The Time Out Room
On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet show, I spoke with Rachel Pepper and Dr. Kellen Bennett about transgender kids. There's been an increasing openess about the phenomenom of children being born a gender that doesn't match with their own sense of self. Despite what some people might say, this is not something that families choose for their kids. In fact, even though society has become more open-minded, being transgender is an extremely difficult life.
I remember when my son was little and in pre-school. His close friends in his class happened to be girls and not infrequently I would arrive to pick him up and would find him happily adorned in a pink dress. I always found it harmless, and actually he looked quite cute in that dress, but I noticed with surprise that my husband's reaction was a bit different. He never said anything to my son about it, but I could tell that it troubled him a bit. When I asked him about it, he told me that during his training to become a child psychiatrist, the kids with gender identification issues were some of his most tormented patients. He knew that our son wasn't transgender, but just the thought of that possibility raised the spectre of the pain he had observed.
I hope that we continue to educate ourselves so that transgender kids can focus on their own journey and making the right choices for themselves without the additional burden of a judgmental and dangerous world.
On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show, I talked with Mike Dormitz, founder of the Date Safe Project, about what parents can do to help their children make smart sexual choices. This show is particularly timely given the recent verdict in the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial where two young men were convicted of sexually assaulting a high school girl. There's been a lot of attention on social media to the reporting subsequent to the verdict that focused on the tragic consequences for the convicted defendants who were described as good students with a lot of potential.
I agree with those who find this media coverage of the Stebenville conviction disturbing. The focus should not be on the perpetrators' lost promise, but the damage done to the victim herself and to women and girls at large. We must find a way to reverse the horrific rape statistics in this country. But, in reading various Facebook comments the past few days, I get the sense that people think that the two young men who committed these heinous acts are horrible kids. And that's where I disagree. I don't know these boys, and they might be bad apples, but it's also quite possible that these were nice kids who committed horrible acts. Teenagers' brains are still growing and developing. They are more impulsive and they can make extremely bad choices, especially when bolstered, like these football players were, by false adulation and encouraged by peer pressure. Mike Dormitz, whose mission to address sexual violence was sparked by the rape of his sister, also believes that good kids can commit sexual assault.
I'm not sure that we help the cause by believing that this sort of crime is only committed by somebody else's bad kid. The statistics suggest that this is a much broader problem. 1 out of 6 women will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. 38 percent of female rape victims were raped between the ages of 14 and 17. Girls ages 16 - 19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. If we stick our heads in the sand and assume that only bad kids born to bad parents are committing these crimes, this problem will not end. We all need to do a better job educating our boys and girls about sexual decision-making and what constitutes sexual assault. Otherwise, some of us good parents of good boys could end up learning a hard lesson too late.
On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show, I tackled the subject of bullying with expert, J Richard Knapp of Stop-Bullies.com. I put off doing this show for some time because I felt that the subject was getting so much coverage already from the media that perhaps additional discussion wasn't necessary. As I listened to the coverage, however, I realized that it wasn't fully addressing my questions as a parent. There's been extensive talk about bullying as a societal problem, and extensive talk about eradicating bullying, but I haven't found the answers that I was looking for as a parent. What do we do to keep our children safe? How do we avoid raising a bully? When and how should we intervene if we find out our child is a victim?
My children have been fortunate not to have yet faced bullying from peers, but it is my opinion that their middle school teachers have become lax with how they speak to kids and, in fact, on certain occasions, one has bullied my son. In reflecting on this, and after my interview with Jim Knapp, I think that perhaps the most important thing that schools can do to address this issue is to ensure that every administrator, and every teacher, always demonstrates appropriate interactions with students and one another. If teachers are permitted to be disrespectful to their students, they are establishing a culture that values leadership through power rather than leadership by example. If those in charge of a school or a classroom shame students, they are sending the message that it is okay to make a point or elevate oneself at the expense of another. In essence, they are teaching students to bully!
When my son was ridiculed in his classroom by a teacher for no apparent reason, one of his middle school peers had the strength of character to find this conduct reprehensible. After the class ended, she gathered up a few friends for moral support, and this soft-spoken youngster returned to the classroom to tell that teacher she did not think she had spoken to my son appropriately. And she asked that teacher not to do that again. That child is wise beyond her years in recognizing that we cannot be bystanders when others are being treated inappropriately.
