Michele Borba: Week’s top 5 parenting news (it’s good, bad & ugly)

by | Jun 14, 2010 | Tolerance

It was an “interesting” week when it came to parenting stories. Findings from a Ohio State University study revealed how club membership may help reduce risky youth behavior. A new book out offers clues as to the crisis in youth empathy. A disturbing teen anti-semitic game in my own community is spurring outrage in the news. A fascinating NYTimes article reports possible dangers to the parent-child relationship with all our clicking, blogging, texting and tweeting. And a girl rescued at sea.

If you didn’t have a chance to catch the news, here’s a review of the good, bad and the ugly news in regards to parenting. Here are the top stories that shouldn’t be missed (at least in my humble opinion). Links included.

Most Interesting: Risks of Parenting While Plugged In

For five years Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, has studied how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. Her findings will be published early next year in”Alone Together.” As you’re waiting for your hot copy, here are key points:  while we are clicking, tweeting, and blogging feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition amongst offspring are widespread. The NYTimes article is worth a read. It just could make you put down that cell phone and get off Facebook just a bit more. Turkle’s findings (over 300 interviews so far) shows that parental social networking and online behavior may be affecting our kids in ways we may not realize.

Or is it that we’re just multi-tasking and not tuning into the kids? Does it make any difference if we’re cooking, diapering the baby, feeding the dog, doing our checkbook while talking to our kids…..or that we’re tweeting, blogging, texting and calling while talking to our kids?

Whatever the results, one thing is clear: we need to tune into our children.

Most Promising: Youth Clubs Strengthen Kids’ Self Image to Keep Them Out of Trouble

Want a way to help your child stay out of trouble? Then get your child a card at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America or look into a great after school kid-oriented, adult supervised club. A new study from Ohio State University shows “The more kids participate in these clubs, the better self-concept they have!” And even small improvements in self-esteem can make big differences in boosting resilience, giving kids the support system they need and keeping them out of trouble. (A little disclaimer — I LOVE the clubs, my kids have worked there as leaders, and I’m a member of their national FamilyPlus board and I’ve interviewed dozens of kids who are members. Many swear that their club memberships saved their lives — that is literally –and gave them a place to study so they could get a scholarship.

My concern: bad economy is forcing many clubs to close. It is essential that we provide safe places for kids to go particularly in those prime hours of three to six in the evening. Research shows those hours are when our kids are most likely to get in trouble. The New York Police Department long ago clued us into the importance of creating safe havens for kids. Concerned about the rise in gangs, law enforcement officers found a vacant lot, and with a little funding turned the lot into a basketball court. Officers then took turns hanging around the area, befriending teens and playing basketball with any kid in the area. Pretty soon (you guessed it), gangs went down.

Educators, counselors, and child advocates: pass on this research to parents. Meanwhile, let’s keep those club doors open and start looking for vacant lots so we can ensure our kids are engaged in healthy activities and surrounded by at least one meaningful adult in their lives who gives them that “I care about you” message.

Most Controversial: 16 Year Old Sailor Rescued

The Saturday rescue of Thousand Oaks, Abby Sunderland from her crippled boat in the southern Indian Ocean–2000 miles from the western   Australian coast–wins the parent controversial story. Everyone seems to be weighing in on whether she should be allowed to sail. News casters asked viewers: “Were the parents irresponsible in allowing their daughter to sail solo?” Some reporters are calling this “child endangerment.” And that was before some rather “interesting” news surfaced. So let’s start with before we know what we know..

I was called by NBC Nightly News to report on the story so I had time to gather the facts. Here is my take on the decision to allow this kid into dangerous waters. First, we need to recognize that Abby is one of those rare “one in a million kids” The real question based on the latest new is this: “What was the real father’s motive in letting her take that journey?”

While you and I would be nuts to allow our kids out on such a trip (I worry about whether I should allow my kids to kayak across a stream), the parenting decision allowing Abby on this dangerous trek differs from the average kids for a few reasons.

First, Abby was breed into a sailing family and is a rare one in a million type kid She’s been raised on the ocean and lived over half her life on yachts. She’s confident on the waters.

Second, she’s had superb training in sailing and survival skills. Sailing is second nature to her.

Third, she has a past record that proves capability. She’s sailed around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope Hope and endured 60 knots-plus wind prior to this event. Keep in mind that Abby embarked on her round-the world trip on January 23-hoping to beat the record for youngest solo circumnaviator set in July 2009 by her brother–who was 17 at the time. Do the math: she’s already spent five months alone at sea.

Fourth, Abby has that built-in “survival, resilient spirit” and inner drive to sail solo around the world. Her blog entry is telling: “After the initial horror of seeing water pouring into your boat, your mind just goes into a survival mode and you don’t give fear or any new problems a thought,” she wrote. “Fear becomes dangerous, it makes you hesitant to deal with things and knocks your confidence.” What you’re reading is the mindset of an extraordinary and talented girl regardless of age. Most 45 year old accomplished sailors wouldn’t be able to handle that trip.

