Category Archives: Teen

Stop Whining

So the kids are home from school. You got them a  snack. And after a moments peace, the whining starts.  “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do. Can I watch TV? But I  don’t want to do my homework.” It isn’t the phrases used  that bother us as much as the squeaky, whiny voices that  say them. Why is it that kids whine so much? And how can  we stop it?

There is a funny thing about kids’ voices. Some  voices used at home are never used with teachers or  coaches. But those irritating voices are saved by children  to use for their parents only.

How do kids know to do that? Do children know that  their teachers and coaches wouldn’t respond to those voices?

Children get a lot of things from whining. They get  their parent’s attention. They get to control the  situation and their parent’s response. And most of all,  they get what they want – at least half of the time.

So even though it isn’t easy to listen to, you can get  rid of whining pretty easily. First, a child should never,  ever get anything they want by whining. Second, parents  should treat whining like a foreign language they don’t  understand. Third ignore your child for a time for every  instance of whining. One could simply say “I don’t  understand that voice” and turn away. Only deal with  children who are talking normally. Those whiners will  catch on. Make it clear to them that you can’t understand  whining voices, inform them that they need to use normal  voices, ignore them a while when they whine, and you will  see whining disappear in your house.

Whining can be viewed as similar to a temper tantrum.  Just like a temper tantrum, we can see whining more  frequently in times of stress, hunger, or fatigue.  Nevertheless, just like a temper tantrum, whining should  not be responded to and should be absolutely ignored. With  those tantrums and whining gone, you’ll be on your way to  having a more pleasant household.

Raising A Wonderful Child

Much of the parenting advice that comes from  pediatricians and psychologists is directed towards fixing  negative behaviors. But what about those parents who have  a wonderful child. They do exist. Those kids are self  motivated, do well in school and rarely need correction.  Those parents deserve advice too. Wonderful children are a  blessing but they need their parents’ guidance too.

There are challenges in raising wonderful children. It is easy to become complacent about them while  we are busy with other concerns. They are usually self  sufficient so it is easy to forget about them. You still  have responsibility in raising your wonderfully easy child.

When a friend pays a compliment about them, make sure they hear it. It is their compliment not yours. Don’t  over correct them just to keep them from being “too big for  their britches”. Wonderful children take little corrections  to heart. You can trust in the fact that they want to  please.

Instead, challenge your achiever. Show them the struggles we face in our society and our world. You  shouldn’t let them grow up believing everything will come  easy to them. There are always more things to achieve for  children, adolescents and adults.

Work towards continuous improvement in yourself. Our achieving youth need good role models and that starts  at home. If they see you working to improve yourself, they  will see value in improving themselves.

Many good people have gone before us. Read to them or  have them read about great people and their achievements.  They need idols like Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson  Mandela, Anne Sullivan and Mother Theresa.

Pose questions to them; let them come up with  solutions. This keeps them thinking and develops their  creativity. Show them ways to contribute through  volunteering. Let them come up with ways to help out  others. Our wonderful children may be able to make our  world better in the future if they are made aware of  challenges we face today.

Expand their skills. Have your young wonder child try  things that don’t come easy – a musical instrument or a  team sport. Some great kids take the easy route by staying  in their comfort zone. But with new challenges, new skills  may be discovered.

Whatever you do with your wonderful child, don’t take  them for granted. Praise them. Show them you are proud of  them. Recognize their skills and talents. Let them hear  you brag about them even if they moan “oh mom”. They need  to know how you feel about them and that you value who they  are. Through your appreciation of them they will learn how  to appreciate themselves and others.

Wonderful children are easy. They are blessings. But  we need to remember they need parenting as well.

Providing A Good Base Parenting Teens Part II

To parent teens well, we must start with a good base. Remember, teens rebel. They question. They explore. But by  late teen years they often return to the moral base their family  gave them. That moral base is what we give kids in their first  twelve years. How do we give them that base?

As kids grow we battle them over many issues. Can they  have a sleepover? Are the other parents aware? Will they be  home? That seems like a simple scenario. But as a parent you  know there are many scenarios like that one where we have to  face our children and make decisions for them. In all these  battles and decisions there are lessons. How much freedom do we  allow? How much trust has our child earned? How much respect  do we have for them? These questions are answered in our  decisions. And kids learn to earn respect and trust over time.

