Monthly Archives: December 2018


– Anonymous

Today in a “school parents” Facebook group, a little discontent broke out. It occurred after a very proud parent posted a picture of her son’s grades. She was beaming through the keyboard I am sure, sharing the good news of straight A+ on his exams.

I think it’s great that her son kicked academic butt. And if you’re the type to share those kinds of personal achievements in a social media parent’s group, hey, that is great!

But after that initial grade sharing post, plenty more of the same followed, until one parent chimed in with, “I thought this was a support group for parents, not a bragging group?”

I hear you mom. I hear you loud and clear.

Like many others, I too am concerned with the grades my kids are receiving, but maybe the years have wised me up a little, because my perspective on their success is not what it once was. While I think it is great that her student was able to master Arithmetic while doing his own laundry for the first time, I’d like to know if he also did some of this…

Did he sit with a classmate or neighbour who was stressed? Did he calm them down, make them laugh, join them for lunch, or walk to the library with them, all while knowing he had studying to do himself, but remedying their sadness was more important?

Did she take class notes for a sick classmate?

Did he smile and give a nod of thanks to the staff member or helper for assisting him with something?

Did she take out her room’s garbage without being asked, even when it’s not her assigned room chore?

Did he share his lunch with the classmate that forgot to bring their lunch?

Did she take a friend to the health centre or sickroom when her friend fell down and hurt herself?

Did he comfort a classmate that got lower grades and wanted to help them get better grades next time?

There is no report card for any of that.

There is no grading rubric for being a decent human being.

Parents, it’s awesome you’re proud of your kid’s grades! Shout it to the world!

But it’s also awesome to remember that a academic report card does not define a life, or even a portion of it.

An “A” in Arithmetic is great, but a metaphorical “A” in kindness, graciousness, and unselfishness is, well, you can’t put a grade on that kind of success.

The writer wishes to remain anonymous.

Inside the tweener’s brain

Hank Pellissier

The tweens and early teens of sixth, seventh, and eighth grade are often hormone-addled, pimpled, unpredictable narcissists, rudely defiant one second and emotionally clingy the next. They’ve probably calculated that you’re not as completely cool as Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, Stephen Curry, or even their faddishly-dressed BFF — and they let you know it. You may wonder if your precious child’s body is inhabited by aliens. Honestly, close guess — those invading “aliens” are hormones.

When kids reach puberty, their brains produce gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). When GnRH courses into the tiny pituitary gland, two additional hormones — luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) — escape and basically run wild. In boys, these hormones swim south, telling the testes to start manufacturing testosterone and sperm. In girls, LH and FSH manipulate the ovaries, soliciting production of estrogen. Either way, all hell breaks loose.

During this traumatic time, we need to provide often-unwanted (but typically much-needed) love, advice, and support — which is why it’s helpful to know what’s occurring, anatomically, in their evolving noggins. Here’s how you can better understand — and navigate — the cranial crises of your adolescent child.

Judgment or lack thereof

From middle school to maturity, the brain’s primary growth area is the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobes, a region that’s referred to as the “CEO” or “central decision-maker” of the brain. The cognitive control center, it’s responsible for functions like mediating conflicting emotions, making ethical decisions, inhibiting emotional and sexual urges, general intelligence and predicting future events. If you’ve noticed your 11-year-old son can be frightfully disorganized, or that your tween daughter now seeks a private area, like in a locked box or drawer, for secret items or a journal, you can trace these behaviors back to the brain of their brains, so to speak.

And right now it’s changing tremendously in a “rewiring” process that fortifies certain neural highways while virtually abandoning the majority of others. The transitional activity of this rewiring phase is disorienting for your young teen, and often exhibits itself in recklessness, poor decision-making, and emotional outbursts.

Pleasure seekers

A research article published in Cerebral Cortex (January 2010) suggests that adolescents indulge in risk-taking behavior because the anterior insula is more highly-activated in young teens than in adults, and the ventral striatum peaks in middle adolescence. These regions are hypersensitive to reward. Underdevelopment of frontal lobes also makes youngsters behave more emotionally, because they’re still making decisions with their wild, fight-or-flight, reptilian-brain amygdala, instead of with their reasonable, civilized (and still growing) prefrontal cortex. Warn your impulsive daredevil about the dangers of drugs, smoking, alcohol, unsafe sex, and out-of-control skateboarding without a helmet, emphasizing the catastrophic harm that can befall their most prized possession: the mind.

