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The Seven Silencing Reasons We Don’t Have Tough Conversations with Our Kids

Sex. Death. Porn. Divorce. Conversations like these often make us squirm in our seats– even before we have these talks with our kids. So what happens? We wait. Sometimes we don’t have them at all.

Why don’t we have these tough conversations?

  1. We don’t know what to say: These conversations don’t exactly role off the tongue. Where do we start? How do we explain it? We feel awkward and out-of-our element. Even if we speak with others for a living, conversations with our favorite little humans can challenge us in ways that co-workers, students or someone else’s kids never could.
  2. They are embarrassing, uncomfortable or emotionally charged: Discussions about sex, divorce or death aren’t easy. There is a lot of emotion behind them that come from our own hang-ups, experiences and hot-buttons– sometimes on both sides. It doesn’t help that the more awkward and emotional we feel about them, the more our children tend to react to and absorb those emotions.
  3. We are afraid that we won’t know all the answers: What if our kids ask us something that we simply don’t know how to answer? We worry about feeling unprepared.
  4. These conversations can feel taboo: Are we supposed to be talking about this stuff? After all, in many cases, our parents didn’t talk about it with us. These are words we usually don’t say or speak about in hushed tones– or at least only with our closest friends.
  5. We feel our kids won’t want to discuss them with us: We may think that the kids would rather do something– anything- rather than talking to us about these tough topics. They might think they are weird, embarrassing or totally off-the-charts gross.
  6. We don’t know when to have them: Are our children really old enough to hear this? How do I say it in a way that won’t scare them? How do I say it so that they understand? When do I start these conversations with my kids?
  7. We assume they already know: This is the ultimate way to bury our heads in the sand. Maybe they already know! Someone must have spoken to them about this stuff– maybe even you- and they are all set now because that talk is crossed off your list.

While there are countless reasons why we don’t want to have these key conversations with our kids– there are just as many reasons why we must. Our kids need us to be open and honest with them so that they know they can trust us, ask us anything, come to us when the sh*t hits the fan or when life gets confusing or uncomfortable. It’s time to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable– let’s have these talks and let’s have them often. Today is as good of a day as any.

Need help? We’ve got the tips and scripts you might need right now- I want to help! With the top experts in their area, my podcast, How to Talk to Kids about Anything, gives tips, scripts, stories and steps to make even the toughest conversations easier. More are added each week. And there is no topic we won’t cover.

We’re here– and you’ve got this!

Dr. Robyn on Nightline: What is Elizabeth Thomas’ state of mind at age 15?

I was on Nightline the other night, talking about Elizabeth Thomas and her possible state of mind after being found with her 50-year-old teacher, Tad Cummins.

When a young girl is feeling alone or misunderstood, an older, trusted teacher can be a welcome person in her life. Usually a teacher-student relationship can be a wonderful source of help but clearly this relationship crossed the line and became inappropriate and exploitive. Being a teacher is a unique position of power and intimacy in a child’s life- you are trusted and you have proximity.

Elizabeth is likely in crisis right now. She needs love and understanding from her family and those who love her. This was a cry for help and now, she needs to get the help she needs to become healthy and secure in her life. What was she trying to tell her family? What was going on right before she left? These issues must be addressed as they were the catalyst to the incident.

Nightline: 04/20/17: Missing Student Elizabeth Thomas Found, Teacher Arrested in California Watch Full Episode | 04/20/2017

How is she feeling? Nobody but Elizabeth knows for sure. But I would venture to guess that Elizabeth is likely feeling confused right now. This is someone she has trusted for a long time and likely believed was working in her best interest- this is not likely someone she saw as a criminal or inappropriate. So being taken away from him actually may feel like a loss for her- a loss of someone she trusted so much that she left her life with him. I imagine she is feeling many things right now so it’s time for some understanding and patience as she gets the help she needs.

*Now that child abuse charges have surfaced regarding Elizabeth Thomas’ mother, this adds and important layer to why Elizabeth left, why she got attached to her teacher in the first place, and why she seemed unhappy or reluctant to come back to her life in Tennessee. This girl needs patience, time and help– and it seems that her family will also need support in order for everyone to get back on track.

 

 

 

Conversations that Matter: Leadership and Making Mistakes

When do you talk about the importance of making mistakes? When can you convey, at home or at work, the growth opportunities that happen because you go out on a limb and make mistakes? I say; whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In the 2-minute video above, I talk about seizing the opportunity and conveying to ourselves and to those we teach, inspire, train, guide or lead that when trying newer skills:

(1) Mistakes are normal.

