Do People Still Help One Another? Compassion Wrap Up with Dr. Robyn

Friday Musings: An Opinion Piece by Dr. Robyn Silverman

There are times when you have a bag in each hand, a box on your head, and your keys dangling from your mouth and nobody would think to help you. We’re just not in the land of compassion. People are self-centered—listening to their i-pods, playing with their blackberries, and tuning into their favorite radio station, W.I.F.M. (What’s in It For Me).

So you can imagine how struck I was the other day when I was at an organic food market and people were actually helpful. Now I know what you’re thinking, “that’s their job,” but it’s a lot of people’s jobs to be helpful and you and I know that most of the time, they’re not.

Just think for a moment about the people on the other end of just about any service call, insurance inquiry, or typical grocery store check-out. Standing on line at my typical grocery store can take three times longer than it should since Mary is shouting over to the next check-out station, “Hey Ashley, “whatcha doing now?” instead of ringing in the one box of Coco Puffs that the woman is attempting to buy in front of me.

Anyway, back to the organic food store. It wasn’t anything that was that big of a deal. But I think that’s why it made such an impression on me. Two tired women were pushing baby carriages with one hand while they carried their lunches (salads and a soup balanced on top) in the other.

I pulled up behind them just as they were navigating towards the cashiers– when a thin, bearded man swooped in from what seemed like a secret side door, and approached the women. He asked, “Can I take those to the cashiers for you, ladies?” Given the “every man for himself” treatment in the typical grocery store, you can imagine how shocked they were. And I was too.

This “Compassion Concierge” of sorts, took their lunches and brought them directly to the shortest line, placed the lunches on the conveyer belt, and asked the ladies if there was anything else he could do for them. Would they need some help getting the food out to the car? Did they need any other groceries that he could run and bring them while they waited on line to pay for their lunches?

Holy Moly. It really made an impression on me. It wasn’t this man’s “job” to make things easier for these ladies. How many times do we hear, “it’s not my job” as an excuse for why people can’t be more helpful? He saw a need and he reacted. Can you imagine if all of us reacted in the same way with people in our communities?

So the next time I walked into the store, I found the helpful man. It turns out that his name is Buck. I told him how much I appreciated how he went the extra mile. Thats when he told me; “I’m team leader here at our store. I don’t just think it’s important to react in these ways for the customers– but also for the young people who are watching me to see what they should be doing.” Buck is a smart man.

Now that we’re wrapping up compassion month, we know that nobody’s looking for heroics. We’ve all heard it before–small acts of kindness can make such a difference. It takes such a short amount of time and a simple willingness to open one’s eyes and lend a helping hand. This man didn’t get paid anything extra nor did he ask for applause. But I imagine he made the day of two exhausted Mommies who were just so happy to be given a little break from having to do it all. And perhaps he inspired some other young people to be a little more helpful.

As parents, we need to follow Buck’s lead. At this time, why not:

  1. Take the time to recognize someone who goes the extra mile– even when nobody’s looking. Perhaps it’s someone at your Powerful Words Member School– or someone at work– or a young person in the community. When people are recognized for the helpful little things they do, they tend to do even more of them– and they realize that they are indeed helpful to others. That means a great deal
  2. Do something compassionate– show your children that there is indeed a moment to slow down. We often run from one thing to the next– but sometimes, it’s important to take a moment and do a small act of kindness. These are the vital lessons we must teach our children so that they just accept it as a normal part of life.
  3. Ask your family– what compassionate acts have you engaged in this month? Highlight those moments when your children thought of others. Talk about the moments that you slowed down to help someone who needed it and how it made you feel. Find out how your children felt when they helped someone feel better about something– shared with them– gave them a hug. Even a short conversation can make a big impact. It will help you to relay your family values and your children to learn what’s really important.

Have a wonderful weekend-

Liar Liar: 7 Questions that Will Help your Children Choose Right Over Wrong

Is your child telling lies?

By: Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

The Powerful Word of the month for June will be honesty. So to give you a jump on thinking of this very important character concept, let’s bring the point of lying out into the open. After all, lying is very much part of growing up and understanding right from wrong, reality from fantasy and truth from untruth.

When my best friend, Randi, and I were about 7 years old we did something really stupid. It was 4pm on a Wednesday in November and we decided to go for a little stroll. No, not down the street, not around the block, but all the way to the bottom of the hill, aside a highly trafficked road (cars whizzing by at 60 miles per hour) and then back up the opposite side of the hill—only to nonchalantly saunter back towards Randi’s house, feathers sticking out of our mouths having eaten the proverbial canary.

I bet you could imagine how I felt; scared, invigorated, guilty, and triumphant all at the same time. My gut was doing somersaults. While we had never been told NOT to do such a thing, we knew it was wrong and we had gotten away with it. But just as we entered Randi’s house, she walked over to her mother and to my horror, confessed the whole thing. How could she? This was not part of the plan! I can still hear it ringing in my head, “Mommy, you always told me to tell the truth. Robyn and I walked down the hill and across Pleasant Valley Way.”

It would likely not surprise you that my mother was furious when she learned of the news. All I can remember her asking was, “what were you thinking???”

What was I thinking? I am sure I was hoping that I would get away with it. I am certain I was thinking it would be something fun to do. And I am quite positive that I was eager to fully avoid the amount of trouble that currently awaited me. And there was no question that I was in a lot.

Perhaps you’re conjuring up memories of the day that you or your child made one of those very bad choices. As parents, we always want our children to choose the safest and best decisions. When we are with them, we can ensure that it usually happens that way. When we aren’t, we leave it in their hands. This is why so many parents can’t sleep at nights even though we’re all so tired, right?

We must arm our children with some Powerful Questions that can help them to choose right over wrong.

(1) What is the voice inside my gut telling me to do? Teaching children to listen to their gut is a very important skill. Our bodies often tell us what our minds our try to disguise. If your child chooses right or wrong, ask them, what made you make that choice? What was your gut telling you to do? What will you do next time?