Weird growth

Yikes! What’s growing? Tell your child immediately (if you haven’t already) about the physical changes ahead, which are triggered by the GnRH and LH hormone releases. For girls: breasts, acne, pubic hair, menstruation, wider hips. For boys: underarm, pubic, and facial hair, acne, larger testicles, wet dreams, erections, etc. If you don’t warn your pubescent progeny, they’ll be freaked out by “gross” surprises. Plus, tell them — while they squirm and cringe — that they might start to develop crushes. Middle schoolers are often self-conscious about their body’s developments, with anxiety about how others view them.

Feed the brain

Many sixth, seventh, and eighth graders want to slurp unhealthy junk food and soda pop into their gullets, because the “pleasure” centers of their brain develop sooner than their ability to calculate long-term consequences. They’ll beg for it. But don’t cave in: Junk food contains chemicals that can disrupt their hormonal secretions. Instead, help your child eat healthy food — and explain that it fosters their brain development. (Try some healthy brain foods for kids.) The Centers for Disease Control recommends a diet filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, which is moderate in sugar, salt and saturated fats. This doesn’t mean putting your child on a no-fat diet! “Healthy fats” such as egg yolks, avocado, and salmon are known to support brain function. Avoid the obesity that weighs down almost 20 percent of U.S. children this age — studies show obesity can eventually cause a decline in the brain’s cognitive abilities, particularly in learning and memory. Studies also indicate that bulimia nervosa can negatively affect brain regions involved in the reward circuitry, and according to researchers at Yale, anorexia may shrink the afflicted’s grey matter.

No virtual violence

Gamers played one of two types of video games while researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine used MRIs to watch which brain regions were stimulated. When kids played “Need for Speed: Underground” — a non-violent game — activity was observed in the frontal area, a zone associated with concentration and self-control. But when kids played “Medal of Honor: Frontline” — a violent game — there was no frontal area activation; instead, the amygdala was excited. (That’s the “reptilian” part of the brain.) The amygdala is affiliated with emotional arousal — especially anger — and is linked to aggressive, impulsive behaviors. Repeated firing up of reptilian zones can “hardwire” a developing brain for less self-control, which is not great in middle school or in adulthood. So if you purchase video games, make sure the focus is on racing or skill, not violence.

Tuning in to tweens

An article in Journal of Adolescent Research reports that in a study of 6,026 middle schoolers, “students enrolled in formal instrumental or choral music instruction . . . outperformed [their peers]” in algebra. The correlation was especially noted with African-American pupils. Seem like a coincidence? Think again: Research suggests that, “musicians process music in the same cortical regions that adolescents process algebra.”

Gender gap

Girls’ and boys’ brains are vastly different in middle school. The National Institute of Health discovered that the halfway mark in brain development (called the inflection point) occurs in females just before they turn 11, but dawdling males don’t get there until they’re nearly 15. Academic abilities might also vary widely by gender. In girls, language and fine motor skills generally mature first, up to six years earlier. In the past, girls were found to lag behind boys in math, raising the possibility that girls brain development differed from boys. But since recent research finds girls now perform as well as boys in math, a more probable cause for the gender gap is culture not biology.

Check mate

Strengthened interconnectedness in middle school isn’t just a social phenomenon — it’s in their brain architecture, too. You’ll see it in your child’s improved ability to plan, problem solve, process complex thought, do deductive reasoning, and process information. To multiply your middle schooler’s mental powers, encourage them to play chess. Studies indicate that the tactical thinking required in the “Game of Kings” initiates a significant advance in mathematical ability. Other strategic brain-builders are checkers, backgammon, and the UniWar app for iPhone and Android.

Brain and brawn

When it comes to helping your tween develop their mind, it’s worth challenging their muscles as well. Research shows that exercise has a significant positive effect on kid’s cognitive development. Students with higher fitness levels get higher grades and perform better on tests. One study found that strenuous aerobic exercise just before academically challenging classes help kids absorb and retain new material.

Jay Giedd, neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health, has remarked that, “recess and play seems to be the first thing that is cut out of school curriculums… But those actually may be as important, or maybe even more important, than some of the academic subjects that the children are doing…” To buff up both their brain and their body, encourage your middle schooler to be active, play sports, and exercise regularly. Parents can also work out with them to provide healthy role models.

Benevolent rule

A middle-schooler’s evolving brain requires firm guidance from diligent adults. Developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind, author of Prototypical Descriptions of 3 Parenting Styles, recommends “authoritative” parenting because it provides consistent, compassionate, goal-clarifying direction, and allows the child to build self-esteem by making intelligent choices. Over-controlling “authoritarian” parents who scold incessantly can instill a sense of inadequacy in their offspring, and over-indulgent “permissive” parents that heap silly praise without justification just give their kids a false sense of attainment.

