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“Duncan has taken to helping in the kitchen! He’s four and yet he can really do things! He made his own scrambled egg the other morning. I told him how impressed I was, and he made one for me!”

What fun it is to impress your parents! Duncan loves to help with cooking, doing a little on his own and having his parents say how great he is. One woman counselor I know speaking at a PTA meeting said every child, teen, and adult longs to hear their parent say, “You are the fine son/daughter I always hoped for; you’re doing a great job!” There was not a dry eye in the house. Evidently many had never had the experience.

Since parental approval is such an emotional high point, it is a shame some parents often begrudge their children “too much” reward. Reward and reinforcement are terms that may sound too mechanical because the words imply a contrived influence on behavior. But the most frequent reward children receive is the admiration and appreciation expressed by parents. Parents who are generous with these “rewards” are more effective.

Yet many are still uncomfortable with the notion that selfish benefit is required to get children, or anybody else, to do the right thing. “They should do it because it’s right, shouldn’t they? They know it’s good for them! They had better be glad they have a good home and a chance to learn and get ahead!”

Isn’t this the way we all feel sometimes? It seems unbelievable that kids would pass up an opportunity for personal growth or fail to contribute to the family out of appreciation for the care they get.

It’s children we’re talking about, of course. Employees who are asked to work a little longer or teachers asked to carry a larger load deserve rewards for their extra work. And our boss who expects something for nothing just doesn’t understand our personal economic situation!

As a matter of fact, the higher you go, the more reward is expected for any effort – managers and school principals don’t feel respected unless they make more money. Corporate officers and members of Congress worry that lower salaries for them would bring in people less competent than themselves; and CEO’s demand golden parachutes of stock options so they will have the “proper incentive” to do a good job up there on top. So the higher ups commonly get more money and appreciation while both money and appreciation become scarce for the “less deserving” and, of course, for the kids.

Some parents object to the idea of rewarding children because it might spoil them. But remember a spoiled child did not get that way because too much was provided. Many children in families with small incomes are spoiled, and many children with the benefits of wealthy families are not spoiled. The parent’s routine reactions to the child’s behavior determine the habits. Parents who pay attention to the highlights in what their children do, will find plenty of opportunity to provide a deserved compliment. But if obnoxious behavior is “required” to get attention, then obnoxious behavior will be the rule.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship to be published on September 15, 2016.

An excerpt from Teenagers and Parents (5th edition to be published  9/15/16)

Teenagers are spending almost nine hours each day using online music or videos, TV, or “chatting” online, according to a 2015 report by Common Sense Media. Tweens, ages 8 to 12, average six hours reports Jim Steyer, the director of the study. Over 2600 teens were interviewed. Kaiser Family Foundation’s 2010 study said the average, then, was five and a half hours for tweens, over eight hours for the 11 to 14 group and nine for the 15 to 18 year olds—more than the daily hours of school. The trend is definitely up. But 25 percent of kids say their parents know little of what they watch on TV or do on social media.

Mom:   “Jason, are you still on that cell phone of yours?”

Jason:   “Yeah, I’m texting Mark.”

Mom:   “Mark, who?”

Jason:   “He’s my fellow fullback on the J-V soccer team.” Continue Reading »

High school students looking forward to their senior year cannot easily get excited about more school work after that. Yet for those considering college, the choices after high school require attention now.

As associate dean for undergraduates at the University of Maryland, I met many students who at first resisted this idea of visiting colleges saying, “I don’t even know what I want to do.” But your student shouldn’t put off college visits because no main field of study has come to mind. Most entering freshmen are only aware of a dozen or so of the 100-plus programs most colleges offer. College is for learning about yourself and how your own special talents fit the possibilities.

Few students stick to their first career notions. Over 90 percent of college students will change their major during their college years. Half will change more than once as they explore the details of subjects in college courses.

Other students may resist these first steps toward college by flatly stating, “I don’t want to go to college,” just to put off parents’ questions or because they have only a TV view of what college could be.

To get enthusiastic about college, your high school junior needs some first-hand information. The spark of excitement won’t come from just talking with Mom or Dad about the choices of work, local college, or a school far away.

This summer is a good time for soon-to-be seniors to visit colleges. In the fall, it will be time for applications so chances for visiting will be nearly over.

Driving down to a college to “just look around” can be frustrating for both student and parent if no arrangements have been made in advance. Have your budding college student call ahead to the college admissions office and set things up. A parent can help a balking 16-year-old by providing a short list of things to say:
1. Tell them you are going into your senior year and you would like to visit the campus and talk to an admissions person.
2. Mention the major subjects you are interested in.
3. Ask what events are going on that weekend. Special events may make it difficult to see facilities and faculty, or the events coming up might give you a special reason to make an effort to go on a particular date.
4. Ask about visiting a dorm.
5. Ask about talking to someone about financial aid programs (next week’s topic) and filling out the required Student Aid Report while you are there.

