Mom? Dad? Do You Have the Courage to Just Say No?

Think Safety First
Think Safety First

It was early in the morning and still dark outside.  A colossally foolish jogger, donned completely in black, decided to cross the street in front of my SUV which was travelling at 40 miles per hour.  Thanks to my attentiveness I slammed my brakes, swerved, and skidded to a halt.  The jogger ran off into the darkness and I breathed a sigh of relief while simultaneously screaming an expletive.  As I began to drive away,I felt grateful about the decision I’ve made to never, ever use my cell phone while driving.  If I didn’t have both hands on the wheel, I wouldn’t have been able to swerve. If I was peering at my keypad or an “important” text, I doubt I would have seen the jogger in time to stop.My decision not to use a cell phone while driving came when my son was 10 years old.  Somehow, I had a fleeting realization that in six short years, he would obtain his driver’s license.  If he observed me operating heavy machinery while talking or texting, he would argue fervently to do the same.  Did I really want to engage in this double standard dispute?  Wasn’t it really in everyone’s best interest if mom drove as safely as possible?

Sure, like any parent, I could justify using a cell phone while driving.  It is convenient, time efficient multitasking, and even entertaining when there is an interesting conversation taking place.  I could say that my years of driving experience made it safer for me, but I know that statistics negate that.  No matter how I could justify it, I knew I’d be setting a bad example, and creating potential peril for myself, my passengers, and other drivers around me.  My decision was simple.

Fast forward.  My son is now 17 years old and he knows that if mom can drive without texting or talking, he can too.  Mission accomplished!  So far, so good.

Did you know that in 2010 more people were killed due to distracted driving than we lost on 9/11?  We are quick to point fingers at teens but parents (as well as non parents) are equally to blame.

I know you’ve seen them too. Moms and dads all around us use cell phones while driving. Shockingly, some of them are toting their children, or even an entire carpool of children in the back seat!  These are the same parents who in many other ways practice exemplary parenting to raise healthy kids in the safest possible settings.  They buy healthy organic foods, petition for school buses to have seat belts, and lug car seats onto airplanes to provide a safer ride for their precious progeny.  They talk out loud with their peers about the “idiot” who was texting and driving and almost caused an accident.  They even lecture their kids about driving safely.

Why then do parents fail to practice what they preach?   

The idea that it will take an accident, injury, or death to convince anyone to drive safely is ridiculous if not pitiable.  The answer is simple.  Just say “no.”  It’s what we guide our kids to do so let’s practice what we preach and be a shining example of discipline.

Here are 9 excellent reasons to break the distracted driving habit:

  1. You are setting an outstanding example for your passengers particularly your children and their friends.
  2. You will avoid the double standard dispute that is sure to arise when your kids get their driver’s license.
  3. You are a respectable example for your family, friends, and colleagues when you tell them that you will not answer a call (unless you are using Bluetooth) or text while driving.  They will likely admire your courage and feel inspired, giving themselves permission to do the same.
  4. You are less likely to annoy the drivers around you.
  5. You are lessening the risk of a car accident and potential peril to yourself, your passengers, and others who are driving in your proximity.
  6. You are avoiding a traffic citation (in those states where driving with a cell phone is against the law), a lawsuit, time in court, and possibly time in jail.
  7. By heeding #’s 4 and 5, you are keeping yourself in this beautiful world where your joyful presence will bring happiness to all those who love you and cherish you, including your kids who desperately want and need their mommy or daddy.
  8. Your kids will admire you if not thank you for a being a great role model.
  9. You’ve got G.U.T.S.  Go out and Use This Stuff!

Please add to this list by leaving us a comment.  It does take a village!

Parents, Children, and Election Day Ideas

Election Badge
Election Badge

It’s almost here! Election Day 2012 is on Tuesday November 6th, and the weeks leading up to it bring a goldmine of opportunities for parents to create stimulating dialogue with their children.Whether it is over the family dinner or during an otherwise monotonous car ride, the following ideas can help parents find out whom or what influences their child’s opinions, how school is or isn’t expanding their child’s knowledge base, and ways to influence a child’s principles or vision.  And who knows?  Parents and kids may bond a little too!