(2) Could I look my parents/friend/teacher in the eye after I do it? We often know when our children are lying because they can not look us in the eye. Helping your children to understand that answering “no” to this question is a sign that they may be on the verge of making a poor choice.

(3) Could I look at myself in the mirror after I do it? This is really the crux of it, isn’t it? In fact, this is the way my own mother explained the meaning of integrity to me. If our children feel that they could not look at their own selves in the mirror after making this choice and be proud of what they did, they should take it as a warning that the impending choice could bring them a feeling of regret or shame.

(4) Would I do this behavior whether someone was watching me or not? In my opinion, the definition of good character is choosing to do the right thing whether all eyes are on you or all eyes are looking away. If your child can not answer “yes” to both scenarios, then she should probably not be doing it.

(5) Does the end justify the means? This can be a tough concept for children. After all, if they want an A on their book report and get an A on their book report that should be a good thing, right? Yes, accept when that A is achieved through dishonest means such as cheating. Sometimes, children have trouble remembering that parents actually care more about effort and character than about their child being the very best regardless of the cost. We must be patient and clear up this confusion so that children will choose “right” over “best” when faced with a question of integrity.

(6) Am I doing this because it is right or because it is popular? We have all heard of peer pressure. This phenomenon can happen on a variety of levels. Think of the child who argues that his friend, who clearly lost the race, crossed the finish line first. In this case, the child succumbs to the rules of friendship over the rules of fairness and integrity. We also see it when the child chooses to climb the fence because his friends are doing it rather than because he desires to do it himself. Either way, he is letting the popular thing get in the way of doing the right thing. We must teach our children not to allow popularity to cloud our judgment because in the end, the truth always comes out.

(7) Am I being who I am or am I being who others want me to be? This question coincides with number 6. We want our children to be themselves. When they alter their thoughts, actions, appearance, or choices because others want it that way, they are doing a major disservice to themselves and others. On the one hand, they are not allowing others to get to know the real individual behind the farce. On the other hand, they are building their friendships on a lie. As Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, wrote, “If you live your life trying to please others, half the people will like you and half won’t. And if you live your life according to your own truth, half the people will like you and half won’t.” The underlying question it brings up—which half do you want as friends—those who like you for who you actually are or the person you are pretending to be?

As we know, mistakes will happen. If we use those mistakes to help our children make better choices next time, we will be strengthening their integrity. In the end, we are cultivating future leaders. And I imagine, as Powerful Parents, you would agree, that we want our future leaders to base their decisions on well-instilled values and principles rather than what is fast, popular, and self-serving.

This article was originally printed in the award-winning Bay State Parent Magazine.

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman is a child and adolescent development specialist whose programs and services are used by top educational facilities worldwide. She is also a success coach for parents and business leaders across the United States and Canada who are looking to achieve their goals, improve their lives or improve the lives of others. She presents to organizations, schools, and parents groups around the world on topics related to building character, leadership, communication, social networking and confidence. Interested in doing some coaching with Dr. Robyn or having Dr. Robyn present a seminar at your child’s school or at your business? Go to for more information.

Raising Healthy Kids: 7 Ways to Get Children to Eat A Healthy Lunch

Parents: Could getting your child involved in making lunch simply end up creating a mess of unappetizing foods not even appealing to a hungry dog? It doesn’t have to be! (Enjoy this short piece of nostalgia on Lilly Tomlin’s Edith Ann, creating her lunch masterpiece from Sesame Street, above.)

Since the article on vending machines and poor eating in schools , I’ve received some questions from parents who want to know about how to get their children to eat a better lunch while at school.

No, I’m not a proponent of bribing or threatening children to eat lunch and I’m certainly not a fan of the whole “clean your plate club” way of thinking. But there are some ways that make it more likely that your children will eat a healthy, nourishing lunch.

I know, it’s sometimes hard enough to get children to eat healthy, nutritious foods while their at home—how are you supposed to help them choose healthy foods while they’re in school? And all the competition with processed, colorful Lunchables, overly sweetened juices, frosted pop tarts, and imitation pressed fruit in the shapes of animals and cartoons—what carrot stick and whole wheat bread sandwich is going to stack up?

The truth is, while you may not always be able to choose what they eat that day, you may be able to influence what choices they have to choose from!

Here’s some ways to get started:

(1) Get the children involved in the weekly menu: When children get to choose what they’re going to eat, they are much more likely to eat it. If they can accompany you to the grocery store, that would be a great start. Have a farmer’s market or farm stand nearby? Going together would be a gift. However, if you’re strapped for time, pull up a chair and have a weekly meeting with your children about what they’d like to eat that week. For young children, give them a few choices to choose from so that they don’t get overwhelmed. Have them choose which protein, veggie, fruit, carb, and desert or snack they’ll have in their bag each day of the week. Post up their choices on a sheet with their name on it so that everyone can see it. Get them excited about the good choices they’ve made and praise them for taking care of their body. This will certainly help them to feel powerful!

(2) Keep it interesting: You can expand on your children’s choices and introduce them to things they may not have tried before. My brothers used to love cereals when they were little. Mom got creative and made “Mom’s Magical Mixed Up Cereal” that was comprised of little bits of this cereal and that. While it was comprised to make use of small bits of leftovers in several boxes, you can do the same to up the nutritional content and fun factor. Also, offer alternatives. If they ask for candy or chocolate for their snack, you can offer a great alternative like a trailmix or a homemade granola that the two of you make together with coconut, oats, nuts, and chocolate chips. If they like fruit, offer it dried, sauced, whole, or baked. If they like sandwiches, offer bagels, crackers, wraps, or special breads you can make together one weekend in your kitchen or bread maker. Why not?

(3) Don’t forget about last night’s dinner: I was never much of a lunch person when I was little. I like hot food much better than wilted salads and lunch meats. So Mom often packed me little bits of “last night’s dinner” and tended to make extra when we were having chicken cutlets or soups. My favorite lunch was always soup in a thermos. It was always hot and predictable and never got smooshed or soggy. Take a look at what healthy foods your child really likes and see how you can give it to him for lunch.

