Desperately Seeking Parents

To Boys Who Hurt Their Girlfriends


Abusive boys,

We wanted to tell you what we think of you. Believe us, it is tempting to call you names. It is difficult not to just spew insult after insult at you, hoping to reduce you to tears or even worse. Withholding our hatred and disgust takes enormous self-control. But we are not going to do it; in spite of what you have done and who you are, we believe that you deserve enough respect to be spoken to; we also do not want to mimic your abusive tendencies.

Abusing girls is not cool. It is not manly or masculine. It is not acceptable, civilized, a show of power. It does not earn you respect. In fact, it shows the exact opposite; boys who abuse their girlfriends by hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, kicking, forcing sexual activity, restraining, pinning, violating boundaries, threatening, manipulating with money or divulging secrets, calling names, demeaning, devaluing, joking coarsely, and/or controlling a woman devalue themselves and prove themselves to be unworthy of respect. We want you to know that most men find abusive behavior to be deplorable and sickening.

We believe that you abuse girls for many reasons, primarily because you are weak and have been abused yourself. Neither of these excuses or legitimizes what you do to anyone else. A real man will rise above his experience and make it better for himself and those around him. A real man can look in the mirror, see weakness, and still love and respect himself. That is what real power can do.

We hope that you not only understand how your abuse isolates and marginalizes you; we hope that you decide to put away your abusive tendencies and commit to treating women—all women—with dignity, respect, honor, and sacrificial love. We hold hope that you can and will make the transformation from abuser to lover.

Sincerely,

Moms, Dads, teenage girls, teenage guys…basically everyone in our society
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A Children’s Bill of Rights


by: Dr. Dathan Paterno

Chapter Two of my book Desperately Seeking Parents is entitled “Playing your Wii is not in the Bill of Rights. The idea is that Parents in Charge differentiate between their children’s rights and their privileges—those things that must be earned.
If you search online, you can see all sorts of organizations who support the rights of children. The advocate all kinds of things, like no corporal punishment, no homework, full voting rights, basic human decency, and the right to choose dessert. Some seem to want to make everything a right for children, while others seem to focus on certain areas where children have been abused and neglected.
I’m all for children’s rights, but there should be reasonable limits. When I work with families with rebellious or out-of-control children, I instruct parents to tell their children that they have a few basic rights that will never be denied:
  1. A roof over their head
  2. Enough clothes to be warm and comfortable
  3. Enough food to be healthy
  4. Medical care
  5. Transportation to school
  6. An audience to address grievances and requests—IF and only if they are expressed respectfully
  7. No physical, sexual, emotional abuse
  8. A bare minimum of privacy (more can certainly be earned)
Can you think of any others that you strongly believe should be included in a Children’s Bill of Rights? Feel free to comment and explain why you believe what you do!

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Want Some Cheese With that Whine?


Raise your hand if you love to hear your children whine when they don’t get what they want! No, no takers?

There is almost nothing more aggravating to me than the mind-piercing timbre of a good whine. I think there is a part of the brain that receives whining and turns the sound into a toxic substance that then initiates the violent emotional center of the brain. Or at least it feels like that…

I know it may sound picky, but whining is against the rules in any Parent in Charge home. Almost all children three and above should be expected to speak requests or disagreements without a whiny voice. If they start to whine, it is imperative that the parent not reinforce the behavior by paying attention to the child, except to give the child a Time Out.

Remember that the following are all reinforcing to a child: yelling, giving reminders not to whine, lecturing about whining, mocking the child’s whining voice (one of my favorite pastimes), asking “Want some cheese with that?”, and giving in to the child’s request/demand in spite of the whine. These should all be strictly verboten for the Parent in Charge.

If your child has a pattern of whining, have a short meeting where you clearly state the new rule: “Whining is not acceptable and is against the rules. It is not respectful. You may not whine when asking for something or when you don’t like something. If you are upset, you may use your words to tell us.”

And most importantly, whenever your previously whining child speaks sans whine, praise her for her appropriate, grown-up sounding voice! Remember, positive reinforcement teaches and solidifies new behaviors far faster than punishment or negative reinforcement.