1. Utilize Election Day as an opportunity to ask kids what they know about “government”. Can they name the three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial)? Do they know their two State Senators, or any of the Congressional Representatives? How might they respond if asked to debate the pro or con side of a current issue such as drilling for oil, or dealing with terrorists (otherwise known as big bullies)? These open ended questions can provide a good glimpse about what a child is or isn’t learning in school, and how a parent might applaud or supplement their knowledge base. Younger kids can be taught these concepts in very basic ways while older kids can be challenged with more thought provoking debates.

2. Consider inviting a child to imagine that they were an elected official and ask them what they would do to improve the country. Parents may hear comical answers such as “I’d ban all homework”, or thoughtful answers that give insight into their child’s knowledge and personal beliefs. Most parents enjoy hearing their children’s opinions and ideas. They’ll likely glean what kids are picking up from their sphere of influence, including academics, news stories, social media, peers, or even their peer’s parents.

3. Election Day celebrates our right to make choices. Ask your kids which candidate they would choose. Then ask them to give you two solid reasons for that choice.  Some kids will make their choice based on the preference of a parent or best friend? If this is the case, a parent might dig deep to evoke their child’s opinions and encourage them to be leaders of their own beliefs instead of followers of other’s beliefs. Parents might consider observing for this pattern of behavior in other parts of the child’s life. Whether kids elect a candidate, choose an extracurricular sport, or pick the perfect college, we ultimately want them to know how to research their choices, match them with personal beliefs, and make intelligent, informed decisions.

4. Consider taking your children to the poll with you. I did this with my son when he was 8 years old.  He was thrilled to be included in a grown up activity and this alone increased his attentiveness to election process. I was allowed to take him into the ballot box and even let him punch the holes in the card to choose our candidates. He was over the moon!

5. Elections, as we have observed this year, can get rather ugly with contemptuous ads, gross exaggerations, and insults. Ask your kids what they think about these strategies and the grown up bullies who action them? Do they think that they are justified in order to win? Why or why not? Ask your child what alternatives they would implement to run an ethical and moral campaign? When you hear all the good things they know they should do, pat yourself on the back. That is likely the result of your good parenting!

Please share your ideas on how to maximize teaching opportunities before our upcoming election.

Parenting Touchdowns: A Lesson taken from NFL Commissioner Goodell


An October weekend in 2010 brought three heart stopping games for college and professional football players, teams, and fans.  During a Saturday Army / Rutgers game, Rutgers player Eric LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck after a hard hit in which he ducked his head.  On Sunday in the NFL, the Falcons played the Eagles, and the Steelers took on the Browns.   Four players were seriously injured due to “head first tackles” that are clear violations of the rules.   Now I’m aware that there is some controversy as to how “violent” or “clean” these hits were, but that’s not what this blog is about.  This blog is about parenting and we’ll get to that in a moment. I have been a quiet observer of the NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, for the past five years, and I like his leadership.  In 2007, after a year of consequential scandals involving NFL players, he instituted the NFL Personal Conduct Policy.  Players, who crossed the line with weapons, drugs, drunk driving, or using banned substances, were suspended without pay and/or fined up to $100,000.  Players who were held in “higher public regard” than other players on the field were given more severe penalties.  Why?  Because they were role models who were powerful enough to positively or negatively influence millions of viewers including our impressionable children.

Two days after the injurious October weekend, Mr. Goodell and his Commission decided that they had to keep their players as safe as possible.  They also had to help them stay accountable.  If players could not regulate themselves in their pursuit to win, they would have new incentive. 

Any player who initiated a “dangerous and flagrant” hit that violated rules, particularly those including helmets and a “defenseless player” (a receiver in the act of making a catch) would be suspended and possibly fined.  This new rule would punish careless or downright defiant players who took rules for granted. 

What is most significant is that Roger Goodell and his NFL Commission have had the backbone to enforce their rules.  Players know this and take their consequences more seriously. 

Fast forward to the upcoming 2012 season.  Mr. Goodell and the NFL aren’t just taking care of their own players, and they’re not just being punitive.  Proactive and practicing what they preach, the NFL is donating one million dollars a year to Heads Up Football a health and safety resource for parents, coaches and players in youth leagues.

Furthermore, Mr. Goodell, in response to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal for which he imposed harsh penalties to players and coaches, released a 2012 preseason letter stating that “there was no place for bounties in football.”  He re-emphasized NFL rules and his commitment to enforcing them.  I particularly appreciated this statement: “Our players do not make excuses on the field; we will not make them off the field.”

