Sexual harassment among teens is pervasive. Here’s how parents can change that.

The Washington Post

October 16, 2017

 

In the spring of 2016, a group of students at a Boston-area high school staged a walkout to protest what they said was daily misogyny and sexual harassment at school, including instances of sexual violence among students. Girls, they said, were called “bitch,” “whore” and “slut” in class. Boys catcalled and groped girls in the hallways and stood near water fountains leering at them as they leaned over to drink.

The previous month, in Colorado, girls from a sex-segregated Jesuit high school walked out to protest the school’s inaction over severe online harassment from boys at their school, including rape threats on Twitter and jokes about sexual assault. Two boys from the school were suspended after the protest.

Stories like these are often underreported, but the fact is that misogyny and sexual harassment are stunningly common in young people’s lives — in the music and media they consume, in school hallways and classrooms, and on college campuses.

In other words, this isn’t just happening among Hollywood actresses and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. Harassment isn’t contained to adult workplaces. It’s happening among our children and we are doing shockingly little about it.

As one 16-year-old told us while we were researching our recent report, “The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment“: “One thing that I think all girls go through at some age is the realization that their body, seemingly, is not entirely for themselves anymore … the unfortunate thing is that we all just sort of accept it as a fact of life.”

As part of the report, Making Caring Common, the project we lead at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted a national survey of 18- to 25-year-olds in which 87 percent of respondents reported they had been the victim of at least one form of sexual harassment. This harassment included being catcalled (55 percent), touched without permission by a stranger (41 percent), insulted with sexualized words by a man (47 percent) or by a woman (42 percent), having a stranger say something sexual to them (52 percent) and having a stranger tell them they were “hot” (61 percent).

Yet the same survey indicates that most parents have failed to address and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment in their children’s lives: 76 percent of survey respondents — 72 percent of men and 80 percent of women — reported that they never had a conversation with parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others. Similar majorities had never had conversations with their parents about various forms of misogyny.

As parents, we need to do better. We need have specific conversations with our teens about what misogyny and sexual harassment mean, why they are so harmful, and how to combat them. Below are six tips for parents for engaging in meaningful, constructive conversations.

  1. Define the problem.

Why? Many teens and young people don’t know the range of behaviors that constitute misogyny and sexual harassment. Adults need to explain what these violations mean and provide specific, concrete examples.

Try this. Start by asking your teen or young adult to define misogyny and sexual harassment and to give you examples of each of these violations. Clarify any misunderstandings and provide common examples of harassment and misogyny, such as commenting on someone’s clothes or appearance when those comments might be unwanted. Ask teens to carefully consider what it might be like to be subject to comments like these. You can use our data to explain, for example, that while many men think catcalling is flattering to women, many women are frightened and angered by it. Make it clear that boys and girls can harass, and that even if the words or behaviors are intended as a joke, they risk scaring and offending others.

  1. Step in and stick with it.

Why? If you’re the parent or guardian of a teen, chances are you’ll encounter a sexist or sexually degrading comment from them or their friends or peers. Yet too many adults stay silent when this happens. Passivity not only condones these comments, it can also diminish young people’s respect for us as adults and role models. Even if teens can’t absorb or act on our words in the moment, they often still register our words and internalize them as they mature.

Try this. Think about and consult with people you respect about what you might say if your teen uses a word like “bitch” or “hoe.” How might you react in a way that really enables your teen to absorb your message? You might ask questions that any thoughtful human is hard-pressed to answer affirmatively: “Why is this a way that you and your friends bond?” Consider what you might say if your teen says, “We’re just joking” or “You don’t understand.” You might explain how these types of jokes can come to infect how we think and act towards others and be interpreted by others as permitting and supporting sexual harassment and degradation. Talk to young people about the importance of listening to and appreciating their peers of different genders as a matter of decency and humanity, and work with them to develop empathy from a young age.

  1. Teach your child to be a critical consumer of media and culture.

Why? Many young people are raised on a steady diet of misogyny and sexual degradation in popular culture but have never critically examined the media they consume or the cultural dynamics that shape their lives. You may be with your teen in the car and hear sexually degrading song lyrics or be together when you learn about an episode of sexual harassment in the news. It is vital that we speak up and help our children become mindful, critical consumers of this information.

Try this. Ask how your teen interprets something you’re hearing or watching that you find sexually degrading. Does your teen find it degrading? Why or why not? If you disagree, explain why you think the portrayal is harmful. Point out how misogyny and gender-based degradation in popular culture can be so common that they seem normal and can begin affecting our relationships with others in harmful ways. If you’ve had an experience similar to what you’re listening to or watching, such as being harassed on the street or in your workplace, and it’s age-appropriate to share with your teen, discuss it and talk about how it made you feel.

  1. Talk to your child about what they should do if they’re sexually harassed or degraded.

Why? Many teens don’t know what to do if they’re harassed or degraded with gender-based slurs, whether it’s being called a “slut” or “bitch” jokingly by a friend or being harassed by someone they don’t know. It’s vital for us to help our children develop strategies for protecting themselves and reducing the chances of the offender harming others.

Try this. Ask your teen if they have ever been harassed or degraded with sexualized words or actions and how they’ve responded. If they haven’t had these experiences, ask them what they think they would do in different situations. Does this differ from what they think they should do? We don’t always do what we should. Discuss how they can get from “would” to “should” by exploring the pros and cons of various strategies for responding. Would they feel comfortable confronting the person harassing them, confronting the harasser with a friend, talking to a teacher or a school counselor, or talking to you or another respected adult? Consider role playing so they can explore strategies. Brainstorm with your child ways of responding in various contexts.

  1. Encourage and expect upstanding.

Why? As ethical parents, we should expect our teens to protect themselves when they’re harassed or degraded, but also to protect one another. Because they understand peer dynamics, are more likely to witness harassing behaviors and often have more weight than adults in intervening with peers, young people are often in the best position to prevent and stop sexual harassment and misogyny among their peers. Learning to be an “upstander” is also a vital part of becoming an ethical, courageous person. Yet upstanding can be risky — perpetrators can turn on upstanders. That’s why it’s important to brainstorm strategies with young people for actions that protect both them and the victim.

Try this. Talk to your teen about the importance of being an ally to peers who are subjected to harassment or misogyny. You might start a conversation by asking, for example, what they would and should do if a friend is the target of different types of harassment. What about a peer who is not a close friend? Talk about what might stop them from intervening in these situations, brainstorm various strategies, or do a role play. Think through the specific words they might use.

  1. Provide multiple sources of recognition and self-worth.

Why? Young people can be especially vulnerable to degradation and harassment if they’re highly dependent on romantic and sexual attention and on peer approval. Many young people are also vulnerable because they have lower social status or are marginalized among their peers. LGBTQIA youth may be especially vulnerable in this respect.

