parenting

Morality and the Teenage Brain

Two of the greatest times of brain and body development (or “plasticity” as psychologists call it) is early childhood and adolescence. Think about the incredible physical changes and growth from birth to 5 years old and during the teen years. Even though we can’t see it, similar rapid cognitive development is happening in the first five years.

If you ever said to your teen, “How could you be so stupid!”…let’s just clarify.  They aren’t stupid. They just don’t have fully developed brains to make really mature decision. The brain is not fully developed until about 25 years old. Because the brain develops back to front and core to outside, the last part to develop is the front, called the pre-frontal cortex. Executive function controls that region where reasoning, moral development, and planning takes place.

Teens do impulsive things. They can use poor judgment and reasoning. To top it off, they are going through stages of moral development. The “Heinz’s dilemma” is a frequently used example in many ethics classes. One well-known version of the dilemma, used in Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, is stated as follows:

A woman was near death. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s laboratory to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not

Kolberg was most interested in the reasons the teenagers gave for their answer. The “why or why nots” gave a window into the formation of the adolescent’s value system. The stages he outlined are simply put:

  1. Early adolescents tend to be more obedient, or self-serving. The do not question authority and think and do what their parents have told them.
  2. Mid-adolescents, teens start to question, which looks a little like rebellion. Furthermore, the new ability to think abstractly enables youth to recognize that rules are simply created by other people. As a result, teens begin to question the absolute authority of parents, schools, government, and other traditional institutions.
  3. By late adolescence, most teens are less rebellious as they have begun to establish their own identity, their own belief system, and their own place in the world.

Some youth who have reached the highest levels of moral development may feel passionate about their moral code and may choose to participate in activities that demonstrate their moral convictions.

As intriguing as the moral dilemma scenario is in Kolberg’s study, there are other, more playful ways to ask your teenager questions that gets him talking about his thinking. Here’s a fun exercise to see where your teenager is on the stages of moral development. Play this “Would you rather…” game together, each answering the questions and examining your rationale. No one is wrong and no judgments should be made. You can start with making up easier choices for younger children, like “Would you rather be a cat or a dog?” and then use these during different years of adolescence to see if their reasoning matures.

Would you rather…

Save the life of a starving African child you’ve never met

OR become a Jedi, get the Force and a light saber?

 

Change your last name to Hitler

OR never eat candy again?

 

Have no Internet

OR no cell phone?

 

Live in a world with no problems

OR live in a world where you RULE

 

Win the lottery of 20 million dollars

OR amputate your right arm if it cured cancer?

 

Have the superpower of flying

OR reading everyone’s mind?

 

Know the date of your death

OR the cause of your death?

 

Have all the time in the world (endless supply)

OR endless supply of money but only 10 years to live?

 

Be the smartest person in the world

OR be the most handsome person in the world?

 

Have a piercing

OR a tattoo?

 

Be able to talk to all animals

OR speak all languages?

 

Never have your mind get old (but body does)

OR never have your body get old (but mind does)?

 

Be able to go back in history and stop 9-11

OR stop the Holocaust?

 

Have mermaids be real

OR unicorns be real?

 

Have a Pinocchio nose when you lie

OR never get to shower again ?

 

Be a genius that no one likes

OR be an idiot that everyone loves?

Raising well-behaved children

We usually wait until something annoys us before we pay attention.

It’s the “Squeaky Wheel” syndrome.

For example, if we sailed through all green lights this morning to work, we probably didn’t give it much thought or paid attention to our amazing luck and good timing.

But if we hit EVERY red light, we are super annoyed. The universe is against us! We notice more when things go wrong.

It’s the same with children. They may sit behind you in the car quietly, but the minute they kick the back of your seat…BAM! You suddenly come to life in the form of Cruela de Vil.

Remember that a basic human need is to be recognized.  If children don’t receive a healthy dose of positive reinforcement (8:1) per day, they will resort to any kind of recognition, even negative, or give up.

This is a sign of a discouraged child.

Rather than wait until they misbehave, “catch” your child being good. It’s the difference between raging at red lights or being grateful for the greens.  It takes more effort because you have to pay attention to the good and put energy into recognizing what is going right. But it pays off in the long run with well behaved children.

It’s a universal law: we get more of what we focus on. And it’s universally practiced in raising good kids and kids who want to be good.

To catch your children being good, I’ve listed the first letter of the word in an acronym.

