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. “


Dealing with Separation

My daughter outed me on her tumblr.

To be precise, in response to an anonymous post, she said “although anons are great you could also be my Dad who stalks my tumblr. I need people to converse with not my Dad :)”*. This got me thinking about parents and children, and the separation that occurs when they go off to college.

This separation is new to me. I never had it with my parents, as they lived in West Los Angeles, and I went to UCLA. In fact, while going to college, I continued to work for them, doing their billing and such. We never separated in that sense; they always knew what was happening with me. Further, back then, I was young and stupid. I didn’t have the ability to see things from a parent’s perspective. As a young man, you want to separate; as a parent, you find it hard to let go.

But my daughter is 800+ miles away. I don’t see her every day, as I used to. I don’t know what is happening with her, which is hard because I care about her, and want her to be happy. But I also recognize that she is an adult. She will want and attempt relationships, and some will fail. She will be finding her place in an adult world (including sexually), and that is her path to trod, not mine. She will find the separation hard, and the distance will force her to learn to relate to new people and to forge new friendships, which is not easy. None of these things I can help her with; these are also not subjects for me to bring up with her.

But that doesn’t stop the caring. Parents (well, hopefully most parents) care about their children. So I do skim her posts, primarily to get a sense of what is happening, and to make sure she is surviving. I don’t comment, other than to perhaps send her something in a care package to cheer her up when she is down. She is an adult now, and needs to find her way on her own, hopefully knowing we are there to lean upon if she needs help. Her choices are her choices, and I will stand by them, providing advice if asked, and being there to to provide support, if needed.


* As background: A while back, my daughter told me she wasn’t posting everything to Facebook. She had a separate blog, which I could read if it could find it. She wouldn’t tell me the name. One day, I happened to look at her info page on Facebook… and there was the link. I told her I had found it… and she said, “Oh Dad, don’t read that”. My internal compromise, as her tumblr is public, is that I will read it but will not comment on it (certainly never directly, and indirectly only if explicitly referenced (as above) or in case of an extreme stupid (posting naked or drunken pictures — if I can find it, employers can). Otherwise, it is her space to do with as she pleases. Her relationships and such are her business, not mine. Note that she also has a twitter, but I do not read that — not because I don’t care, but because I absolutely cannot stand twitter.


A Milestone in Life

As I wrote earlier today, twenty-seven years ago I got married. Seventeen years ago (and a little) our daughter was born. As this is being posted, she is leaving the nest and is moving out on her own at UC Berkeley. It’s a bittersweet moment: we’re so proud and happy to see her moving off on her own, yet sad to know that we won’t be seeing her every day.

In her naming ceremony, we said:

Your existence is your possession, not ours. Out of our love and concern we intrude in your life for a little while, to help you live and grow. It is our hope and our prayer that we will know when that time is done. For then, with grace and respect, we must return to you what has been ours, only in trust, that which has always rightfully yours: yourself.

Today is one of those days. As she moves off on her own to begin to navigate dormitory life and college, we have every confidence that she will do great and make wonderful decisions. College is a time of learning, but it is more importantly a time of personal growth. Learning to be independent, learning to build a diverse set of friends and experiences, being exposed to diverse ideas and determine those that resonate with here — this is just part of the college experience.

We will return home to a quiet house, with lots of cleaning to do. The house will not be filled with the sound of movies on the TV (especially A Bugs Life or 9 to 5). It won’t be filled with the smell of Bananas Foster or whatever she is cooking in the kitchen (leaving the dishes for dad to clean up). We’ll have two cars again. Life will be quieter, but it won’t be quiet as fun as part of our hearts will be in the Berkeley hills.



The Reality Has Hit

The reality has hit. We got our first CARS (Tuition and Housing) bill from UC Berkeley for our daughter today. It’s bad, but not as bad as it could have been. This also means move-in day is rapidly approaching. So, a question for my friends in the Bay Area: Move-in is at 10am on a Friday. We’re planning on driving up Thursday and spending the night somewhere (probably not Berkeley proper). What makes more sense, given the commuting patterns: staying down in the south bay (San Jose area), or staying out Livermore way?


Graduation Day

I’m taking today as a vacation day because of a very special thing happening this evening: my daughter is graduating from Van Nuys High School. I’ve seen this little girl grow and blossom into a delightful young woman. She’s still a little girl in some ways (and she’ll always be my little girl), and she’s still a typical teenager, but more and more she’s showing maturity and drive that will do her well.

Today is the culmination of 13 years of hard work within the public school system of LA Unified. Starting from kindergarten days at Lassen Elementary, through Vintage MST Magnet, Nobel Middle School, and now Van Nuys High School, she’s achieved. Some years were harder than others (3rd grade was particularly bad), and some courses were harder than others. There have been ups and downs, but she had demonstrated that she enjoys hard work, much as she complains about it. She has also demonstrated a strong loyalty and love for her friends.

I thank the teachers that have been positive influences over the years. As much as LA Unified gets maligned, there are some wonderful teachers and staff members out there. I thank the friends that have been here for her–both her friends and our friends. I especially thank the two women who are not here to see her graduate but influenced her life immensely: Lauren Uroff and Karen Denise Pratt Holmes. We know you are watching this evening, just as we know her grandfathers are watching and smiling.

When I graduated from high school back in 1977, my father wrote in my yearbook the following quote from his mother: “Not failure, but low aim is crime.” Erin has always aimed high and worked hard. Not everything worked out the way she wanted, but the universe has ways of compensating and moving her to the right places. We saw this as her focus shifted from technical lighting to a love of history and the effort that was Academic Decathalon. We’re seeing it as she goes off to college: for all her plans to go to a private college (notably Reed or Wash U St. Louis), she’s ending up at UC Berkeley… which is possibly the best choice for her in terms of the student diversity (which she loves), academic diversity (which she eats up), and the complete unique funkiness that is the city of Berkeley.

This summer we’ll pack her up and she’ll move to Northern California, where I’m sure she’ll be welcomed by our friends in the area, and more importantly, will make tons and tons of new friends in what I’m sure will be another life-changing experience. I have confidence that she’ll exceed beyond our wildest dreams.

Music: Rooms: A Rock Romance (2009 Original Off-Broadway Cast): My Choice


Dealing with Teenagers

I’m the parent of a teenager (I proud parent I should say–my daughter is currently representing Van Nuys HS today at the Los Angeles County Academic Decathalon Super Quiz, hoping to do well enough to go to the State Championships). That said, she is still a teenager, and I worry about her.

I mention all this because Metal Floss had a great piece on 5 Reasons Teenagers Do What They Do. This is a very informative piece, especially if you are the parent of a teen or pre-teen, or are a teen yourself and want to know why you do stupid things, even though you know better.  What are the reasons? (1) They tend to take more risks, because they over-think; (2) they give into peer-pressure more; (3) they can’t concentrate as well because their brains are overprocessing; (4) they are overly emotional; and they are (5) getting dumber (that is: adolescence is when the brain prunes connections as it rearranges for adult thinking, so the getting dumber is temporary). Further, this can last into the early 20s for girls, later for guys. [Note: If you are interested in this topic and are in Southern California, I recommend the D.E.A.R. course being given at Temple Ahavat Shalom starting 2/7, which covers the subject quite well]

P.S.: What do I mean I worry? For example, this week she went to bed at 9:20pm. That’s odd for her; she normally lives on Red Bull and goes to bed at 1am, studying all hours. So I thought something was off. What was happening was that she and a friend were spending all their energy teaching all the other kids on the AcaDec team in preparation for the SuperQuiz!

Music: Irene (1971 Original Broadway Cast): An Irish Girl