Do Parents Really Matter? Mopping Up the Last of the Miley Mess

Dr. Robyn Answers Parents’ Questions from the last 2 days: Given everything that’s been going on with the Miley Cyrus Debacle this week, parents are wondering if they can ever catch a break. The press is everywhere, everyone’s talking about it, and parents (and grandparents) are wondering if any celebrity can be trusted with our tweens and teens.

As one of the comments said in response to my April 28th Miley article:

In today’s world, where we’ve seen the over-exposure of the Hiltons, the Spears, the Lohans…we have to hope that someone has the guts and know-how to right the Good Ship Miley before it too becomes something we try to avoid our tweens emulating –Grammie

What’s are the biggest mistakes parents can make regarding these types of incidents?

One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is shoving the problem under the rug and hoping not to talk about it. Many would like the story to simply fade away and blow over so that they don’t have to deal with the embarrassment of having to discuss it. There is no doubt that such discussions are difficult– as one parent commented the other day;

“I sort of resent having to explain these more adult issues before I would like to.” –MaryRobb64

Unfortunately, we live in a world of overexposure. It’s the price of living in a free world. You get A LOT OF THINGS– even the information you don’t want–for free! If you have a TV, the internet, a cell phone, or ears on your head, your child is going to hear about it. It then becomes your decision as a parent to either talk about the issue and help to make good sense of it with your daughter or son or pretend it didn’t happen and let the media or your child’s friends educate your children about the issue. Which one do you think is more reliable?

As Powerful Parents, be present and allow the conversation to ensue.

The other really big mistake parents can make is talking too much and not listening enough. I mentioned yesterday on the blog and on the Dr. Drew radio show that it’s vital to know when to talk and when to be quiet. Ask questions instead of always preaching answers. Be a coach, rather than a sage.

When we ask questions, we find out what our tween or teen is thinking and feeling—and the answers might surprise you. What does she think of Miley Cyrus’ decision to pose topless? What would your daughter have done in the same situation? How does she think Miley should handle it? And has your child ever been in a situation where she felt pressured even thought she knew it was mistake to go through with it? You might be surprised by what your children have to say if you just give them a chance to express themselves.

How do the tweens/teens react when the perception of their role model is compromised?

Tweens and teens can internalize the information in different ways:

(1) Become a copcat: Do as their role model has done. Even if Miley, in this case, is basically saying “do as I say not as I do,” many number one fans of Miley will follow her lead. You’ll hear children saying; “Mom, what’s the big deal? Miley is so cool/hot that whatever she does is awesome! ”

(2) Ban their idol: This is drastic. The tween who does this really feels betrayed. In this case, the role model becomes and “anti-role model” (a symbol of what NOT to do) and the tween really turns on the switch by saying “I never liked her anyway.” Or “I liked her when I was younger” or I liked her before she became like the rest of those Hollywood types—those pictures were gross…”

(3) Refuse to believe it: You might wonder how someone can do that when the pictures are right there—but it’s quite simple—they can just say she was forced, tricked, or pressured—or say that it’s been blown out of proportion and everyone’s just wrong. Children are resilient and they will do whatever they can to make it so they can believe what they want and go about their business.

How can parents express their views about these role models without alienating their kids who idolize them?

I spoke a bit about “communicating without condemning” in yesterday’s article “Cleaning Up the Miley Mess.”

Here’s the deal; when things such as the Miley Cyrus situation happen, parents get angry—and when they get angry, they say things that while a true representation of how they’re feeling, might not be appropriate. Parents must communicate with their children about this situation without condemning their child’s role model.

When a parent condemns the role model in question and the tween is still very attached to that role model, a few things can happen; (1) the child can feel attacked and misunderstood and you run the risk of alienating that child; (2) the next time the child makes a mistake, they will be less likely to want to talk to you about it since they see how you react; (3) you can push your child further towards emulating the role model since she wants so badly to defend her—and your not allowing her to do so in a safe and appropriate way.

You may want to be critical, but in doing so, you may alienate your child. That’s not what you’re aiming to do! We have to remember that in the case of Miley Cyrus, parents shouldn’t put her down, but rather, talk about her behavior and why you thought it was inappropriate. Along those same lines, you can have a frank conversation of media, sensationalism, what’s real, and what’s hyped up– rather than attacking the character of a 15 year old girl.

How can parents lay the foundation for positive values and choices in their families?

You lay the foundation for positive values by spending the time and talking about what’s important to your family today. Talk about values when nothing is going on in the media and talk about values when it seems everything is going on in the media. Children should know what their parents value just as parents should know what their children value.

Talk about how people do or do not show respect, responsibility, tolerance, or gratitude—these are powerful words that carry a lot of weight. Perhaps your spouse helped someone at work and showed a lot of teamwork. Perhaps something happened in the news where a child showed incredible sportsmanship. Perhaps your child actually did the dishes without being asked. Values are in action around you—and we must highlight the positive while they’re happening.

In addition, I encourage parents to ask your families; What kind of family do we want to be? Children love to give their input. Don’t be afraid to have a family meeting and get everyone’s opinions. Or get in the car and do what we call “driving the point home” which is when your teen and you are in the car talking about important subjects while side by side in the car—sometimes it’s easier for teens to talk about touchy subjects when the environment is not so serious.

Is it art?

As we long have known, art is subjective. If this photo was an oil painting from the year 1790, we’d certainly all consider it art. It might even be up in the Louvre. Fifteen year olds back then were often married– and not considered kids anymore. There was certainly no talk of tweens and teens back then. However, today, we have impressionable faces looking up to stars like Miley for inspiration and motivation. Miley, a symbol of youth and fun, is not a sex symbol– so seeing her in this way is jarring. It just doesn’t fit.

Her fans think of her as their best friend, girl next door, and big sister they never had. The girl next door doesn’t do these things. But what added to the shock of the photo was its juxtaposition with the photo of her and her Dad. It made people feel uncomfortable and shifty. The girl is covered in a sheet in one shot and lying around on her Dad’s lap in another. If she were 2 years old, it would have been cute; at fifteen, it seems a bit creepy to many.