Many times kids need corrections for breaking rules and  breaking truth. Consequences need to be carried out so kids  learn limits. It is normal to have these events. We just need  to face them appropriately and justly.

Through these everyday decisions our kids learn about right  and wrong, and about what is safe and unsafe. This gives  children a basic morality that serves as their base for entering  the stormy teen years.

Parents need to set rules, have consequences, and say “no”  to their kids freewheeling desires. Many parents feel guilty  about setting limits. “Well, it seems like I am the only parent  worried about allowing this.” Rest assured. You are not.

Rules and limits show children we care about them. We want  them safe. We care about their health. We are trying to  protect them. Even if kids don’t like it, they at least  appreciate that you care.

One other important piece about providing a base for kids  for their teen years, parents need to recognize their children  for their skills and accomplishments. This recognition gives a  child a sense of what they are good at. Parents must recognize  and praise their children’s true skills. Combine this sense of  accomplishment and skill with ideas of safety and right and  wrong, and you have a child who has a solid base to start his  teen experiment.

Positive Influences Help Us Parent Our Teens

When I do workshops for parents of teenagers I see many shaking heads when I say, “it is a  tough time to be a teenager!” Everyone in the audience recognizes this statement as fact. Few adults  can picture growing up as a teen now. School demands are higher. It is harder to get into college.  College costs add a burden. A high school diploma doesn’t help your career very much. And now,  with the economic crisis, the future looks tougher still. There is only one thing tougher than being a  teenager, and that is being a parent of one!

Teens are exposed to so much so early that they seem to be growing up too fast. The media’s  influence on our teens has never been greater. Movies and TV shows push our teens to be older than  they are. We know the risks that they may encounter but it seems that they do not. We worry for them.  And the freedoms that they demand from us so early make it difficult for us to stay in control. How are  we to parent our teens today? Where else can we turn?

We need to give our kids freedom but it should be a chaperoned freedom. We, the parents do much  of the chaperoning. There is no way around conceding control to other chaperones in the care of  our teens. Teachers, coaches, dance instructors, and other parent surrogates take on our roles as  leaders for our children. This is obvious but when put in this context it sounds scary. As parents, we  don’t want to give up this role to others. Yet, it is not only part of the natural process of separation but  important for our kids to be influenced by outside forces. How could this be?

Our teens go through a period of questioning everything you, their parents, stand for. They  learned your values and your rules for more than twelve years. Teen years is a time for questioning  and, yes, experimentation. Teens try things on for themselves and don’t necessarily do this with  parental consent! Here is where outside influences come in.

Many years ago there was a study that showed that teens that succeeded were often inspired  by an “influential adult”. This was an adult outside the teen’s family that helped to inspire that teen to  achieve something because of the relationship he or she had with that teen. That adult often saw a  skill or a talent in that teen that just needed a little push. That influential adult could be a history  teacher, a baseball coach, or a ballet instructor. This influence helps build a foundation of ego and  confidence in that teenager. It is incredibly powerful for a teen to be recognized by someone other  than a biased parent. No matter what skill was inspired or what adult inspired it, the fact that the teen  was influenced well by someone outside the family is the point. It takes some swallowing of pride for  parents to accept this but it is necessary to realize that it very well may take a village to raise your  teen. Sometimes effective parenting is finding the right supports for your children.

In a recent meeting at Sandra Marie’s School of Ballet, I stated that the school was an  important influence on our young girls and the young men who are lucky enough to belong to this  supportive group of teachers. If you think about the negative influences our kids face, it is scary.  Think about our kids who dance and what their young lives would have been like if they did not have  an avenue to pursue their joy of dance in such a supportive environment. I have seen many young  girls over our eleven years at the studio grow to be mature and secure young women. Sandra Marie’s  leadership had an influence in developing these young people. This is a fact that can’t be denied.  Now, the studio wants to support parents even further. They are sponsoring a parenting workshop for  parents of teenagers.

The workshop is “You Can’t Fix Them So How Can You Live With Them- Parenting teens  today”. This is a workshop I have been giving across the North Shore for many years. I hope you can  join us on ____________________ at ___________________. The workshop will also serve as a  fundraiser for Northeast Youth Ballet. NYB is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing quality  ballet to our youth.

No Need To Fear Vaccines

What a terrible injustice to vaccine makers, and to doctors and nurses who give vaccines. The injustice was that of Wakefield  and his associates when they published a report in 1998 that  linked MMR vaccines with autism. That created a worldwide  furor (yes worldwide through internet scuttlebutt) over the MMR  vaccine and autism. Why do I call it an injustice?