(4) Make food fun: Lunch is a social time for children and “best friends” for a day can be made over who gives who a piece of their watermelon. In first grade I remember Jenny Colona told me she’d be my “very best friend” if I traded her a pretzel for a potato chip. Anyway, it may not seem important to you, but it’s important to them. After all, socialization, negotiation, and sharing are an important part of growing up. Cut sandwiches into fun shapes and sections. Put in a bunch of sharable baby carrots, raisins, or animal crackers. Provide finger foods like cut up fruit, “baby sandwiches” and wheel-shaped pasta salads. Construct a “make your own” taco or pizza so that your children can put together their own concoction (while you still know that the food isn’t processed and fake). Give them things to dunk and dip, roll, or smoosh together.

(5) A little can go a long way: I mean this is 2 ways. First, many children don’t eat a whole lot at lunch. Don’t overwhelm them with huge servings. Instead, give them little things that are nutritious and fun. Secondly, you may not want them snacking on huge donuts and candy bars, but you can provide them with a carefully chosen small sweet that will keep them from eying their friend’s HoHo.

(6) Get them to help pack the lunch: Again, when children are involved, they take more ownership and are more likely to eat what’s packed. Get them to scoop their trail mix into a container or help you cut out stars and hearts into their sandwiches. Get them to get the peanut butter out of the fridge and pick which fruit they want to go into their fruit salad for lunch. If they want fruit and Jell-O, have them help you make it.

(7) Provide them with some love: Let your kids know you’re thinking about them even when they’re at school. You can slip a note of love into their lunch box and tell them what special thing you’re going to do after school. You can put a holiday card or special sticker in there on Valentine’s Day or the first day of spring. Why not put a funny joke in their lunch box or little cartoon? Your child will love you for it!

It takes some imagination and at first, some additional time, however, it’s certainly worth it. It allows your children to get the nutrition they need to pay attention in school and feel their best. And of course, that give all of us piece of mind.

Modeling Compassion for Children: 4 Easy Hands-On Examples

We often hear that parents must serve as role models for their children. “Monkey See, Monkey Do.” Since the Powerful Word of the month is compassion for all Powerful Words Member Schools, it’s a great time to demonstrate ways to be compassionate at home. After all, when you show kindness, your children will learn kindness, and demonstrate kindness. When you show intolerance, impatience, and injustice, they will learn to behave in the same ways.

Here are some hands-on ways to understand how to pass on the ability to be empathic and compassionate to your children.

1. Compassion for Other Family Members

Scenario: It’s the weekend. Mom and Dad have been doing chores all day long. Both are tired. When they decide to call it quits for the day, Mom offers Dad something cold to drink and they sit together on the couch. Dad massages Mom’s feet after a long day.

Effect: Little Matt sees that both Mom and Dad feel for and understand each other. Little Matt learns what empathy and compassion look like. He also sees the positive effects such kindness has on others.

Teaching Moment: Talk to Matt about the importance of showing compassion to others in the family. Even if you’re tired or even if you’re a child, you can still show kindness is easy, helpful ways. These acts of kindness make people feel good inside– both the receiver and the giver!

Participation: Let Little Matt bring a cookie for Dad or let him massage Mom’s fingers.

These little ways of contributing to others will send the signal to Little Matt that he can make others feel good by showing compassion.

2. Compassion for Animals

Having pets in the home is a great way to teach children compassion.

Scenario: Polly the cockatoo is making a raucous in her stand. Mom checks her out, sees the seed bin empty, and the water cup empty. Mom cleans the containers, places some seeds and pours fresh water.

Effect: Little Matt understands that if pets need and deserve attention.

Learning moment: Explain to Little Matt that the bird became noisy because it couldn’t fend for itself and she was hungry. Just like when he was a little baby, and he was hungry, he would cry. Mom treats Polly as a member of the family who needs caring, Little Matt would treat Polly in the same way.

Participation: Assign Matt to be the “listener” for Polly’s cries or the “food checker” every other day. When able, he can put seeds and pour water into the container.

3. Compassion for Playmates

Scenario: While playing in your backyard, Little Matt’s friend, Tommy, bruises his knee and starts crying. Mom washes his bruises, blowing to keep the pain away, and placing antiseptic to make sure the bruise doesn’t get infected. All this time, Mom explains to Matt what she is doing.

Effect: Little Matt sees the pain in his friend and sees Mom try her best to take the pain away. Again, Little Matt learns empathy and compassion.

Learning Moment: When our friends get hurt, we need to stop what we’re doing and take care of the. That means helping them when they trip or getting an adult when they need some extra assistance.

Participation: Let Little Matt join in blowing the pain away. He can also get the band-aid out of the cabinet or the cotton-ball out of the container.

4. Compassion for Others

Scenario: One of the local charities called and they’re doing a big clothing drive. Mom and Dad start putting their old or unworn clothes into bags and marking them “Charity.” Matt’s Mom explains what she’s doing. Matt’s Dad tells his son that the clothes are going to people who need clothes but are unable to buy them.

Effect: Little Matt sees that his parents participate in giving to charity. He will likely want to join in and help the people in need as well.

Learning Moment: Matt’s parents teach him that there are many children that rely on nice little boys and girls for toys, clothes, and household goods. While he may not like his Sesame Street Comforter Set anymore and he may not read his “board books” anymore, other little boys and girls may love them! What can he give away to help others?

Participation: Matt can put his clothes from last year that he no longer wears, into a bag for charity. His parents tell him that his clothes are going to other little boys who will love everything Matt gives to them! They will be thinking, “thank you, Matt!”

Note: Many of our Powerful Words Member Schools do great charity drives in August! We’d love to have you join in and donate your unwanted clothes and household items!

Each time we take a moment to include our children in the process of giving to others and showing compassion to others, they learn valuable lessons about kindness and empathy that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Start early—start today!

Fast and Furious: Is the “Quick” and “Convenient” Food Offered at Your Children’s School Killing them?

As we’ve covered in the past, A 2001 Harvard School of Public Health study found that for each soda or juice drink a child drinks a day, the child’s odds of becoming overweight increase 1.6 times.

