Kids are from Mars, Parents are from Venus

Kids_are_from_VenusWhy kids struggle to survive on Planet Earth and how parents are following in their path

It’s no wonder kids can’t cope in today’s world. They’re not living in it! If you were to hop in a spacecraft and land on Mars, do you think you’d be able to cope on that harsh planet? Of course not. Well, I’ve got news for you: countless kids are experiencing the same thing—from Planet Earth.

Total panic or total emptiness

Every week the problems are getting worse with kids. I know, because I see it firsthand. I’m on the front lines in the battle. As a school counselor by day and private practice therapist by night, I’m like the undercover cop that sees everything going on in a school of 1,200 students. I get to peer into their family life too, and it’s pretty scary from my view. If you were to shadow me for a few days, you’d see what I mean. I’m talking about one kid after another coming to my office in a state of total panic or total emptiness. The ones with the panic issues all have two things in common: they are good students that are pushed to excel academically, and they are addicted to their smartphones or laptops. The result—school-work procrastination and a malleable brain that is living most of its life on another planet called cyberspace, a place far from Earth.

The other types of kids, the empty ones, seem a lot like apocalyptic zombies. They stroll into my offices with very flat, monotone dispositions. They seem utterly clueless about everything that has to do with what it means to be human. And they have an excuse for every pearl of wisdom I provide them. Most of them are actually more intelligent than the over-anxious kids, but their report cards say otherwise. They find it impossible to connect the dots between working hard in school and future success. Like the over-anxious kids, their brains have also been programmed to live on planet cyberspace, far away from Earth. Their outcome? Failure and more depression.

What is really going on?

I hate to sound all doomy and gloomy, but I need to tell you the truth about what is really going on. As parents, we see only what we see – our own child’s life. We don’t see the other 1200 kids in their school and what their lives are like. Every day my colleagues ask me, “What is going on?” And I tell them the same thing I’m telling you. It’s the machines, the screens. They have become your children’s world, and the result is an inability to function on this foreign planet called Earth, much the same as you would experience if you tried to inhabit Mars. It just doesn’t work.

Parents want answers

When the school related problems surface for these kids, when their grades go down or they become school avoidant, the parents want answers and they come to the school administrators or counselors for the answers. They want to know what the school is doing wrong, and what the school is going to do to motivate their child or fix their anxiety. When I tell them that the key is in their hand – all they have to do is pull the cyber plug – they just don’t want to hear it. So instead, they bring their children to psychiatrists, pump them with drugs and come back to the school with accommodation demands, such as extra time for tests and assignments, or extensions for handing in late work. Of course it is the school’s duty to help the children, because their problems are not their fault, but why aren’t parents getting it? How are they not seeing what I’m explaining to them? What will it take for parents to finally, well, get it?

Do you have question about your technology-addicted child? Contact me anytime.

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Five Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Children

Five_WaysFive Simple Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship With Your Children

If you’re a parent, chances are you’re working more hours than you’d like, and you’re feeling a little guilty about the limited time you get to spend with your children. Perhaps you’ve missed a few too many evening sporting events or school activities. I’ve been there, so I can identify with how you’re feeling. One thing I’ve learned is that if the quantity of time you get to spend with your children is sometimes limited, you can make up for it with quality time.

When your children are older they’re not going to remember that you missed four of the 12 basketball games they had when they were in the 5th grade. What they will remember are the little, everyday things you did with them. It’s the little things, done consistently, that pack a big punch.

Here are five things you can begin doing with your children on a daily basis that will not only be high in quality, but will also teach them how to be wonderful and loving adults one day. After all, our children learn just about everything from us.