The little told story of this incendiary conclusion of Wakefield  and friends is that their conclusion was false. In 2006,  seven out of ten investigators retracted their support for  Wakefield’s conclusions. Furthermore it was revealed that  Wakefield was funded by lawyers who brought cases against  vaccine companies. This fact has lead Wakefield to court to  defend his falsification of his data. So in fact, there has  never been a verifiable research study supporting an autism-vaccine link. Yet, the rumors and bad mouthing of vaccines  continue.  Many medical groups from different countries have  looked at vaccine data and have concluded just the opposite –  that there is no link between vaccines and autism. There is no  link between MMR vaccine and autism and there is no link between  mercury in vaccines and autism. So why do people still fear  vaccines?

It is easy for a family with an autistic child to conclude that  the autism diagnoses coincided with the end of the primary  vaccine series. That is a coincidence of timing – but not cause  and effect. Yet this makes it easy to perpetuate the vaccine  fear that vaccines cause autism. They do not. There is no  reason to fear vaccines. In fact, there is good reason to fear  not being vaccinated.

In my twenty-five year career in pediatrics I have seen cases  of measles, mumps, meningitis, chicken pox and polio – all  preventable through vaccines. We see dramatically less of these  harmful illnesses through the vaccines we give. Pediatricians  use to do spinal taps weekly on babies looking for meningitis.  Now spinal taps are a rare medical procedure in pediatrics.   Some people think that we don’t need to give these vaccines  as often since these diseases are more rare. Nothing can be  further from the truth. Last year, measles and mumps swept  across part of our country from the Midwest to the Northeast.  Other bacteria that cause ear infections, pneumonias, and  meningitis are still alive and well. Whooping cough still  troubles communities. Even polio is not eliminated worldwide.  The risks of vaccines are minimal compared to one death caused  by one of these nasty illnesses.

If you are worried about vaccines, you need not be.   Nonetheless, talk to your doctor. Bring this article to him  or her. See if your doctor can verify the truths in this  article. The fact of the matter is this, the worldwide rumor  mongering about vaccines has been a great force to battle. We,  in medicine, have not been very good at battling the vaccine  naysayers. But the evidence is clear and more confident  conversations about the great benefits of vaccines have to  occur. In reality, there is little fear. Vaccines save  lives and your child is safer in this world when he or she is  vaccinated.

It’s Not Fair

You say “no” to your eight year old. He has enough legos and he doesn’t need ones he has. Then you hear it. “It’s not  fair. Jimmy has that one. How come I can’t get it?” Now you  feel a little guilty. He’s right; his friend Jimmy does have  it. But your son has enough. Should you change your mind?

“It’s not fair.” What a phrase! How do kids learn to use  this? All parents have to realize that all kids use this phrase  to try to guilt their parents into giving them what they want.  All kids! It fascinates me how they learn to use it. Kids must  know that you care to please them. They know that. It becomes  a universal play children use to make you feel that you are not  pleasing them as much as every other parent is pleasing their  children. The follow up to “it’s not fair” is “everyone else  has it”. Do they really know that “everyone else has it” or  “gets it” or “is going to get it”? Of course not. But since  when does a child’s argument have to be factual.

Meanwhile, parents are overloaded. We work more hours. We  spend less time as a family. So many parents compensate by  getting things and giving in to their kids. No wonder kids  learn that “it’s not fair” plays into the parent’s guilt by  making parents feel like they are depriving them not only with  less time together but also with not getting them what everyone  else has.

However, there is a lesson that kids need to learn. Kids  need to know that life isn’t fair. It never is and never will  be. Nor should our kids expect it to be. Many young adults  today are suffering depression from the shock of trying to  sustain all that was handed to them when they were younger as  they enter the “real world” and have to earn things for  themselves. They are learning too late that life isn’t fair.

This doesn’t mean that we should purposely deprive  children. It does mean that we have to recognize this play of  “it’s not fair”. Children shouldn’t be teaching parents about  fairness. We should be teaching them. To start, we need to  face down this play by saying “You are right. It is not fair.  But you can’t always get something because you want it.”  (Editorial comment – The advertising campaign by a certain car  company, which says, “a strong want is a justifiable need” is  teaching a horrible lesson!)