Two angry Moms, Amy Kalafa and Susan Rubin, would be horrified. With their documentary, they’ve been trying to make headway with the schools with regard to changing their food plans and vending machines over to providing healthier options.

There are some success stories but as highlighted by the Washington Post this morning, there are also many schools that are failing or flailing as they try to balance what children want, what is feasible within their budgets, and what is actually good for the children and teens to consume.

Consequently, many teens are not making healthy choices.

Flores smooths her bills against the machine and tries once more. Out falls her meal — 530 calories and 25 grams of fat, or French Onion Sun Chips and Linden’s big fudge chip cookies. Ka-ching. Ka-ching. Ka-ching.

“I wouldn’t call it lunch,” she said as she gathered her change of 75 cents. “I know it’s not healthy, but it’s not like they’re selling fruits.”

So while the airwaves are flooded with people crying “obesity!” and “unhealthy children!” and many of our children are suffering from poor body image since we’re stressing dieting and appearance over eating healthy foods and exercising, here many of our school stand, providing sub par food choices to our children. So much for feeding the mind and bodies of our kids. Vending machines may be considered the enemy, but they are our children’s schoolmates for about 8 or more hours everyday.

To students, the machines are often an alternative to long lunch lines and sometimes unappetizing food.

We’ve done such a poor job for so long that schools feel that they must “phase in” good foods slowly so not to “shock” the children.

Bladensburg’s vending machines are more healthful than most, and fewer than half the school’s 2,100 students buy snacks and sodas from the machines on a typical day. Rice Krispies Treats (150 calories, 3.5 grams of fat) are an improvement from Snickers bars (280 calories, 14 grams of fat). Baked chips have replaced fried.

Yes. But can we call it lunch? And while Rice Krispy Treats are “better” where is the nutrition? I mean, it’s seems like where comparing unfiltered cigarettes to filtered ones—one might not be as bad but they’re still all bad for you.

Problems kids are citing that lead them to the vending machines:

(1) Long lunch lines

(2) Unappetizing lunch options

(3) Lunch is too close to breakfast (often just an hour and a half after the kids arrive)

What about “cheaper?”


For a $1.85 school lunch, these students could gobble up pizza, collard greens, fresh fruit and calcium-fortified juice. Instead, many are spending $2 to $3 on vending goods.

Chef Anne Cooper, famous “lunch lady” revolutionizing school lunch in Berkley, California (and sister to Powerful Words Mom and friend, Ruth Cooper and Aunt to Powerful Words student Abby!), recommends:

  • Children ages 6-9 should aim for 4-7 servings daily
  • Children ages 10-14 should aim for 5-8 servings daily
  • Teens ages 14-18 should aim for 6-9 servings daily

And no, the Rice Krispy Treats DO NOT constitute a whole grain!

As well as:

  • 4-9 servings daily of veggies
  • 3-5 servings daily of fruits
  • 2-3 servings daily of calcium-rich foods/drinks
  • 2-3 servings daily of lean proteins
  • 3-4 servings daily of healthy fats
  • 2-3 servings per week of red meat at most due to it’s high saturated fat
  • Added sugars and fats should be eaten rarely
  • 8 glasses of water

So what are we fighting against?

Top Vending Machine Sales, according to Automatic Merchandiser

1. Snickers

2. Doritos Big Grab

3. Peanut M&Ms

4. Cheetos Crunchy

5. Cheez-It Original

Read the full list.

So what are we supposed to do?

We can’t get the manufacturers to stop making the junk food. And in our rush-around lifestyle, we still need convenience.

(1) We can educate our schools and form a committee to help choose good foods for your children’s schools

(2) We can screen the movie “Two Angry Moms” in your area to educate the community. Yes, you can too! Powerful Parent Media Expert and Correspondant, Amy Jussel of Shaping Youth, is doing just that in San Francisco!

(3) Get your children into after-school programs that provide exercise. Powerful Words schools have excellent physical programs. If you need a recommendation of a school near you, please contact us.

(4) Brainstorm new options that provide healthy options for the children in fun, creative, and modern ways.

According to an interview with Risa Lavisso- Mourey, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (an organization devoted to healthcare in America):

I’m not in favor of going back to the 50s or 60s. We’re not going to solve this problem by taking a “retro-view” We’ve got to find 21st century solutions to how you can re-engineer activity back into the very busy schedules we all have—re-engineer making healthy choices and eating healthy and being able to do it in a quick, accessible way that fits the environment and lifestyles that people have now. Risa Lavisso- Mourey

She would like to see a society in which:

(1) Restaurants allow you to see the nutritional information with regard to what you’re choosing to put into your body. Nutritional information should be available, accessible, and displayed readily.

(2) Schools guarantee healthy, nutritional guidelines are met for breakfast, lunch, and after-school.

(3) Exercise is encouraged and engaged in everyday. Providing creative ways for children to have 30-60 minutes of physical activity everyday is essential in schools and after school programs.

As adults, we are the ones who create the environment for our kids. We do have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure it’s as good or an environment as we know how to create.

–Risa Lavisso- Mourey

Would you like to see Risa Lavisso- Mourey’s complete 5 minute interview? See it here.

Let’s hear it from the boy:

Noah Horn, age 12, didn’t care about eating healthy or exercising until his father dies of a massive heart attack when Noah was in kindergarten. Noah connects his father’s sudden death to his unhealthy lifestyle, weight, diet, and lack of exercise. Amazingly, Noah made a conscious decision not to follow in his father’s footsteps—a path he had been taking until his father’s unexpected passing.

He tells the Washington Post:

“If I’m not exercising or eating the right foods, then I might end of like him. I might get heart disease, have a heart attack and die. So after that I decided to eating healthy and exercising more.

He made small switches:

(1) Ritz crackers to… wheat crackers

(2) Ice-cream to… frozen yogurt or sherbert

(3) Deep fried chicken to…”regular” baked chicken

(4) Almost no exercise to…trying to exercise everyday (even if just walking)

While Noah still needs to work on his cholesterol and he understands why eating foods with a lot of cholesterol is unhealthy and can be life threatening, as with his father. But a very high price needed to be paid.

