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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Parenting Children to be Leaders Instead of Followers

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Do you feel pressured to sign your children up for lots of sports and activities so that they keep pace with the other kids, even though your gut tells you it’s too much? Do you fear they won’t measure up and succeed in this competitive world? Do you allow your children to spend too much time on smartphones and video game devices because that is how kids  communicate these days, and that depriving them of this will lead to social isolation? The reality is that all of these activities and devices that we provide our children have little to do with them and everything to do with us.  Here’s why.

We want our children tofit inbecause we fear that they won’t be happy and successful. Take a deep breath for moment and really think about this. Do you really want your children to “FIT IN”, to follow the crowd? Or, do you want them to be leaders? As parents we get sucked into the fitting-in trap and we may be setting-up our children to be future followers instead of future leaders.

Here are a few tips to help you raise children that are future leaders instead of followers.

Unplug the phone: Getting smart-phones for your children is the furthest thing from “smart.” You know how addictive these things are and how dangerous that world-wide-web is. So does it make sense to place these dangerous devices in your children’s hands? I understand that all of the other parents in the community are ok with it, but does that really make it ok? Wouldn’t you rather your child do things the safe way instead of societies way? If your children are among the few that don’t have smart phones then you’re already teaching them how to march to the beat of their own drum; to lead rather than follow. Their time to have a smart phone will come, there’s no need to rush it. And remember, this fear you have of your children being left behind is your fear, not theirs.

Limit the sports: Are your kid’s schedules jam-packed? Again, do you fear that they will fall behind and not be any good, and not have a social life? Again, these are fears, not facts. Here are the facts: If your child is on the football field practicing every night until 8:00, what he’s really missing out on is what he needs the most—time with you. You are your children’s teacher and mentor, and the only way you can teach them and guide them is if you are with them.

Rated M video games/Rated R Movies: Leaders play by the rules. Why? Because the rules are the rules. If you allow your children to play games and watch movies that aren’t age appropriate, what do you think that teaches them? It teaches them that it’s ok to break the rules, which is something leaders just don’t do. If you start playing by the rules your children will too.

In a nutshell, human beings tend do move with the crowd, to go with the flow. This is similar to the flock of birds in the sky or the school of fish in the sea. We unconsciously conform to the things that others around us are doing and we don’t even realize it. This is known as the collective consciousness or social conformity. Unless you start becoming more aware of this fact and pass it on to your children, your children will start to, well, follow the crowd. Here is a great clip from an old candid camera episode that will help you understand this more. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgRoiTWkBHU

 

 

 

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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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Rachel Ehmke, 13-Year-Old Minnesota Student, Commits Suicide After Months Of Bullying

I just read the article below and I am super-angry.  Why did such a young life have to end so quickly.  I dissected the whole article and added my comments under certain captions.  I hope to bring to life some of the pieces of this tragedy that could have been prevented.  Perhaps a life could have been saved.

Rachel Ehmke, a 13-year-old seventh grader in Mantorville, Minn., died April 29 after hanging herself at her home. The months leading up to the tragedy were a whirlwind of peer abuse instances, her parents say.  (The bullying went on for months?  How did this slip through the cracks?)

Now following Rachel’s Friday funeral that was met with widespread community condolences, Rick and Mary Ehmke are speaking out against the bullying they say their daughter endured at Kasson/Mantorville Middle School and online.

Rachel’s family and friends say the teen fell victim to school bullying last fall when her chewing gum was stuck to her textbooks and the word “slut” was scrawled across her gym locker, the Austin Daily Herald reports. And while she was outgoing, athletic and friendly, the same group of girls reportedly threatened Rachel and kept calling her a “prostitute,” though she had never kissed a boy, according to KMSP.  (were the names of these students  reported to the school officials and were the students disciplined for their actions?  How did the bullies’ parents discipline their kids for their actions?)

Two days before Rachel’s death, an anonymous text was sent to other students at the school, KARE reports.”It was pretty explicit. Something to the effect of that Rachel was a slut and to get her to leave the Kasson-Mantorville School, forward this to everyone you know,” parent Chris Flannery told the station.  But after the text was reported to authorities, it was traced to someone who wasn’t a student at the school, according to Minnesota Public Radio. The district’s bullying policy prohibits threats both in person and online, and promises investigations within 24 hours of any reported bullying.  (How does the school go about “prohibiting” bullying, in this case cyber-bullying, by someone who doesn’t go to the school?  Is this really a “school” issue or should it be a police matter?)