So is it art? If it were someone else at a different time or of Miley in about 10 years, people would have appreciated it a lot more. It would have been considered a beautiful shot. But today, with the baggage that comes along with every click of the camera, and with little 8-13 year olds watching with baited breath unready to process it all, it crossed an inappropriate line. People see the skin of a budding starlet, and they see sex unleashed– even if that was not the intention– even if it shouldn’t be that way– even if we yearn for a time when it could have been considered art.  Today, in the shadow of the Disney empire and the reflection of miles of tween smiles for Miley, it was a mistake.

But can parents actually make a difference? Competing with media and peers…

You may be surprised, but the answer is yes. In fact, regardless of what’s going on out in the world, you are still the most prominent role model in your child’s life.

  • The Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed tweens and teens, ages 10-17 years old, about their role models. Researchers found that while 73% of respondents named sports figures, 56% named TV or movie stars, and 32% claimed that rock and rap stars had the honor, an astonishing 92 percent of kids named their parents.
  • An article entitled Parents or pop culture?: Children’s heroes and role modelsin Childhood Education echoed similar findings. Children most frequently named their parents (34%), then entertainers (20%), then friends (20%), professional athletes (14%), and acquaintances (8%).. Most respondents chose a person that they knew rather than one they didn’t, when asked about who they looked to as a role model. When asked why they chose someone they knew rather than one who was famous, one 10-year-old made quite an apropos statement, “I didn’t put down people I don’t know because when nobody’s paying attention, they do something bad.
  • A study of more than 1,100 12-18 year olds participated in a survey on behalf of the American Bible Society. Again, the survey concluded that 67.7% believed parents were the most important role models in today’s society.
  • For a teen, having a role model, particularly one known to the individual, is associated with higher self-esteem and higher grades. For Caucasian teens without custodial fathers, having a role model was associated with decreased substance use. (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2002;156:55-61.)

Of course, it’s important to remember that we all make mistakes. This week, it’s Miley Cyrus. Next week, it might be you. The important thing here is how one deals with their mistakes. Do they admit wrong doing and move on? Do they crawl under a rock? Do they point the finger at someone else? Anyway you slice it, there’s a lesson there. And with every lesson, there’s a great conversation to be had with your child.

Good luck!

Miley Cyrus: 8 Ways to Clean up the Miley Mess

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman


Dr. Robyn was on Dr. Drew’s national radio show at 3:35 EST/12:35 PST today to discuss the Miley Cyrus issue: Click here to listen to the interview


Yes, everyone is scrambling to right Miley’s misstep. Vanity Fair issued their YouTube video (above) to show the relaxed atmosphere of the photo shoot (sans the actual Lolita-like photo in question). Annie Leibovitz is defending her photos as “beautiful.” The network is claiming deliberate manipulation of a young girl. And the press is just trying to make sense of it all– the possible desire for a young starlet to shake her tween image and be seen as “more grown up,” the creation of a public frenzy that can add to the Miley millions (ahem, billions?), and which photo is more offensive (the one of Cyrus’s bare bod coyly wrapped in a sheet, or the shot of bare midriff while sprawled across her Daddy’s lap?).

But while the public is cyber-guessing the fate of Miley and her empire, parents and tweens are left in the wake of it all. Moms and Dads don’t care about whether Disney will find a replacement for Miley– they’re busy wondering what to do next. Considering the harmful impact of increased sexualization of girls in the media and the jarring way this tween idol was introduced as “not a girl, not yet a woman,” to her fans, it’s not surprising that parents are reeling.

Just looking at the comments from yesterday’s post here on the Powerful Parenting Blog, you can see anger, dismay, and confusion. Tweens and teens feel betrayed:

Oh my gosh, I completely agree. I was so upset when I saw those pictures. It was like, “Whoa. That’s depressing.” I don’t want to say it, but I think my role model has turned into a…well, you know. I’ll just say…one of THEM. The worst part was that I practically worshiped her. Now I feel stupid, especially since I was her biggest fan in the entire universe. (by: Lifeswhatyoumakeit)

and adults are asking for help:

I’m a mother of a Tween girl and every time the media reports something new about a child icon– I gulp wondering; how do I explain this to my daughter? I sort of resent having to explain these more adult like issues before I would like to. (By MaryRobb64)

Let’s get down to it. So what are parents to do?