(2) Mistakes often show that you had the courage to try.

(3) Mistakes allow you to learn and grow.

(4) Aim for doing your best NOT being perfect.

(5) Our flaws are what make us human, lovable and interesting.

bigstock-mistake-concepts-with-oops-me-94865918-450x300If you think about it, if we aren’t making mistakes, it may be because we aren’t trying something new or we aren’t truly engaging in the learning process. Without mistakes, how would we know that we do our best when we have more time to study (and worse when we leave it until the last minute)? Without mistakes, how would we learn when we get our best work done, where and when we are the most productive (and when we are not), who are the right people to surround ourselves with and who drag us down? We must love ourselves as the learners we are and realize that without learning, there would be no growth. As leaders, growth is what makes us better, stronger and more skilled.

In other words; don’t fear mistakes, embrace them. They are the ticket to your next learning opportunity.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Can Adults Benefit from the Concept of Not Yet too? Yes they can!

growth-mindset-brain-scan-square-450x449Do you or those with whom you work or live often give up or shut down when a skill or concept is a bit out of reach? Are you or those you work with using language like; “it can’t be done,” “I can’t do it,” “I don’t know how,” or “It can’t happen?” You might be dealing with a fixed mindset that needs to be shifted so you (or the person in question) can grow.

This past year, I’ve talked a lot about the concept of “Not Yet” when presenting to business leaders and adults who work with children, teens and young adults. The idea of “not yet” here comes from Carol Dweck who discusses the “Not Yet” concept when presenting about shifting the mindset of young people. When we use the concept of “not yet,” she explains, we set children up with a growth mindset—one that allows them to see that while they have “not yet” mastered a new concept, they are on their way. They are making progress.

Those who had a fixed mindset only focused on the fact that they hadn’t mastered a skill “now” and therefore were more likely to cheat and assume they were unlikely to improve. “Not Yet” can make a big difference. Interestingly, they use the concept of “not yet” in my children’s school. And yes- I think we are missing something if we only apply it to kids.

So what about the concept of “Not Yet” for adults?

Whether you are an entrepreneur, parent, coach, teacher, CEO or business employee, you, too, have to shift your mindset to one that embraces “not yet.” Do you believe you can improve? Do you have room to try out new skills so you can get better? As adults, it’s so easy to get stuck in a rut perpetuating the myth of “this is how it’s always been done” or “old dogs can’t learn new tricks.”

Frankly, I think that is a bunch of garbage.

Do you want to employ the concept of “not yet” and change your results? Then, let’s go for it.

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Try new skills with the knowledge that you WILL improve. You may not have the concept “yet” but it’s simply a matter of time and practice. Believe that you will improve and master the concept.
  • Stop the negative self talk. Having a negative nag in your ear is never a helpful strategy for success. Answer negative self talk with the concept of “not yet” and then keep practicing and working towards your goals.
  • Show yourself the evidence: As you work to improve, chart or write down your progress. Learning to become a “runner” for the first time? Write down how long you were able to run for today. Trying to stay calm in the morning rush without yelling? Chart how long you were able to make it this week and what strategies worked for you. Trying to get better at presenting at work in front of others? Write down what you did better today (clear voice, clear concept, succinct points, etc). When you look at the evidence, you will see how you are improving over time.
  • Keep going: If Rome wasn’t built in a day, 1000 practices before you become an expert and it takes at least 30 days to create a habit, how long will it take you to see improvements? That might seem like one of those convoluted word problems from middle school but the point is—improvements take time. Don’t stop. Persevere. Engage that indomitable spirit and you will leave your fixed mindset in the dust.

Remember to embrace yourself as a learner who can improve. You are “in process.” You may not have the skill, the concept, or the knowledge today—but that doesn’t mean you won’t in time. You just don’t have it yet.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Carol Dweck: “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve”.

Dweck, C. (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential, New York: Random House.

Evolution of Another Body Image Conversation with my Daughter

monsterhighMy daughter is rounding the corner to age seven in February and if there is one thing I’ve discovered in the time that I’ve been her mother, it’s that all “big talks” are really just a series of small conversations about big issues. Body image is no exception.