What’s Next—a Choke Chain?


My family and I went for a walk uptown the other evening for some ice cream. When we got to the ice cream store, my 6-year-old noticed a young boy, maybe 2, who had a leash. For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to, there is a harness that the child wears that is connected to a real leash, which the parent holds onto.

My daughter looked at me to explain what she clearly perceived as something bizarre. I simply said, “I guess some parents feel that they need a leash to keep their kids close and safe.”

As I thought about it, I was aware that I was feeling pretty judgmental about these parents. Who the heck needs to tether their child—especially inside an ice cream store? I can understand in a crowded festival or an airport or something like that, but an ice cream store? If anyone needs to be tethered, it’s our U.S. Senators. Anyway, I thought to myself, “Do they know how silly they look?”

On the other hand, I acknowledge that some parents do not know how to (or even recognize that they can and should) maintain control of their children in public and so a leash makes sense to them. Maybe their child ran into the street once and was almost turned into a kid pancake. That would be enough to make a normal parent paranoid.

So I’m struggling with how I feel about the leash. I mean for young children. If you’re putting a leash on your six-year-old, then you’ve really got problems.

Let me know what you all think of leashes for children. I’m curious what collective wisdom and experiences are out there.

Now that I think of it, leashes for teenagers doesn’t sound like such a bad idea…

Photo by: niimo

Artist’s Comments

We had just sat down for a bite at this beachside/streetside grill when this child and her mom came strolling by, both of them munching on some snacks. My camera sat on the table in front of me. I instantly clicked it on, didn’t even take it from the table for the sake of time and remaining unnoticed. I swivled it to face them. The height of the table was perfect, the distance was ideal.

I don’t mean to criticize this mother in particular, I don’t know her circumstances, I don’t know her life. But this photo makes me wonder how she intends to help guide her child once she is too old to be leashed, too old to be controlled. Unfortunately a leash is not the same a discipline… I think it is summed up well by a statement I heard recently: We in America are seeing a major problem with four year old terrorists because parents won’t discipline their kids.

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Reason #327 Why ADHD Is a Baloney Disorder

by: Dr. Dathan Paterno

Quick, think of some neurological disorders. If you’re having trouble, how about these well-known disorders: Muscular Dystrophy, Cerebral Palsy, Spina Bifida, Parkinson’s, Lyme disease, Epilepsy, Hydrocephalus, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. All of these are very well-established diseases, with known pathophysiology (that means we can see where the brain or tissue has gone wrong or is adversely affecting the body).

ADHD is completely different. There has never been any pathophysiology evidenced for ADHD. There are theories, of course, but nothing has ever been demonstrated, despite billions of dollars spent over decades. No microscopic or macroscopic differences, no structural or chemical differences have ever been discovered.

Another crucial difference…think of all those neurological disorders. Do any of them get better when someone pays attention to them, when the person has greater discipline, or when there are novel stimuli present? The idea is laughable, isn’t it? Imagine expecting the symptoms of a child with Cerebral Palsy to disappear simply when his or her parents unite in their expectations or a young man with Parkinson’s to stop shaking when he is playing a highly interesting game. It just does not happen. Why? Because those are true neurological disorders.

But the symptoms of ADHD improve dramatically under at least three conditions: when the child is presented with novel stimuli, when the child has strict, consistent limits, and when the child has significant one-on-one attention. If something is that responsive to three things that every child NEEDS, how can that be a neurological disorder? It simply stretches the bounds of credulity beyond what a critical thinking person can tolerate. Neurological disorders do not get better when the person’s environment offers them things that normal people need.

ADHD is not a real disease. It is not a neurological disorder (or what they sometimes call a “neurobehavioral disorder”, which is a nonsense term.) ADHD is simply a description for a list of behaviors that are annoying to parents and teachers and for which they currently do not know how to effect change.

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New Parent Club Now Forming! TIPS!