  1. Chalk it up to a teachable moment: Ignore it, and it won’t go away. Might as well take the bull by the horns. Tweens and teens can learn from the mistakes of their favorite idols if you frame it correctly. Talk about your values, the values of the family, and what you believe the icon did right or wrong. Grasp onto stories of teens, athletes, or celebrities that made mistakes and then changed their life for the better. For example, America’s sweetheart Drew Barrymore once made headlines for drugs, alcohol, and partying but has since become a stable adult. This is a good lesson for teens to hear. In the same way, when athletes make mistakes and admit them publicly, it’s another moment for a great conversation.
  2. Ask questions: Stop talking. Take a breath. Don’t jump to conclusions. You don’t even know what your child is thinking yet! What does she think of Miley Cyrus’ decision to pose topless? What would she have done in the same situation? What does she think Miley should do next? You might be surprised by what your children have to say if you just give them a chance to express themselves.
  3. Communicate without condemning: You may want to be critical, but in doing so, you may alienate your child. That’s not what you’re aiming to do! Have a conversation about the icon in question. Remember, it’s not the individual you have a problem with, it’s their behavior, right? In the case of Miley Cyrus, don’t put her down, rather, talk about the message that her partially nude photograph is sending to her fans.
  4. Find the positive: I know it can be difficult at times– especially with celebrities you find so detestable. While you may not like everything about a celebrity—perhaps there’s something you can find that send a good message. The singer, Pink, may be rough around the edges, but she tells girls that it’s important to be themselves even when everyone is telling them to blend.
  5. Provide counter-media role models: All role models don’t need to come from between the pages of a magazine or on TV. Role models can be found everywhere. Teachers, big sisters or brothers, local heroes, soldiers, local artists, and even heroes and heroines in books can provide more stable, consistent role model standards. When you expose your children to a variety of role models, they won’t have to defer to celebrities and celebutants for inspiration.
  6. Take a look through their eyes: You might be wondering what makes your daughter or son choose a certain role model when their icon has made a few blunders. Take a walk in their shoes. Ask them about their hero—what is it about them that really floats their boat? When you look at Kelly Osborne, daughter of the famous-for-being-dysfunctional Osborne family, you may see a foul-mouthed girl dressed in black. Your daughter, on the other hand, might see a girl who speaks her mind and doesn’t conform to the typical size 2 celebrity body requirement that’s so prevalent in today’s world. A celebrity might make a kid feel more OK with themselves.
  7. Be the role model they deserve: Be a positive example to your child. They’re watching you to see what they should do next. When it comes to being a role model, you must be aware that the choices you make don’t only impact you but also the children who regard you as their superhero. Do you show confidence in yourself and what you look like? Are you respectful? Self-disciplined? Someday, they will be in the same predicament and think to themselves, “What did s/he do when s/he was in the same situation?” When you are a role model it’s not enough to tell your charges the best choices to make. You must put them into action yourself.
  8. Talk about powerful words and powerful actions: What kind of family do you aspire to be? Have a family meeting and get everyone’s input. While the outside world may be erratic and unpredictable, together, you can create safe boundaries and limits so that your children can stay on the path to reach their goals. Use the character lessons your children are learning in their classes each month as springboards for discussion at your own dinner table or “drive the point home” after you leave your Powerful Words member academy.

And, as my mother always told me, “this too shall pass.” Tweens and teens are resilient– and you are too. And while your child is dealing with the blow to her icon, you can give her a safe place to land. She needs it and we’re depending on it.

Come back tomorrow when we explore another part of the Miley Mess and answer the question: Can parents really make a difference? See you then.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a nationally known child and teen development expert and parenting coach. She’s an award-winning parenting columnist for Bay State Parent Magazine, the body image expert for The Applied Developmental Science Encyclopedia and Shaping Youth and the creator of the Powerful Words Character Development Curriculum used by over 500 top-notch after-school programs worldwide.

Miley Cyrus: Role Model Ruined?

When 15 year old, Miley Cyrus showed up topless and coyly wrapped in what appears to be a satin bedsheet in the June issue of Vanity Fair, controversy broke out and opinions multiplied. It wasn’t so much about what was showing or whether or not the Annie Leibovitz photo could be considered art. But rather, it was the mature spirit of the photograph juxtaposed with the immature fan-base the tween icon who worships her every move. Disney, the parent company of the billion dollar Hannah Montana franchise aimed at tweens is reeling, Miley voiced embarrassment and apologies, and her spokesperson claimed manipulation. But the ones who are extremely concerned are the parents of young girls who look up to Miley as a role model.

Given that young girls like to dress up and act like their favorite stars, parents should be on alert. Developmentally speaking, tweens experiment. They’re trying on different identities and figuring out which ones feel right. In working out who they are, they copy those who they admire. So when teen singer, Avril Lavigne, wore a sleeveless T-shirt with a tie, girls showed up to school the next day having raided their Dad’s closet. Given Miley’s recent misjudgment (or perhaps the misstep of her parents, publicist, photographer, or host magazine?), no parent should be surprised if today’s tweens drop their favorite outfits and show up to playtime loosely wrapped in their Beauty and the Beast bedsheets as their best friend takes their best shot.

Where did all the role models go?

What makes up a tween/teen role model has changed dramatically over the last several decades. Kids used to look to public figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy, or the squeaky clean Brady Bunch and Partridge Family for their inspiration. Then media took over. Everyone starlet seems to be growing up too soon, tying one on, or taking something off. Parents are contending with the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Eminem. The latter, who even quips in his lyrics;

I came to the club drunk with a fake ID
Don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I’ve been with 10 women who got HIV
Now don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I got genital warts and it burns when I pee
Don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!

Teens and tweens are saturated with a large does of media garbage. The average American child spends 4-4 ½ hours a day exposed to TV, radio, video games, or the Internet. That means they’re spending the equivalent of a good part time job with questionable mentors.

Why it’s hard to trust:

We loved Lindsay Lohan as a freckle-faced charmer in Parent Trap. Britney Speaks was adorable in the Mickey Mouse Club. Barry Bonds had every boy’s heart in his hand as he got ready to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. What happened to our kids’ role models? Either drugs, alcohol, DUIs, sex tapes, rehab, jail-time, psych wards, negative peer pressure, exposed body parts or a combination of a bunch of the above.

Parents and tweens are always selecting role models that seem wholesome, pure, and promising. We are seeking out people who exemplify the values we believe are important; respect, self-discipline, gratitude, and other powerful words by which we try to live. But the public is getting burned. It wouldn’t be surprising if parents are becoming suspicious and jaded. I think one parent said it best after a Hillary Duff concert;

“We thought she seemed really nice,” said Debbie Wright of Lexington. Wright had brought her two daughters, ages 9 and 13, to the show and waited for them on a couch in the parents lounge. She added, “Of course, we thought that of Britney Spears.”

When it comes to racy role model, Danica Patrick and her controversial decisions to expose (or overexpose?) herself or Kim Kardashian decides to pose for playboy, we know that, whether we think it’s a good decision or a bad one, and adult made the decision. It may make parents angry, but somehow, it’s different. These adults are allowed to do dumb things.