Try this. Ask how your teen interprets something you’re hearing or watching that you find sexually degrading. Does your teen find it degrading? Why or why not? If you disagree, explain why you think the portrayal is harmful. Point out how misogyny and gender-based degradation in popular culture can be so common that they seem normal and can begin affecting our relationships with others in harmful ways. If you’ve had an experience similar to what you’re listening to or watching, such as being harassed on the street or in your workplace, and it’s age-appropriate to share with your teen, discuss it and talk about how it made you feel.

  1. Talk to your child about what they should do if they’re sexually harassed or degraded.

Why? Many teens don’t know what to do if they’re harassed or degraded with gender-based slurs, whether it’s being called a “slut” or “bitch” jokingly by a friend or being harassed by someone they don’t know. It’s vital for us to help our children develop strategies for protecting themselves and reducing the chances of the offender harming others.

Try this. Ask your if they have ever been harassed or degraded with sexualized words or actions and how they’ve responded. If they haven’t had these experiences, ask them what they think they would do in different situations. Does this differ from what they think they should do? We don’t always do what we should. Discuss how they can get from “would” to “should” by exploring the pros and cons of various strategies for responding. Would they feel comfortable confronting the person harassing them, confronting the harasser with a friend, talking to a teacher or a school counselor, or talking to you or another respected adult? Consider role playing so they can explore strategies. Brainstorm with your child ways of responding in various contexts.

  1. Encourage and expect upstanding.

Why? As ethical parents, we should expect our teens to protect themselves when they’re harassed or degraded, but also to protect one another. Because they understand peer dynamics, are more likely to witness harassing behaviors and often have more weight than adults in intervening with peers, young people are often in the best position to prevent and stop sexual harassment and misogyny among their peers. Learning to be an “upstander” is also a vital part of becoming an ethical, courageous person. Yet upstanding can be risky — perpetrators can turn on upstanders. That’s why it’s important to brainstorm strategies with young people for actions that protect both them and the victim.

Try this. Talk to your teen about the importance of being an ally to peers who are subjected to harassment or misogyny. You might start a conversation by asking, for example, what they would and should do if a friend is the target of different types of harassment. What about a peer who is not a close friend? Talk about what might stop them from intervening in these situations, brainstorm various strategies, or do a role play. Think through the specific words they might use.

  1. Provide multiple sources of recognition and self-worth.

Why? Young people can be especially vulnerable to degradation and harassment if they’re highly dependent on romantic and sexual attention and on peer approval. Many young people are also vulnerable because they have lower social status or are marginalized among their peers. LGBTQIA youth may be especially vulnerable in this respect.

Try this. Encourage and support your teen in engaging in activities that build their confidence that don’t involve romantic or sexual attention or approval from peers. These activities might involve the arts, sports, or service to others. Talk to young people about solidarity and taking collective action against harassment and degradation. Sometimes girls and young women in particular can demean and undercut each other in the context of romantic and sexual relationships, and it’s important to underscore the power of standing together. This can be another important source of self-worth.

Richard Weissbourd is a senior lecturer and director of the Human Development and Psychology Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the faculty director of Making Caring Common. Alison Cashin is the director of Making Caring Common.

Is Your Child with ADHD Misbehaving or Is it Sensory Overload?

Healthcentral.com

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Credit: Thinkstock

The holiday season is approaching. That means, lights, music, parties, family gathering, shopping trips. All the excitement surrounding the holidays equates to sensory overload in many children. For children with ADHD, sensory overload can spell disaster.

Poor behavior vs. sensory overload

You might be aware that your child has a hard time focusing or becomes more hyperactive when in places where there is a lot of activity and stimulation. But overstimulation has been associated with a host of other behavioral issues. The North Shore Pediatric Therapy center explains that, due to sensory overload, children might show the following behaviors:

  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus on concentrate
  • Temper tantrums
  • Overly hyperactive
  • Overly impulsive
  • Moving from one activity to another
  • Shuts down and avoids interacting with others

Reactions to sensory overload are as varied as the children themselves. Some might act out, others might turn inward and shy away from any social interaction. When you start looking at your child’s challenging behaviors and seeing the frustration or pain behind them, you can look for solutions rather than becoming frustrated and upset yourself.

What causes sensory overload?

Children with ADHD are often hypersensitive – they have a difficult time processing some sensory experiences. Loud noises, bright lights and high levels of activity can commonly bring on sensory overload but there are many other stimuli that can cause problems. Your child might be alright if one or two high stimulus things are going on at one time but during the holidays these add up quickly, causing your child to become overwhelmed. The following are situations that might cause a child with hypersensitivities discomfort:

  • Loud noises, buzzing noises, banging noises, loud talking or environments with noise coming from multiple sources
  • Bright lights, flashing or blinking lights
  • High activity levels
  • Smells of certain foods, strong aromas or smells of multiple foods at once
  • Texture of certain foods
  • Being touched
  • People being too close or bumping into other people
  • The feel of certain clothing including rough textured clothing, clothing with tags or seams that irritate the skin

Thanksgiving, which traditionally kicks off our holiday season, can be the start of a month long “overstimulation” event.

Be proactive to help your child manage overstimulation

There are a number of ways you can help your child better manage overstimulation during the holiday season:

Talk about what to expect. Before heading to any holiday event, talk to your child about what to expect, including what time you will be arriving and what time you expect to leave. Let him or her know what will happen during the event.

Provide a safe, quiet area. Whether you are in your home or a relative’s home, look for an area your child can retreat to when things become overwhelming. (In your home it could be your child’s bedroom, in a relative’s house you could ask your host if there is an area you can set aside for your child.) You might want to pack a backpack with a few items from home your child can play with alone.

Bring along food you know your child will eat. If your child has food sensitivities, pack food you know he will like. Hunger can add to irritability and behavior issues.

Let friends and relatives know if your child doesn’t like being hugged. Some families are “huggers” and don’t understand when someone avoids their hug. They may see your child as being rude. Let them know in advance that his preference is to simply say hello.

Think about other triggers that might causes your child to feel overwhelmed. Coming up with ideas and solutions to make the holiday event more bearable for your child will help everyone have a better time.

For more information on sensory difficulties:

What is Sensory Processing?

Sensory Processing Disorder: Managing Sensory Issues in Children with ADHD During the Holidays

Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral TherapyEssential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.

The Bad News on ‘Good’ Girls

Photo

CreditRose Blake

At a backyard barbecue when I was about 10, my little sister and I overheard my dad talking to another father. “You know, I think if they were boys, I would probably let them play a little farther down the street,” my feminist-minded dad said, in a moment of father-bonding frankness. My sister and I were incensed, and when we got home, we let him have it — how dare he suggest he would treat us differently if we were boys?

Like many middle-class millennial daughters, my sister and I embodied a new model of the “good girl”: well-behaved, college-bound A students who played sports, had a full roster of extracurricular activities and were expected (by our parents and ourselves) to be moving toward successful careers.