I’m starting a new club called The Imperfect Parents Society, or TIPS for short.
by: Dr. Dathan Paterno

One of the weaknesses many parents bring to the adventure of parenting is the fantasy of perfectionism. Parents—mothers, more often—have a dream that they will be perfect and that their children will respond to their ideal parenting by being wholly obedient, respectful, sensitive, hard-working, and considerate. When their children’s behavior falls short, they presume one of two things: either there is something desperately wrong with their child or they have not quite learned the magic of “perfect parenting” and they must seek out the Holy Secret of Parenting Bliss. They come to me for this.

As is my wont, I shock them with…well, the truth. It’s kinda fun, to be honest. Time after time, I assuage parents’ guilt and concern by informing them that both they and their child are perfectly normal—that obnoxious, ridiculous behavior is a normal function of childhood.
I usually start with the following presuppositions:
  1. All parents are imperfect, usually in a few important ways and always in several minor ways.
  2. Parenting imperfections do affect children—sometimes seriously, sometimes negatively—almost always inadvertently.
  3. Children are quite resilient to parental imperfections, as long as love, concern, and discipline are the rule, rather than the exception.
  4. Parents who are aware of their imperfections and can accept themselves as imperfect parents are poised to minimize the damage that is done to their children.
If I can convince a parent of these things, then I can pretty much guarantee success for the family. I can help the parent separate what is normal childhood ridiculousness and what is truly pathological. Most of the time, however, the latter category has nothing in it, because the vast majority of children are normal—and so are the parents.

So, if you are a parent, you are imperfect. If you recognize it, you’re welcome in the club. It’s a big club.

Join me on The Imperfect Parents Society (TIPS) on Facebook!

When Kids Go Nuclear…

by Dr. Dathan Paterno
“I’m going to kill myself!” Those have to be just about the most terrifying words that a parent can hear from their child. Variations on a theme include:
“I wish I were dead.” “I wish I had never been born.” “Why don’t you just kill me?” “I am going to kill my brother/sister!”
Today, children are suspended from school for saying such intemperate things—or even drawing pictures that depict violent fantasies. They have to go through a mental health assessment to determine whether they are safe to return from school. Most of this is nonsense, since children are prone to “go nuclear” with their language when they are upset and are not being heard with conventional language.
The fact is that the vast majority of children who say these things do not actually wish to commit suicide or otherwise die, wish they had never been born, or wish to murder someone. While this kind of language does require immediate and sincere attention, the fortunate fact is that very few children who make these kinds of statements actually follow through on them.
Please do not think I am so naïve to believe that no child is truly suicidal or does not wish to bring one of these darkest realities to fruition. I have witnessed a good many children attempt suicide; I know first-hand that some children go to that darkest of places. However, even many of those children’s attempts to act out their pitch-black fantasies would have been averted if the adults in their lives had paid close attention to the signs that their children put in their line of vision.
If your child says something like that, it is critical that you avoid acting based on emotionality. The instinctual part of you is highly emotional, protective, and defensive. Tell that part of you to take a back seat for a moment. The first thing you should do is presume that there is a good reason why Junior has elevated the language to the nuclear stage and that if you listen carefully, you and the child can figure it out. “I want to kill myself” is usually a highly creative and effective metaphor for “I am really miserable and I need you understand. When I just say ‘I’m sad’, you don’t listen or understand, so I have to talk suicide for you to really get it!”
Here’s a good response: “Wow, it sounds like you’re trying to get me to see just how upset you are about something. Can you tell me how bad you really feel and what it is about?”
Most of the time, your child will walk right into that open door and will express his/her angry, confused, sad, frustrated, hopeless, or overwhelmed feelings. You can then validate the feelings the child has; what parent can’t understand fright, sadness, anger, overwhelm, and confusion? If you can validate your child’s feelings, then he or she will feel heard and understood, removing the need to use metaphor to describe the pain. Essentially, if a lower level of communication does the trick, the child will not need to resort to more intense metaphor.
Pay attention, parents. Your child is speaking to you. If you do not listen, you will invite your child to raise the ante, or in some cases, go nuclear.