  1. Get Home Early: I listed this as number one because it is the most important. It is also the hardest. Our jobs demand more from us these days and our families suffer because of it. I don’t care how you do it, but make it a priority to try your hardest to get home at a reasonable hour during the week. Many of my friends and associates don’t see their children at all Monday through Friday because they don’t get home until 9:00 PM or later when their children are already sleeping. Yes their jobs are demanding, and their bosses need them, but I promise they will have regrets later because their children need them more. If you fit into this category, try to make an effort at least one day a week to get home relatively early. It’s a start.
  2. Tuck them in to bed at night: Make this ritual—every night. I do, and my kids love it. I am a big fan of tucking the little ones in, lying in their bed with them and having some hugging and snuggling time. This physical closeness teaches them how to connect with their powerful, emotional side. Our children will learn how to feel and be loved. Out of everything we teach our kids, this might be the most important. If you don’t get home from work until after they have already fallen asleep, it’s OK to wake them from their grogginess and give them a kiss good night. Don’t worry, kids are resilient and will fall right back to sleep.
  3. Enter their world: There’s a good chance that when the weekend arrives you want to relax, read the paper and do your own thing, as you should. However, it is important to your children that you participate in some of the things that they like to do. Sure you might not like the idea of playing with dolls or shooting the basketball around when it’s 30 degrees outside, but your kids sure will. I’m not saying that you should participate with them in every one of their activities, just some. They need independence too. What I’m saying is that if you show a vested interest in what your children are interested in, they will feel proud and noticed.
  4. Have dinner with your children every night: A couple of years ago I hosted a television pilot for Food Network called, “Can Dinner Save My Family?” Boy, would it have been great if Food Network picked up the series, because the traditional family dinner is slipping away and our children are suffering because of it. All of the statistics show that families who have sit-down dinners together most nights of the week are far more likely to be stable. When I say “sit-down” dinner, I’m talking about eating and talking to one another without any electronic devices included, just good-old fashioned family dinner.  Research has found that teens that have two or fewer family dinners per week are twice as likely to smoke daily and get drunk monthly compared to teens who have 5 family dinners per week.
  5. Watch Television Together: OK, if you know me and a lot of what I write about and lecture about, you know that I’m pretty much anti-technology. But one thing that my wife and I and our two children do together several nights a week is lay down in my bed and watch a show on The Discovery Channel or maybe America’s Funniest Home Videos — something that is either educational or fun. We do this for about a half an hour right before my kids go to bed and it is only allowed if my kids have completed their homework, taken a shower and brushed their teeth. It really is great family bonding time as we’re all cozied up together and laughing together. We learn together and we love together.
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Post-Holiday Vacation Memories

While I enjoyed some moments lounging by the pool and sipping Pina Coladas last week in the Bahamas, that wasn’t the focus of my much needed vacation. The focus was the quality time I spent with mfat fish Atlantisy family. It was about enjoying one another’s company, and creating memories that we’d forever cherish. It was about the excitement in my children’s faces as we raced around Atlantis, plunging down the water slides.  That sense of pride in my
8-year-old daughter eyes, as she stood tall with her back against the measuring chart, proving to each water-slide attendant that yes—she was indeed 48 inches tall, thank you very much!!!

I decided to share a little about my recent vacation, because I’ve always felt that it is important for us parents to remember that when we are on vacation with our children, we need to be aware of their needs, not just ours. For example, there was a boy I met on one of the water-slide lines. He was around my son’s age (11), and by himself. He told me that he was there with his father, but that his dad was relaxing by the pool. I felt bad for the kid,
because his father obviously didn’t realize that being on that slide with his son was probably more important to his son than the slide itself.  The memories that you help your children create with you in them will last a lifetime. When they are older, your kids will remember how involved you were with them. Here are some of the memories that my family and I will be talking about for years to come.