“I’m not glad that he died but I am glad in a way because if he didn’t die then I wouldn’t be healthy.”

And while you might be pondering if Noah feels like his choices have been taken from him or he is no longer in control, hear this:

What makes Noah feel powerful?

“It makes me feel powerful that I’m winning over the bad cholesterol. I’m the winner over not exercising and eating bad foods. I am the winner. It makes me feel very powerful.”

It’s time to make some switches. Get your children on board and discuss some changes, even small ones that you can make today. What’s one thing that your children and your family can do today that could make a difference? Our children’s future is dependent upon it.

Note: For more great information on this specific topic, check out Shaping Youth’s article, featuring additional research and a helpful interview with YoNaturals.

Just say no…later…to Drugs: Have Teens Gone Mad or Are Adults Sending Mixed Messages?

Friday Musings: An Opinion Piece by Dr. Robyn Silverman

Hold onto your tempers and excuse my temporary sarcasm. The last few weeks offer a bumpy, pot-hole infested ride.

Recently, it seems that free speech has been taken to the limit but at the same time, convoluted messages are being sent and practiced all over the US. My mind is swimming with a number of stories in the last few weeks that have made me say “What? Have we all gone mad?” as others are questioning if it’s MADD that has gone loco.

New meaning to the term “high schoolers”

So, first there was the story of the 15 year old girl, Heather McCurry, who thought it would be a great fundraising project (the young entrepreneur wanted to buy a laptop) to sell pot brownies to students at her school.

Another student had helped to expose the misguided McCurry, when she went to the nurse complaining of a racing heart.

“We get that type of idea that maybe someone is under the influence we act immediately. We know that students do not learn well under the influence. We will take every step we can to make sure that doesn’t happen in our schools,” said Barbara Gideon, Pflugerville ISD.

The law may teach the lesson: McCurry faces felony charges of selling drugs to a child—a crime that carries a punishment of two to 20 years in jail and a fine up to $10,000.

Where could she get such an idea? Oh, yes of course, the recipe is on the web for any child to see.

And yes, it happened in Ohio as well!

A high school class trip was cut short when a boy got sick. The student had eaten a brownie laced with pot.

“We’re saddened that some students acted inappropriately, and we’ll deal with it according to our school policy,” Spano said.

School administrators were interviewing students and conducting an investigation, she said, adding the police liaison officer probably would be involved.

Juxtaposition: No wonder why children are getting mixed messages

A self-published children’s book about parents smoking pot has been all over the airwaves and press. The book, filled with colorful child-friendly pictures and text talks about how smoking marijuana is a harmless activity adults do. Hey—as it says in the book, “even presidents do it,” an obvious reference to Bill Clinton’s admission—although, of course, he didn’t inhale.

The story is about a child named Jackie. Jackie catches her parents smoking a joint (“just a plant,” mind you) in their bedroom after detecting a skunky smell when trying to nod off to sleep one night. Jackie’s mother then takes her on an adventure where she can talk to other people who also grow, endorse, or smoke pot for grown-ups.

In a similar spirit of the self-published plastic surgery book, “My Beautiful Mommy,” the website for “It’s Just a Plant” claims that this book on smoking pot is “for all parents” to read to their children. Right. Just like Everybody Poops.

Here’s an excerpt;

“What do you do with the flowers?” asked Jackie.

“My friends eat them,” said Bob, “and smoke ‘em.”

“They smoke flowers?!”

“Yep. Doctors, teachers, artists, actors, even mayors and presidents. Marijuana makes some people feel happy. Other people say it’s ‘dreamy…’”

The author believes that educating children in this way is our best defense against children smoking pot when young—he shows parents smoking pot in the house and telling children that they can choose whether to smoke pot when they’re older is their prerogative. So just for good measure let me add…

Studies on the effects of cigarette smoking have shown that:

parental actions, attitudes, and opinions about smoking have a great deal of influence on whether or not kids smoke. A recent study found that parental anti-smoking actions such as having restrictions about smoking in the home in place or sitting in non-smoking sections of restaurants are associated with reductions in children’s smoking.

Just poking a few holes in the crock pot.

Mixed Bag O’ Messages from our recent pot stories:

(1) First odd message: With regard to the pot book- Pot is good and good for many people—many powerful and interesting people do it– but can’t have it. Ha, ha! Yes, that message works well with children, don’t you think?

(2) Second odd message: Pot brownies in Texas carry a much more strict punishment protocol than in Ohio. What’s the protocol elsewhere?

(3) Third odd message: From our first pot brownie story in Texas; pot brownies are bad because they’re not conducive to good learning. Yes, that’s the real problem here.

(4) Fourth odd message: While smoking in the house is linked with children smoking at a young age, smoking a joint in the house can’t possibly do the same thing. Where would we get such strange idea? Oh yes, research. Years and years of smoking research.

Now, as far as the little pot book that can is concerned, you may just chalk it up to freedom of speech. But can you? Let’s throw another story at you that might say that freedom of speech may not be tolerated…

High Schoolers Booted from Prom and Graduation due to Prank T-Shirt

Fifty students from a high school in Michigan were suspended for wearing t-shirts that commemorate drinking and Michigan’s legal alcohol limit. The shirts read, “Puschin’ It To The Limit. Class Of .08 Seniors.”

The “School Spirit Week” prank, albeit incredibly foolish, went array when school officials suspended the students and took away prom and graduation privileges.

“We have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to alcohol.”

Wearing shirts that shock during senior week is apparently a tradition at the school. Such decisive action was never taken in the past. Students were wondering why the new standard were enforced now.

Well, actually, it’s not. Whoops!

Students were kept from attending an honors ceremony on Thursday but their rights to attend prom and graduation may be reversed if they maintain “good behavior” and complete an essay on underage drinking.

One parent was quoted as saying:

Dawn Lewis, 47, said she discussed Archibald’s e-mail with her 11th-grade daughter. Lewis said it would have been more reasonable to punish the person who was behind the shirts, rather than penalize nearly 10 percent of the senior class. “They’re kids. What are you going to do?” Lewis said.