Rachel reportedly pleaded with her father not to mention the bullying to school officials, for fear of worsening the situation.  (Well, did her father report it or did he let Rachel decide?)

A note that her parents found after her death read, “I’m fine = I wish I could tell you how I really feel,” alongside a picture of a broken heart, according to KMSP.

Dodge County authorities plan to meet this week to discuss possible criminal charges, the Star Tribune reports.  (Smart move) But Rick Ehmke says the family doesn’t plan to press charges against those who bullied his daughter.”They’re kids. They made some horrible decisions. If these kids would’ve known this would happen I’m pretty sure they never, ever would have done what they did,” Rick Ehmke told Minnesota Public Radio. (can charges be pressed against the parents of the bullies?) “Sadly enough, even those kids that know who they are will carry this bag their whole life. That’s a sad thing too, it really is.”

He also notes that the school should have taken heavier measures against the bullies when the taunting was first reported in the fall, adding that technology like phones and social media may have worsened an already bad situation by allowing the bully to essentially follow students home.  (Did the school provide the cell phones to the students or did the parents provide it to them?) 

Words hurt. Word can kill,” mother Mary Ehmke told KARE.

Community members have planned a prayer vigil and walk in Rachel’s memory for 2 p.m. May 19 at Mill Pond in Austin, Minn. The walk aims to show support for the Ehmke family and raise awareness for teen suicide and bullying.

The U.S. Department of Education has identified 16 “key components” in state bullying legislation, including a statement of scope, listing of enumerated groups, process of district policy review, definitions and reporting guidelines. Minnesota ranks last in the country with its state bullying law only covering two of the 16 components, according to an Education Department analysis of state bullying laws released in December. Nebraska ranks second-to-last by covering four of the 16 components. (When is the government going to create “at home” bullying legislation so that parents can prevent cyber bullying that occurs under their roof?)

Statement of scope, one of the most common components of state bullying laws, establishes where legislation applies and what conditions must exist for schools to have authority over student conduct.

According to the Education Department report, Minnesota is one of just three states — alongside Wisconsin and Arizona — that prohibits bullying but doesn’t define that behavior. The state also doesn’t provide for its districts a model bullying policy, and at a mere 37 words, its anti-bullying law is the shortest one in the country:

Each school board shall adopt a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student. The policy shall address intimidation and bullying in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use.

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The Gimme Generation

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=VxHfYNTrnic

This is a must watch segment with Steve Doocey from @FoxNews interviewing Jack Cha, an economics professor from Valencia College.  Professor Cha asked his sophomore students to write an essay on “The American Dream”.  After they completed their essays he asked them what they wanted the Federal Government to do to help them achieve their American Dream.  Professor Cha took the essays from 3 classes, about 180 students, and went over their responses.

Here were the results:  Eighty percent of the students felt that the government should provide them with a job, pay for their college tuition, give them the money for a house, pay for their health care and fund their retirement.  What are your thoughts on this?  Do you want to know mine?

First off, everything I have today – my house, my medical insurance, my retirement money and my education, I worked my tail off for and have funded all on my own.  To me, this level of entitlement by our American youth is extremely troubling because it leads to one place—apathy.  How in the world are these kids going to find the motivation to achieve anything in their life if their mentality is that everything should be handed to them.  Sorry folks but the tooth fairy isn’t real.

As an educator and psychotherapist, I work with a lot of teenagers and young adults and I’d have to agree with Professor Cha,  the majority of today’s kids feel entitled.  I believe most of it has to do not only with government but with media and technology.  Think about it, today’s teenagers and young adults are natives to our digital world; with the click of a button they get what they want instantly.  There is no work involved, no effort and their brains get used to this.  Go to one of my favorite websites and twitter pages, http://www.commonsensemedia.org/  @CommonSenseNews and learn some great tools to help you help your kids how to use media and technology the right way.

My advice to parents out there—make your kid work for and earn those extra things they want.  This way they will understand the following quote:  “Success Comes Before Work Only In The Dictionary.”  If you’re interested in having me present my “Digitally Distracted” talks for your group or organization, visit my website at www.tomkersting.com and send me an email or call me.  I speak to lot’s of Parent Groups on this topic.

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