Summer is here. School is out. And so it begins. The arguments over the video games, smart phones and computers are in full gear. So here is my advice: Turn off the screens. Just turn them off. No debating. As parents you are in charge. That is so important and so overlooked these days that I feel the need to say that again louder. AS PARENTS YOU ARE IN CHARGE! You are the ones given the job of deciding what is best for your kids and making it happen to the best of your ability. In 1965 the typical American spent 10 1/2 hours per week watching TV. Today the average 9 year old American child spends more than 50 hours per week in front of a screen. The average American teenager spends over 70 hours per week in front of a screen. We are just beginning to learn what impact this is having on our children, including rises in childhood obesity, attention problems, and behavior problems, as well as a decline in social skills, family relationships, and a big problem with kids not getting enough sleep.
You can not leave it to your children to monitor their own use of screens any more than you can leave it to them to choose broccoli over chocolate cake. Parents have to set the limits. And it’s not easy. But you can do it. Here are a few suggestions:
- Remove screens from your child’s bedroom and insist that they turn in to you all electronics at a certain time each night. (Parents determine the time!)
- Tell the kids what the summer rules about electronic use will be. It may be they can have screen time at a certain time each day. Or only on weekend evenings, or whatever works for you. But don’t make it complicated or you won’t be able to enforce the limits. And you have to enforce the limits once you have set them.
- Do not allow screens during mealtimes or in the car when you’re all together. Have a conversation!
- Get outside and have fun with your kids.
- Once you have set the rules do not debate them. End of discussion.
Expect some pushback from your kids if you have not set limits on screen time in the past. But once you’ve set the rules stick to them and who knows what creative, fun, experiences your family may be in for this summer.
I am an animal lover. I always have been. I believe one of the greatest gifts parents can give to their children is the experience of having a pet at some point in their childhood. Having a pet gives a child the opportunity to learn many things:
- How to care for something more vulnerable than themselves.
- How to be responsible for the needs of the pet to be fed, sometimes taken outside, walked, cleaned, and given attention.
- To show empathy for the pet’s need for love and attention, care when it’s ill.
- How to think of the needs of something other than himself.
Timing for getting a pet is, of course, very important. And giving a child developmentally appropriate responsibility is extremely important, as is the type of pet a family chooses. The needs of both the family and the animal must be considered. Different animals have different requirements for time and attention. After a family chooses a pet, teaching a child how to behave around the pet is very important. Children will not instinctively know how to care for an animal. That has to be taught and that takes time and energy from the parents, but it is crucial. Children should never be allowed to hurt or tease an animal in any way, even in ways that may seem minor. And if a child or adolescent is intentionally harming an animal that is a huge red flag that the child needs to be evaluated for mental disturbances. So give some thought to whether or not your family might benefit from adding a pet to your household.
One of the benefits of having practiced for 30 years is that I’ve been able to see parenting trends emerge and change over several decades. Some of the changes have been good ones, like the trend against using corporal punishment. However some of the changes have not been so good. In general, parents of this current generation seem to be expecting less and less from their kids and are giving them more and more without their earning it. This, I believe, has led to a generation of youth who feel entitled to material things without having the benefit of knowing the satisfaction of working to gain them. The reasons parents are perpetuating this trend are complicated. Part of it may be that parents are so busy that giving to the child is easier than saying “No.” Or that parents feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids and so they give material things in an effort to make up for it. Part of it may be that kids are so busy now with extracurricular activities that they don’t have time to work. But in any of these scenarios I believe the children miss out. They miss the opportunity to learn how good it feels to work hard and earn the money to buy that game, or phone, or gas money for the car. They miss the increase in their self- esteem that comes from being successful in that way. They miss the opportunity to learn how to deal with a boss and coworkers. They miss learning the value of a dollar. And they miss having the chance to try out different work settings and learn what their skills are. Or as importantly what they DON’T want to do for a living. Working for minimum wage is often a motivator to get a good education!
Often parents say that getting good grades is their child’s job. And I agree grades are very important, but I think it’s possible to make good grades and have a part-time job doing something. It could be as many as 20 hrs/week at a fast food restaurant saving money for college or as few as 3 hrs/week babysitting or mowing grass to earn gas money. I knew a youngster who had a business dragging the trash and recycling cans to the street every week for his neighbors. It doesn’t have to be huge job.