Your student might also ask about meeting with students in majors that are of interest. If the admissions office can’t help with that one, you or your teen may know someone you could look up during your visit.

Ask your college-bound student to begin a summarizing chart so that both of you will have a good review sheet when the time for the final decision comes. Include places for his ratings of the programs and courses, the college town, dorms, and job opportunities. What do students say about the different meal plans available and the size of the classes? How convenient is the traveling from home to campus?

Excerpt from: Raising Good Kids in Tough Times

Kids starting middle school next month take a big lonely step out on their own. With the challenge of new friends, values, and temptations, it may be the biggest culture shock of their lives. Yet parent involvement both at school and at home seems to taper off in middle school – just when it’s needed most.

Most of the tragic stories of kids gone wrong at this stage begin with a surprise – a surprise to the parents that the kids even had a problem. But as the review goes on, it turns out there were signals: isolation, anger, following the lead of new friends or new models in the fantasy of TV, movies, or social media.

It’s a time when parents are tempted to view every opportunity as a chance to “get in their licks.” But the kids are thin skinned, defensive, and easily embarrassed. They don’t have the verbal abilities of adults and can’t express their ideas and feelings in words so easily.

So if parents are to keep up with how it’s going in middle school, and the kids are to stay around long enough to hear some parental advice, us parents will have to slow down. You can avoid quick parental advice by asking questions and just repeating your child’s last remark instead of always centering the talk on the quick fix:
“Boy, is that school boring!”
“Gets pretty dull sometimes, I guess.” (Instead of, “You have a bad attitude.”)
“It’s like that all the time over there.”
“What bothers you most?” (Instead of, “It can’t be bad all the time, You shouldn’t be so…”)
“Math is really tough.” (Parental patience has allowed the real topic to come up.)
“It was tough for me, too.” (Instead of, “You just need to apply yourself.”)

Body language also makes a difference. Face your conversational partner. Put down the paper and turn off the TV. It won’t help to be right in their face, but talking while keeping one eye on the TV commercials so you can turn off the mute when the program resumes will make the talk hectic and the child discouraged.

Children need confidence to take chances and tinker with ideas in their talks with you. Avoid “Why would you think that? That shows that you are (to blame, wrong, or off-base).” If the talks always center on the child’s defects the child will just want out.

Talking doesn’t make a good competitive sport. If every conversation is treated as a tennis game where each return requires yet another return until someone wins, kids will harden their defensive style early and the exploration stage will be short. Once the score card is started in a conversation, the tallies get more attention than the ideas.

As the kids encounter the new school, you may feel that you’ve lost your influence over them. The children may try to give you that impression, but as every teacher, counselor and minister knows, you have an effect, even when the kids react with, “You don’t know anything.” and “It’s not the same nowadays.”

In the everyday rush to jobs, shopping, and school buses, it’s easy to miss your chance to hear what’s going on. Watch for it and use it, it can help you keep up.

Dr. McIntire is the author of Teenagers and Parents: 12 Steps to a Better Relationship (5th revision out (9/15/16) and Raising Good Kids in Tough Times.

Amy used her new cell phone to call home every week when she started college. Her Mom would respond, “Oh, Amy, I hope you are well. We miss you so much. Little Pam keeps saying, ‘When is Amy coming home?'”

Amy endured the weekly tugs on the guilt strings for six weeks, then she came to my office to do the paper work to drop out. Her short college career was partly due to Mom’s unintentional focus on the negative.

Parents can help with college adjustment by keeping the calls up-beat, the pressure about jobs, money, and grades as low as possible.

Our surveys show that only 10% of college dropouts have grades too low. Working and living far from campus are the most outstanding differences between the successful college students and the dropouts, the surveys show. Most dropouts work too many hours at an outside job too far away.

Parents may be proud of sons and daughters who juggle busy schedules of jobs and school, but if the job takes over, the only parts of the college experience left to quit may be the classes. All the other advantages of college, ski clubs, travel groups, politically active groups, have been crowded out by job hours. Encourage your college-bound son or daughter to live and work close to the school environment and work only the necessary hours at an outside job.

Trouble selecting a major and a career is another large factor in the dropout statistics. Most state universities have 100 or more majors, but few first-time students can name 20! No wonder over 90% of freshmen change their major somewhere along the way.

Parents can help here also by talking over the majors represented in the early required courses and keeping the pressure to make an early decision low. One primary advantage of college is to educate your new student about the variety of life’s opportunities.