Mixed bag O’ Messages?

(1) First odd message: Empty threats (withholding prom and graduation privileges and then not following through) work well with teens. Very well done, Principal Archibald.

(2) Second odd message: If your child does something stupid, blame the person who came up with the idea, not anyone else. Perhaps an interesting proposition for those who are dealing with the girls who were beating up their victim on YouTube?

(3) Third odd message: Someone can write a children’s book touting the many benefits of smoking pot (an illegal activity) and call it “free speech” but teens wearing t-shirts that celebrate drinking (an illegal activity for teens) get expelled. Mind you, I’m not advocating for those ridiculous t-shirts, am against teen drinking and I don’t drink myself, but you have to admit the message is warped if you think about it from the teen perspective.

Perhaps you can imagine why my mind is swimming. It’s hard for children and teens to understand that drugs are bad and good at the same time and punishable harshly in some places but not in others—and illegal but parents and presidents are doing them. It’s confusing to tell children and teens that they have free speech depending on what it is they want to say, punish them, and then not follow through.

The next time we have children and teens doing dumb things, let’s take a look at the odd messages were sending. What part do adults have in creating this picture? And who should take responsibility?

Love to hear your thoughts.

Earthquake Response: How to help children cope when a disaster strikes

photo from: MSNBC: XINHUA via AFP- Getty Images

The tragic earthquake may have occurred in China, but it has rocked the whole world. Especially due to the very high death toll and the percentage of children lost in the disaster, hearts around the world are heavy.

Whenever a worldwide tragedy occurs, children look to their parents to make sense of it all. They may be wondering to themselves, will this happen to us? Is our family safe? Is our school safe? And the even more elusive, why did this happen?

It’s normal for children, just like parents and educators, to feel confused and scared. And even though many parents may shield their children from the news, information can easily seep out through friends and the media. It’s important for parents and educators to be available and ready.

Here are some things to remember:

(1) Stay calm: Children are looking to you to see how to react. By staying calm and in control, children will feel more safe and secure.

(2) Be available: Your children may need you to simply “be there” to listen or sit with them. Sometimes the most powerful parenting takes place when we say nothing at all.

(3) Reassure them: Make sure that the children know that the adults are taking care of the problem and working hard to take care of the people who are hurt or lost.

(4) Let them know that they’re safe: If you know that your children and your family members are indeed safe, be sure to let your children know. If this is not accurate information and safety is still in question, don’t lie. Reassure your children that the adults in charge are doing everything they can do to keep everyone as safe as possible.

(5) Comfort them: Allow them to cry, question, and show concern. Don’t shrug them off and tell them to “stop worrying.” This does not help. Tell them it’s OK to be scared or sad and that you’re available to them if they want to talk or just be together.

(6) Be observant: All children won’t express their concern, grief, or fear outwardly. You know your child. Sometimes your child will become very quiet or lose their appetite when something tragic happens. Some children will be more likely to have a reaction—perhaps due to past trauma, special needs, or emotional sensitivity. Be there for your child and know that even if your child is not showing outward signs of grief, s/he may still need your help.

(7) Keep your normal routine: As much as possible, keep your children’s schedule “as usual.” Children are comforted by predictability. However, if your child needs some time with you or isn’t sleeping, be flexible.

(8 ) Be honest: Tell your children the truth about the event, as is appropriate for their developmental level. Children don’t need to know all the gory details—this will only serve to make them more scared and confused. However, don’t pretend or lie. Stick to the facts and don’t exaggerate or speculate. Children are very perceptive and need to know that they can trust you to tell them the truth.

(9) Partner with your children’s school: Find out what resources are available to the children during the school day if they’re feeling scared or unsure. If a personal tragedy happened, make sure the guidance counselor and your child’s teacher knows about it. School can provide your children with comfort by being with friends but also with counseling, as needed.

(10) Limit the media onslaught: The best people to talk to your children about these tragic events are trusted family and educators. Do not allow the media to educate your children about these disasters. The media often talks about high death tolls and shows gruesome pictures that are not developmentally appropriate for children to see. If you want your children to know the facts, as appropriate, talk to them yourself.

Lastly, your children (and you) may feel better by taking action. We’ve been talking about compassion all month in our Powerful Words member schools and this would be a good time to put character into action. In times of tragedy, children may not be able to help directly but they can send letters, draw pictures, write poems, send food or supplies or donate some of their allowance to help relief efforts. This kind of action can be incredibly helpful to your children as well as those who are in need.

For more information on talking to your children go here.

Families in China and those who have lost anyone in this tragedy, we’re praying for you. You’re in our thoughts.

Beyonce’s Sesame Street Walkers: Bootylicious Babes or Pimped Out Preemies?

Welcome to “Girls Gone Wild,” Little Tykes Addition. These ads featuring Dereon Girls clothes might provide a momentary laugh if they came out of an old “dress-up box” or if the girls were doing a mock “Pussy Cat Dolls presents Girlicious” audition. But the idea that they’re aimed for public view is alarming.

Still raw from the Miley Cyrus Mess, people are weighing in and they’re not happy with what they’re seeing.

According to New York Post’s Michelle Malkin,

If you thought the soft-porn image of Disney teen queen Miley Cyrus – wearing nothing but ruby-stained lips and a bedsheet – in Vanity Fair magazine was disturbing, you ain’t seen nothing yet. [The young models] are seductively posed and tarted up, JonBenet Ramsey-style, with lipstick, blush and face powder…The creepiness factor is heightened by the fact that women were responsible for marketing this child exploitation. So, what’s next? Nine-year-olds performing stripper routines?

So why are these sexualized images such a problem?

Media, such as magazine ads, TV, video games, and music videos can have a detrimental effect on children.

Not only has the sexualization of girls and women in the media lead to mounting public concern, researchers continue to find that the images (and sexual objectification) can have a profound affect on the confidence, body image, dieting behaviors, emotional wellbeing and sexual development of girls. Dr Eileen Zurbriggen, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the chair of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls is scrutinizing these issues;

“The consequences of the sexualisation of girls in media today are very real,” said “We have ample evidence to conclude that sexualisation has negative effects in a variety of domains, including cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, and healthy sexual development.”