Employ these tactics in your battle to raise a mature and sensible kid, and you’ll be a “totally awesome parent,” even if your teen doesn’t come out and say it just yet. Just wait — someday he certainly will.

14 must-have life skills for teens

-Connie Matthiessen 

Your nearly-grown-up teenager can conjugate latin verbs, do quadratic equations, and write a slam-dunk essay. But do they know that washing a white T-shirt with red skinny jeans will turn it pink?

If you’re wondering how your teen will survive on their own, don’t worry too much — chances are your child is a lot more capable than you think. Even so, now is a good time to teach your teen a few practical skills that will leave both of you feeling a little more confident about your offspring’s readiness to leave the nest.

  1. How to do the laundry

    If your child isn’t already doing their own laundry, it’s time to learn. Removing lip balm and pens from pockets, hot water or cold, sorting colors, dealing with delicate fabrics, and removing lint from the dryer should all be part of the curriculum.

  2. How to clean the bathroom

    Your child’s future roommates and romantic partners will thank you for making sure they know how to clean a bathroom. This includes what products and tools to use and which surfaces should not be ignored.

  3. How to plunge a toilet

    Ditto #2. Unfortunately there’s no substitute for hands-on learning here. The next time there’s a clog, hand your teen a plunger and let them know the best way to learn is by doing. (And mention that this is a skill that could one day save them from an embarrassing moment as a guest.)

  4. Basic first aid and CPR

    Everyone should know the basics of what to do in a medical emergency, from handling minor injuries to knowing when to seek medical help right away. Teens can feel at once invincible and powerless, so have a discussion about when to call for an emergency — even if they risk getting themselves or someone else into trouble. It truly is always better to be safe than sorry.

  5. How to boil water — and more

    Is your teen’s cooking repertoire limited to frozen pizza and mac and cheese? If so, encourage them to choose a couple of easy dishes to master. (Bonus if they actually include vegetables!) See them through from shopping to clean-up. As the school year winds down, ask your teen to cook dinner once or twice to practice and expand their college-cooking skills. And if your child’s dorm only allows a rice cooker and a coffee maker, challenge your child to find the innovative one-pot or boiled-water-only recipes they can dash out with these minimal tools. Plus, that in-room hot cocoa, coffee, oatmeal, ramen, and rice-cooker-steamed-stir-fry are far cheaper than the alternatives at the food court.

  6. How to budget

    If you haven’t already, sit down with your child and show them how to draw up a monthly budget based on how much money they’ll have to spend each month. Explain how you handle your household income, spending, and savings, and point out some of the choices you have to make to stay within your budget. Discuss spending choices they’ll likely encounter in college, and how to manage them.

  7. How to pay bills, manage a bank account, and pay taxes

    Does your teen have a bank account yet? If not, help your child open one — ideally at a bank with a branch near campus. Your teen needs to know some key things, like how to access the account online, check the balance, pay bills, whether or not there’s a minimum balance requirement (and what that is), how to avoid overdraft fees, and how to notify the bank if their debit card is lost or stolen. Finally, yes, the thrill of being an adult includes paying taxes. If your teen has a job of any kind, it’s a good idea to file taxes. A dependent who didn’t earn all that much will likely get a refund.

  8. How to use a credit card

    Credit card companies pepper college students with credit card offers, so even if you don’t want your student to have a credit card yet, you should discuss the pros and cons of credit cards with your teen anyway. Discuss specifics like interest rates and fees, as well as other risks.

  9. Basic car maintenance

    If your child has a car (and even if your teen will be riding in other people’s cars), make sure they know what the car’s various check engine lights mean and what to do if they go on. There’s no time like the present for kids to learn how to check oil, water, and tire pressure levels, find the spare and change a tire, and jump a car battery. Have a talk about how much money it saves down the line to have a car serviced regularly. If you can swing it, adding your teen to your roadside assistance service may be a good move, too, in case they get stuck and need a tow.

  10. How to read a map

    Google maps and navigators only work when your device is charged and getting a signal. But a lost, dead, or broken device shouldn’t keep a teen from getting safely where they’re going. There’s nothing better than a paper map to navigate new territory when the going gets tough — but reading a map is a skill that needs to be taught and practised.

  11. How to write a professional email

    Sure, your child’s been submitting school work electronically for a while now, but can your teen write a polite, concise email that shows them in the best possible light — a message that’s clear, to the point, error-, slang- and emoji-free?