Dr. Paterno is available for appearances, speaking engagements and lectures. For information, please contact ImaginePublicity at imaginepublicity@gmail.com or imaginepublicity.com

To Tell or Not to Tell: It Shouldn’t Be a Question


by Dr. Dathan Paterno

One of the factors that determine whether bullying will increase in intensity and frequency is the degree of involvement peers have in the process. Peers can intervene directly by stopping bullying as it occurs, ostracizing the bully, supporting the victim directly, or by telling adult authorities about the bullying. As many of you know, peers tend to stay out of the process altogether, which further reinforces the bully’s behavior. Essentially, their lack of involvement sanctions the bully and says that it is OK on their end.

This must stop. Peers must take some responsibility for their neighbors. Remember the golden rule? In case you missed that Sunday School, it goes like this: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is not a mere suggestion; it is a command. It is a child’s social and moral obligation to stand up to bullies and to stand up for the victim.

Now, I understand that children will be equipped differently to respond to bullying. Stronger, bigger children will be able to intervene directly. The more savvy and trusted children can tell teachers, principals, school social workers, and parents about the bullying. Some can take the victim aside—at any time, not just after an incident of bullying—and offer that child all kinds of emotional support. Some of the more creative children could start a campaign against bullying, by having peers sign a petition, such as “End Ritual Child Abuse! STOP Bullying!” or “Bullies Are NOT Cool! They Are Weak!” Any and all of these can help both curb bullying behavior and, just importantly, support the victims of bullying.

In my work with children, I hear countless stories of children who are afraid to tell teachers and other adults about being bullied and abused. It is incredibly shameful to admit, partly because it is an admission of weakness and an inability to handle the situation on their own. However, there is an additional reason why many children avoid telling adults.

Some schools frown on “tattling”. Wisely and with good intent, many schools take pains to differentiate between tattling and telling. Tattling, they reason, is reporting nitpicky things to adults, like minor squabbling, faces, minor name-calling, bragging, etc. Telling, on the other hand, is reporting serious problems like violence and other dangerous situations. It all makes sense on the surface. One problem is that victims of bullying tend to err on the side of avoiding because they don’t want to be “tattlers”. Who wants to be nicknamed “The Tattler”?

Another problem, as I have previously discussed, is that children do not want to stir up even more trouble for themselves. Children possess enough intuition to know that schools generally do not use their power enough to make a bully stop; they know that the bully will get a minor consequence, then be right back at the bullying. And this time, with more steam. Not only does the bully continue, but he/she has a justifiable reason to seek vengeance—“You got me in trouble! Now I’m going to make you pay!”

If schools want children to report bullying, then they will have to learn to respond with gusto. Until then, expect most children to hide their abuse from the adults who are entrusted to protect them and teach them life lessons.

Stopping Bullying Must Be a Team Effort

I’m heartened to see bullying front and center in the media these days. Oprah dedicated a show this week to the problem, interviewing several families whose children had committed suicide as a result of intense, chronic bullying. She also had an expert focus attention on what children need to do when bullied. This was a good start. I agree that children share in the responsibility of dealing with bullies. Schools and parents have not done enough to help those children to stand up to bullies with assertiveness. However, the experts said nothing about what schools must do in response to the bullies.

Imagine if you went to the park with your children and a large, aggressive man came up to you and started calling you vicious names, threatening to hurt or kill you, and even shoving you or worse. Would you simply rely on your “assertiveness training” to deal with him? What would you do if the man continued to do this whenever you were at the park?

You would call the police. That’s what a sane person would do! Why? Because threatening, harassing, and assaulting another person is a crime and you would likely recognize that the man would be arrested. This is what adults do; they get proper authorities involved. After all, they are there to serve and protect.

Why do we not afford our children the same protection and model the same kind of response? Parents must do this for their children whenever bullying becomes violent. If your school seems unwilling to do their part—and even if they do their part—I say get the law involved.

Victims also share some responsibility when it comes to being bullied. First, the child must report the bullying, whether it is physical, emotional, sexual, social, or cyber-bullying. Parents can’t help if they don’t know what is going on.

