Talking to the Wall

Those of you who read me on Facebook may have seen my vaguebooking about banging ones head on a wall: it doesn’t change the wall, and only hurts your head. You may also have seen my comment over the weekend: “we became ghosts to the wall, leaving us concerned and relieved”.

Perhaps I should explain a little.

About 6 months ago, we took in someone we care about who needed some help. The intent was to see if our different set of parenting skills could help this person do better in life: succeed in school, learn to be an independent adult. We had some successes, but it was often two steps forward, and one and three quarter steps back. Combined with this was a tendency to self-sabotage — when the situation got hard (as situations as an adult often do), the solution wasn’t to address the issue as an adult, but to retry self-defeating behaviors. As time went on, we learned that the causes of the problems were more complicated than we initially believed. Even with beating our heads on the wall, we came to realize that we didn’t have the correct skill set to change the wall. We were attempting a DIY for a solution that required a knowledgeable craftsperson.

We were on the verge of working together with this person, and others that care about them, to find a specific solution when they abruptly decided to move out, leaving a mess to clean up, with nary a thank you or hugs. Hence, “concerned and relieved”.

So this is a message to the “wall”: Even with what has happened, we still care about your well-being and your success. We’re here if you need to talk or figure out solutions. We fervently hope that you find a life situation that works for you and helps you grow into the remarkable independent successful adult we know you can be. When you reach or even get close to that point, you are welcome here.


A Father’s Job

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to dust off my parenting skills. This opportunity has reminded me of some of my thoughts on parenting, which I thought I would share with you this Fathers Day. Perhaps they will help you be a better parent to your child:

  • It is our job to be there for our children. Parenting means providing your child unconditional love and support. That doesn’t mean you always agree with what they do, but love must come first. Your child must feel free to talk with you about anything. Anything. A N Y T H I N G. Without any fear of your reaction. You are there to support and help them.
  • It is our job to uplift our children. In the broad sense, we are our child’s greatest cheerleader. In the broad sense, our children are by definition beautiful, smart, and talented, and we keep telling them that because that self-esteem serves them well throughout life. This doesn’t mean a particular piece of clothing might not make them look bad, or they might take a stupid action, or be untalented at a given task. But in the broad sense.
  • It is our job to respect our children. By showing them respect, we teach them what respect is and how to give it to others. Don’t pick up your child by calling them and having them come out — go to the door and meet them. Don’t call them names, make fun of physical attributes — that’s bullying. Respect their time, if you want them to respect yours. If you say you will be there at a certain time, be there at that time. In short, this is just the Golden Rule: Treat them as you would want to be treated.
  • Gently Encourage, Don’t Shame. We all have ways we want our children to behave — things we think are right. But the way to get those good behaviors is not to shame bad ones. Calling someone fat, showing how they are a slob only tears them down and makes you a bully. Instead, do things that encourage the right behavior. Have healthy right-portioned family meals together. Have family non-screen activities. Teach techniques on how to succeed. But while doing this, remember one thing: your love for your child is not a reward or something that can be withheld — it must always be present.
  • Couch Criticism Carefully. Every child is going to do something stupid. It is part of growing up. But think about criticism in a TQM sense: what have they been doing right, and where can they improve. Criticize only those things the child can change, and tread carefully on criticizing the child vs. the action. Make it clear when something is your opinion vs. a general societal judgement. “I don’t think that dress flatters you.” (or even better, “You would look better in this“) is much better than “You’re fat.”. Saying “I think that was a silly thing to do.” is much better than “You’re dumb for doing that.” Remember that the job of criticism is not to tear down (destructive criticism), but to show us how to improve (constructive criticism).
  • Don’t Hide Consequences. Actions have consequences — that is a fact of life. It is one of the most important rules a child must learn. Good actions have good consequences. Bad actions have bad consequences. As actions come from your decisions, what you do and how you decide to behave will have consequences. A fundamental lesson. However, we must temper that with the temptation to create artificial consequences, or to hide the impact of a decision. Real life consequences are often lesson enough.
  • You Will Make Mistakes. Expect that both you and your child will make mistakes. No one is the perfect parent; no one has a perfect child. Learn from your mistakes, and admit when you made them (and what you would do differently). That is how a child learns they don’t have meet an impossible standard of perfection, that they can make a mistake — learn from it — and move on. This also encourages them to tell you about their mistakes and get your help in recovering.
  • Avoid Yelling. Yelling does precious little other than relieving stress, or communicating with someone far away or not paying attention. Once you have someone’s attention, talk calmly and with confidence, and they will better hear you. People don’t want to hear yelling and tune it out quickly. We rarely yell in our household (we do, however, talk through issues, which is often painful enough).