Call kids by their name (and I mean by good names!). Not their full name you use when they’re in trouble: “Andrew Scott McFarland!” but use their name to recognize who they are. I love to use endearing pet names. “Muffin Cakes” “Tiger” or “Lovey Dovey” can turn a child to putty in your hands. What pet nicknames did your parents use that made you feel loved?

Ask questions about what they are doing/feeling. Open ended questions that invite longer conversations. Don’t give up if your child just mumbles. Ask at different times of day and in different ways. “What was your best and worst part of today?” “If your day was a movie, what would the title be?” My kids tend to clam up right after school but right as I tuck them into bed, they are bubbling with information. But don’t force or interrogate. If they don’t want to talk, respect that.

Thank them. Thank them for what they have done, are doing, or will do. In other words, “Thank you for picking up your socks,” you might note, and if they haven’t done so yet, say the same thing.  They might respond, “I didn’t pick them up.” And you get to smile and say with delight, “But I know you were going to so I wanted to thank you in advance.” This really works. It’s shaping behavior through what you expect with positives. People respond much better with positives and the potential you see in them.

Compliment them. In private and in public. In most cases, children swell with pride to hear adults sing their praises in public. Compliment what they have done, but also who they are…the lasting characteristics. And compliment what they are working towards, not just accomplished. This uses encouragement and praise, the dynamic duo.

Help. Offer to give them support when they are floundering. But don’t do it all for them. Show your confidence in their ability. Just support or scaffold what they need help with and let them do what they can.

So catch your child being good at least 8 times for every 1 correction. Start counting today to see how much you notice the good over the bad. The more you focus on the good, you’ll be amazed at how many green lights you and your child will sail through in life.

A Tale of a Tree

When we bought our house, it came with a beautiful, old cherry tree that had been left over from an orchard. It was a connection to the “good old days” of farming, before suburban sprawl took over. I loved it.

It stood in the middle of our backyard, in front of our big picture window, and was a centerpiece for 20+ years of backyard family activities.

tree

(Emily in 1997)

My children climbed the tree in summers and we checked yearly for the robin who would lay her eggs in the nest perched on the same favorable branch.

nest

A toddler swing gave my 5 children, and other children, hours of delight.The tree was a harbinger of spring with its early pink blossoms and the cherries that grew later in the year were abundant. A wind chime let the tree sing music.

Sadly, the old cherry tree became diseased a few years ago and my husband began hinting that it needed to go. I always resisted because I couldn’t bear to let so many memories get chopped down and disappear. Finally, my new son-in-law picked a Saturday that he and my husband would take it down.

cherry-tree1

I couldn’t watch (My daughter took these photos. I was hiding behind the couch).

cherry-tree2

It was like having a child die.

cherry-tree3

The lawn felt barren and alone when they were done.

And then…the new sod was laid and I ventured out. Yes, it was different. But my first impression was, “Wow. Our yard looks so big now! It’s like breathing new air for the first time. There’s so much room. And look! There’s a view of the mountains I never knew existed because the tree had blocked our view.”

I was stunned at this panorama that opened up to me.

mountain

I finally rejoiced in the change.

The tree represents so many things in my life that I have a hard time letting go of. Pride, guilt, control, the need to prove I’m right (and of course, you’re wrong!), sins and misdeeds, bad habits. These are all diseases that corrupt the tree.

Every day I go outside in the backyard, I am reminded of the old tree and how fiercely I held on, way after it was no good. I was suffocated by its presence even as I fought to breathe. Old things, dying things we don’t let go of will block our view.

When I now look at the glorious view of the mountains I never knew I had all those years, I wonder what else I’m missing because I won’t let go of things that are no good for me. What vistas are blocked? What panoramas are unknown? What fresh air am I not breathing? How am I limiting my view?

C.S. Lewis, in “Mere Christianity,” said it this way:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Cutting down the tree hurt.

I had to let go.

I finally recognized it was time.

It’s time for me to let go and possibly even rebuild many things in my life, with God’s help. The roots may be deep and the trunk and branches are hardened by years.

But it’s time to start digging.

 

 

The Power of Smells

This interview was really fun and interesting.

The sense of smell is the sense most tied to emotion and memory.
What memory or emotion do these smells evoke for you?

Freshly baked bread
Roses
Popcorn
Bacon
Campfire
Pinecones
Coffee
Gasoline
Horse Manure

On the Matt Townsend Show (BYU Radio) we discuss how smells literally change behavior. Depending on the ambient smells, we can influence employee behavior, public behavior, or behavior in our children to be kinder, more fair and ethical, more charitable, less deviant, and harder working.