So think about whether or not you are providing enough opportunities for your kids to work. It may be one of the best gifts you can give them.
One of the most disturbing things I hear from children and adolescents is that they are upset because their separated or divorced parents talk in a rude or disrespectful way about each other to the children or in their presence. This experience is so damaging to the child and can greatly hinder their adjustment to the divorce. Divorce is difficult for everyone. And maintaining cordial relationships with a divorced partner can be very challenging. However, to the degree that couples are able to do so, their children will benefit enormously. Children whose parents are divorcing deserve to be able to have healthy relationships with both their parents. This is in the child’s emotional best interest even if it may feel threatening to the parents. Often parents who are divorcing, play a game trying to be the favored parent by sending subtle or overt messages to the children that the other parent is bad or at fault. This puts the child in the middle and forces him/her to make an unfair choice between parents. One of the ways parents do this is by making rude or disrespectful comments about their ex spouse to the children, or in the presence of the children. Sometimes other family members or friends of the parents will do this as well. It is up to the parents to insist that this not happen. Talk to your family members and friends and ask them not to to make any disparaging comments about your ex spouse in the presence of the children. And no matter how much resentment you may have toward your ex do not speak rudely of him or her to your children. You will all reap the benefits of a healthier adjustment.
One of the most frequent concerns I hear from parents is that their children struggle with low self esteem. We ‘re all worried that our kids don’t feel good enough about themselves. It seems to me that this is a generational issue. If we asked our grandparents if they worried about building self-esteem in their children they’d probably give you a strange look! That was not something that they were concerned about. They were more concerned with raising good citizens and perhaps that’s what we should be concerned about as well. Maybe if we focused on that, the self-esteem would take care of itself. But here we are in 2015 with lots of ideas floating around about how to build a positive self image in our kids. This is what I have learned over the past 30 years in my practice. Families that have kids with a positive self-image are good at the these things:
- Self esteem is gained by trying things and being successful. So allow your kids to have responsibilities in the home early so they can learn to feel good about their abilities and their contributions in the family.
- Encourage independence early. Don’t do for your kids what they can do for themselves. This builds confidence. Whether it’s dressing themselves, tying their shoes, or doing their term paper. Let them struggle a bit and figure it out on their own before you step in to give unnecessary help. Previous generations were much better at having higher expectations of their kids than is the current generation. We jump in and rescue too early, depriving our kids of the satisfaction gained from figuring it out on their own.
- Allow your kids to explore hobbies, interests, sports and find their talents and gifts. Allow them to go with those interests even if they’re not your interests. Don’t push them to do one thing if they really show an interest in another. If they hate soccer but really show an interest in music, allow them to explore that, even if you love sports!
- Expose them to many different opportunities and see what they’re drawn to.
- Have reasonably high expectations for behavior and performance. Kids will often rise to the level that you expect.
- Encourage healthy social contact. Friendships are very important in building a positive self image. Help young kids learn how to be a good friend. Kids who are shy may need help developing friendships. If you notice your child being drawn to another child invite that him or her over for a play date or arrange an activity for them to do together. Having a feeling of belonging is essential to building healthy self esteem.
Do you have other ideas about raising kids with a positive self image? If so, I’d love to hear them!
One of the most difficult life experiences for a child is having their parents separate or divorce. Most children want their parents to stay married. And that is true even if the marriage has been unhappy. Divorce is extremely difficult for children and I believe parents owe it to their children to do everything they can to salvage the marriage if at all possible. If that is not possible, providing them as much security as you can is imperative. Part of doing so is telling them about the separation and/or divorce in the healthiest way possible. Here are a few tips to help guide you through that process:
- If at all possible tell the children before you separate. For children under 5, tell them 1-2 days ahead. For slightly older children about a week ahead and for teenagers about 2 weeks ahead.
- Both parents should make a plan together for when, where, and how to talk to the children and both parents should be present.
- Tell the children together as a family, preferably at home.
- Pick an appropriate time over a weekend or when they will have time to adjust. Preferably not on a school day or prior to a big event.