But tween role models aren’t allowed the same amount of space for slip-ups. Parents and tweens are watching their every move. They’re under 24/7 surveillance. They’re overexposed through TV, magazines, internet, texting, and every other media outlet that tells all. Miley’s Vanity Fair photos might only reveal her back, but parents see a Little Lolita. It may not be warranted. It may not even be fair. But they begin to wonder if it’s only the beginning of a series of bad judgments from the Hannah Montana star. After all, this is what they’ve gotten used to with the celebs who’ve come before her.

We know tweens and teens grow up. Celebrities grow up. But when our kids are copying their favorite star, parents are looking for consistency. Reliability. One hundred percent wholesome character. Anything else and the balance gets knocked around. The children have a few choices with regard to how to internalize the information:

(1) Go with the flow: Copy what their favorite role model is doing for good or bad. “What’s the big deal, Mom? Miley’s doing it…it must be cool, awesome, special, hot, daring…”

(2) Go against the flow: A harder endeavor. Make their role model the anti-role model and say “ta-ta” to their idol who deceived or disappointed them. “I never liked her anyway. Who does that? It’s so stupid, gross, dumb, raunchy…”

(3) Go into denial: Say it didn’t happen or it didn’t happen that way and keep on going in the same direction they always went, not changing a thing. “She was forced, tricked, pressured…she’d never do that if she knew what was really going on. Adults can be so disgusting. “The best of both worlds…oooohh, ooooohhh!”

So what’s doing to happen with girl-next door, wonder-girl, Smiley Miley? We have to wait and see how she handles it. Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes it’s not the mistake but how the celebrity deals with that mistake that provides the greatest lesson to teens and tweens.


Dr. Robyn was on Dr. Drew’s national radio show at 3:35 EST/12:35 PST today to talk about the Miley Cyrus situation; click here to listen to the interview


You can help too–Stay tuned tomorrow for 8 tips to help parents cope with controversial role models!

Bullying Video Game for Kids: Violence in Media?

After writing about the prevalence of bullying in our schools yesterday and alluding to the violence in video games, I wanted to bring something to your attention. Here is an example of an enhanced, newly re-released addition of the “Bully” video game that came out last month. It focuses on bullying and violence in schools.

The One Side of the Argument

In the game, the main character, age 15, uses violence to deal with bullies in school. He is described by the makers as “Jimmy Hopkins, a teenager who’s been expelled from every school he’s ever attended.” The player gets points when Jimmy kisses girls, plays pranks on teachers and beats up his enemies. Believe me, I wish I was kidding.

Especially after several examples of YouTube videos showing bullying, a video game promoting violence in school is disturbing. While no guns are used or blood shed (thank goodness), it certainly isn’t a calm day at Bullworth academy.

The game has been suspended in Brazil and has received a lot of negative publicity in the US, Australia, and the UK.

While some gamers actually say that bullying is not glorified in “Bully,” what they are neglecting to acknowledge is that the game adds to the number of acts of violence that a child sees and virtually “experiences” during a typical day.

As we know from extensive research, the average person has viewed around 200,000 acts of violence by the time he reaches 18 years of age. In addition, research has shown that repeated exposure to violence in media can indeed make children and teens more violent and aggressive. It does have an effect on their brains, perhaps temporarily, and what may be the effects over time?

Children’s viewing of violent TV shows, their identification with aggressive same-sex TV characters, and their perceptions that TV violence is realistic are all linked to later aggression as young adults, for both males and females…Results show that men who were high TV-violence viewers as children were significantly more likely to have pushed, grabbed or shoved their spouses, to have responded to an insult by shoving a person, to have been convicted of a crime and to have committed a moving traffic violation. Such men, for example, had been convicted of crimes at over three times the rate of other men.

–Huesmann et al, University of Michigan

The Other Side of the Argument

With every point of view, there’s an opposite one. This topic certainly seems to ruffle some feathers.

The makers are quick to underscore the positive side of “Bully.” Namely, actions do have consequences. If you stay out past curfew, the screen will blur and you’ll become sleepy. Then you’ll pass out. If you skip a class, a group of adults will voice their disapproval. And the incentive for attending the twice a day classes? Your character may get an enhanced ability to flirt with girls or a great recipe to make stink bombs and other prank devices.

Oh, good.

Interestingly, the makers didn’t make a feature that allows the students to post their beatings up on YouTube.

Seriously though, old friends, Dr. Larry Kutner and Dr. Cheryl Olson of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media (and authors of Grand Theft Childhood), performed extensive research that actually supported the playing of video games like “Bully.” They found that that after several years of study that (1) the claims that violent games= violent children was unsupported; (2) Only kids who played over 15 hours of violent video games may be affected; (3) Kids who didn’t play video games at all might be at risk of having low social competency; (4) Kids who play video games have the ability to test new skills and make mistakes and correct them in a fantasy world. Check out this interview with them. (Thank you to Amy of Shaping Youth for the great link).

The big concern that playing violent video games will turn your child violent…there is absolutely no evidence of that…if you look at the violent crimes of teenagers over the last several years its gone down and down significantly and if you look at video game playing, it;s gone up and up significantly.

— Dr. Lawrence Kutner


I have to admit, even after reading the research, I’m still unsettled about this– intuitively, I’m just not into the idea of children and teens playing violent games. How does it serve? It seems so counterintuitive that I just can’t endorse it. I mean, what ever happened to Monopoly and Operation? It sounds to me like we still have more research to do. And is it OK that kids who play video games for over 15 hours per week are, in fact, negatively affected? I don’t think so. What do you think?

My verdict?

Perhaps we should send next month’s Powerful Words curriculum to Bullworth academy? It looks like they need a little help in the area of compassion. I certainly stand behind that intervention.

Here’s to you,

Children and Bullying: Teasing, Taunting and that Haunting Name-Calling

After the newest “copycat” video from Clarkville, Indiana showing middle school girls beating up a classmate, people are wondering just how prevalent bullying is these days. Parents are concerned. Is my child videotaping a fight and putting it up on YouTube? Could they do such a thing?