Students are often tempted to put off the decision about a major by leaving college for “a year off.” But if college is viewed as a source of information about choices, then staying in makes sense. Little is lost by taking courses to explore the wide range of majors and careers before making this important decision. It’s a long way from graduation to retirement!

Most colleges have career counselors who can be a great help if they are in on the early planning. With their help in the first year or two, both the student’s interests and the practical side of career training can usually be accommodated.

Habits, usually started at home such as sleeping, diet, and alcohol make up dangerous pitfalls in the college journey. College students are young enough to be one of the most healthy groups in our society, yet they have a poor health record. Parents of teens with a year or two of high school left can prepare their sons and daughters for the challenges of caring for themselves and their time and money.

The mail boxes of most college students will be filled with offers of sales and credit cards that soon require more payments that lead to more hours at work. Caution your college student to keep life simple with few obligations to make payments on cars, credit, and clothes.

Raising Good Kids in Tough Times
By Dr. Roger McIntire

We parents know sex is a big problem among our teenagers but too many of us hesitate to provide much information. We are afraid of what the kids will do if we tell them too much, but we all suffer the consequences of their ignorance.

The percentage of women 15 to 20 who are sexually active is about the same across our country and in other countries. About 80 percent of women have sex before 20, 60 percent before 18 and less than 20 percent before 15. The same is true in Canada, Sweden, France, Great Britain and the United States, the Washington Post reported in a special May 16th Issue of their health section.
Continue Reading »

Raising Good Kids in Tough Times

By Dr. Roger McIntire

When it comes to those dangerous behaviors, drugs often produce the most tragic stories, but in number of abusers, alcohol wins. Alcohol abusers are defined as persons whose drinking habits produce poor work, excessive absenteeism from work or school, and complaints from friends and family. One quarter of our teens are alcohol abusers by the time they reach college age. And alcohol-related accidents remain one of the biggest killers of our teens until they pass college age.
What’s a parent to do? You can’t protect your kids from every temptation, but you can make sure the right messages are sent:
1. Don’t send the message that alcohol is a problem solver: “I’ve had a tough day, I need a drink.”
2. Don’t send the message that alcohol is necessary for social situations. Using alcohol for its relaxing effect only postpones learning better social skills.
3. Don’t send the message that behavior under the influence is somehow more genuine, natural, or free because it’s more emotional and less thoughtful. Just because behavior is less filtered doesn’t make it better. Inhibitions have been learned from experience, and thoughtfulness is the most human quality. When teens depend on alcohol to break down social inhibitions, the breakdown of sexual inhibitions is the next bad habit. Intoxication is the most common explanation given for unsafe sex in surveys of teenagers.
Now, about those drugs: Watch the money. The drug business is about money. Where can an unemployed addict get $75 a day to support the habit? Recruiting a new user – your teen – is one of the best sources of money. Pay attention to the amount of money your teen has. Drug pushers look for teen buyers with extra money, so your teen should carry only the needed amount to school or stores.
Watch your model. They are always imitating. Set an example for your teen to follow in the use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs – including medications. Teens copy. Review your habits for the sake of your teen.
Watch your teen’s habits. Paying attention can keep you up to date on any temptations. In addition to the money situation, changes in sleeping and eating habits, friends or secretiveness about friends can be a sign of trouble.
One dad recently told me he made a point of regularly calling the parents of his daughter’s friends. As a single parent he liked to compare his experiences with what others were going through.
As much as you think your teen will never abuse alcohol or take drugs, you need to know the signs. Unfortunately all teens show some of these signs from time to time, and it doesn’t indicate drug use. The difference that deserves attention is a cluster of abrupt changes in these signs:
1. Unusual, unexplained need for money, or money missing from the house.
2. Changes in friends, eating habits or sleeping that don’t make sense.
3. Lack of concentration, extreme agitation.
4. “Cold symptoms” that just don’t go away -red eyes, runny nose, increased infections.
5. Changes in appetite, cravings.
6. Changes in fatigue, hyperactivity, appearance, becoming sloppy.
7. Unusual clumsiness, shortness of breath, coughing, peculiar odor to breath or clothes.
One mother’s story began: “John started going with those older kids last summer and suddenly he didn’t care how he looked; he was sloppy, always sniffing, getting up later every day, and he lost interest in everything – even soccer!”
This mother found drug paraphernalia in her son’s room the first time she looked! The cluster of changes in social habits, attitude, and self-care was enough for her to investigate.

Send your parenting questions for Dr. McIntire by e-mail to sumcross@aol.com or visit ParentSuccess.com on the net. He is the author of Raising Good Kids in Tough Times and Teenagers and Parents: 10 Steps to a Better Relationship.

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