Here is the link to the program.

https://www.byuradio.org/episode/c7c6b830-9a4f-45fb-a47b-2db8f35dd5f5/the-matt-townsend-show-the-making-of-donald-trump-how-to-get-stuff-done-power-of-smells?playhead=6786&autoplay=true

Bringing the Arts Home

I contributed to the Matt Townsend show on BYU radio about how the arts enrich home life. I give research about how the arts make your child smarts and practical ideas for creativity in the home.

https://www.byuradio.org/episode/99ef58c5-9885-446c-9521-3f52ab57fad5/the-matt-townsend-show-political-social-media-why-diets-make-us-fat-art-and-kids?playhead=6346&autoplay=true

School Success: BYU radio interview

School started today. *Sigh* It’s a bittersweet time.

Bitter:
No more relaxed, sunny days by the pool.
No more PBJ picnics.
No more late night star gazing and movie watching.
No more spontaneous UNO card games.
No more vacation from homework, alarm clocks, carpooling, and science fair projects.
No more shorts, T-shirts, flipflops and bedhead worn every day.

Sweet:
Adult alone time!
One word: schedules!
Mushy brains turn into learning brains again.
Not hearing “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom” 868 times a day.
As my neighbor sang in a lilted, Christmas-y tone yesterday: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But the transition from summer to school can seem abrupt at best and often very difficult. It’s like living on planet Earth all summer and then being shipped to Mars. How can we help kids adjust easier and outfit them to thrive in that harsh climate? Here’s the BYU radio program I was interviewed for about preparing kids for school success.
https://www.byuradio.org/episode/bef82490-c5ad-4fa2-8453-0340424735f6/the-matt-townsend-show-public-space-crisis-smartphones-and-adhd-back-to-school?playhead=6518&autoplay=true

Father’s Day Trivia

How are your facts about fathers? Here are 20 trivia questions about fathers to celebrate with the special men in your life on Father’s Day.(Try not to peek at the answers at the end until you have tried them all). It would be a good game to play on Father’s Day to honor men who nurture, provide, and love children.

When you are done, consider asking more questions, but personal ones to your dads to learn more about them, their likes/dislikes, fears, funnies, history, favorite memories, and dreams for the future.

Questions:

1. Who do the “Founding Fathers” of our country refer to?

2. Who is known as the current “Holy Father” according to the Roman Catholic Church?

3. Roses are the official flower for Father’s Day. A red rose is worn in the lapel if your father is living, and this color rose if he is deceased.

4. Who is known to have initiated the Father’s Day celebrations, or who is called “The Mother of Father’s Day”?

5. In the USA, Father’s Day is celebrated on this day.

6. Who is the “Father” of our country?

7. Father’s Day the fourth-largest card-sending occasion with this many cards given out last year.

a. 80 million

b. 60 million

c. 95 million

d. 150 million

8. “Father Time” is also known by this name.

9. In Greek Mythology, this King of Thebes killed his father and married his mother. His name has become synonymous for this hidden desire to do the same to one’s parents.

10. The myth of “Father Christmas” has been taken from this country.

a. Denmark

b. Sweden

c. The Netherlands

d. Germany

11. Name the top 5 gifts for Father’s Day (besides a card).

12. This 1950’s TV show about fatherhood starred actor Robert Young.

a. “Father Knows Best”

b. “Father Does Best”

c. “Father Loves Best”

d. “Father Laughs Best”

13. Which actor voiced the famous movie line, “Luke, I am your father”?

14. According to Greek mythology, who was the father of gods and mortals?

15. Who was the famous literary father of the young girl nicknamed “Scout”?

16. Who was the father of Disney’s Arial, the Little Mermaid?

17. Which President signed into law that Father’s Day would be nationally recognized?

a. Woodrow Wilson

b. Richard Nixon

c. Theodore Roosevelt

d. John F. Kennedy

18. What is the word for “father” in these languages?

Afrikaans

Arabic

French

Hungarian

Italian

Polish

Spanish

Welsh

19. This 1991 movie called “Father of the Bride” starred this comedian.

20. What famous evangelist said this: “A good father is one of the most unsung, upraised, unnoticed, and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.”