What girls like us didn’t realize — what too often our own parents didn’t realize — is that the entrenched and often invisible gender biases of the adults around us would indelibly shape our paths and often set us on a different (harder, less fruitful) course than the boys in our orbit.

Girls today receive two conflicting messages: Be mighty and be good.

Now-pervasive “Girl power” messaging declares that girls can be anything they want. But in practice, the more subtle rewards for compliant behavior show girls that it pays to be sweet and passive. The sexual harassment revelations that have come to light over the past few months show just how dangerous this model can be.

Routinely, victims of harassment and assault didn’t challenge their abusers or immediately file complaints not just because they didn’t want to endanger their own careers (although there was that, too), but because women have been conditioned for acquiescence to authority and male power their whole lives.

Men, on the other hand, have been raised to embrace risk-taking and aggression. Girls are taught to protect themselves from predation, and they internalize the message that they are inherently vulnerable; boys move through the world not nearly as encumbered and certainly not seeing their own bodies as sources of weakness or objects for others’ desires.

While girls are being told to protect themselves, too many boys are growing into the men they need to be protected from.

This is not the world most parents want for their children. But ideas of how girls and boys (and men and women) should be run deep. Fathers today largely say that they want their daughters to be intelligent, independent and strong, but many men also seem to prefer sons. Although they may not mean to, parents and other adults do treat girls differently from boys — often to the long-term detriment of daughters.

Girls are more likely to be praised for being good, while boys are commended for making an effort. Being a “good girl” today means sitting quietly at school, following instructions, completing tasks and getting good grades. At that, girls have largely succeeded, which accounts for much of the gender achievement gap in education — if a decade-long pattern holds, more young women than young men will walk out the doors of their college in the spring with a degree in hand.

Girls are also generally raised to be more emotionally intelligent and verbal than boys. Dads sing to daughters more than sons, and the language they use with their girls is more analytical and emotive, something researchers suspect contributes to girls’ higher achievement in school. With boys, dads are more physical, and more likely to roughhouse. And at the toy store, girls are still tracked toward the “pink aisle” of baby and princess dolls suited for quiet, care-taking play.

This good behavior gives girls an advantage inside the classroom, but it can cost them outside of it later on, especially in high-earning fields like technology that value assertiveness and creativity and entrepreneurial roles that reward risk-taking. Biology certainly plays a role in development and may also influence gendered preferences, but we are fundamentally social creatures who form identities in relation to our families and communities; whatever natural differences do exist are magnified, and often totally invented, by how we’re nurtured.

While girls are being taught to be emotionally competent, they also learn to be responsive to the needs of others — not a bad thing in theory, except that it can cross over into subservience. When boys aren’t learning the same, it’s adult women who end up serving as caretakers for adult men, both in their homes and in their workplaces.

In the workplace, being seen as helpers rather than bosses undercuts women and their perceived competence. These gendered expectations cut the other way as well: Women who refuse to take on the helper role are seen as difficult, which also impedes their success.

And then, of course, there is the harassment too many women endure at work, a dynamic largely driven by male power and entitlement, and enabled by expectations of female obedience.

So what are parents to do if they want to raise both their sons and their daughters to avoid, or dismantle, these traps? Raising children without gendered roles and expectations seems to serve those children well, but that’s tough to do outside of Sweden — in an age of “gender reveal parties” and the princessification of American girlhood, asking a sales clerk for help buying a baby shower gift brings the automatic response, “For a boy or a girl?”

One place to start is looking within. Many parents say they want their sons and daughters to be treated as equals in and outside of the home, but their actions don’t seem to match their words. In more than a quarter of American families, the mother is the full-time caregiver for the children; the husbands in these families are less likely to promote female co-workers, and when the sons of stay-at-home moms grow up, they’re less likely to pitch in around their own homes. Young men seem to have gotten the message: Nearly half of them think it’s better if men are breadwinners and women stay home.

When children see the men around them in positions of power in the office and relaxing at home while the women are packing lunches, planning birthday parties and scheduling appointments, they internalize the message that men lead and women help. According to one study, nearly a quarter of teenage girls and 40 percent of teenage boys said men make better political leaders than women; just 8 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys said women are better leaders. But both boys and girls preferred women in traditional female roles, such as caring for children.

What could make a big difference is raising boys more like our girls — fostering kindness and caretaking, not just by telling them to respect women, but by modeling egalitarianism and male affection and emotional aptitude at home. While parents and other adults teach girls to protect themselves against the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, that doesn’t do much to stem the tide of Weinsteins. Raising our boys differently would.

Parents should also shift the ways they teach girls to protect themselves. When we’re young, many of us were told to tell Mom and Dad if anyone ever touched us in a way that felt icky; as we grow up, we are armed with pepper spray and rape whistles, with instructions to always carry cab fare, not leave our drinks unattended at a bar, that no should mean no.

This is an understandable impulse, and some of the advice is good. But what girls don’t learn is how to be the solo aviators of their own perfect, powerful bodies — to happily inhabit their own skin instead of seeing their physical selves as objects to be assessed and hopefully affirmed by others; to feel entitled to sex they actively desire themselves, instead of positioned to either accept or reject men’s advances. Nor are we allowed full expressions of rage or other unfeminine emotions when we are mistreated. No wonder we try to politely excuse ourselves from predatory men instead of responding with the ire that predation merits.

One of the most important ways to move forward at this moment is to simply be aware that these assumptions and prejudices exist, and to deal with them head-on instead of pretending they aren’t there. Here, daughters of conservative men are at a particular disadvantage: Three-quarters of Republican men say that sexism is mostly a thing of the past.

Which is why, 20 years later, I appreciate my father’s candor, even if it wasn’t meant for my ears. First, he named his own bias out loud, recognizing that despite his best intentions, he was perhaps predisposed to treat his girls differently from how he would have treated boys. And then he worked not just to protect us, or tell us to protect ourselves, but to push us to walk a little farther out in the world.

How to Parent Like a German

Getty Images
By Sara Zaske

February 24, 2015

The first time I went to a playground in Berlin, I freaked. All the German parents were huddled together, drinking coffee, not paying attention to their children who were hanging off a wooden dragon 20 feet above a sand pit. Where were the piles of soft padded foam? The liability notices? The personal injury lawyers?

Achtung! Nein!” I cried in my bad German. Both kids and parents ignored me.

Contrary to stereotypes, most German parents I’ve met are the opposite of strict. They place a high value on independence and responsibility. Those parents at the park weren’t ignoring their children; they were trusting them. Berlin doesn’t need a “free range parenting” movement because free range is the norm.

Here are a few surprising things Berlin parents do:

Don’t push reading. Berlin’s kindergartens or “kitas” don’t emphasize academics. In fact, teachers and other parents discouraged me from teaching my children to read. I was told it was something special the kids learn together when they start grade school. Kindergarten was a time for play and social learning. But even in first grade, academics aren’t pushed very hard. Our grade school provides a half-day of instruction interrupted by two (two!) outdoor recesses. But don’t think this relaxed approach means a poor education: According to a 2012 assessment by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, German 15-year-olds perform well above the international average when it comes to reading, math and science while their more pressured American counterparts lag behind.

