THE PEOPLE SOLUTIONS NEWSLETTER
VOLUME #6, FOCUSING ON:
COACHING FOR BETTER PARENTS AND STRONGER KIDS
© Dr. Carol Renaud Gaffney
Originally printed 1997 - reissued 2003, All Rights Reserved
1. IN THE NEWS
2. BETTER PARENTS
3. STRONGER KIDS
4. COACH CORNER
5. HEALTH AND SAFETY
7. COACHING TIP
IN THE NEWS: Rights, Responsibilities and Power
An ongoing story in our local news is of the Zero Tolerance position that the Arlington school district has taken with regard to the use of alcohol and other drugs. With this policy, it is one strike and you're out - out of sports, choir, debate - any extracurricular activities for the year. If a student is caught with or found to have been using alcohol or other drugs at any time whether or not school is involved or whether it is a school day, that student will no longer be able to represent the district in extracurricular activities.
This position by the superintendent and supported by the school board is reportedly in response to incidents of drinking and sexual activity by high school students during this school year. An example of what has occurred with zero tolerance is that when the police issued Minor in Possession (MIP) tickets to several athlete/students after a game, the students were suspended from their activities for the rest of the year.
Another example is that a high school athlete was called into the administrator's office and was told that there had been a report of this student drinking during the weekend. When the student acknowledged that to be the case, the student was then suspended from extracurricular activities for the rest of the year.
Not surprisingly, there has been an ongoing discussion with the school district, lawyers, and parents for the students as now athletic scholarships and college admissions are at stake. What is striking to me is that no where have I read that the kids have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes to be "rehabilitated". With Zero Tolerance from the Arlington police a ticket is issued and teenagers go to teen court. Within the Arlington Schools Zero Tolerance may mean that you are through.
I am in agreement that teenagers who drink are doing something that is illegal as in all states the drinking age is 21. Anyone using drugs is in violation of the law. The illegality of these behaviors is not in questions and I clearly acknowledge that drug and alcohol use is a major and increasing health problem with our national treasures, our children.
The questions become - who has the right, responsibility and power to intervene with and punish (not discipline) our children. Do you as parents really know what authority school districts have and whether that authority is aligned with local and state and U.S. policy? Or what kind of power schools have? Do you agree that school districts can make laws and impose punishment that are of their own choosing? If you don't know let me strongly suggest that you find out.
Too often many of us have abdicated our authority and responsibility to the institutions around us and these institutions have grown in influence and now power. This is true of public school districts that decide what books our children read, what they are taught and what they can wear to school. This is true of the media industry - magazines, televisions, and now the internet. Parents - be alert- be involved.
I am not politically astute and government was not a strong subject for me, but I know something is wrong when kids are charged with misbehavior and punishment is applied without representation, on hearsay and without due process. One way to have a person become angry or helpless is to remove choice and control over aspects of their life that they have a right to have.
When kids mess up, the response has got to be more than about teaching them a lesson they won't forget (which is punishment) and more about taking responsibility and offering rehabilitation as well. There is no way I support the behavior these kids chose, but this could have been a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn from their mistakes, and to learn more than being angry at the adults who set the rules and provided swift justice.
Whew! I have a lot to say on this subject so I better stop here. Please send in your opinions and I'll try to get some viewpoints into the next newsletter. In the meantime, talk to your school representatives and determine what the due process for your children and ultimately your family is.
Better parents are able to be models to their children - they realize that they can be coaches by recognizing the best within the child, helping the children realize their strengths and then supporting them in their goals. Better parents realize that their children are individuals separate from them who will set a course of action that can be different from their parents.
Last month was an opportunity to evaluate your satisfaction on each of 10 areas of your life and to establish a QLI (Quality of Life Index). This month I would like you to take time to establish at least one goal or want in each area. This is a paper and pencil time - draw what you want or write it down. Sing a song about it if you wish, but get whatever is floating in your mind out of you in some concrete form. Then be careful to share these goals only with the people who you think will support them.
One of the evaluations I do at the beginning of each year is of my relationships with the people in my family. What I realize as I write is that they probably don't know I do this assessment. As I do it, I determine (obviously from my point of view) how satisfied I am with our relationship and with our communication and the time we have together. Based on that, I develop a plan to make the changes I want.
What I'm adding this year is to take time with each of them (even you Chris, though you are in Taiwan) and tell them what I am thinking about and the changes I want to make. Please note - these are the changes that I want to make, not that I want them to make. I am also going to ask them what they would like from me not in terms of financial support or doing their laundry, but in being present for them.
The more opportunities our children have to solve problems that are theirs to solve, the more internally directed and independent (vs. rebellious) they will become.
Last month I suggested that you find an opportunity to have your children evaluate their satisfaction with the 10 areas of life and to compute their QLI. This month you can go through it with them and support them in developing a plan for increasing their QLI by setting up goals and having intentions in each of the 10 areas.
Take the time to do this individually with each of your kids. Even in a busy family, it is important to take time together with only two people at a time. Kids, regardless of age, love FULL attention.
I was reminded of this by a long time friend who had just returned from a two week vacation with his wife and 2 teenage children. He mentioned how he and his wife had a chance to spend alone time with each of the kids. There were times they went out as a group but they made sure that each of the parents spent time alone with each of the kids. I think that is a terrific gift for everyone.
COACH CORNER: Responsibility and Support
I had a great opportunity to talk with the father who presented this question. Our dialogue went something like this.
Father: My 17-year-old son doesn't follow through on things he says he will do.