Answers:

1. Those at the 1776 Philadelphia convention who signed the Declaration of Independence.

2. Pope Francis

3. White

4. Sonara Smart Dodd, daughter of a Civil War veteran, who wanted to honor her father.

5. The Third Sunday of June

6. George Washington

7. c. 95 million

8. The Grim Reaper

9. Oedipus Complex

10. c. The Netherlands

11. Necktie/clothing, tools, sporting goods, electronics, candy

12. a. “Father Knows Best”

13. James Earl Jones

14. Zeus

15. Atticus Finch

16. King Triton

17. b. Richard Nixon

18. Afrikaans : vader

Arabic : babba

French : papa

Hungarian : apa

Italian : babbo

Polish : tata

Spanish : papá

Welsh : tad

19. Steve Martin

20. Billy Graham

Behind every great kid is a pushy parent

Here’s a link to a revised version of this article that was published by ksl.com

When I was young, my mom required that all 5 children learn to swim until they could pass the Jr. Lifesaving class. I hated it. I hated water and the smell of chlorine. I hated diving for those weighted rings.

I looked up at my mother sitting in the spectator balcony and glared at her whenever I could. My body language clearly stated, “I can’t believe you are making me do this. You are the meanest mom in the world.” She just smiled back and waved at me.

About the time I was enrolled in the Jr. Lifesaving class, the movie “Jaws” came out. By today’s movie-making standards, the special effects are cheesy, but to my 11-year-old, fearful-of-anything aquatic, impressionable brain, it was horrifying. I couldn’t put my head under water (let alone take a bath) after seeing the film. When the swim instructors lined us up behind the diving board and it was my turn to arch over the horizontal bamboo stick to dive into the water, I couldn’t do it. I stared into the deep, blue abyss and could only see a set of teeth on a open shark’s mouth, waiting for me to dive into its hungry cavity.

I couldn’t do it. It was humiliating and traumatic.

But my mom didn’t seem to care no matter how much I whined and crumpled on the floor. She wanted me to pass the class since she had almost drowned as a girl and her lifesaving skills saved her. I eventually passed the class and never looked at another swimming pool for a long time.

Fast forward.

I now swim multiple times a week for exercise. You heard me right. I choose to swim for fun. I love it. Every time I get in the pool, I look up into the empty balcony bleachers with a smile and think, “Thank you mom, for not giving up on me.”

Being  a “pushy” mom or dad requires True Grit. Courage. Fortitude. A Backbone. When life gets hard, kids tend to give up. If we insist they stick with it, we are called “mean.”  Someone wrote, “My kids just told me I’m the meanest mom in the world and I’m freaking out. I don’t even have a speech prepared.” Parents! If your child hates you for something that is really, really good for them, take a bow, accept the nomination, and thank your audience. 

Parents raise successful kids by being pushy in these three ways:

Push Toward Good.

I once knew a parent who buckled under their 5 year old who refused to take his prescribed medicine. Some things are hard, some things don’t taste good, some things are boring (like brushing our teeth), and some things hurt (like getting immunized) but we insist our children do it anyway because it is good for them.  

My sister has taught voice and piano for 30 years and out of the hundreds of students, only two loved to practice. The rest think it’s hard and boring. Many kids dropped playing the piano after the first year. Those who became good were not prodigies or genius musicians; they had pushy parents who made them practice 5 days a week, year after year.

Recently, I helped my daughter register at a university. However, she became anxious and lacked confidence to navigate a new campus. As we sat with her adviser, fear took over. I realized I needed to not only reassure her, but to push.

Adviser: So what is your major?

Daughter: (shoulders slumped, eyes down) I don’t know.

Me: Integrated Studies.

Adviser: (wondering who is this pushy mom) So what will be your two areas of emphasis?

Daughter: I’m not sure.

Me: She declared Spanish and Business.

Adviser (looking directly at my daughter so I didn’t butt in) Will you start Summer of Fall?

Daughter: I don’t know.

Me: (pausing first before butting in) She’ll start Summer.

Adviser: (giving me the stink eye and then turning to my daughter) Do you have your transcript?

Daughter: Yes, but I don’t know how to download it.

I stayed out from that point on, but I’m telling you, we sometimes have to hold our kids hands and baby step them toward the unknown, scary future.  To that adviser: Don’t judge.

Push Away from Bad.

Children have a lot of choices these days and they’re not all good. Some may seem good  but turn into problems if there are not diligent parents afoot. It’s okay to tell your young child they don’t need a cell phone with Wifi or unlimited data. It’s okay to push away bad media programming that infiltrates our homes and electronic devices. A wave of filth is threatening families but we can push it away. Say “no” to children who tell you everyone else’s parents are letting them do it.