  12. How to manage their time and health

    Your teen is fresh off successfully juggling senior year and college apps, but you were there to make sure they ate and slept. Late-night pizza and all-nighters may be a rite of passage in college, but you want to make sure your teen understands the effects that sleep (and lack thereof) and nutrition (ditto) have on their brain and cognition.

  13. Trusting their inner voice

    You’ve likely had this conversation at different points in your teen’s childhood but now is a good time for the college version. There will be so many new scenarios coming your teen’s way, you cannot cover them all. But it’s a good idea to practice talking through a few. Can your child tell when a person is high or sketchy — and keep a healthy distance? Can your child deflect questions that seem off or think of ways to excuse themselves when things get… weird? This is, actually, something you can practice together or that your teen can practice with their friends.

  14. How (and when) to ask for help

    Make sure your teen knows they’re not supposed to know how to do everything. There’s no shame in not knowing. Capable, independent people became that way by asking for help when they need it! Brainstorm with your teen to identify trusted sources or adults they can go to for help, from the resident advisor in their dorm to their college counsellor to a local relative or friend of the family — that is, when you’re not available by text.

12 tips for raising truthful kids

-Charity Ferreira 

Brace yourself for the cold, hard truth: all kids lie. They do it for many of the same reasons adults do: to avoid getting into trouble, to avoid hurting another person’s feelings, or to make themselves look better. The ability to tell a lie develops early — as young as 2½ for some kids — and it’s a normal and important stage of kids’ cognitive and social development. By age 4, all kids lie; by age 6, some estimates are that kids lie as often as once an hour. We asked experts — researchers, child development specialists, and psychologists — for their advice on teaching kids the value of honesty at every stage.

  1. Model honesty

    It sounds obvious, but if you don’t want your kids to lie to you, don’t lie to them, and don’t let them hear you telling lies. “It’s one thing to say to kids that honesty is important, but then if they see you lying, it sends a mixed message,” says Victoria Talwar, associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at McGill University in Montreal and a leading researcher on kids and lying.

    It’s surely less effort to say, “I don’t have any money with me” than to explain to your child that they can’t have ice cream because they’ve already had a sweet treat that day or because it’s too close to dinner. Or to tell the fundraiser on the phone that you aren’t interested in donating rather than saying you already did. But over time, so-called “little white lies” teach your child that dishonesty is okay in some situations — and leaves them to interpret which situations those are. If you want your child to grow up with the belief that honesty is the best policy, do your best to live by that credo, too.

  2. Don’t set them up

    Particularly for preschool-aged kids, one way to deter lying is simply by not inviting them to. When you see your child with a juice-stained lip and an overturned bottle on the table, there’s no need to ask, “Did you spill this juice?” Kids this age will lie out of a desire to avoid getting into trouble, says Dr. Peter Stavinoha, a clinical neuropsychologist for the Center for Pediatric Psychiatry at Children’s Medical Center of Dallas. ”If you know they did it, don’t ask! If you ask, you’re giving them the option to lie. So they lie, and then you get upset about that, and now there’s two things where there used to be only one,” Stavinoha says.

    “Looks like you spilled some juice. Let’s clean it up together,” keeps things focused on the issue at hand. And if you’re not sure who broke the vase, or which sibling is lying about it, Stavinoha says, go straight to the consequence. “Don’t engage with the question of did they break it or which child broke it. Focus on what you want accomplished. ‘We have a mess here. I’m asking you both to clean it up.’ You’re showing them that there’s no positive consequence for denying responsibility.”

  3. Tell positive stories

    In a study led by University of Toronto psychologist Kang Lee, researchers including Talwar found that kids ages 3 to 7 who heard the story of George Washington and the Cherry Tree, which illustrates a positive consequence of honesty (George is praised for telling the truth), were much more likely to tell the truth than kids who heard the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, which illustrates a negative consequence of lying (the shepherd repeatedly calls for help as a prank, but the one time he really needs help, the villagers don’t come to his rescue).

    “We talk about lying being bad, but we don’t highlight the alternative behavior. Kids need examples for how to behave in situations where lying might be easier, stories that show how to be honest, what does that look like? Those are important messages,” says Talwar. For older kids, talking about the honesty of the characters in the books they’re reading can provoke inspiring and instructive discussion.

  4. Ask for a promise

    If you need a straight answer about something you’re concerned about, such as an incident at school, asking your child to promise to tell you the truth before asking them a question increases the chances that they will, studies suggest. But note that this strategy is not a guarantee, and it should be used sparingly so that you don’t wear it out. “You don’t want to overuse this one or it may lose its efficacy,” says Angela Crossman, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. And as Talwar notes, promises tend to feel more binding to younger kids.