Yes, I’m relieved she’s safe but I also marvel at Abby’s grit, self-confidence, strength, will and superb sailing talent. There’s also her amazing self-determination, inner drive and courage. Can you imagine how most teens or even adults would respond to facing waves the size of a three-story building while alone in freezing waters? I was in a plane with an aborted take-off Wednesday with a lot of very shook-up grown-ups. A few refused to get back on the next flight. Not Abby. She faced a tough call back in April on the waters, but wanted to keep on. Meanwhile: I’m hoping somebody will get a blood sample and do an MRI on this kid. There’s your research study! Something extra ordinary is going on with this kid’s DNA.

Parental choices about what’s good for their kids should always be weighed a kid-by-kid and situation by situation basis. The child’s temperament, maturity, trust-worthiness, responsibility, resilience, and training are all part of mix. Age or gender should not be the key factor for the decision. It’s the other stuff that counts more.

But there is news that throws in another dimension. It now appears her parents are broke and Dad had a deal with a reality show. Does that mean this girl was pressured into doing this race because of her parents’ financial needs? If so… FOR SHAME! That’s a whole different issue that has absolutely nothing to do with this child’s abilities and desire. It’s about her parents taking full advantage of their child’s talent. And that would put this decision in a whole different context as in unconscionable.

Most Disturbing: “Beat the Jew” Teen Game

La Quinta High School students have been in the news lately and now face disciplinary and possibly legal action. The problem: High school students participating in a game called “Beat the Jew.”   The game: Students  playing the role of Nazis who blindfold and then drop off other students playing Jews who must then find their way back to the campus. “The objective is for the Jew is to run down Highway 111 to a specified checkpoint before the Nazis can catch up to him, tackle him down and capture him.”

The game was promoted first on online and attracted about 40 students to gather in the school parking lot after hours. Community reaction: Outrage (and rightly so). And when you understand the demographics of the community, you’ll recognize why this so-called “game” went up to Code Red on the decimel-disturbing level.

La Quinta is a Southern California community  close to my hometown of Palm Springs. Over 90 holocaust survivors live in this area–more than any other area in the United States reports say.

La Quinta High School history department who taught these students is shocked as well. During the year teachers did extensive units on tolerance, had students read powerful novels and first-person accounts on the holocaust, and invited several of those holocaust survivors to speak to students about the horror they endured.

So what gives? We may need to rethink our tolerance lessons. And we need to keep in mind that this “Beat the Jew” game is not an isolated incident. We are seeing a disturbing increase in racism amongst kids. [My past blogs: “Sad Lessons from Kick the Ginger Day: It’s time to boost youth tolerance.” “Seven Ways to Boost Tolerance in Students.”]

I also heard an interesting perspective on how to teach tolerance from a group of 11-13 year old students. I happened to be working last Monday with an at-risk middle school in Southern California. I was called in to by the district as a consultant because racism is so embedded at the campus (amongst Mexican, Iraqi, Arab, African-American, and white) that physical safety is now a top concern. I spent hours interviewing students about the problem. Their comments gave interesting clues.

An eleven-year old girl told me: “I don’t feel safe. I can’t think. Everyone hates each other here. Why aren’t the parents teaching their kids to be more tolerant so maybe we’d have a chance.” Then she added this: “Thank you for listening. Someone has got to listen to the kids. We could tell them how much we’re hurting.”

A sixth grade boy offered a solution: “You know,” he said, “if the kids of different races could just do more with each other I bet they’d learn to appreciate each other.”

“What kinds of things? I asked.

“The teachers could have us do simple little teambuilding activities with kids of different races. And why do we always have to sit with the same kids at lunch? If we don’t do things with other kids we’ll never get to know the other kids. It would help us learn maybe that we’re really all the same.”

That twelve year old confirmed the research in Gordon Allport’s fascinating read, The Nature of Prejudice. Lessons alone don’t build tolerance. Kids need real and meaningful experiences to build empathy. The Seeds of Peace program is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s clear we must rethink our approaches to building tolerance and do more for our children. Let’s start listening to the kids!

Most Fascinating Read: “Born for Love”

I’m worried…really worried…about the breakdown of empathy in children. We know our kids are wired for empathy, but unless it is nurtured it will lie dormant.  That’s why I highly recommend reading, Born for Love Why Empathy Is Essential and Endangered. The book, written by Maia Szalvitz and Bruce D. Perry, examines how empathy develops–or fails to develop–from birth through adulthood. It also describes what we can do to increase this vital capacity to care both among out children and in society. The authors cover what makes kids loving as well as cruel, what autistic people teach the rest of us about empathy, how empathy directly affects our health and emotional well-being,and  how media is crating an uncaring society (which supports premises in the NYTimes article “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In”). as well as more.  Once again I’m convinced that Bruce Perry is one of the best and most important thinkers about child development we have. Read this book!