Many people underestimate how often bullying occurs. They turn a blind eye. I can’t tell you how many school principals have told me, “It doesn’t really happen here.”

Here are the facts:

  • 10% to 15% of children admit to being bullied on a regular basis.
  • It’s estimated that almost 30% of young people in the U.S. (over 5.7 million) are involved in bullying as “the bully,” “the victim,” or both.
  • Children who bully have trouble with other relationships
  • On average, one in ten students is bullied at least once a week.
  • One in three students has experienced bullying as a bully or victim or bullying during the average school term.
  • While there are three kinds of bullying, physical (hitting, kicking, taking away property, destroying property); verbal (name-calling, insulting); and emotional (shunning, spreading gossip), most bullying is verbal rather than physical
  • Bullying at age 10 sets many children on the path to delinquency
  • Boys bully both girls and boys. Girls tend to bully girls in particular.
  • Bullying begins in elementary school, is most prevalent in middle school, and drops dramatically (but does not disappear) in high school.
  • Bullies and bystanders tend to blame the victim for the treatment received.
  • Bullying takes place most often at school.
  • At school, bullying takes place most frequently in places where adult supervision is compromised such as on the playground, in the hallways, or in the classroom before lessons begin.
  • While boys are more often involved in bullying than are girls, girls tend to bully in more indirect ways by inflicting emotional pain through manipulating friendships, ostracizing classmates, and spreading malicious rumors.
  • Victims are most often taunted about their physical appearance although they often do not look very different than their classmates.
  • Boys who are consistently victimized tend to be more passive or weaker than the bully.
  • In middle school, girls who mature early are often teased and bullied by their classmates.
  • Whether boys or girls, bullies tend to have more family problems than other children, a history of emotional abuse, and inconsistent boundaries, rules, or discipline at home.
  • Spending an average of 28 hours a week in front of the television set (more than any other activity except for sleep), children are constantly bombarded by images and ideas. When these images and ideas misrepresent entire groups and races, children can grow up believing these damaging stereotypes. Children are impressionable and may use this information as fuel for bullying.
  • Children who bully others may begin to develop prejudicial feelings, so that what starts out as something childish becomes entrenched in their thoughts and behavior. The name-callers, begin to internalize attitudes when they tease.

We can’t just turn a blind eye and say “kids will be kids.” Somebody’s child is getting hurt. It might be yours.

Raising Good Sports in a World of Poor Sports: 6 Ways to Teach Children the Way to Play the Game

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

The weather’s getting awfully nice here in New England. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and the kids are outside playing sports. Which gets me thinking…

As adults, we often turn a blind eye to bad sportsmanship when it is glorified in the media. Heck, some adults join in on the banter. Quotes and questionable behavior from angry, volatile players and coaches is often excused in the heat of battle. We love our sports, we love our players, and secretly, we love a good rumble.

In 2004, around the time that Boston’s beloved Red Sox “reversed the curse” and won their first World Series in a long, long time, the fifth and six graders from Merriam Elementary School in Acton, Massachusetts took the spirit of the game into their own hands. They wrote to the owners of the Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Commissioner of Baseball himself to see if they could inspire a truce for the benefit of the children:

“We think sportsmanship is very important. We have observed in the past few years that the Red Sox – Yankees rivalry has gotten too extreme. Fans and players everywhere are getting too worked up about what’s just a game. Fights between two teams are not necessary because fans and players can get hurt. Our idea is that the Red Sox and Yankees should shake hands…If the players shake hands and don’t have violent fights, it will set a good example for kids of all ages who look up to them. All of us here play sports and at the end of each game we all shake hands. So we think that if younger kids show good sportsmanship, Major League players also should.”

And so the Merriam Handshake Project was born. It received national press and $10,000 in scholarship money to back outreach efforts to teach others about sportsmanship. Imagine that. Sometimes children need to remind us about what we are supposed to be teaching them.

Let’s get back to the basics and teach our kids to play fair. Huddle up; this is what we need to do:

Seize Teachable Moments: Whether you’re watching a game on TV or attending a school sporting event, you can always find “teachable moments” regarding sportsmanship. Ask your child her opinions of players who showboat and taunt their opponents, games that are riddled with technical fouls and penalties, and teams that argue and trash talk. What advise would your children give the players if they were in the position of coach? During these “teachable moments” ask open-ended questions and listen more than you talk.

Discuss it: If you see your child showing poor sportsmanship, make sure that you discuss his actions and address it accordingly. If your child is involved with an activity or team where poor sportsmanship is the norm, speak with the instructor or coach to make your concerns known. When poor sportsmanship is a constant part of the game, you may want to reevaluate your child’s participation in that particular activity or on that specific team.

Model Positive Sportsmanship: Remember, your child is watching you! Are you booing the other team? Yelling ugly things at the umpire or referee? On the flip side, are you offering complimentary words to the other team when they have a nice play? If you want your child to show good sportsmanship, take a look in the mirror, and make sure you are showing the behavior you want you child to emulate.

Be Their #1 Fan: When watching your children participate in a game or match, shout words of encouragement instead of directions or criticisms. Remember, your children look to you for praise—they have a coach that gives them directions and sometimes, unfortunately, dissatisfied teammates to provide criticisms!

Check your ego at the door: Many adults know that it is alright to lose if someone has tried their best. However, some still fail to display good sportsmanship. Researchers show that some parents are living vicariously through their children and therefore get wrapped up in winning the game or the competition. Along the same lines, some parents push their children into playing to win because they have unrealistic expectations of their child and feel that their child will be the next superstar. Challenge yourself to check your ego at the door—and remember that your child is in it for the fun and the positive experience!

And perhaps most importantly, if your child is frustrated by consistent poor displays of character among his athletic idols on TV or even among his own teammates while in competition, teach him to Take Action! This is when leaders are born. Upon reflection, you might wonder if the voice of a child could make any difference in sports world. But it can. Just ask the students of Merriam Elementary.