Encourage kids to play with fire. A note came home from school along with my excited second grader. They were doing a project on fire. Would I let her light candles and perform experiments with matches? Together we lit candles and burned things, safely. It was brilliant. Still, she was the only kid whose parent didn’t allow her to shoot off heavy duty fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Let children go almost everywhere alone. Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone. German parents are concerned about safety, of course, but they usually focus on traffic, not abductions.

The facts seem to be on the Germans’ side. Stranger abductions are extremely rare; there were only 115 a year in all of America, according to the most recent U.S. Department of Justice study. And walking around without parental supervision, or “independent mobility” as the researchers call it, is good for kids.

Party when school startsOne of my Berlin friends once told me that the three biggest life events are Einschulung (starting first grade), Jugendweihe (becoming a young adult) and getting married.

In Berlin, Einschulung is a huge celebration at the school—on a Saturday!—that includes getting a Zuckertute—a giant child-sized cone filled with everything from pencils to watches to candy. Then there’s another party afterwards with your family and friends. Einschulung is something children look forward to for years. It signals a major life change, and hopefully, an enthusiasm for learning.

Jugendweihe happens when a child turns 14. It involves a similar ceremony, party, and gifts, marking the next stage of growing up. With all the negativity heaped on adolescents, there’s something to be said for this way of celebrating young adulthood.

Take the kids outside everyday. According to a German saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” The value of outside time is promoted in the schools, hence the “garten” in Kindergarten. It’s also obvious on Berlin’s numerous playgrounds. No matter how cold and grey it gets, and in Berlin it gets pretty cold, parents still bundle their kids up and take them to the park, or send them out on their own.

Which brings me back to that dragon—since moving here, I’ve tried to adopt some of the Berlin attitude, and my 8-year-old has climbed all over the dragon. But I still hesitate to let her walk alone in our very urban neighborhood.

I’ve taken one small step. I let her go to the bakery by herself. It’s just down the stairs and one door over. The first time she did this, she came back beaming, proudly handing me the rolls she bought herself.

I figured there was no need to tell her that her American mother was out on the balcony, watching her the whole time.

Why Your Grumpy Teenager Doesn’t Want to Talk to You

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CreditiStock

Most parents have seen their teenager start the day in a reasonably good mood, but then return from school draped in gloom and chilly silence. As hard as it can be to support our children when they tell us what’s wrong, it’s that much harder to help the obviously upset adolescent who turns down a warm invitation to talk.

These interactions usually unfold in an awkward and predictable sequence. We earnestly ask, “Is everything O.K.?” and our teenager responds with a full stop “No,” an insincere “Yeah,” or freezes us out while fielding a flurry of texts. We then tend to nurse a sense of injury that our teenager has rebuffed our loving support.

But when adolescents hold their cards close to their chests, they often have a good reason. To better ease our own minds and be more useful to our teenagers we can consider some of the ordinary, if often overlooked, explanations for their reticence.

They Worry We’ll Have the Wrong Reaction

Our children often know us better than we know ourselves, having spent their young lives learning our reflexive responses. When a teenager feels lousy about bombing a test but knows that you are likely to tell her that she should have studied more, she won’t be eager to talk.

If you suspect this might be a barrier and can listen without getting defensive, just ask, “Are you worried that I’ll have a bad reaction?” You might start a valuable conversation — even if it’s not the one you were looking for — while paving the way to better talks down the line. And we should probably think twice about the long-term implications of saying “I told you so” to our teenagers (even when we did tell them so).

They Anticipate Negative Repercussions

Parents focused on the narrow question of what went wrong can forget that our adolescents, who have more information than we do, are probably thinking about a bigger picture. Impassive silence can hide a teenager’s whirring deliberations: “Will Dad limit my driving privileges if I tell him that I put a ding in the car?” or “If I explain that Nikki had a pregnancy scare, will Mom be weird about it when I want to hang out with her next weekend?”

We can’t always keep ourselves from feeling judgmental about teenagers. And, to be sure, there are adolescents (and adults) who get stuck in worrisome ruts. But as a psychologist, there are two rules I live by: good kids do dumb things, and I never have the whole story.

Recognizing that teenagers (and, again, adults) screw up from time to time can improve communication. On the days when they do feel like sharing, we can alert adolescents to our compassionate and forgiving stance by saying, “I know you’re bummed about the car. How do you want to make this right?” or “That must have been really scary for Nikki. Is she doing O.K.?

They Know That Parents Sometimes Blab

Teenagers are often justly concerned that we might repeat what they tell us. Sometimes we only realize in retrospect that news we divulged to others felt top-secret to our teenager. And sometimes they tell us critical information — such as word of a suicidal classmate — that must be passed along.

Whether you owe your teenager an apology for past indiscretions or are trying to get ahead of the issue, I think it’s fair and kind to promise adolescents a very high degree of confidentiality at home. Our teenagers deserve to have a place where they can process, or at least dump, delicate details about themselves or the scores of other kids with whom they must find a way to coexist.

Parents, like therapists, can lay out the limits of what we can keep private. Adolescents are usually sensible; they expect adults to act on news that they or a peer might be in immediate danger. But we can help teenagers speak more freely by making it clear that, barring a crisis, we will keep their secrets and offer moral support as they and their friends weather typical adolescent storms, such as painful breakups. And when our teenagers do share critical information about their peers, we can include them in the process of deciding how to pass along what they’ve told us.

Talking Doesn’t Feel Like the Solution

A wise teenager in my practice once said to me, “You know, I’m 90 percent of the way over what happened at school by the time I get home. Rehashing it all for my mom isn’t going to help me get past it.”

Even when we don’t know the source of our child’s turmoil, we should operate from the assumption that our teenager will soon feel better. Of course there are real grounds for concern when adolescents are miserable day after day and cannot bounce back from their emotional downturns. But most of the time psychological well-being is like physical well-being: Healthy people fall ill, but they recover.

We don’t take our adolescents’ viruses personally and we probably shouldn’t take their grumpy moods personally, either. Happily, the support we offer the flu-stricken also works when teenagers come down with grouchy silence. Without delving into what’s wrong, we can ask if there’s anything we can do to help them feel better. Would they like our quiet company or prefer some time alone? Is there a comfort food we can offer or is there something they want to watch on TV?

There’s more value in providing tender, generic support than we might imagine. It is difficult for teenagers to maintain perspective all the time. The speed of adolescent development sometimes makes teenagers lose their emotional footing and worry that they will never feel right again. We send our teenagers a powerful, reassuring message when we accept and are not alarmed by their inscrutable unease: I can bear your distress, and you can, too.

CAN ROBOTS HELP GET MORE GIRLS INTO SCIENCE AND TECH?

