Dr. Robyn Silverman introduces the Powerful Word of the Month: Commitment


October’s Powerful Word of the Month – Responsibility

Tell Me Lies: Children Learn to Flatter at age 4

Like to hear how much your child adores you? Children learn to tell social lies around 4 years old—that’s right, they learn how to flatter others and tell you just what you want to hear!

In the spirit of the Powerful Word of the month—honesty–it’s humorous that we don’t always want our children to tell the truth all the time, do we? If they did, you might be startled by what you hear. See this 30 second clip from one mother whose child hasn’t censored his real thoughts about her as an example…

A Chinese-Canadian study out of the University of Toronto shows that even young children know the power of flattery. The researchers focused on 285 children ages 3-6 years old, and asked the youngsters to rate drawings by children and adults who they knew, as well as to rate the drawings of strangers.

The preschoolers were asked to judge these art pieces both when the artist responsible was present as well as when the artist was absent. While the 3 year olds were consistently honest no matter if they had a relationship with the artist or if the artist was there to hear their assessments, the 5 and 6 year olds gave more flattering ratings to those artists who were present to hear their remarks. Interestingly, they flattered both strangers and those people who they knew—however, those whom they had a relationship consistently received the highest praise.

Among the 4 year olds, half the group provided flattering remarks when the artist was present and half did not. This finding suggests that 4 years old marks a transition from honest critique to flattery as the child gains a better understanding of the culture’s social courtesies.

Kang Lee, director of the Institute of Child Study at OISE/U of T and co-author of the report (recently published in the journal Developmental Science) isn’t certain of why the children flatter at this age but he knows that something is definitely going on:

“I’m sure politeness and empathy play some role,” Lee tells a reporter “But the fact they gave higher ratings to some groups than others suggests there is some form of ulterior motive beyond just being polite. We socialize kids to show empathy and politeness to everybody, not more to some people than to others.”

We can look to adults to glean some possible answers. According to Lee, adults flatter because; (1) They are showing gratitude for some positive; or (2) They’re creating a bridge with someone whom they’re meeting for the first time in case that person could be important for their advancement later down the road—it’s viewed as an “investment” in their positive treatment from the other person in the future.

“We don’t know which the child is doing…They are thinking ahead, they are making these little social investments for future benefits.”

In my assessment, the children may also be reacting to other social beliefs that mean statements may “get them into trouble” and nice statements make others happy, which feels good to everyone. Lee previously studied the responses of children ages 3 to 11, who were given gifts they didn’t like. Findings suggest that even 3-year-olds tell white lies to avoid hurting the feelings of the gift-giver.

Regardless of the reason for the flattery, our society does indeed teach children that honesty isn’t always the best policy, even if we tell them that they should always tell the truth. Adults do it themselves. We spare the feelings of others by telling them we like the “great book” they gave us of the “beautiful scarf” they knitted for a friend. But Lee suggests the flattery is motivated by self-interest and can annoy those who watch it happening (i.e. when an employee is flattering the boss).

“Kids at 4 or 5 are able to make distinctions already – that this lie is bad but this one is not very bad.”

Note: Your children will be discussing the question; “is honesty always the best policy” in the 4th week of this month’s Powerful Words curriculum. Aside from flattery, and “good” secrets like surprise parties for family of friends, all Powerful Words Member Schools will be discussing honesty with regard to strangers. Questions like, “should we tell strangers our phone number and address?” (for young children) and “how honest should we be with strangers on line?” (for older students), among others, will be explored.

All Powerful Parents are encouraged to use the Powerful Words curriculum as a Springboard for discussion at home or in the car to discuss how honesty plays a role in your family’s life and what your policies on are with regard to lying and telling the truth in different situations (i.e. when they made a mistake, when grandma gives them a gift they don’t like, when a stranger approaches them and asks them personal information, etc.) Stay tuned to your Powerful Words member schools for additional information on this topic.

We’re looking forward to hearing your comments on this topic as well as any child development issue! Please put your questions and comments below so we can create a dialog on these topics!


*image from Jupiter images.

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.

YouTube Reaction: 10 Ways to Help Teens Deal with Peer Pressure

After an extremely disturbing YouTube video surfaced showing 8 teens from Florida beating of another teen, parents are confused and horrified. The victim was treated for a concussion and numerous bruises and the attackers were arrested.

Eight teens all working together to beat up another teen? Was this a result of negative peer pressure gone to the extreme?

As we know, many teens and preteens tend to find themselves in a peer-pressured situation. Sometimes peer pressure can be positive—getting teens to raise their grades in school, take positive risks like trying out for a sport or play, and introduce themselves to new people.