Alas, I know there are some people out there with dads that perhaps don’t do what I’ve listed above. Reading my various feeds and news sources back in May, I found this wonderful essay: To All the Brave Kids Who Broke up with Their Toxic Dads. It should be required reading for all children with fathers — no, make that parents — that work against their self-esteem and success. It lets them know that such a break-up is OK, and even to love them from afar is fine. Here’s the opening paragraph to give you a taste: “You are going to be more than okay. Whether it was because of an addiction, constant excuses for not being there, an irresistible urge to put you down, an indifference or inability to give and receive love, his past, pride, selfishness, the fact that he’s weak or scared, or just the heartbreak of dealing with a man who’s broken, you did the hardest break-up that your heart will ever have to endure. You need to understand how brave you are.”


Good Advice Costs Nothing and is Worth Twice the Price

userpic=moneyAfter her graduation from UC Berkeley last May, my daughter did what millions of millenials with student loans have done — she moved back into our house with her boyfriend. I mention this because my accumulating news chum has a collection of useful articles for parents and children in the exact same situation, which I thought I would share:

Hopefully, these links will prove useful to your children (or, if you are a millennial, to you).


Needling (Anti)Vaxxers About Risk (or This Isn’t Your Father’s 11/780)

userpic=mad-scientistWhat’s this I hear about people being anti-Vax? Don’t they realize that without the Vax, and its older sibling, the PDP 11, there might not have been the Internet as we know it? I mean, Unix was developed for the Vaxxen. Oh, wait, I wanted to write about a different Vax. Nevermind.

Seriously, now that we’re past that bad but obligatory pun, I’d like to talk to you about a different sort of “vax” — vaccines, and their well-publicized opposition, the “anti-vaxxers”. These folks have been in the news lately because of a recently enacted California law that requires parents to vaccinate their children except when medically-contraindicated (no exemption for belief or parent choice), and a Federal Judge upholding that law. Do a search on the Internet related to that law, and you are overwhelmed by the anti-vax opposition sites, such as this one, masquerading as an information site. Closer to home, the subject is on my mind because of a recent discussion with a relative who is in the anti-vax camp, where she asked if she was anti-science because she was skeptical of many things such as the planethood of Pluto, the accuracy of meteorologists, and science’s disbelief (until recently) about the value of the microbiome. This particular post was prompted by a “Fuck You Anti-Vaxxer” rant a different friend posted, which made me realize that a more reasoned screen was necessary.

Let’s work through this and some of the arguments together. The BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) is that being an anti-vaxxer is not necessarily being anti-science, but it is a clear demonstration of how humans want to blame something or someone when something goes wrong, how humans have difficulty separating correlation and causality, and how bad we are at judging and assessing risk. When properly assessed, the best way that a parent can reduce risk for their child is to ensure they are vaccinated.

Read More …


What Parents Miss When The Kids Come Home From College

userpic=calEarlier today, I linked to a number of lists posted in the Daily Cal, including a list of 5 things to enjoy now that you’re home from school. Of course, one thing the Daily Cal didn’t post was a list of the things the parents can’t enjoy now that the kids are home from college. I must oblige with a dozen… feel free to add to the list…

  1. Peace and quiet in the house.
  2. Only having to do a small number of loads of laundry.
  3. Having an empty sink in the kitchen… and having it stay that way.
  4. Most of the lights in the house remaining off.
  5. Only grocery shopping once a week.
  6. The house staying picked up for more than 30 minutes.
  7. Control of television and other electronic media.
  8. Not having to worry about when someone will be coming home… or if… and who they might be with… and if they are spending the night…
  9. Being able to run around the house in any state of attire, or lack thereof.
  10. Having your car available when you want it… and having it remain clean and with a full tank.
  11. Having confidence that all the doors to the house are locked when the house is empty.
  12. Yes that. You know you’re thinking about it, and you never want to think about your parents doing it.

Smarts Has Nothing To Do With It

userpic=zombieEarlier this week, I wrote about the tragic story of the 14-yo girl at our local middle school who died while huffing. I’ve been following the story over the week, and reading the comments on the various articles. The trolls out there are having a field day, going on and on about how this girl couldn’t be smart because she did this, how she must have been doing huffing regularly, and so on. They are forgetting something very important — something every parent must understand.

Smarts has nothing to do with it.

Your child may be smart. They may be a straight-A student, on the honors role. They may be taking on more and more adult responsibilities. But this doesn’t mean they are mature, and that they have the capability to make reasoned decisions about risk. The human brain changes significantly after age 18; in fact, many parts of the brain dealing with decision making don’t mature until age 25. Although your youngster could have all the facts, this immaturity can lead to the wrong decision being made. Youth (for lack of a better term) views itself as invincible — I won’t get into a car accident, I won’t be hurt by this dangerous action. Even if they know the risks, it simply doesn’t not occur to them that the problem can happen to them.

This immaturity is the reason that young people post compromising pictures and sext, even though they know the eventual dangers. This is the reason teen drivers are so dangerous, while believing they are great drivers. This is the reason students wander the steam tunnels at UCLA hopped up on codeine. Wait, did I say that?

Think back to your high school years. Even though I know you are smart, I’m bet that you can think of at least one or two stupid things you did.

Poor Aria was very smart. The problem is that she wasn’t mature enough to make the correct decision at her age.  In her memory, please remember this distinction. Smarts are not wisdom.

