reason, then groups like faith based groups or civic organizations can be a source of strength.

Another trait to be developed before you need it is to develop a positive view of yourself. Developing self confidence and learning to trust your decision making processes is key to becoming resilient. Taking care of yourself physically, and emotionally, will provide some reserves of strength that may prove critical in a crisis.

When challenges occur, whether the loss of a loved one or a turn of economic fortune, try to keep the long-term perspective in mind and maintain a positive outlook. This allows you to believe that grief will not last forever, and challenges are not insurmountable.

Make a special point to continue to move toward your goals. If you don’t have written goals established, this is a good time to consider what they might be. Act upon those goals and take positive steps toward making them happen. The other half of goal achievement is the owning of circumstances that can’t be changed, and accepting that change is a part of living.

Last, look for opportunities for self discovery, as the grieving process is often an introspective and educative one. Much like saving money for a rainy day, the time to develop resiliency is when things are going well in your life and resiliency isn’t needed.

Along the path we travel, all of us experience grief, whether the sting of marital breakup or the knife thrust of losing a loved one. Know that we pain with you, but you are resilient and will come through the other side. Ask us for love and help today, so we may ask it of you tomorrow.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Monday, May 4, 2009

One More time on the Merry-Go-Round

I realized as I looked at my columns over the past few months, that I haven’t written a column for the over 50 among us. To rectify this oversight I wish to provide some help and support to our parents and grandparents who while they enjoy these roles would also like to enjoy a role some of us take for granted: that of lover. Now before everyone gets their dander up, let me be clear; while I am not excluding sex from my definition of lover, I do not exclusively mean sex.

By lover, I mean lover in several connotations including companionship, dating, emotional connection, passion, and understanding. People in the US are living longer and in better health than at any time in our past. This has lengthened the time we can enjoy the various roles we play in life such as athlete, student, producer of work, parent, spouse, passionate and sexual being and so on.

Even the advent and popularity of the Internet has played a role with senior dating sites becoming very popular. A simple search reveals a number of sites that cater specifically to single seniors, although even these sites have their share of cheating seniors. Cheating aside, another problem the internet can’t solve is the fact that women outlive men and therefore more women are looking for love and companionship than men.

If you are a senior and have recently lost a spouse through either death or divorce, after you go through the grieving process, there are some very good reasons to be interested in finding a new love. There is a growing amount of research, demonstrating that being in a healthy relationship helps stave off everything from dementia and depression to heart disease. Besides, with families often separated as they move to chase careers, parents are often left to their own devices.

For those seniors willing to take a chance on finding love again and those who just want to have companionship, there are some things to keep in mind. While the internet is a wonderful tool, your friends, family, church, etc. are still better places to find someone. I say partly because of the scams perpetrated against seniors on online dating sites. If you use the internet, make sure it is a reliable dating service.

Before getting on the merry go round of love get a complete physical from your doctor so you know how fast you can ride, and then as appropriate, be honest with any potential partners about your health; in case you needed another reason for eating right, staying active and not smoking!

Next, remember the rules of dating and polite behavior still apply; just because the pharmacy gave you the ability to tag all the bases, doesn’t mean your new date wants to play ball, yet or ever. Talking about your exes or former spouses is ok if done in a limited way, and certainly remain respectful of that life together, but at the same time keep in mind that living in the past, regardless of how wonderful and special, can stifle the development of something beautiful.

When my grandfather passed away, he found a woman to share his remaining years. She wasn’t my grandmother, but she certainly provided him some happiness in his twilight. I wish the same for all of us.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at