Dr. G.: Lots of parents find themselves in this situation. What actually is your question?
F: How do I get him to follow through? How do I get him to finish what he starts? What approach can I use to get him to do the stuff I want him to do?
G: Okay, what do you want, an approach or to get him to follow through, or to finish? What is the real question?
F: I want him to finish the stuff he starts. So I guess the question is how do I get him to follow through and I mean "do it right" with his responsibilities?
G: Do you want him to finish everything he starts? And what do you mean by right?
F: Oh, no - finishing everything would be unreasonable. I want him to finish most of the stuff he starts.
M: So if he is finishing some stuff, how do you decide how much is enough?
F: I'm not a perfectionist so I don't know, I guess about 95%. That would be fine with me.
M: 95% percent is fine with you so if he agrees to finish 95% of his what he starts, who gets to decide which 95% he finishes? You or him?
F: i don't know. I don't really know what he thinks he's supposed to be doing. But I know what I think he should be doing by this age. Like his homework, and chores and taking care of his car, and taking care of his money and taking care of his clothes.
The laundry area is always a mess when he's in there. His car hasn't had the oil changed in 6 months. Who knows when he gets his homework done. And the chores - they get done, but not when I want them done. He's had 5 bounced checks in the last 3 months. I don't know how he's ever going to manage on his own.
G: All good points, but again, how do you make the decision on what is okay to be finished and what's not? And how do you make the decision for what is reasonable to expect for a 17 year old? You know that when someone is invested in the outcome, it's more likely to get done, so I have to ask you, who is making the decisions for his responsibilities and what the expectations are? Bottom line - how much is your son's idea and how much is yours?
F: I think I get your point. I guess I am going around in circles. I have been so worried about him graduating next year that whenever something goes wrong I panic. I have a perspective of knowing what is important and I so much want him to be independent. I can't stand it when kids think they are entitled or don't have the skills to cope with life.
This really raises the question for me - does what he thinks he should be doing really the same as what I think he should be doing? I don't know how much we agree and how much we disagree - perhaps we need a conversation about this.
G: You really are on to something. Your son seems like he has a lot going on and that he has a lot of responsibilities. Congratulations to both of you as he is in a great position of learning how to be independent and self-sufficient - a position that few teenagers find themselves in these days. And, he has a really caring parent.
Many teenagers do have a sense of entitlement and are not ready to leave the womb let alone the nest by the time they reach 18. And to complicate matters, they want to be "independent" and they think that once they reach a magical age, the world is theirs.
What I hear is that your son has made some great steps in assuming personal responsibility but he doesn't yet have the mastery of these areas of his life. Mastery is going to come with continued experience and continued guidance from someone who knows the ropes. Lucky for him he has you.
All the things that you are talking about really are skills that have to be learned - how to service the car, how to get the clothes done, finding time for homework, balancing a checkbook. While he is home living with you is a great time for him to finish learning about this "life stuff" so when he is off in another year, whether in college or in a job, he can concentrate on learning what that part of his life has to offer.
Your being a "parent as coach" rather than an angry frustrated parent can go a long way in helping him finish learning what he has started. When kids are having trouble with doing what they're supposed to do, don't assume they are stupid, assume that they just haven't learned what they need to know. They are missing information, not brains.
Your son may have taken on more than he was ready for and may need some support as he learns more efficient ways of managing his school work, social life, home responsibilities and relationships with parents and teachers. Also, if you're worried about his going away next year, he probably is too.
F. i certainly have a new perspective on this. I know my son is a good kid and I can see where my frustration and concern can come across as anger. I think that if I consider myself his coach in life, rather than react as the dissatisfied parent' with my index finger pointing at him, we'll have a better chance of figuring this out together.
HEALTH AND SAFETY: TV ratings - Not the Final Episode
In addition to being careful of whether or not your new cabbage patch doll is eating your child as well as the french fries, you may want to be careful about assuming that the new television guidelines are really okay and the bugs have been worked out. There are still a number of issues about the criteria for rating programs, the advertising carried within programming and whether the ratings will really be effective indicators to adequately protect children.
The ratings are in effect as of January 1 and have the categories TV-G, TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-M. There are also categories of programs, such as sports and news, that have no ratings. At least for now these categories are in. Again, and this goes back to In the News - stay involved with what is happening to your children's lives. Bottom line is that good taste and morality can not be legislated - allow yourself the full extent of the law for making decisions that are relevant to your children and family.
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COACHING TIP: Cooling Off
So often when we are emotionally compromised (angry or totally at the end of our ropes) we make statements about consequences that just don't make sense, that we feel bad about later, and that eventually we will have to retract. This is when we can yell, curse or ground them for the rest of their lives.
Being able to stay in an intellectual state, to think about consequences would be ideal.
I remember a parent about 15 years ago who was telling a story about his kids playing in the bathroom. Something happened that resulted in water gushing out of the faucet over everything. The kids came rushing out and he went rushing in as the water in the Bath room was rising. He said that muttered " When I get my hands on those kids, I'm going to wring their necks".
Fortunately, for all of them father had to attend to the water before he attended to the kids. The sink took about 30 min. to fix. By then, he relayed, he had time to cool off (literally and figuratively) and was able to talk to the kids reasonably about what had happened. This dad spoke highly of the lesson he learned about putting time between The Incident and The Response". Maybe this is a case in which we can learn from someone else's success.
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Dr. Carol Renaud Gaffney
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Warren, RI 02885