- Tell them you are separating/divorcing with an age appropriate explanation. Tell them how hard you tried to make it work. Do not give intimate details and do not blame each other.
- Tell them that when you married you loved each other and planned to stay together forever. You want them to feel they were wanted and born into a loving family.
- Reassure them that both parents still and will always love them and that will never change, and that both parents will stay involved with them.
- Reassure them that the cause of the divorce had nothing to do with them or anything they have done.
- Tell them that you understand that they are sad, as are you. That is natural and it will get easier with time.
- Be clear about how the separation will affect them–living arrangements, school, sports, etc.
- Allow them to express all their feelings.
- Spend time close by afterwards in case they have questions or feelings come up later.
- Do not mention any other people who may be involved, such as boyfriends, etc.
This may be a conversation that they will remember all their lives and it can frame the way the family will handle the rest of the divorce experience. Plan it well and work together as best you can for the best interest of the children. Remember reassurance is key.
Next time we will look at how to tell if your children may need professional help in dealing with the divorce.
One of the most difficult times to parent is when one is experiencing a breakup of the parental relationship. Parenting requires such physical and emotional energy and when a parent is depleted of both, due to their own emotional turmoil, grief, and loss, it is extremely difficult to continuously put the needs of the children first. However, to the extent that parents are able to do so, children will benefit by experiencing reduced stress and trauma as the family moves through the transition. Over the next month I will offer some insight into handling this transition in the easiest way for the children. There is no painless way to handle a separation or divorce and the newest research supports the idea that even low conflict divorces can be very stressful on children of all ages. The feelings and attitude that the parents have about each other will have the greatest impact on how the children deal with the divorce. As difficult as the physical separation from one parent is, it is the conflict between the parents that causes the children the most stress. The higher the parental conflict, the more traumatic for the children.
Here are a few guidelines to consider:
- Keep children out of the middle of the parental relationship.
- Do not argue in their presence or where they can hear you. Be mindful of how you handle telephone conversations!
- Be mindful of the tone of voice you use with the other parent. Children will pick up on the slightest hint of contempt.
- Allow them to have a relationship with both parents without feeling guilty. In fact, do all you can to encourage it. This is essential to their emotional development.
- Do not put down the other parent or call them names. Be careful of how you speak about the other parent to your friends or family in the presence of the children.
- Do not discuss legal issues or finances with the children.
- Do not send messages through the children.
- Do not force them to choose sides or choose where to live.
- Use other adults or professionals for support. Do not lean on the children for emotional support even if they are teenagers.
- Keep transitions between homes stress free. Let the children know you want them to enjoy being with the other parent and that you will be fine while they are away.
- Don’t quiz them when they return from the other parent’s home.
- Work on forgiving the other parent.
- Concentrate on changing your own behavior. Behave well no matter what the other parent does.
- Don’t introduce new partners too soon after the separation. At least six months is a good rule of thumb.
- Take care of yourself. Get the support you need to move through the transition in a healthy way, such as professional help, a support group, or spiritual guidance.
Next time we will focus on the best way to tell the children about the separation or divorce.
I love this video! Parenthood is too difficult a job to be in competition with each other. We need one another. We’re all in this together.
Here in Charlotte we’re now about a month into summer. Perhaps it’s time to think about how you are using the extra time and freedom from strict school, work, and sports schedules. During the school year parents are usually very focused on their kid’s classroom achievement and activities. Summer brings the opportunity for extra time together and conversations about things that often don’t get enough attention during the school year. Take advantage of this extra time together and use it to really connect with your kids. The time in the car driving to your vacation spot, or sitting on the beach, or taking a hike can be valuable time to reconnect. Put down the cell phones and the computers. Turn off the book that you downloaded and talk to each other! What can you talk about? Here are a few conversation starters:
- What were the best and worst experiences of the past school year?
- What is your favorite place visited so far and where do you dream of going?
- What’s your favorite book or movie?
- What’s your favorite music right now? Take turns playing your favorite song to each other. No criticism allowed!
- Who do you consider your best friend right now? Why? How do you choose a best friend? What qualities make a good friend?
- What or who are you most concerned about right now?
Be sure to really listen. Withhold judgement. The point is to really connect with each other… To hear and be heard. Who knows what you might learn?