Second, the child must be willing to take responsibility for any behavior he or she is doing that creates or exacerbates the ire of his peers. While bullying is never acceptable and should never be tolerated, sometimes children do things that, well, are asking for it. The child must take steps to remove this factor from the equation.

Third, the child must learn appropriate, assertive responses to bullies. Ignoring mildly annoying behaviors is one thing; kids can’t be so thin-skinned that everything is perceived as a heinous crime. But ignoring bullying is never the right move. Learning how to stand up to a bully—physically and verbally—and say “No more!” is essential.

Let’s get back to the first responsibility of the child: reporting. This is extremely difficult for children to do, because they are often intensely ashamed of the bullying and are afraid of the repercussions of “tattling”. Many children I know who have been bullied tell me that they know the school will not do anything significant to the bully, so they choose to stay quiet. They believe that the only effect of telling will be that the bully will mock the child even more or seek vengeance for whatever punishment followed. The most important factor, which I have written about before, is the response of the adults. If a child reports bullying early in the bullying sequence, the school MUST take it seriously and respond swiftly and weightily.

Wrist-slaps will serve only to convince the child that he will not be protected. This invalidates the school as an authority and forces the child to remain silent. I hope I need not convince anyone how tragic this is.
Schools must respond swiftly with resolve and with serious consequences. They must not only punish the child, but they must communicate the gravity of the situation with the bully’s parents. They, in turn, must be held accountable for their child’s behavior. Again, parents of bullies cannot intervene if they are unaware of their child’s behavior.

Finally, other students have a smaller but significant responsibility to the victim and the bully. They must be able to report bullying with sufficient confidence, to assure that no vengeance will be sought on them.
Let’s start building teams that can effectively fight bullying and create civil, loving, just, and moral subcultures in our schools.

Bullying Can Drive a Kid Nuts!

Author of Desperately Seeking Parents
As the deluge of studies on the effects of bullying pours into the mainstream, it becomes increasingly clear that bullying poses a threat to our children’s well-being equal to the swine flu, lice, and any number of health concerns for which schools have strict policies. It is time our public schools act, rather than talk.
A recent study from England suggests that being bullied during childhood doubles a child’s likelihood of developing psychotic symptoms in early adolescence. They discovered that the longer and more severe the bullying, the greater the risk. The authors of the study conclude in the Archives of General Psychiatry that “Reduction of peer victimization and the resulting stress caused to victims could be a worthwhile target for prevention and early intervention efforts for common mental health problems and psychosis.”
As I have previously written, schools cannot hope to stop children from beginning a pattern of bullying. Even the most intentional “civil behavior” classes cannot stop or screen potential bullies and stop them before they start. This focus is admirable, but grossly insufficient.
The focus instead should be on the response to both the bullies and the victims. The primary response to bullying should include adequate justice. Providing justice to the victims communicates empathy, compassionate, and most importantly, a validation of their perception of reality. Without this, victims will begin to question their reality testing and create their own alternative perceptions of reality. This extreme but understandable coping mechanism can indeed grow into future, more insidious symptoms.
Justice is equally important for the bully. It may seem counter-intuitive, but exacting swift, significant punishment is more loving and compassionate to a bullying child than sending him or her to therapy or punishing with a mere “slap on the wrist”. The bully needs to know that society (including the school, law enforcement, and victim) do not and will not tolerate his/her behavior. It is not simply unacceptable, but it is not tolerated.
Swift and significant punishment teaches that child that behavior has significant consequences that will hurt. Choosing not to give bullies this message creates a cognitive template for the child that can be catastrophic: “I can abuse other children and the punishment will be minor” is the message. Spare the rod, spoil the child indeed.
Overall, 46 percent of the children reported having experienced victimization — including either direct bullying or “relational victimization” such as being excluded — at age 8 or 10, while 54 percent weren’t “victimized” at either age.
I understand that some children are punished by peers as a method of peer justice. For example, some kids deserve to be ostracized for grossly inappropriate behavior. Not all conflict between children should be regulated by adults; children need to learn how to navigate through their social conflicts on their own. But when peer justice becomes bullying, the adults need to step in and step in swiftly.