Webmaster’s Note: Portions of this article were originally printed in Bay State Parent Magazine, where Dr. Robyn is an expert parenting columnist.

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman is a child and adolescent development specialist whose programs and services are used worldwide. Known as “The Character Queen,” she’s the creator of the Powerful Words Character Development program used by top-notch professional after-school programs around the world. Dr. Robyn is also a success coach for parents, adolescents, and educators, who are looking to achieve their goals, improve their lives or improve the lives of others. She is a writer and professional speaker who presents to schools, hospitals and organizations that focus on children or families. Interested in doing some coaching with Dr. Robyn or having Dr. Robyn present a seminar? Please get in touch at drrobynsblog (at symbol) gmail dot com

Gratitude: Through the Eyes of a Teen

Guest Blogger, Dominique, age 14, (shown here, right, loading goods to take to a shelter for a Powerful Words Charity Drive and Left, with fellow Powerful Students, Alyssa and Brianna, doing their monthly Powerful Words project) has given the our Powerful Family her take on what gratitude means through the eyes of a teen. She has been part of the Powerful Words family since she was 9 years old and even helped to teach the curriculum to the younger children at her Powerful Words member school. Parents and educators are always looking for ways to teach gratitude to teens. Given the media attention on teens beating teens, both the much publicized Florida beating and the more recent one that has surfaced, and teens with internet games gone wild, perhaps we can all use a dose of happy, gratitude-filled words from one powerful student from Rockland, Massachusetts.


By: Dominique Delprete, age 14, Rockland, MA

Gratitude is something that can’t always be expressed in words. It can be expressed through words, or simple random acts of kindness.

Today, not many people think about gratitude. Some people don’t express gratitude at all. In fact, it’s been my experience that many teens (when asked what gratitude was), don’t even know what it means. They respond, “What’s gratitude?” or “What does that mean?” This is very telling. It shows that (1) people aren’t always really grateful for the little things in life, and (2) they don’t show their thanks most of the time.

So I set out to ask my friends about gratitude. They seem like thankful people. That’s why I’m friends with them! What did they think it was and how did they show it?

  • When polled, about two out of ten students said they send out thank you cards after their birthdays. Three high school students were recently asked what gratitude means to them, and each had different responses.
  • Kyle Barrett, 14, says that, “Gratitude is when you love and respect someone, and you go out of your way to make their life a little easier.”
  • Another teen, Danielle Bonito, also 14, commented on what gratitude means to her. “Gratitude is being thankful for the things you have and everything around you. I’m grateful for having a roof over my head, food on the table, a great family, and for a sister who doesn’t hate me.”
  • Last but not least, was Hieu Nguyen, 15, who took some time before responding. “Gratitude is being thankful for what you have and helping people with a small act of kindness.”

It’s the little things in life that people are grateful for. I believe that if everyone does one little act of kindness a day, you’ll be helping someone.

Gratitude doesn’t have to be saying “thank you” all the time, but expressing your thanks in other ways. Sometimes, all it takes to make someone’s day is a card that says “thank you” in it, with your name inside. Teens can collaborate with others when something generous is given to them, and hand-write a card and have everyone sign it. Gratitude can also be shown through simply volunteering time at a school function, or helping out the school.

A science class recently won a pizza party for winning a contest, and they hand-wrote a thank you card and everyone in the class signed it, and sent it to the class that sponsored the contest.

It just goes to show that everyone can show gratitude (even if they don’t exactly know what it means).

Through the teen’s eye, that’s what gratitude means to us.

Give Dom a “digg” for doing a good job on gratitude! Don’t we wish more teens could think like her? Great job, Dom!

Press on the digg icon to the right!

If any powerful students, children, or teens would like to submit an essay to be a “guest blogger” please send us an email through DrRobyn (at symbol) gmail dot com

Parenting Twins: Double Joy or Double Challenge?

Dear Dr. Robyn,

I just found out that my sister is having twins! We’re all curious about what’s in store for all of us. What are the challenges of having twins?

–Christine, Danbury, CT

Having a child is a joy! Is having twins double the joy?

First, congratulations on the great news! Everyone over here in the Powerful Words family is excited for your family!

The Facts:

There’s been a steep increase in multiple births over the last few decades.

  • In the US, between 1980 and 2000, there was a 74% increase in twin births.
  • The National Center for Health Statistics reported that the US birth rate for multiples rose 28% between 1990 and 1998 to 29 births per 1000.
  • The rate rose still more to 32 births per 1000 in 2004.
  • According to the CDC, in 2004, the number of twins was 132,219
  • Some factors that can increase chances of twins: Fertility drugs, number of times pregnant, maternal family history, race.

The Challenges…and the Solutions

Yes! Twins are double the joy! But…be ready for…that’s right…double the challenge! Caring for them and raising them is not an easy feat. Here are some insights from interviewing a clan with seven sets of twins and a set of triplets:

(1) Breastfeeding

  • The challenge: Most of the time, as accurate as a computer program, the babies would wake up one after the other, wanting to be fed.
  • The solution: If you can and choose to breastfeed, always have a bottle filled with Mom’s milk ready. Mom’s milk output can be increased by pumping frequently – at least six to eight times a day – and breast massage (Hill, et al, 1999; Jones, & Spencer 2000). Make sure that you also take ample amounts of water and juice during the day. Expressed milk can be refrigerated, and warmed to body temperature when the babies are hungry already.

(2) Attention

  • The challenge: Giving enough attention to one child is a task already, giving sufficient time to twins, and equal attention at that, can be daunting.
  • The solution: While Mom is attending to one child, try talking to or touching the other one. Involve the other child in attending to the child in need, and make it appear like Team Work between the three of you.

(3) Seemingly Unending Chores

  • The challenge: More kids, more chores to be done, and they never seem to end.
  • The solution: First, if you can, get some help. Parents need to work as a team in order to get chores done. Second, Prioritize from 1 to 10 and let go of 2 to 9. The world will not come to an end if the plants are not watered, or the laundry was not done for the day. Be kind to yourself. If you’re not, who will be?