Music: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (Big Bad Voodoo Daddy): “Minnie The Moocher”


An Unnecessary Tragedy in Northridge

userpic=hugsThis morning, before I left for work, I posted a link to an article about the death of 14-year old Aria Doherty in Northridge. As I eat lunch, I’d like to expand on the article. Aria was an honors student at Nobel Middle School [FB] (a few blocks away from our house, and the middle school our daughter attended).  She died Monday night, after “huffing” from a can of compressed air used for cleaning dust out of a computer. According to KNBC, she’d been home alone for a couple hours when she inhaled the duster. Her older sister found Aria in bed with a can of compressed air still attached to her mouth, her nostrils taped shut. A plastic bag was found nearby. The “huffing” had sent Aria into cardiac arrest. Her parents Richard and Carolyn Doherty said they were caught completely off-guard. The Doherty’s kept no dangerous weapons in their Porter Ranch home, stored prescription drugs under lock and key, and recently purged their home of all alcohol. They talked to their teen daughters about the dangers of substance abuse. They had never found any evidence that she had huffed at all; they believe this was her first time. Doherty was a straight-A student, ambitious and very active at her school. She was active in the drama department; we had seen her in at least 3 productions in small roles.

Those of us in the broader Nobel community — parents, students, alumni, parents of alumni, teachers — are spreading the word about this tragedy so it does not happen again. Parents and children need to understand inhalant abuse, what huffing is, what products can be used, and most importantly, how to prevent it.

Trolls are also out there referring to the students that do this as stupid, or to the parents as stupid, and blaming everything under the sun for the problem. They are doing this just to incite comments. Ignore them. Stupidity is not involved.

Here are a few key points, as I see it:

  • This is not a “ban the products” situation. Far too many products useful to society can be used to “huff”, from air freshener to compressed air to correction fluid. It is not practical to ban or limit them.
  • Stupidity is not involved. Immaturity is a different question. We forget that middle-school and high school students are not yet mature. In fact, the human brain often does not finish maturing until the 20s (or even later for men). They may look mature and have mature bodies, but they do not always make mature judgements. Even if our young people are educated about the facts and the dangers, they may still make the wrong risk decision and try this.
  • Peer pressure — to do right or wrong — is often important. Fitting in both in behavior and look is important at this age. Often, but not always, friends can provide clues.
  • The most important thing you can do is to keep the lines of communication open. This is hard for parents of teens, where your child often wants to push away to establish their own identity. Make it clear that you are always there to discuss a risk decision, and indicate that you won’t be judgemental. You will present them with all sides of the issue, and trust that their judgement will make the right decision (moreso as they get older and demonstrate they make the right decisions).

With this tragedy, parents will be holding their children a little closer tonight, grateful they are there. We can’t for a few more days, as ours is still off in Berkeley. So I’d like to publically note that I’m proud of our daughter with respect to her decisions. Although we don’t always agree with them, at least she talks to us about them and considers what we have to say before making her final choice.


It’s All Happening At The Zoo

Earlier this week, I did a post about how we are attempting to combat stupidity by getting rid of Buckyballs. That post came to mind while I was eating lunch, when I saw an article about some historical photos of the San Francisco Zoo. We’ve been hearing a lot about zoos of late, usually in conjunction with “teh stupid”. There was the child who fell into a painted dog enclosure and was mauled, after his mother stood him on the railing. There is the man who attempted suicide by walking into a tiger enclosure at the Bronx Zoo. I’m sure you can think of other incidents.

I don’t want to discuss the issue of whether zoos are good or bad. Rather, I’m more interested in looking at what zoos were versus what they are today.

Take a look again at the pictures from the San Francisco Zoo. We have interactions with animals you would never have today, such as children feeding large wild animals. It isn’t just San Francisco either. It is easy to explore the old Los Angeles Zoo, and to see how close one could get to the animals and the risk from the exposure. The St. Louis Zoo had children interacting with elephants. I’m sure you remember visiting the zoo as a child, and the things you could do that you cannot do today.

This all goes back to the original issue of risk. Back when I was growing up (whippersnapper!), there was so much less concern about risk to children. Adventure was part of growing up. Although I’m sure that incidents happened, they certainly didn’t get the instant coverage and hoopla they get today, and thus they were less in the overall societal consciousness. In short: We didn’t worry (or we were too busy worrying about “the bomb” to worry about our children).

Today? It seems that worry has turned into big business. We worry so much we pay legislatures to create rules to protect ourselves from ourselves (Measure B, the condom measure, is a great example of that). We remove products from markets; we close attractions. We monitor our children 24/7, and keep them tethered to us with cellphones. Has the risk changed, or are we just more aware of it?

To look at the other side: Is this a bad thing? Our children are certainly safer. Isn’t it better to know the risk and to act on it than to live in ignorance?


P.S.: There is a great quote in that Measure B article I linked: “Sure, Pas is pretty close to the Valley, but we think porn should look to Vernon–it’s sparsely populated, full of warehouses, and already smells like sausage. “