Wired

WONDER WORKSHOP
By Matt Simon

HERE’S A DEPRESSING number for you: 12. Just 12 percent of engineers in the United States are women. In computing it’s a bit better, where women make up 26 percent of the workforce—but that number has actually fallen from 35 percent in 1990.

The United States has a serious problem with getting women into STEM jobs and keeping them there. Silicon Valley and other employers bear the most responsibility for that: Discrimination, both overt and subtle, works to keep women out of the workforce. But this society of ours also perpetuates gender stereotypes, which parents pass on to their kids. Like the one that says boys enjoy building things more than girls.

There’s no single solution to such a daunting problem, but here’s an unlikely one: robots. Not robots enforcing diversity in the workplace, not robots doing all the work and obviating the concept of gender entirely, but robots getting more girls interested in STEM. Specifically, robot kits for kids—simple yet powerful toys for teaching youngsters how to engineer and code.

VAIDAS SIRTAUTUS

Plenty of toys are targeted at getting kids interested in science and engineering, and many these days are gender specific. Roominate, for instance, is a building kit tailored for girls, while the Boolean Box teaches girls to code. “Sometimes there’s this idea that girls need special Legos, or it needs to be pink and purple for girls to get into it, and sometimes that rubs me the wrong way,” says Amanda Sullivan, who works in human development at Tufts University. “If the pink and purple colored tools is what’s going to engage that girl, then that’s great. But I think in general it would be great if there were more tools and books and things that were out there for all children.”

So Sullivan decided to test the effects of a specifically non-gendered robotics kit called Kibo. Kids program the rolling robot by stringing together blocks that denote specific commands. It isn’t marketed specifically to boys or girls using stereotypical markings of maleness or femaleness. It’s a blank slate.

Before playing with Kibo, boys were significantly more likelyto say they’d enjoy being an engineer than the girls did. But after, boys had about the same opinion, while girls were now equally as likely to express an engineering interest as the boys. (In a control group that did not play with Kibo, girls’ opinions did not significantly change.) “I think that robots in general are novel to young children, both boys and girls,” Sullivan says. “So aside from engaging girls specifically, I think robotics kits like Kibo bring an air of excitement and something new to the classroom that gets kids psyched and excited about learning.”

There’s a problem, though. While Sullivan’s research shows that a gender-neutral robotics kit can get girls interested in engineering, that doesn’t mean it will sell. “If you look at sales data, it clearly shows that they’re not being used by girls,” says Sharmi Albrechtsen, CEO and co-founder of SmartGurlz, which makes a programmable doll on a self-balancing scooter. “Even the ones that are considered gender-neutral, if you look at the sales data it clearly shows a bias, and it’s towards boys. That’s the reality of the situation.” Gender sells—at least when it’s the parents doing the buying.

Regardless, companies are designing a new generation of toys in deliberate ways. Take Wonder Workshop and its non-gendered robots Dash and Cue. As they were prototyping, they’d test their designs with boys and girls. “One of the things we heard a lot from girls was this isn’t quite their toy,” says Vikas Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Wonder Workshop. “This is probably what their brother would play with.”

Why? Because they thought it looked like a car or truck. So the team covered up the wheels. “And all of a sudden girls wanted to play with it,” Gupta says. “Our takeaway from that in a big way was that every child brings their preconceived notions to play. So when they see something they map it back to something they’ve already seen.” Though not always. “What we do find actually, funnily enough,” says Albrechtsen of the SmartGurlz scooter doll, “is that a lot of boys actually end up edging in and wanting to play. So we have a lot of brothers who are also playing with the product.”

Whatever gets a child interested, it’s on parents and educators to make sure the spark stays alive. And maybe it’s the increasingly sophisticated, increasingly awesome, and increasingly inexpensive robots that can begin to transform the way America gets girls into science and tech. Short of becoming self aware and taking over the world, the machines certainly couldn’t hurt.

5 Lessons From a Diplomat for Bridging the Parent-Teacher Divide

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CreditiStock

Recently, I’ve been using globally tested advocacy and solution-building strategies to help smooth a critical friction point close to home: the parent-teacher conference.

“Gosh, those teachers were defensive,” I said to my husband, Luca, as we walked out of a grade school parent-teacher conference for our son.

“Well …” he hesitated, and then cut to the chase. “Your question about spelling was a trap.”

I was indignant. “I was asking for their side of the story before I gave my observations.”

He shrugged. “You already had your opinion. It wouldn’t have mattered what they said.”

Maybe Luca was right. Based on the tense way the meeting had ended, my approach wasn’t the best one for getting the teachers to see my point of view.

My husband is a career diplomat with the United Nations. Advocacy and solution-building are critical skills in his daily work. After he — diplomatically, of course — pointed out that my bridge-building skills needed work, I started paying closer attention and picked up a few lessons on diplomacy that have helped me to be a more effective ambassador for my children.

1. Don’t skip the niceties. Living outside of the United States for the past 13 years, I was struck by the importance other cultures place on pleasantries and formalities. Americans pride ourselves on getting straight to the point. But a diplomat would never skip protocol, and the truth is, no parent should either. There isn’t a teacher in the world who doesn’t appreciate being acknowledged as a human being before being bombarded by a concern.

2. Find common ground. All negotiations have to start somewhere, so look for something you can agree on. (Perhaps you think 20 spelling words a week is too much pressure. Can you first establish a common respect for the importance of good spelling?) Or is there something positive you can mention before getting to the hard stuff? (Maybe spelling is a disaster, but before getting to that, can you let the teacher know how well you think math or science is going?)

3. Choose your words carefully. Diplomats plan the message they want to convey before entering the negotiation room. Think through what you want to say before you go, state your perspective without attacking or accusing, and frame your concerns so that it is clear you are seeking a solution.

4. Seek input and be ready to listen. A successful negotiation is never one-sided. You may have a clearly defined end goal, but diplomats look for innovation on how to get there. While you’re the expert on and ambassador for your child, your child’s teacher is the expert on and president of their classroom. Not to mention that, unless you are a teacher too, he or she is likely to have far more experience with a range of child behaviors, personalities, learning styles and strategies. Ask for the teacher’s perspective on the concern you are raising. If you have ideas on how to address it, that’s great. But maybe he or she will come up with a few ideas that are even better. Pick the teacher’s brain for solutions; don’t just try to dictate your own.

5. Watch your body as well as your words. Effective diplomats tune in to nonverbal cues to help them read a situation. Perhaps it’s because I’m an introvert by nature, or maybe it’s just habit, but I’ve noticed that I often sit with both my arms and legs crossed. When meeting with teachers, I make a conscious effort to uncross, so that I don’t inadvertently send a message that I’m not open to listening. When I feel strongly about something, I sometimes furrow my brow — it is a sign of my passion for what I am saying, but can come across as irritation or anger. No need to grin your way through a meeting, but a friendly expression can go a long way in establishing rapport.