  • The massive, ugly-looking fat fish in the underground aquarium maze that we laughed about the entire trip.
  • Seeing major league baseball great, Albert Pujols, at Carmine’s restaurant. The best part was that Pujols looked right at me and did a double take. My son then looked at me and said, “Dad, you know Albert Pujols?”
  • The waffle maker at our hotel during breakfast. My kids loved it. Now I’m going to have to buy one of these things.
  • Going down the “Leap of Faith” waterslide over and over again. My butt was killing me, and my kids found that to be quite humorous.
  • The unbelievable yachts in the Atlantis marina, especially the one with the basketball hoop. My son pointed that one out.
  • Teaching my daughter how to negotiate at the souvenir kiosk. She was able to get the Coca-Cola guitar for $20 instead of $25. And she felt quite proud of herself.
  • The bill at Bobby Flay’s restaurant – yikes!!!
  • My son and I flipping over in the river rapids.
  • My wife finally going down the “Leap of Faith” waterslide. My kids loved it.

As parents, it is absolutely OK to unwind and pamper ourselves while on vacation, but we also have to remember to attend to the needs of everyone, not just ourselves. Go to breakfast with your kids. Take them out to dinner with you. Go on the slides with them. Ride the waves with them. Take some risks with them. If the only memories my kids had of me on our vacations were of me sitting by a pool all day with a drink in my hand, I would feel like I failed them. Instead, I feel confident that when they are older, they will remember just how involved I was in their lives.

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Should you get your preschooler an ipad?

Every parent on this planet should go to www.commonsensemedia.com and sign up.  Common Sense Media helps families make smart media choices. They offer the largest, most trusted library of independent age-based and educational ratings and reviews for movies, games, apps, TV shows, websites, books, and music.  Their Parent Concerns and Parent Blog help families understand and navigate the problems and possibilities of raising children in the digital age.

I read a post earlier today from Common Sense Media regarding ipad’s or other tablets for kids – Click here to read.  The question in the article is whether or not you should get one of these devices for your child.  I didn’t have to think too long about this one.  My answer is a resounding NO…  The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees with me.  They recommend  ZERO hours per day of any screen time for kids ages 0-2 and ONE hour per day of screen time for kids ages 3-5.  And you want to decide whether or not to buy your toddler an ipad?

As many of you know, I lecture extensively on the topic of technology and its affects on kids emotional intelligence, coping skills, focus and attention; how it’s delaying development, creating an epidemic of obesity and leading to a substantial increase in mental health problems.  Oh, and I can’t forget the sleep deprivation part.   I think most parents are aware of this stuff but they kind of fluff it off as being benign.  In fact, at a recent lecture I presented I asked the audience of 200 fifth and sixth grade parents to raise their hands if they thought it was a good idea to allow their child to play the video game, Call of Duty.  Not a single parent raised their hand.  Then I asked them to raise their hand if their kid owned Call of Duty.  Again, not a single hand rose.  And here’s the kicker–roughly 70 percent of the parents in the audience have bought Call of Duty for their child and allow him/her to play it.  Am I missing something here?

The fact is, the majority of people in this world go with the tide, including parents.  They see what it is that everyone around them is doing and they make it ok in their mind.   Yet somewhere inside they know it is not ok.  It’s an adult peer pressure of sorts. This “going with the flow” mentality is known as the selective or social consciousness.  We simply make most of our decisions not from sound morals and values but from what we see others around us doing.  So in other words, the majority of parents out there are followers and guess what their children are becoming will be by the time they get to high school.  Guess what all followers have in common that leaders don’t? That’s right, they do what everyone else is doing. And that is just downright dangerous when you’re a teenager.

So no, your pre-school child should not have an ipad.  And no, none of your children, no matter what their age should ever be allowed to sit at a table in a restaurant and spend the entire time buried in a smartphone, ipad or similar device.  And no, your child should never have any type of screen in his/her bedroom and should never have one of these devices in his/her hand when sitting in the back seat of your car. I see this everywhere I go and it is driving me nuts.  Aside from the mental health issues and other issues I addressed earlier, all of this “virtual reality” is destroying “real world” families.  The question I have for you is this – WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?

Come to my next lecture in Hohokus, NJ on 2/5/15 to learn more or visit my website at http://tomkersting.com/speaking/.

 

 

 

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