Kids don’t have a good sense of fairness. They learn this  by having good rules that apply to all at home. They learn  fairness from what example we show. Do we treat others with  respect and fairness?

Alternatively, our kids also need to learn unfairness.  Unfairness that hurts people should be fought. This goes for  parents and children to fight injustice in our society on the  small scale and the large scale. But small bits of unfairness –  when a friend gets to go some place special and your child  doesn’t – or when their friend has something they don’t – your  child needs to learn that you can’t always get what you want.  This is really less about fairness and more about how children  learn about disappointment – an emotion they need to learn!

Good News About Vaccines

For the past several years I have found myself on the defensive over a very fundamental treatment I provide as a pediatrician. I have been giving children vaccines according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for 22 years. But in recent years there has been a backlash against the very vaccines we use to prevent known serious illnesses. As a response to this backlash I built a file of articles that supported the use and defended against supposed side effects of the vaccines. In recent days there has been great news about vaccines to add to my file. The news is they are safe and do not cause autism.

In the late nineties two events stoked the fires of skepticism about vaccines. First, in 1998, a well known British medical journal, the Lancet, published a report based on work of thirteen prominent physicians stating that the MMR vaccine was associated with autism. A storm of controversy over the use of the MMR vaccine followed. The second event in the late nineties that caused a furor was the removal of thimerosal from vaccines. Thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines, contains mercury. It has never been shown to be a health hazard. However, because of the potential for buildup of mercury in the body, it was prudent to remove thimerosal from vaccines. This was done on a voluntary basis by the manufacturers. Just that move caused speculation that vaccine manufacturers were hiding something. Further speculation followed that thimerosal was associated with autism – with no medical evidence proving it.

Through the early part of this decade, scientists and lay people have battled on both sides of the argument. Advocates for parents of autistic children questioned the MMR and thimerosal link while doctors and researchers tried to study the association. Now, within the past two months two news reports help clarify the reality.

First, in April, ten of the original thirteen investigators who published the link between the MMR vaccine and autism retracted their conclusions. It was revealed that the study, which was funded by lawyers who focus on vaccine damage cases, was markedly flawed. The original study that served as a basis for legal cases involving the MMR vaccine around the globe was biased. The lead investigators in the study are currently under legal investigation for conflict of interest.

A second story about vaccines came out in May 04. The Institute of Medicine released a report by its thirteen member panel saying that there was “little credible evidence that thimerosal was associated with autism“. Autism is a complex and difficult problem for parents and children. I know many autistic children and their families. There is still no clear explanation for autism. I wish there was. But at least we can learn some lessons from these two reports.

These two reports are of great value to physicians who promote vaccines for kids. The first report about the authors of the Lancet article takes the wind out of the sails of the MMR – autism relationship. It had been viewed with skepticism and was never supported by other research. But now to have the original authors retract their opinions makes the original article meaningless. Coupled with research disproving the MMR autism association we can now put this speculation to rest.

The thimerosal argument was piggybacked onto the MMR argument for those who wanted to link vaccines to autism. But with “no credible evidence” for such a link we can now be doubly reassured that vaccines have no connection with autism.

The general public never sees the illnesses we seek to prevent with vaccines. The illnesses are awful and often deadly. It is one of the miracles of medicine that we have vaccines for our children. Due to vaccines far fewer children need respirators, spinal taps, intravenous medicines, hospitalizations, ER visits, and intensive care unit treatments. We see far fewer cases of meningitis than we saw even 10 years ago. And in our lifetime – we will see polio eliminated worldwide because of vaccines.

So when I give immunizations to children these days, because of the recent news, I give them with renewed confidence that they are the most valuable preventative care treatments I give to children. I feel so lucky to have them. Now, I just hope more people can be reassured about their safety.

Getting Your Child to do Chores

Wouldn’t it be nice if one Saturday, you wake up and your kids say to you, “Mom, can we do chores today?” Then  as you sit happily sipping coffee and reading the newspaper your kids clean their rooms whistling while they work.  Even the bathrooms and mud hall get cleaned! This  obviously is a scene from a fantasy movie. It will never  happen in your home or mine.

It must be one of the most universally dreadful of all parenting jobs to try to get your kids to do chores. You  dread it. Kids resist and resent it. And after hours of pushing the issue, you end up doing most of it yourself.  There must be an easier way!