What do you think are steps that we can take to turn the tide against bullying?
In this week's radio show on Parenting With Playdate Planet, I speak with Dr. Heather Wittenberg about being a good enough parent. She gives my listeners lots of practical tips and advice for handling some of the thornier issues of parenting young children, such as sleep, eating, tantrums, travelling, and potty training.
But my absolute favorite part of our conversation was something she said right at the beginning, which is that the research shows that parent and child are hurt, not helped, when a parent strives for perfection. How awesome is that?! We can all breathe a sigh of relief and let go of some of that parental guilt that most of us carry around.
For me, I never really strove for perfection because, frankly, I knew that I couldn't achieve it. I never thought that I could be the perfect parent. I'm not sure whether that comes from an honest self-assessment of my parenting abilities or unfounded insecurity, but there it is. However, I still feel guilty about all the ways I've possibly failed my children.
I know intellectually that we don't have as much impact on our children as we think we do, but guilt is part of my cultural upbringing and hard to shake off! So I'm going to make a conscious effort now to remind myself that imperfect parenting is best for child and parent!
How about you? Do you agree that striving for perfection is not in your child's best interests? Are you able to let go and embrace being a "good enough" parent?
On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show, I talk with social entrepreneur and author Marlaine Cover about teaching chidren life skills. Our children are taught reading, writing, and arithmatic by trained academics. But how are they supposed to learn about being a good citizen, nutrition, balancing a budget, time management, and all the other important life skills that we all need to thrive in society? Unfortunately, these skills were never fully embraced by the traditional academic environment, and they are becoming less and less of a focus as schools race to keep up with the new curriculum standards. Yet, these basic skills remain fundamentally critical. So it falls to us as parents to teach these things to our children.
What do we do if we don't know all of this content? Or, perhaps, we do know how to manage our finances, but we're not sure how to impart this information to our children? Marlaine's answer is to seek out the advice and support of experts in these various fields who are committed to helping parents and children. I think that's a great start, but a lot of us don't have the time or energy to proactively seek out guidance on teaching each important life skill.
I wish that schools did a better job incorporating these skills. Why not teach math through the prism of balancing a budget? Or teach a science unit about the human body and nutrition and have students plan a weekly menu and exercise schedule?
What do you think? How do you make sure your kids are learning the life skills they will need as adults?
On this week's Parenting With Playdate Planet radio show, I speak with Kim Russell, National Director of Chapter Outreach and one of the founding members of One Million Moms for Gun Control about what moms can do about gun violence.
Last night, I watched a chorus of children from Sandy Hook Elementary School, accompanied by actress and singer Jennifer Hudson, sing a moving rendition of "America the Beautiful" and marvelled at how they all could still take such pride in a country that they may rightfully believe has not done enough to protect them.
We have a problem with gun violence in this country. The statistics are staggering and put us entirely in a league of our own when it comes to a comparison with other nations. Guns kill African American teenagers in urban areas on a daily basis. And now even families who have chosen what they consider to be safe neighborhoods to raise their children must face the remote, but real, possibility that a disturbed individual with an assault weapon can change their life forever.
We have to do something about this epidemic of violence. I personally believe that we need tighter gun control measures and better education and services for those with mental illness. What has given me hope after the Sandy Hook tragedy is how many people are now getting involved in this conversation. Particularly as moms, we have to speak up and claim our political power. We vote. We matter. No matter where you think the answer lies, communication and engagement is the next stop. The country needs to hear what you think. Let's start by talking here.
Do you have any suggestions for me? What is your biggest challenge parenting in the digital age?
When my son was born, the pediatrician told my husband and me that the most important thing we could do for him would be to stay married. Of course, that’s what we all aspire to as couples with children, but it doesn’t always work out. The reality is that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and 40 % of marriages with children.
Since we recorded the show, there’s been lots of debate between Stacy and Markus and their supporters online. I hope we can continue that debate here, in a civil fashion. After hearing Markus’s arguments, I did additional research myself on the vaccination question and I will post the results of that research either as updates to the blog or in the comments as applicable. This is an amazingly important subject and I welcome everyone’s input!