  5. Say truth-telling makes you happy

    Young children, under the age of 8 or so, are very motivated to please authority figures, says Talwar. Her research shows that telling kids that you’ll be happy with them if they tell the truth increases the likelihood they’ll be straight with you. Tweens and teens, she notes, tend to care somewhat less about pleasing authority figures and more about their own internal sense of what’s right. (Another study found that telling 9- to 11-year-olds that they would feel good about themselves if they told the truth decreased the chances they would tell a lie.) At all ages, look for opportunities to make your child feel good about being trustworthy.

  6. Teach tact

    Kids learn early — from their parents — how to lie for the sake of politeness or to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. “Thanks, this book looks great,” instead of, “I already have this book!” or “I can’t play because I’m busy,” instead of “I don’t like playing with you!” Researchers call these kinds of lies “prosocial” because they smooth our interactions with others. But being honest does not have to equal being rude or hurtful. The key, says Talwar, is to balance honesty with consideration for the other person’s feelings. “We want to teach our children to be honest but we want to teach them to be kind as well. We need to teach honesty in a way that potentially helps others rather than potentially hurts others,” says Talwar. In the case of the book, this might mean saying it’s an author they like, or expressing appreciation for the thought that went into choosing it.

  7. Don’t reward the lie

    When your child lies, there’s a reason — they’re seeking something. And if they get it, that can reinforce lying as an effective strategy. So if you notice that your younger child always fabricates a story about getting hurt at school as soon as your older child starts telling you about their day, it might be an attention-seeking behavior. “When a child lies, figure out what dynamic may be going on,” suggests Crossman. “Are there ways you can ignore the lie so they don’t get the reward? Can they get what they’re wanting in some other way?”

  8. Catch them being honest

    We often catch kids in lies, says Talwar, but if we want to teach them to value honesty, we need to look for opportunities to acknowledge when they tell the truth, especially in situations where it might have been easier for them to lie. When your child tells you the truth about something they’ve done, take a moment to show that you appreciate their honesty by saying, “I’m really glad you told me the truth.”

  9. Discipline calmly

    In environments where punishments are doled out harshly and arbitrarily, research shows that kids learn to lie earlier and more skillfully than their counterparts in less punitive environments. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discipline. But in an atmosphere with a punitive, authoritarian approach to discipline, developing the ability to lie can be seen as a protective measure.

    “One thing parents can do is simply not have a great big emotional reaction. The more explosive the parent gets, the more frightened the child gets, and the more likely they are to lie. Simply remaining calm and sticking to the facts you’ve observed is one way to get kids to tell the truth,” says Stavinoha.

  10. Have a conversation, not a lecture

    The more open and conversational the relationship between parent and teen, the more effective, says Dr. John Duffy, clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. “That means more discussing and less lecturing.” When clashes happen, waiting for the situation to abate and approaching your teenager calmly is always going to yield a more positive outcome, he says. And when it comes to raising truthful teens, he recommends discussing issues of honesty and lying openly with your child. “Something along the lines of, ‘We want you to feel free to be honest with us, regardless of what you have to say.’ Teens respond well to this type of communication, but parents have to be prepared for the honesty!”

  11. Set clear rules

    Ninety-eight percent of teenagers worldwide lie to their parents. That’s the conclusion of Dr. Nancy Darling, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology at Oberlin College, who has researched teens and honesty for two decades. Darling says setting clear rules is important for cultivating an honest relationship with teens — and that being strict is okay. However, she says, it’s essential that parents pair this with being emotionally warm and open and accepting, so teens don’t think they will be harshly and unjustly punished.

    “If you balance these two aspects of parenting clearly, your teenagers will be more likely to ask for your permission and more likely to confess if they have broken a rule. They need to respect you and believe you will be warm, accepting, and non-punitive,” she says. “If kids think you have the right to set rules, if they respect you, they are more likely to be truthful — but they’ll still want to argue with you about what is safe and what they should be allowed to do.”

  12. Give them space

    Respecting teens’ natural desire for privacy can encourage more honesty, Darling says. “You don’t want to be intrusive, you don’t want to get into their business more than you need to,” she cautions. “Ask for only the information you need. If you do that, they will probably provide additional information.” For example, you need to know your teen was safely at a friend’s house on Friday night; you don’t need to know what they talked about. Prying too deeply is asking for teens to push back by putting up barriers or lying, Darling says. So keep it on a need-to-know basis, and if they still clam up, just explain, “You don’t want me to butt into your business, and I don’t want to butt into your business but I have to know because …” and tell them why you need an honest answer.