Other times, peer pressure can have horrible effects on teens. Because teenagers want to be accepted and “get along” with others their own age, they tend to “go along” with the crowd even when it challenges their core values.

How can Powerful Parents help their teens make good decisions even in the face of peer pressure?

(1) Start early: Begin a conversation about making good choices with young children and talk about them often. Be sure that your children know your views about “acceptable” and “unacceptable” behavior. Are those behaviors always unacceptable or are their circumstances when they are OK? Are these behaviors OK for some people and not for others? Rules should be clear from the very beginning so that everyone is on the same page.

(2) Ask Questions: Sometimes the best thing you can do is ask questions. Again, start this early so that your children are used to it. “What would you do if…” “If your best friend was smoking, would you try it too?” “Do you know anyone who makes you feel…” When you ask questions and stay quiet, you often get more answers and make more progress than just telling your teens how you feel about certain behaviors.

(3) Role Play: It can be difficult to find the right words when you are actually in the peer pressured situation. Practicing with a trusted person before it actually happens can make it easier. Play the part of your teenager’s friend and help your teen work through what he would do or say. Do they want to make a joke? Just say no? Leave? Go get help? Role play different scenarios often until your teenager or your preteen feels comfortable and at ease with their choices and their strategies.

(4) Talk about How to Buddy Up: There is strength in numbers. Encourage your teens to talk to a trusted friend about “buddying up” when peer pressure gets overwhelming. When teens know that their friends will be there to back them up and agree with their decisions, it can be a lot easier to make positive choices.

(5) Lay the Foundation of Character: Since you are using Powerful Words at home and through your schools, you are already way ahead of the game. “Drive the points home” when you leave your Powerful Words member school and ask your children how the word of the month applies to their lives. What decisions are they making each day that shows they are living according to the powerful word of the month? How does the family show it? How do friends show it? Words like compassion, acceptance, self discipline, confidence, respect, courage and trustworthiness, can certainly become a great springboard for a discussion of peer pressure, how to stay true to yourself, and how to treat others.

(6) Discuss “Spring Cleaning” in the Friend Closet: Teens grow and change. Sometimes that means that they no longer have the same interests and they are no longer heading in the same direction of some of their current friends. While it’s not OK to pick your teen’s friends for her, sometimes friendships at this time of life can be confusing. When you see her struggling with peer pressure, let her know that it’s OK to drift apart and make other friends who make her feel more comfortable.

(7) Model saying no: Show your children and teens that it’s OK to speak your mind in an assertive and respectful way. Children need to see that their parents are not “doormats.” When you show them that you can be assertive (yet not abusive or aggressive) and the result is positive, they will emulate you. If you show that you’re wishy-washy in pressured situation, they are more likely to imitate more passive “follower” behavior.

(8 ) Help your Children Avoid Potentially Dangerous Situations: When young people are not in situations where bad choices are being made, they are much less likely to make them. Choosing friends who share similar values, who don’t take part in controlled substances or inappropriate behavior and engage in positive after-school programs, will be one of your teen’s best defenses. In addition, the more time that children and teens spend in a positive environment like your Powerful Words member school and after-school programs, the less time they will spend in negative environments that can lead to trouble.

(9) Foster Strong Self Worth and Confidence: Children and teens need to know that what they do “counts” for something. Praise your children for positive choices they make and recognize them for their efforts and their strength of character. Get them into positive activities that allow them to give back to others (such as through community or charity work) so they build their sense of pride, gratitude, and citizenship. Help them to process critique so that it makes them stronger and assist them in peeling away useless criticism that stems from jealousy, closed-mindedness, or anger.

(10) Tell them that they can always count on you: No matter what time of night or day, your child should know that they can call on you when they are in a bad situation, no acceptation. Sometimes teens find themselves at a friends house, surrounded by people or circumstances that make them feel unnerved or distressed, and they are unsure if they should call you because they wonder if they’ll get into trouble. Preteens and teens need to know that they always have you and that they should not think twice about calling—because you will always come—even if it’s 2am.

Parents might feel that once their children round the corner to teenagerhood, they no longer have any impact. But you do. Teens carry your words, your actions, and your promises in their heads everywhere they go—even if they don’t admit it.

It’s not too late to start a discussion today. You might just be opening up one of the most meaningful and important conversations you and your teen have ever had. Of course, you might meet some resistance—you might even see a few rolled eyes—but what Powerful Parent backs down to a little challenge?

Here’s to you-