What do they mean by sexualization?

When researchers speak of sexualization, they’re referring to when a person’s value come from their sexual appeal (looks) or their sexual behavior and when the person is looked upon as a sexual object, to the exclusion of other characteristics such as character, intelligence, and ability.


  • Dolls with pouty lips, mini-skirts, and fish-net stockings aimed at the 4-8 year old market place
  • Thongs marked for young girls ages 7 to 10 years old (some printed with slogans like “eye candy” and “wink wink” on them).
  • Young pop-stars and celebrities dressed provocatively or inappropriately
  • Video games with sexualized images like “Miss Bimbo
  • Cartoon-clad thongs for teens

But are children and teens really that impressionable?

While there hasn’t been a body of work that directly links sexualized images in ads and electronic media to problems in girls, individual studies strongly suggest that a link may be evident when it comes to media and eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression in girls. For example;

  • Adolescent girls who frequently read magazine articles that featured articles about dieting were more likely five years later to engage in extreme weight-loss practices such as vomiting than girls who never read such articles.
  • Middle school girls who read articles about dieting (compared to those who did not read such articles) were twice as likely to try to lose weight 5 years later by fasting or smoking cigarettes. These girls were also three times more likely to use extreme weight loss practices such as taking laxatives or vomiting to lose weight.
  • The average person sees between 400-600 ads per day
  • About 7 of 10 girls say that they want to look like a character on TV
  • After just 10 minutes of exposure, the researchers found that the groups that had watched the music videos with the thin, attractive stars, exhibited the largest increase in body dissatisfaction in comparison to those who simply listed to the songs of completed the memory task with the neutral words. In addition, and perhaps the most troubling, it did not matter whether the girls had high or low self esteem to begin with—they were all equally affected.
  • About 41% of teen girls report that magazines are their most important source of information with regard to dieting and health and 61% of teen girls read at least one fashion magazine often.

But here’s the real deal:

Be vigilant about the media that’s delivered through your mail slot. Be conscious about the messages that are conveyed in your living room. If you don’t like what you see:

(1) Don’t buy it: Beyonce may make the clothes but you make the decisions. Only you can determine what comes through your doors from the mall and what goes out your door to school.

(2) Shut it off: No; you can’t be with your child at all times but it’s important to supervise the media flow into your household. There are plenty of parental locks and internet blocks that can put your in control.

(3) Talk about it: Let your child know your values and why you don’t think what the ads are portraying is a smart choice for her or your family.

(4) Ask questions: You may be surprised by your child’s view of the media. They may be more savvy than you think. Ask what she thinks about what she’s seeing—be present—and listen.

(5) Expose her to positive images: There are several positive role models in the media. However, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (we saw what happened with Miley and Jamie Lynn Spears). Open up your children’s world to actual living, breathing, 3-Dimentional role models in your community so that they can be inspired by something well beyond what they see on TV or in clothing ads.

Some decision-makers might be making fools of themselves by “pimping out” little girls in ads or draping a 15 year old tween queen in a sheet and sending it out to print, but you’re still the parent. Continue to instill values in your young children and they’ll be more likely to focus their attention away from these tween tarts and dolls gone wild and towards more appropriate activities; like playing dress up and watching Sesame Street.

Parent Alienation: Five Ways Parents Can Help Children of Divorce, Part 2

This is a Part 2 of guest blogger and divorce expert, Christina McGhee’s article on Parental Alienation, Children, and Divorce. Part 1 is here.

Parent Alienation, also known as PAS, is often viewed as a black or white issue. It has been my experience that alienation exists on a continuum and often falls in shades of gray. It can range from mild, which includes consistent derogatory remarks, subtly placing children in situations where they are asked to take sides or scheduling activities during the other parent’s scheduled time with a child, to very severe, which involves parents blatantly interfering with contact, rewarding a child’s rejection of the other parent, making abuse allegations or insisting that the other parent is bad, evil or someone to be feared. If PAS is suspected intervention needs to be guided by the assessment of a qualified experienced professional. (From Part 1 of Parental Alienation by Christina McGhee)

What Can Parents Do to Help Their Children?

1. Understand the Dynamics of the Problem: More often that not, parents do not understand the dynamics of PAS until it is too late or the situation has become severe. If you feel that the other parent is making attempts to sabotage your relationship raise your level of awareness and understanding about Parent Alienation. There are several excellent resources online regarding PAS, for more information click here or visit this resource page.

2. Maintain Contact with Children: Do what you can to maintain regular consistent contact with your child. The primary mode of operation for alienating parents is you are either for me or against me. Children learn early on that if they do not side with the alienator, they risk rejection. Having seen how the alienator has dealt with the target parent is a clear and ever present reminder of this. When a parent withdraws from a child’s life or does not maintain consistent contact children are defenseless against the alienation. Not only does it reinforce the alienator perspective, it also does not give children the opportunity to have an alternate perception of reality.

3. Don’t Take the Rejection or Rude Behaviors of Your Children Personally: While your children may be giving you every indication that they don’t want you involved, children still need you. Even if it is not acknowledged, knowing that you care and are available can be incredibly valuable to children dealing with the pressure inflicted by an alienating parent. It may seem like a small consolation but in most cases, children feel more secure in their relationship with the target parent because they do not put the child in a position where they are forced to choose.

4. Get Professional Support: Dealing with parent alienation is a marathon not a sprint. The journey to repair your relationship with your children may be long and often requires an enormous amount of patience and persistence. Seek out professional support to help you manage the stress and emotional drain that parents frequently experience when rejected by a child.

5. Utilize the Legal System When Necessary: When alienation is present, it almost always requires legal intervention. Many parents are reluctant to engage in litigation with the alienator either because they fear making things worse for children or because the family court or a legal professional has minimized the situation. While there are many family lawyers who are educated and knowledgeable about PAS, many still are not. Make sure the lawyer you are working with understands the dynamics of alienation and if necessary seek out an experienced professional to offer case consultation.