(4) The Bonding Between Twins

  • The challenge: As the twins get older, their bonding becomes stronger. Parents might initially feel that they’re developing their own language or communication style, and other members of the family might feel left out.
  • The solution: Watch in wonder at how these beautiful individuals create their unique bond and that you have the honor of being a part of their lives. Even though their closeness is more than that which develops among siblings, the twins need this stage to develop their unique personalities, and to be able to compliment each other, too. This special bond is a gift! Of course, the twins can spend some time apart—but you must start this process early or it can backfire. Starting early ensures that they understand the practice as commonplace. In this case, these special dates allow each to bond with family members one on one.

(5) Clothing Preference

  • The Challenge: Parents have the tendency to dress their twins the same or in complementary styles. There will come a time when they will insist on wearing different clothes.
  • The solution: When the twins show signs of clothing preference, do not take this as a sign of rebellion. Allow them to express their individuality and let them choose for themselves. Praise them for their choices. Of course, there’s nothing wrong if they choose to wear the same clothes again.

(6) Conflicts in Play

  • The challenge: When engaging in play, conflicts may arise and the tendency for the blame game begins.
  • The solution: When this happens, take this as an opportunity for language and character development: Let them take turns in narrating and recalling events that happened. Allow both of them to express themselves fully. Be calm and be patient. You’re not there to resolve the conflict for them; your role is to help them find their words to help them resolve their own conflict.

(7) Limited Social Life

  • The challenge: Twins may have the tendency to limit their “social life” to each other since they have been together since conception.
  • The solution: When parents notice this, be sure to take them to the park, playground or a children’s party where they can meet other children and play with them. The community day care will be ideal as this gives them the opportunity to socialize with both adults and children of various ages. Again, get them accustomed to sometimes going separate places so that they can build up their unique friends, interests and personalities just like singletons.

(8 ) School Life

  • The challenge: Some twins in the same class may experience being compared and pushed to compete with each other.
  • The solution: This is a touchy and sensitive subject for parents of multiples. Should you separate the twins? For ultra competitive twins, it may be best to talk to the school administration about having them in different classes to avoid comparison and competition. This will allow them to form their own social circle, let them develop their individuality, and excel at their own pace. This particular issue is worth a lot of discussion since no sets of twins are alike and there is no one answer about whether they should or should not be separated in Kindergarten.

Indeed, life with twins will make you see double – double joy, double smiles, double laundry, double trouble…but at the end of the day, all that matters is that you have double the love and joy of two beautiful children.


10 Ways to Teach Your Teen Gratitude; Volume 2: The Last 5 Ways

Adolescence is certainly a crazy time for both parents and teenagers. However, as the adults, parents must think of ways to help their teens as they go through this important journey in their lives. It takes a lot of patience, determination, creativity, reflection…and yes, stress-management. As parents, we can’t demand that our teenagers be grateful of us. However, an ungrateful attitude and a sense of entitlement are unacceptable as well.

The other day, we talked about the first 5 tips. Here are the final 5 tips to help teens show more gratitude:

6. Introduce the Gratitude List. Get your family in the habit of using a gratitude list. This can be done in 2 ways. One was it to go around the table each night and have each person express why they’re grateful that day. This allows others to hear “the good news” and also put children and teens in a positive frame of mind. You can also choose to do this before bed—just allow it to become a habit. If it’s simply something your family does, it will become quite natural. You can also introduce the act of gratitude journaling. Encourage your teen to write down all the things he’s thankful for and the things that can help him overcome his challenges. You can make this a family affair by encouraging everyone to journal with gratitude. Studies show that people who keep gratitude journals feel better about their lives as a whole, were more optimistic, and less stressed.

7. Give them responsibilities. When teens take on more and more responsibilities, they begin to learn what it takes to run a successful household, how fortunate they are to have the help they have, and how it feels to give back to the people they love. Since your teen is preparing for adulthood, it’s very important that s/he is given chores. To get more buy in and enthusiasm, try asking your teen for input on chores that s/he is interested in doing and that can be done within an agreed upon time table. Then teach him how to do it correctly. Not only does it make things easier for a parent, but can even provide some quality time in which parents, teens, and children can work side by side, joke around, and communicate. Be sure to praise them for a job well done, and show appreciation when they perform extra work. It will make them feel valued and worthwhile—and more likely to help out more around the house.

8. Just as there are responsibilities, your teen should also have privileges. It can’t be “all work and no play.” Allow him to hang out with friends, go to the movies, or simply have time by himself. This will allow him to be more grateful for his downtime and let him know that you, as a parent, trust him, and appreciate his daily efforts.

9. Introduce the Thank You Box. Identify a box that the entire family can use to place in their weekly wishes and requests, at the beginning of the week. These wishes are stated as: “Thank you for …” whatever it is they wish for the week. The wishes would typically be small things that would make life easier for another person in the family. However, sometimes, wishes might be more grandiose and fun. For example “Thank you, Dad, for taking me to see the Super Bowl.” or “Thank you, John, for cleaning your room.” At the end of the week, the family takes a look at the wishes that were granted, and then give thanks for them. Those that were not granted remain in the box until granted or until the person who requested for it feels no desire to continue with the wish. This will make each family member appreciate one another, and provide a venue for family bonding.

10. Encourage service: When children, teens, and adults help others, gratitude blossoms. On the one hand, people who do charity or help others who are less fortunate, can see how fortunate they really are to have many gifts and blessings in their lives. For example, working with children who have disabilities reminds teens to be grateful for the abilities they have. Working with the blind helps teens to remember how blessed they are to see. On the other hand, service gives you the warm, fuzzy feeling one only gets when they help others. Teens can be grateful for feeling useful and making a difference. Imagine how grateful one would feel when a child in the Special Olympics tells their teen helper; “I couldn’t have done it with out you.” It may seem counterintuitive, but service breeds gratitude.