A couple of months later I went back in for another meeting with my son’s teacher. I was worried because my son seemed bored by school. (This was at an international school in Beirut, Lebanon; our family has since moved to New York.)

I made an effort to smile and choose my words carefully to be sure to avoid implying that the teacher was boring. I asked for her observations from the classroom. I asked if she had ideas on how I could help at home. The teacher’s defenses went down, and we were able to brainstorm together some solutions to the issue I was raising. The teacher became as open to hearing my ideas about ways to engage my son as I was to hers.

By the time we got up from the negotiating table, we’d done more than arrive at a solution. We’d declared a truce, and transitioned from adversaries into allies.

The Secrets of Resilience

What does it take to conquer life’s adversities? Lessons from successful adults who overcame difficult childhoods

The Secrets of Resilience
ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN STAUFFER

Does early hardship in life keep children from becoming successful adults? It’s an urgent question for parents and educators, who worry that children growing up in difficult circumstances will fail to reach their full potential, or worse, sink into despair and dysfunction.

Social scientists have shown that these risks are real, but they also have found a surprising pattern among those whose early lives included tough times: Many draw strength from hardship and see their struggle against it as one of the keys to their later success. A wide range of studies over the past few decades has shed light on how such people overcome life’s adversities—and how we might all cultivate resilience as well.

In 1962, the psychologist Victor Goertzel and his wife, Mildred, published a book called “Cradles of Eminence: A Provocative Study of the Childhoods of Over 400 Famous Twentieth-Century Men and Women.” They selected individuals who had had at least two biographies written about them and who had made a positive contribution to society. Their subjects ranged from Louis Armstrong, Frida Kahlo and Marie Curie to Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller.

Louis Armstrong grew up in poverty, and left school at fifth grade to support his family.
Louis Armstrong grew up in poverty, and left school at fifth grade to support his family. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Goertzels found that less than 15% of their famous men and women had been raised in supportive, untroubled homes, with another 10% in a mixed setting. Of the 400, a full 75%—some 300 individuals—had grown up in a family burdened by a severe problem: poverty, abuse, absent parents, alcoholism, serious illness or some other misfortune. “The ‘normal man,’ ” the Goertzels wrote, “is not a likely candidate for the Hall of Fame.”

If the Goertzels were to repeat their study today, they would find many more examples of women and men who rose to great heights after difficult childhoods—Oprah Winfrey, Howard Schultz, LeBron James and Sonia Sotomayor, to name just a few. Today, we often use the word “resilient” to describe such people.

But resilient people are everywhere, not just in the ranks of celebrities. They are ordinary women and men, in every walk of life, who meet the definition of resilience set forth by American Psychological Association: “adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress.”

Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother and her father, an alcoholic, died by the time she was 10.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s mother and her father, an alcoholic, died by the time she was 10. PHOTO:STOCK MONTAGE/GETTY IMAGES

Across nearly two decades as a clinical psychologist and an educator, I have worked with many accomplished people who grew up in difficult circumstances. One thing I have learned from them is that the way we tend to talk about resilience is too simplistic. In everyday conversation, we say that people who are resilient “bounce back” or “rebound.” The dictionary defines resilience as elasticity, that is, the ability to recover quickly and easily—to snap into shape again, like a rubber band stretched and released.

These images are fine for describing recovery from short-term problems, like the flu or a career disappointment, but they don’t capture how resilience truly works and feels. The most common childhood adversities aren’t one-time events but chronic sources of stress: bullying, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, the death of a parent or sibling, addiction or mental illness in the home, domestic violence.

Such problems are recurring threats to a child or teen’s safety and well-being. Resilient youth do not just rebound from them. What they do is much more complicated and courageous. For them, resilience is an ongoing battle, a way of approaching life, not a restorative bounce.

John D. Rockefeller’s father was a con man and often absent.
John D. Rockefeller’s father was a con man and often absent. PHOTO: CSU ARCHIVES/EVERETT COLLECTION

Physiology plays an important role. In the face of danger, our bodies respond with fight-or-flight. The brain triggers the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Our heart rate increases, we become more alert and focused, and blood flows to our muscles for extra energy. When we think of the fight in fight-or-flight, we may imagine physically harming someone. But in the modern world, fighting back can take many forms.

Consider the Kauai Longitudinal Study, an ongoing project begun in 1955 by psychologists Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith, and summarized most recently in their 2001 book “Journeys From Childhood to Midlife.” The Kauai Study’s subjects are the 698 babies born on the island that year, with assessments so far at ages 1, 2, 10, 18, 32 and 40.

Of the children in the study, Drs. Werner and Smith identified 129 as being at high risk for future problems, because they faced four or more adversities at birth, ranging from poverty and family discord to alcoholism or mental illness in the home.

Two-thirds of these high-risk children went on to have difficulties of their own, such as delinquency, unplanned pregnancies and underemployment. One-third, however, fared well. At school and at work, they did as well as, or better than, their low-risk peers from more affluent, stable homes. In adulthood, they found supportive partners and built loving families that, often, differed greatly from the ones they grew up with. They became, as Drs. Werner and Smith described, “competent, confident, caring adults.” How did they do it?

They were active problem solvers who, over a period of decades, fought for better lives for themselves. Though they weren’t necessarily gifted, they used whatever strengths they had to their advantage—a particular talent, an engaging personality, a ready intelligence. They sought out friends, teachers, neighbors or relatives who cared. They made plans to better themselves and set ambitious but realistic goals for the future. In early adulthood, they seized opportunities to move forward in life, by way of higher education, the military, a new job, a supportive partner or parenthood.

When the researchers asked these resilient adults how they understood their own success in retrospect, the majority reported that their most important asset was determination.

“I am a fighter—I am determined—I will survive,” said one woman who made her way out of an abusive childhood. “I give it 100% before I give up. I will never lose hope.”

Howard Schultz of Starbucks grew up in a housing project.
Howard Schultz of Starbucks grew up in a housing project. PHOTO: SAKCHAI LALIT/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“When things have to be done, you just do it. I am not the type of person to run away—no matter how difficult the problem,” said another subject who became a bookkeeper.

And another who became aerospace engineer put it this way: “I don’t let problems take control. I just pick myself up and start all over—you can always try again.”

Other research has suggested the importance of the fighter within. In a 2010 paper in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Anke Ehlers of the University of Oxford reported on 81 adults who had formerly been held as political prisoners in East Germany. They had been subjected to mental and physical abuse, including beatings, threats and being kept in the dark. Decades after their release, about two-thirds of the former prisoners had, at some point, met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), while about one-third of the prisoners had not.

What made some more likely to suffer from PTSD? Dr. Ehlers found that the extent to which prisoners had fought back in their own minds made a bigger difference than the severity of the abuse they had suffered. Those who felt mentally defeated—who felt like they were “nothing” or who quit caring what became of them—were more likely to report symptoms of PTSD later. By contrast, prisoners who had resisted from within—even if they appeared to have given up on the outside, by complying with guards or signing false confessions—fared better down the line.