While PAS is not present in every situation, the best intervention is prevention. Regardless of the other parent’s actions, engage in positive co-parenting behaviors early on and do what you can to maintain a healthy relationship with your children, so that intervention, even in the early stages, will not be necessary.

Christina McGhee is a respected colleague and expert in divorce and children. She’s got some great tips for families who are going through divorce!

Photo credit: Jupiter Images

Making Sense of Parent Alienation: Misconceptions, Divorce and Children, Part 1

Dr. Robyn’s Powerful Parenting Blog welcomes guest blogger, colleague and children of divorce expert, Christina McGhee This is part 1 of a two article series.

Making Sense of Parent Alienation

By: Christina McGhee

“I have a very special piece of jewelry that was given to me by my grandmother on my father’s side. I wear it almost everyday. Even though my grandmother died several years ago, whenever my mother sees me wearing it, she makes some kind of derogatory or negative comment about her…It’s like saying half of you is okay and half of you isn’t.” –Jane, adult survivor of PAS

A couple of months ago I received a call from a distressed and angry Mom who was obviously very bitter about her experience with the Family Court system. During our brief conversation, it became clear that she did not view parental alienation as a real or valid issue.

From her perspective it was merely a courtroom tactic designed to give abusive fathers access to children and to further exploit mothers who were trying to protect children. She also did not hesitate to share her opinion of professionals who supported the existence of parent alienation. Luckily, I have a thick skin and some experience in dealing with angry parents. Still I must admit the conversation left me feeling somewhat unsettled.

The issue of parent alienation usually invokes lots of strong opinions and feelings on both sides. In some ways, this mother’s attitude is an example of the all or nothing attitude regarding parental alienation that is embraced by many. While awareness has increased over the past several years, alienation has been and still is a hot bed of controversy in many professional circles and family court jurisdictions.

As a professional, I have had an opportunity to stand on both sides of the fence. I have seen cases where the family court system has not protected the needs of children by either minimizing the need for safety or by creating unwarranted obstacles for parents desperately trying to maintain a relationship with their children. Unfortunately in many of these cases more energy has been given to the “he said, she said” debate than to the needs of the child.

When parents, professionals and family courts get mired down in the supporting the extremes, it is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Parental alienation is a real problem for many separating and divorcing families. While children’s safety must be a top priority, we cannot and must not forget we have a responsibility to protect children’s relationships with both Mom and Dad.

Jane’s story, Living with PAS

Even though she was a young adult when her parents finally divorced, the alienation was no less intense. She remembers her parents having problems long before their separation and describes her family life as living in a constant state of either or. Her mother insisted the children choose this family or that one, Mom’s side or Dad’s side, a problem she still struggles with today. The stress generated for her growing up was so strong that she remembers feeling anxious most of the time, having lots of stomach aches, shedding many tears and feeling very isolated.

Looking back Jane says the difficult thing about living with PAS was, “That it is so subtle and so insidious that you don’t realize what is happening. You just think this is the way your family is”. Almost a decade later, through counseling and with encouragement from her husband, Jane was eventually able to reestablish a relationship with her father.

The damage of the alienation by Jane’s mother also created a rift between her and her younger sister. Feeling a strong need to take their mother’s side, her younger sister was not able to accept Jane’s’ need for a relationship with their father and has since disconnected herself from Jane’s life. Even though Jane understands the dynamics of her situation, she still struggles with feelings of guilt and loyalty conflicts to this day. Through maintaining boundaries and letting go of unrealistic expectations Jane is learning how to manage her relationship with her mother.

Misconceptions about Parent Alienation

1. It either is or isn’t. Parent Alienation, also known as PAS, is often viewed as a black or white issue. It has been my experience that alienation exists on a continuum and often falls in shades of gray. It can range from mild, which includes consistent derogatory remarks, subtly placing children in situations where they are asked to take sides or scheduling activities during the other parent’s scheduled time with a child, to very severe, which involves parents blatantly interfering with contact, rewarding a child’s rejection of the other parent, making abuse allegations or insisting that the other parent is bad, evil or someone to be feared. If PAS is suspected intervention needs to be guided by the assessment of a qualified experienced professional.

2. If children do not want to see a parent then the other parent must be guilty of alienation. There are actually many reasons why children may be reluctant to spend time with one of their parents. In some cases, a parent may alienate themselves from a child by withdrawing from their lives, trying to discredit the other parent or by engaging in harmful, abusive or destructive behavior. When a parent does not take responsibility for their part, children may choose to distance themselves. If your child does not want to spend time with you, think through how you may have added to the problem. Unfortunately, some parents jump to the conclusion that the other parent is responsible for the situation without first considering other possibilities.

Again, this is where a comprehensive evaluation by a court ordered professional can be helpful.

3. If children do not want to see a parent, that parent should respect the children’s wishes. While forcing your children to spend time with you is not recommended, neither is taking a passive stance. If your child is stating they do not want to spend time with you, it is okay to let them know you are disappointed. Support their feelings by offering possible alternatives, like spending an afternoon together versus the entire weekend. Maintain your focus on continued positive contact with your child. Shorter consistent periods of time that enhance your relationship are better than no time at all. Over time, you can work on gradually increasing the amount of time you and your children spend together.

4. Alienating behaviors of a parent always results in rejection by children. Actually, there are some circumstances where parents can take steps to actively protect their relationship with children and minimize the impact of alienation. Often timing and intervention make a significant difference. The sooner parents and children have access to support and information the less likely they are to fall victim to the negative and destructive aspects of separation and divorce.

5. If children do not reject a parent then alienation is not occurring. In an article about how to detect PAS, researchers J. Michael Bone and Michael Walsh coin the term “attempted PAS”, which refers to situations where the dynamics and characteristics of PAS are present but children have not been successfully alienated. Although alienation may not appear to be successful it is important to realize the effects are still very toxic to children and therefore the relationship between the target parent and the child still requires protection.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, “What Parents Can do about Parent Alienation” coming this week.