Tell them you love them more than that.

Push Back from Pressure.

Unlike many children, there are superstar kids who excel at everything and want to do it all. They overbook their lives, or their parents overbook it for them, to achieve greatness and an impressive resume. There is so much pressure to raise trophy children and compete with over-achieving friends.

Raising a great kid who is successful means they lead a balanced, happy, well adjusted life. Children need a childhood. They need play time, laugh time, creative and social time. If your child wants to be the drummer in a rock band, be on the high school basketball, swim, and baseball teams, be student body president, and sing in the prestigious school choir, it’s time to push back. Life is full of great things to do, but we need to teach our children that it’s not realistic or healthy to try to do it all. We all need to learn how to choose and prioritize.

 

So if you are a pushy parent, take it as a compliment. You know that you’re doing something right and you’re in good company.

6 ways parents can improve their listening skills

This was my first time being interviewed by someone from Utah Valley 360 magazine. It’s always cool when someone calls you up out of the blue, unexpected, and says they want to interview you for their upcoming article.

Well, here it is. And I think Natalie did a nice job with the article. Published on February 29, 2016

If you feel like your kids hardly listen to a word you say, take heart. Children and teens ignoring their parents is a universal problem as old as parenting itself. But before you put all the blame on your offspring, consider whether your listening skills could stand to be improved. Try these six tips for improving your listening ear:

  1. Stop multitasking and pay attention.

Our brain doesn’t have the capacity to fully attend to two things at once, so it’s difficult to listen well when doing another task that requires your attention. Doing the dishes and helping a child with homework? Sure. But scrolling Instagram while listening to your daughter explain her school project? It’s likely you’ll miss important details. “It’s really important that we select moments of the day where we close all those tabs we have open in our brain,” says Julie K. Nelson, an applied parenting instructor at UVU and author of two books on parenting, including “Keep it Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood” (Cedar Fort, March 2015). “We need to say to our child, ‘Right now, you are my world.’ Half listening will not build trust or confidence in coming to us when they need to talk.”

  1. Take it one kid at a time.

Do your best to listen to one child at a time. If interrupting and talking over each other is a problem at your house, Nelson suggests telling your kids that you are going to listen to all of them but only one at a time. “Put your arm around the child and say, ‘I’m here for you but right now we are going to listen to Stacey first and it will be your turn next,’” she suggests. Give them a physical cue, such as holding their hand or putting a hand on their shoulder, to let them know you see them but give your full attention to the child speaking. If a child whines or demands attention, ignore it as best you can. “When you are finished listening to one child, turn to the other child and say, ‘Thank you for being so respectful. Now it’s your turn.’”

  1. Listen on their level.

Adults appreciate eye contact during an conversation, and kids are no different. Nelson suggest talking to kids at their level for the most effective communication. “If we do want to get a child to listen to us, it’s so important there is not an imbalance of power. At your full stature, children don’t listen to you when they are looking at your navel.” Younger kids appreciate when you get down on one knee to hear and see what they are saying. For teens, try sitting on a couch to chat.

  1. Go on sabbatical from offering your opinion.

If it’s a challenge to keep your mouth shut when you should be listening to your child or teen, try this challenge: For one week, resist the urge to offer your opinion unless expressly asked for it. Listening with the intent to simply listen, instead of listening with the intent to reply, Nelson says. “When we do listen to someone we should be very careful that we don’t try to finish their sentence for them or come up with a rebuttal or response,” Nelson says. If they do ask for an opinion, let them know you’ll think about it rather than jumping in with your expert advice.

  1. Practice active listening.

If you need to clarify what someone is saying, repeat what you heard back to them. Try, “What I’m hearing you saying is this; is that correct?” Let the speaker validate whether or not you got it right. Then continue listening without judgment or fixing. Most of the time, people just want to be heard.

  1. Quit topping the story.

If your child is complaining about their struggles at school, it can be tempting to hijack the conversation with stories of your childhood success or examples of what other siblings have done. They don’t really need to hear about everything you did when you were a kid, Nelson says — even if you’re commiserating —  they just want to you listen to them. So stop topping their stories and simply offer yourself as a resource. “Tell them, ‘I’m sure you’ll come up with a great solution to that.’ Empower them … let them come up with solutions on their own. They need to know you’re not the higher power in their life that always sweeps in and solves things,” she says.

For a link to the origional article in Utah Valley 360 magazine: http://utahvalley360.com/2016/02/29/6-ways-parents-can-improve-their-listening-skills/