This sort of inner defiance is, in part, how one man—an officer in the military who came to me for a consultation—told me he survived years of bullying as a child and teen: “I refused to accept what they said about me was true.”

Oprah Winfrey was sexually abused by relatives.
Oprah Winfrey was sexually abused by relatives. PHOTO: VERA ANDERSON/WIREIMAGE/GETTY IMAGES

Of course, there is enormous variability in terms of how individuals respond to adversity. Social scientists rightly argue that resilience isn’t a single quality that someone does or doesn’t have, or a single action that a person does or doesn’t take, but rather it is a phenomenon—something we can see but may never be able to neatly explain.

A minister once shared a parable with me that neatly captures this point: Two brothers are raised in a home in which the father is a violent alcoholic. One brother grows up to be a drinker and an abuser, while the other becomes an abstinent man and a model parent. When asked how they came to be who they were, both brothers gave the same answer: “Given who my father was, how could I not?”

My aim here is not to say that resilient people are winners—or that those who are suffering have allowed themselves to be defeated—but, rather, to say that overcoming childhood adversity is a phenomenal struggle indeed. It is a heroic, powerful, perilous, often decadeslong endeavor, yet one that, over time, can lead to both ordinary and extraordinary success.

Coping with stress is a lot like exercise: We become stronger with practice.

Back in 1962, the Goertzels’ finding that so many prominent people had grown up with hard times may have seemed counterintuitive but, given what we now know about stress and coping, it isn’t so surprising. Coping with stress is a lot like exercise: We become stronger with practice. University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier explains how this works with his “toughness model,” first published in 1989 in the journal Psychological Review.

Dr. Dienstbier gathered evidence from a wide range of human and animal studies demonstrating that exposure to intermittent stressors, such as cold temperatures and aerobic exercise, made individuals physiologically “tougher.” They became less overwhelmed by subsequent difficulties, and by their own fight-or-flight arousal. This makes a difference because when a stressor seems manageable, we perceive it as a challenge, and adrenaline—which boosts energy, focus and coping—is released. When a stressor seems unmanageable, however, we perceive it as a threat and our cortisol levels rise too, suppressing our immune system and making us more vulnerable to disease.

What’s more, Dr. Dienstbier wrote, toughened individuals increasingly seek out experiences that stimulate them and provide opportunities for more mastery and success. It is a virtuous circle.

Although I would hardly consider childhood adversities to be desirable difficulties, many who grow up with hardship do say they benefit in precisely this way. The military officer who was bullied in his youth—and who, besides resisting on the inside, also toughened himself up as a teen through running and judo—described the impact that early adversity had on this life this way: “I see myself as stronger and more capable than most people around me because of the treatment I lived through. I see myself as an optimist, not because I think bad things don’t or won’t happen but because I believe I can overcome whatever comes my way. I feel independent and confident. I feel tested. I feel brave.”

Poet Dylan Thomas said, “There’s only one thing that’s worse than having an unhappy childhood, and that’s having a too-happy childhood.” I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that too many women and men feel lesser somehow because of the adversities they have grown up with, imagining they would be happier or more successful people if they had enjoyed stress-free upbringings. This isn’t necessarily the case.

In a multiyear study of more than 2,000 adults aged 18 to 101, published in 2010 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, University at Buffalo psychologist Mark Seery and colleagues found that those who had known some adversity were both higher-functioning and more satisfied with their lives than those who had experienced extremely high levels of hardship—and compared with those who had experienced no adversity at all. They also coped better with more recent problems they encountered, leading the study’s authors to conclude, in partial agreement with Nietzsche, that “in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger.”

So where does that leave those of us who would like to be more resilient? It helps to take on long-form projects that feel like challenges rather than threats. Whether taking up crew or judo, studying for an advanced degree or mastering an instrument, hard things that aren’t emotional or unexpected help us practice for those that are.

And when life inevitably becomes difficult, own the fighter within. Resist defeat in your own mind by a schoolyard bully or an alcoholic parent. Fighting back on the inside is where battling back on the outside begins.

Reach out to family, friends or professionals who care. It is a myth that resilient people don’t need help. Seeking support is what resilient people do.

Engage in active coping. Most serious adversities are neither quickly nor easily solved, but taking control where we can is empowering. Make a realistic plan to improve your situation, and work toward it day by day. Progress shores us up and calms us down.

Finally, remember the ways you have been courageous and strong. Too often we remember what has gone wrong in life rather than what we did to survive and thrive. Think back on a time when you were challenged and give yourself credit for how you made it through. You may already be more resilient than you think.

Dr. Jay is a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of “Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience,” to be published on Nov. 14 by Twelve Books.

Appeared in the November 11, 2017, print edition.

Competition Is Ruining Childhood. The Kids Should Fight Back.

Photo

CreditDan Koeck for The New York Times

Like the crack of a starting pistol, November begins the official college application season. But for students, this race started long ago.

Many of today’s kids have lived their entire lives, from sunup until midnight, in a fierce tournament with their peers. (I was one of them. A decade after graduation, I still can’t think of a period when I’ve worked harder than in high school.) From kindergarten to 12th grade, schools brag about how “competitive” they are. That means it’s not enough for students to do their best. Whether in the classroom, on the athletic field or at home on the computer, they must always be better. Youth has become a debilitating endurance test.

The thing is, we don’t even really know what we are racing for, much less how to tone down the competition. And most people don’t seem to be benefiting from this frantic contest, either as students or as adult workers. Americans are improving themselves, but the rewards keep flowing uphill to the 1 percent.

Everyone tells students that the harder they work to develop their job skills — their “human capital” — the better off they will be. It’s not true. In fact, the result is the opposite: more and better educated workers, earning less.

An analysis in September of Census Bureau data by the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank, found that between 2000 and 2016 — years when many millennials first entered the job market — there was “little to no gain” in median annual earnings. This isn’t some limited fallout from the 2008 financial crisis; it’s a different type of phenomenon and part of a longer trend of wage stagnation that reaches back to the 1970s.

Educational achievement, on the other hand, follows a different trend. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, over the same period (2000 to 2016), the percentage of young people with a high school diploma or its equivalent passed 90 percent for the first time. In the same period, the portion of graduates seeking and obtaining both two- and four-year degrees increased consistently, and the percentage of people ages 25 to 29 with postgraduate degrees jumped to 9 percent from 5.

And this cohort of young Americans hasn’t only put in the classroom work — to say nothing of extracurricular activities and internships. This cohort of young Americans has also taken on incomprehensible amounts of debt in order to do it.

Despite what we’ve heard, money isn’t a reward America hands out for hard work. Not only is more education not leading to higher wages, there isn’t even a positive correlation between the two. If anything, the flood of human capital puts employers in a position to offer workers a shrinking slice of the pie and get more in return. Kids are getting conned. I got conned, too.