Note: Make sure that words of gratitude and expressions of love are heard and performed daily. Everyone likes to be appreciated; a hug when she comes home from school, a goodnight kiss, or a simple “thank you” for dinner. Be generous in giving your thanks for your teens’ efforts.

Remember: Gratitude is the attitude of being thankful and attitude is very much influenced by an individual’s environment. You don’t have to have a lot to have abundant gratitude. Though our teens may not acknowledge it, you, their parents are a very important influence in their lives. As we all know, no amount of words will instill in them the values we wish them to have–unless they see those values in us. Consciously and unconsciously, what they see in us everyday will be reflected in their daily lives.

Warm wishes-

10 Ways to Help Your Child Tackle Any Problem

Dr. Robyn’s Powerful Parenting Blog will be featuring some articles from guest bloggers, including some young bloggers who are still in their teens or early 20s. These bloggers are particularly helpful because they provide us with an “inside look” when it comes to the world of young people.

Today, we’d like to thank young and candid guest blogger, Vanessa Van Petten, for providing the Powerful Words Family with some helpful advice on how parents can help their children and teens tackle any problem. I was honored to write a guest blog for Vanessa, in the past.

10 Ways to Help Your Child Tackle Any Problem

Learning how to approach a problem or a big project is a life skill that I think many adults do not ever learn how to do (I am still learning).

Recently, I have been working with a lot of teens on how to approach and get through their big school projects. I realized there was a system to approaching all of their issues, whether it was a science fair project, a history report, and, in one case, planning the school prom.

Here are 10 ideas you can use, and what you can teach your child as they start to deal with bigger issues in their lives.

1) Find a Starting Point: Half of the battle is finding a starting point, so before they worry about the whole project, have them focus on the first step. Ask them what they are most worried about and if they can get that done first, then explain to them that as long as they get started on something it will be very easy to get the ball rolling. If they are doing some sort of writing assignment, try a ‘mental vomit’ where you ask your child to just start writing everything they can think of about their topic on the page—this seemingly informal and fun exercise actually really helps get the juices flowing.

2) Break It Into Pieces: Teens and kids especially get overwhelmed–usually to tears, when there is a looming project that feels like mountains of work. I always make the first step to actually break the project into pieces of steps. Make sure they understand that they should only think about one step at a time, if they concentrate fully on what they are doing and not worry about getting all done, they will do much better work.

3) Write Out a Plan: Writing out each of the parts of the project, as well as how much you plan on doing each day, is very calming and a good way to organize your thoughts. This will also help them not worry about each step so much, you can say to them: “We have it all planned out already, so do not worry about not having enough time, just focus on what you are doing right now.”

4) Learn Your Limits: When I teach time management, one of the biggest issues I face is teaching kids how to know their limits. Maybe they want to study and memorize all of chapter one on Saturday…but can they? I ask them to think about waking up on Saturday with that huge slate of work, will they really be able to do it, or is it too intimidating? Sometimes it goes the other way–too little work for a certain day so the last day before the test/project/event they have to pull an all-nighter.

5) Schedule in Breaks: How can anyone get anything done without taking a few breathers. I always make a schedule and plan in a lunch out, time to workout etc. Tell them that scheduling in and taking breaks is just as important as getting the project done…if you take breaks you will get it done better! Make sure to take breaks with them so they really feel like they are getting out of the school work. Help them take fun breaks by taking them out for ice cream, playing outside or even taking the dog for a walk.

6) Teach How to Take Breaks: Ok, maybe this is just me. But, when I was approaching finals, or when I have a lot of work to do on my blog. I plan in breaks like “wash dishes, vacuum apartment, call mom” etc. These breaks are not real breaks. Make sure you have them take breaks that are really fun and give their mind a rest. When I say ‘give their mind a rest’ I really mean have them do something that is totally different from what they are working on, if they are doing an art project let them play video games, if they are writing a paper, let them help you make dinner.

7) Getting Over A Block: If you get writers block or cannot get inspired, teach your kids to take a walk outside, leave the house, play a game or do something totally different to get inspired. Sometimes taking a step back is the best way to see the whole picture and get inspired. Another way to get over a block is to talk it out. Let them talk to you or a sibling to figure out why they are stumped, you would be surprised how inspiring younger siblings can be in their simplistic approaches!

8) Sleep Is the Best: To do good work and to concentrate, you must schedule in sleep time when dealing with a big issue. It can also be a great time to get over writers block or a fear of failure. On days when they have a lot of work or finals coming up, make the whole house go to sleep early so your working child does not feel left out. If you can move any dinners earlier maybe this is a good option for getting them to sleep earlier. Never, ever sacrifice sleep for work, your child is better off learning to make things shorter and take care of their health than pulling an all-nighter.

9) Context and Priority: It is always important to take a step back and realize before you stress, how important this project is in the scheme of your life. I also try to emphasize the idea of priorities. Especially when I am focusing on the details (like font or color). Is the font what is important here, or is getting it done on-time more crucial at this point? Kids especially focus a lot on little details of an art project or will spend two hours on the cover of a book report when that is not even graded—be sure to talk to them about this habit.

10) Take a Deep Breath: I often am called in when it is already too late to plan or take breaks. In that case, it is important to take a deep breath and approach the problem calmly and with a level head. Oxygen to the brain and a few deep breathing exercises can calm anyone down to do their best work.

You can do anything and being there for your kids and showing them that you love them and will help them through whatever they are dealing with will help you bond and improve your relationship for later.

Dream big, work hard and you will get there,


Vanessa Van Petten is the teen author of the book “You’re Grounded!”—a parenting book from a young perspective. She keeps an active blog for parents who want to know what their kids are really doing online, at High School parties or when parents are looking the other way. Her candid and young perspective, as well her constant survey of resources and updates about this generation of young people are a treasure trove for parents.

Please check out the rest of Vanessa’s articles for parents!