Well, there isn’t. (I should end the article here,  but I’ll add a few tips.) Children do need chores. They need to accept some responsibility for maintaining your home. Chores should be age appropriate for your children and should increase with age. Certainly write them down and post them on your ever expanding refrigerator billboard. But those are the basics we all know.

The biggest secret to getting chores done is that kids need us to do things for them. That gives us leverage to  have them do things for us. So, to get chores done, try these suggestions.

On chore day, stop serving your kids until the jobs are done. Respond to no requests, demands or inquiries. Stick to this. Keep on them about their chores but use  your presence rather then your voice. Accept less then perfect performance at the beginning but expect improvement over time. Teach them what you expect. Be persistent about having chores and getting them done. They will never like it. They will always grumble. Don’t grumble back.  Remember they are very uncomfortable with your silence.

If you can distance yourself from their grumbling,  persist in the chore demand, resist any of their requests  and pester them with your presence instead of your words, you might get a chore or two out of those lazy leeches you  call your children! If not, send them to my house and I’ll put them to work.

Getting Kids to Listen

“It’s time for dinner, Johnny. Come to the table. Johnny, it’s time to stop playing and come eat. Come eat  Johnny.


Why don’t they listen the first time? Listening.  Hearing. Cooperating. How do we get kids to do these things? Why do they make us yell? Perhaps it’s because  they know they don’t have to listen until they get you to

So what are kids thinking? From their perspective, they are listening. They listen to your voice to  progressively increase in volume. They listen to your tone  get more strained. And then when you get to the most  strained voice and highest volume, they act. It appears to  me they know exactly what they are doing. As you are  trying to control them, they control you.

To get kids to listen they need to know that we mean it before we get to that loud strained voice. Perhaps we  should call once then go and touch them to be sure they heard. Then gauge whether they are willing to part with  what they are doing. Giving them some warning ahead of  time helps with this part. Then as you touch them, meet  their eyes and tell them again it is time to come. Then wait there a second. They hate parents to hover over them.

Of course not all listening problems are solved so quickly. Parents need to realize that kids don’t like  being ordered around like a disrespected employee. Nobody appreciates being treated like that. So we have to back up and think about how we talk to them. Do we yell a lot? Do  we order them around? Are we always telling them what do do and not letting them think for themselves. These actions will make children want to tune us out.

To help children listen better, keep your voice even. Use nonverbal cues like touch, meeting their eyes and  getting down to their level. Stop giving orders and commands. Give options instead. Sometimes just present the problem you are having and see if they can come up with a solution. The solution might not be what you exactly want but it might work as well.

Getting our kids “to listen” is a perennial problem  for parents. We always think of it as their problem with  hearing and cooperating. But if we turn this problem to be  ours then perhaps it is really at least in part a problem  of how we present ourselves and our daily concerns to our kids.

Expectations For Our Teens (Parenting Teens Part III)

Do you expect anything from your teen? Do they have chores?

Parents are used to setting limits for their teenagers.  “No you can’t go out tonight. You have too much to do at home!”

How can any parent expect their child to achieve anything  if you aren’t clear with what you expect? I have witnessed this  question in action many times. When discussing school grades I  often hear parents tell me that their son or daughter does  “fine” in school. When I inquire further I discover that barely  passing is acceptable to that parent. If I ask if their child  could do better, invariably the parent says “sure, if he only  applied himself.” It is hard to press a parent further but I  often wonder in my head “why don’t you expect him to do better  and apply himself?”

It is an unwritten law of teen parenting; children will  rise to the level of their parents’ expectations. (Of course  there are some conditions – realistic expectations, good mental  health, organizational skills, etc).

Realistic expectations are a sign of respect towards your  children. They tell your child that you think so much of them  that you think they can achieve. That is powerful to these kids  who are going through so much internal questioning. “My mom and  dad think I can make it through college.” Kids internalize  these messages and sense a positive image of their skills.

These are some prerequisites for parents to set proper  expectations. Parents need to recognize their children for who  they are. They need to fairly assess their skills. They need  to respect them for their abilities and compliment them. Then  parents can help children set some short and long term goals.  Parents and kids should reassess these goals periodically.  Monitor progress. Then back off when they are achieving well  and taking ownership for their own accomplishments. Keep  witnessing their progress and keep the complements coming.

This kind of system helps guide teens in setting and  holding expectations for themselves. They attain more skills  over time. In the area of expectations, if you do you job, they  will do theirs.