If enough students manage to master cutting-edge job skills, it will be great for the “economy,” but as workers they will find themselves rewarded with lower wages. The dynamic may seem counterintuitive but not totally unexpected. In the ’70s, the economist Gary Becker theorized that employers would shift the costs of developing human capital onto workers, from paid on-the-job training to unpaid schooling. He figured that, though they need skilled labor, corporations would be disinclined to pay for training since other companies could then lure away “their” human capital.

As training left the factory and the office for the classroom, it also meant that work could be shifted to children, who are mostly not eligible for wage labor but can, it turns out, do a whole lot of school. If firms want workers who can speak Mandarin or code Python, why should they pay trainees to learn when they can scare kids into training themselves? Within this system, all an individual kid can do is try to put a sufficient number of their peers between themselves and poverty.

There are some winners, but the real champions are the corporate owners: They get their pick from all the qualified applicants, and the oversupply of human capital keeps labor costs down. Competition between workers means lower wages for them and higher profits for their bosses: The more teenagers who learn to code, the cheaper one is.

The struggle for success has heavy financial and psychological costs for the participants. Constant competition has affected how young Americans see themselves in relation to the world. That’s why the United States has measured huge increases in youth anxiety and depression, as well as a sharp decline in social trust. If kids are told to find comfort in the idea that they are sacrificing their mental health now for security in adulthood, they are being tricked once more.

At the end of their journey into adulthood they aren’t reimbursed for their efforts. And in this winner-take-all economy, most of them just lose. They can’t increase the size of Harvard’s freshman class just by working harder; all they can do is drive one another to anxiety, depression, paranoia and exhaustion. That, and save money for their future bosses.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The kids don’t have to keep getting conned.

This system may work for a small number of bosses and shareholders, but it’s not in the interest of education in a broad, exploratory sense — and it’s clearly not in the interests of young people themselves. But even though older adults are ostensibly worried about the kids, policymakers will never scale back academic competition, and most educators and parents are understandably loath to tell children, “Don’t work so hard.”

If change is going to come, it should come from students, in the classroom.

As individuals, students have no choice but to compete. But together, there’s no telling what kind of power they could exercise. They face an age-old collective action problem, but they are smart. Schools can’t run without students, and the economy can’t run without schools; their work matters, and they can withdraw it.

Unions aren’t just good for wage workers. Students can use collective bargaining, too. The idea of organizing student labor when even auto factory workers are having trouble holding onto their unions may sound outlandish, but young people have been at the forefront of conflicts over police brutality, immigrant rights and sexual violence. In terms of politics, they are as tightly clustered as just about any demographic in America. They are an important social force in this country, one we need right now.

It’s in students’ shared interest to seek later start times for the school day to combat the epidemic of insufficient sleep among high schoolers. It’s in their shared interest to improve their mental health by reducing competition. They could start by demanding an end to class rank or a cap on the number of Advanced Placement courses each student can take per year. It’s in their shared interest to make life easier and lower the stakes of childhood in general. Only young people, united, can improve their working conditions and end the academic arms race.

Things Parents Of Children With ADHD Wish Someone Had Told Them

HealthCentral

iStock-660743358.jpg
Credit: istock

Parenting a child with ADHD isn’t always easy. Because every child with ADHD is unique and comes with a different set of challenges, there isn’t a roadmap to tell you what to do. Every day, it seems, you are faced with a new set of trials to overcome. When you finally think you have control of one issue, a different one pops up.

The following are six things parents of children with ADHD wish that someone had told them when their child was diagnosed.

You are the expert and the advocate

When your child is diagnosed with a medical condition, you might expect doctors to understand how the condition impacts everyday life. But not every doctor understands ADHD.

Some doctors might diagnose based on a few questions, and some might suggest medication without a thorough evaluation. Some might not understand that ADHD is more than just the major symptoms. While doctors today are more knowledgeable about ADHD than 10 or 20 years ago, you as the parent still need to be the expert.

Read everything you can about ADHD and how symptoms manifest in children. Read the pros and cons of medication and other treatment methods. If your doctor can’t provide answers, ask for a referral to a specialist. As the parent of a child with ADHD, it isn’t enough to rely on others for answers — you need to seek them out.

Your child needs an advocate

Children with ADHD are often seen as lazy. They are frequently immature for their age, and they may need extra assistance or accommodations in school to help them succeed. Some children may need extra help navigating social situations.

When you have a child with ADHD, your job of parent extends to the role of advocate. You might need to regularly meet with teachers, attend IEP or Section 504 meetings, discuss treatments with doctors, explain your child’s behavior to classmates’ parents, and work to find social settings where your child feels comfortable. In each of these situations, you are the parent and the advocate. By acting as both, you can make sure your child has every chance of success.

You should be on the lookout for other conditions

ADHD rarely travels alone. Learning disabilitiesanxiety, and depression are common coexisting conditions.

Sometimes symptoms or challenges from these conditions overlap, and it is hard to know which condition is at the root of some behaviors. Your child has the best chance at success in life with an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

It’s worth your while to know the major symptoms of conditions that are associated with ADHD. That way, if you have a concern, you can immediately bring it to the attention of your child’s doctor or school and have it addressed.

Schools don’t always agree with your accommodation requests

To you, it might seem like common sense that your child needs extra time for tests, an aide to help him stay focused, that he not be denied recess to complete work, or any other accommodation you believe will help. But schools don’t always agree.

Meetings about ADHD accommodations can sometimes become contentious, and sometimes parents end up frustrated with the process. It helps to understand the laws regarding accommodations and commonly-used accommodations in other schools.

As a parent of a child with ADHD, you should become especially familiar with the laws governing IEPs and Section 504. It is going to be up to you to request evaluations and meetings, and to advocate for your child every step of the way.

Your child is going to be frustrating, but he is still just a child

There are going to be days when you are pretty sure your child is being purposely defiant. You might think, “she must have heard me and is clearly ignoring me,” or “he can’t possibly have forgotten to do that, he is being stubborn.” If your child has ADHD, he probably isn’t being defiant on purpose.

She probably isn’t “acting out to get your attention.” Your child isn’t trying to be ADHD. Your child has ADHD.

Children who are impulsiveforgetfuleasily distracted, and can’t sit still for very long have symptoms of ADHD.

As a parent, it’s your job to love your child anyway. It’s your job to remember that as frustrating as it can get, your child is still just a child. He or she still wants your acceptance. In one way, it isn’t any different than any other child; love is what your child needs most.

You should take time to celebrate your child

It’s easy to get caught up in the constant cycle of trying to improve your child’s behavior, improve grades, to get your child to listen when spoken to, and get along with siblings.

When you have a child with ADHD, there is always something that can be improved. But don’t forget to celebrate your child’s successes, no matter how small, and his or her unique way of looking at the world. Take the time to enjoy your child’s sense of humor, enthusiasm for life, endless curiosity, and boundless energy.