So what does all this have to do with parenting?  Roger Goodell is like a parent to the NFL players and even coaches.   If he can straighten his backbone to set standards and enforce them, for player welfare, and for the NFL family reputation, why don’t we take his example and do the same for our kids and our families? 

Your kids, like some football players or coaches, will test your rules by breaking them, either unknowingly or intentionally.  Pause for a moment and evaluate how you have handled this type of situation thus far.   Do you need to create and enforce a personal conduct policy for your children in sports and in the game of life?   How would this help to keep your kids and other kids safer and out of trouble? In other words, what's in it for all of you?

Once you create rules, how effectively do you enforce them? Are your approaches punitive, proactive or both?  How well do you model the behaviors you wish that your children would demonstrate?

If there is one thing we know from decades of research, it is that children like to know what they can and can’t do.  It takes some of the guesswork out of life.  In other words, they want limits.  Who better than a parent to set them? 

You are the Commissioner of what happens in your family.

Let us know your thoughts and ways you’ve helped your kids to regulate their personal conduct.

What Parents Must Know About Marshmallows, Tests, and S' mores!

It was 1972.  Walter Mischel was a researcher at Stanford University and he was curious about the human ability to delay gratification.  He gathered four year old children and one by one placed them in a room with a solitary marshmallow.  The children were told that if they could refrain from eating the marshmallow while the researcher left the room (roughly 20 minutes), that they would be given a second marshmallow.  About 30% of the children were able to wait.  They along with the others were tracked for over 30 years and the tales of their lives are very telling.  Let’s take a look.

Toasted marshmallows and emotional intelligence
Toasted marshmallows and emotional intelligence

Those children who were able to delay gratification showed higher levels of happiness emotionally and higher achievement academically.  They had superior skills at managing personal and social stressors, had sharper focusing abilities, had lower levels of substance abuse, and enjoyed healthy, fulfilling relationships.  Academically they boasted SAT scores that were, on average 210 points higher than the children who were not able to self regulate while in the grips of a tempting sugary delight. 

Are you surprised?  Self regulation and delayed gratification are both competencies of emotional intelligence skills.  Countless global experts tell us that these skills create “happier”, more “successful” kids.  These skills are clearly worth developing.

Now it would be easy if parents could simply mandate their kids to self regulate their urges.  “Control yourself” or “just be patient” are two commands that come to mind.  But since these character traits cannot be conjured in the time it takes to eat a marshmallow, we will have to institute measures to develop them in our kids.  So we have reached the crux of this article.  How exactly do we do this?

I believe it begins with a parent that is fully engaged with their child.  Put the iPhone down and toss the newspaper aside.  Get to your child’s level and teach them how to be patient so they can successfully delay gratification. 

1. Be an example of patience.  Kids are watching your every move.  The “monkey, see monkey do” tendency in them will learn to whistle a favorite tune at the exceptionally long red traffic light, or to shriek or curse at it. 

2.Communicate and teach them about alternatives.  “Mary… I know you want to get that doll today, but you are going to have to wait until next week when it’s your birthday”.  Until then, which of your other dolls would you like to play with?

3.Use fantasy.   I know you really want the red toy truck.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could have the red toy truck you want and I could have the red Ferrari I want? 

4.Consider distractions.  For younger children in particular, a different activity can create an “out of sight, out of mind” diversion.  For example a child hungry for dinner that is 15 minutes away from being ready can be told, “No you can’t have a snack right now but we can color together until dinner is ready in 15 minutes.”

5.Praise is a powerful motivator.  As always, it should be delivered with sincerity.  Kids can see your adult artificiality with x-ray vision!  Praise your children when you observe an honest effort at being patient, and self regulating their short term indulgences for their long term benefit.  The key word here is effort.  If it first they cannot succeed, encourage them to keep trying.

There’s one more thing I’d like to say about marshmallows.  They are an essential ingredient in s’ mores.  The individual who is in a rush to eat might just burn the marshmallow while the one who can delay gratification to slowly rotate the marshmallow over an open flame will find it a perfect golden brown, crisped on the outside, and delectably hot and gooey on the inside.  It will melt the chocolate with ease to make this graham cracker sandwich a coveted campfire delight.  How are your s’ mores turning out?

Please leave us a comment.  We’d love to know what you think about marshmallows, tests, or s’ mores!