Since I talk about body image in many of my presentations and keynote addresses, it’s no surprise that this is a hot button issue for me. I want my daughter to feel confident AND also know how to discern negative messages that come to us in the smallest, most benign-seeming packages. Studies tell us that consistent exposure to images, videos and other media that show extremely thin, unrealistic depictions of girls and women, can have an adverse effect on the body image, self image, attitudes and feelings of girls (and boys as well!).

Many parents and caring adults (mentors, teachers, family members) who have contact with girls (and boys!) often ask me for examples of specific conversations I’ve had with my own children so they can see how to have one of these small conversations that can make a big difference. Of course, your own presence, interest and love will come out in your own words. As I often say, “be ready!” These conversations can sneak up on you. AND if you aren’t quite ready– just tell your child; “I want to think about my answer for a little bit because it’s important– and I will get back to  you later on today. OK?” Then, make sure to follow up! And, if you missed an opportunity or you wish you said something else– no worries! There is no expiration date on do-overs! We all need them. ?

Here’s how my conversation went with my own daughter yesterday and today:

T, age 6 3/4, looking at a toy catalog: Mommy? Why don’t you like Monster High Dolls?
Me: Well, I don’t like that all of the dolls have the same, very unrealistically thin body that nobody would ever have in real life. Also, they are extremely made-up and the outfits aren’t appropriate as they are very short and tight. I wish they looked and acted more like real girls who all look different–girls who have healthy bodies of all different shapes and sizes– with kind faces rather than all those mean scowls all the time.
Later that day…
T: I did realize one positive about Monster High Dolls, Mommy. They come in different colors.
Me: Yes, I like that too. Because we are all different colors, aren’t we?
This morning…
T: You know Mommy, you’re right. These Monster High Dolls have the skinniest legs that nobody could ever really have. They look weird and then they have these big feet in very high heels that you can’t do anything in ever. They should make them look more like real girls. ‘Cause that would make sense!

Bingo.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

 

Tips on Helping Teen Fans Deal with saying Goodbye to Zayn Malik from One Direction

zayn-450x327As you can imagine, I have been receiving calls and emails this morning from the press asking me to provide tips on “the loss of Zayn Malik” from One Direction.  At first glance, I thought he might have died and quickly looked up the story so I could comment effectively.  But he didn’t die– he is simply leaving the group to move in a different direction– one away from his One Direction life.  In fact, he declared that he wanted to live as a “normal 22 year old.”

Fans have reacted with everything from well wishes to anger to depression to extreme frustration and sadness.  Why?

Social media and reality shows allow fans to have an all-access pass to watching and experiencing the growth, hopes and successes of their favorite stars over time. These young celebrities start out just like their fans in many ways– unknown and hopeful.  Involved fans root for their favorite unknowns, cheer for them and even vote for them as they become a recognized entity and eventually, a star.  But rather than these stars feeling untouchable to fans, they feel more like friends and family members.

xfactorzayn-450x300Adding to what I view as the “reality effect,” music has an added benefit of creating and putting an indelible mark on our memories– providing a time stamp on important moments in our lives. It’s as if these stars are present in our lives, offering a comfort on bad days and a celebratory song on good ones.

zayn_malik-450x229So it’s not surprising that when Zayn Malik said his farewells to One Direction, many fans started grieving his loss as if he was walking out of their lives. It’s a break up for them, too. Fan watched him move from young hopeful to star from X-Factor to international recognition. And now he’s leaving.

While it may seem silly to many, parents and mentors can provide an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on as their devoted teens watch Zayn Malik move forward with his life.  Shrugging off your child’s feelings will not win you any awards– so be empathetic without matching their intensity. You may even remember and share how you felt about a musician when you were younger but know that without the internet, you didn’t get as close and share in the life of that band member like your child feels s/he did.

As we know, time heals all wounds and of course, devoted fans can remember the good times simply by turning on One Direction and dancing to their hearts content. That’s the great thing about music– you can listen to it just as you remember it, over and over.

And of course, devoted fans can still watch their favorite group move One Direction forward without Zayn Malik– a change, yes, but as many of us can attest, change can be good even if it’s different.

Fans can also cheer for Zayn as he continues to post about his life independent of One Direction.  They may even feel happy for him once the sting subsides– and as all pain does, this one will too.

So– bottom line. You may think it’s ridiculous but your devoted teen is really feeling pain and experiencing what they see as a real loss. Be gentle with them.  They’ll thank you for it.

Cyberbullying and teens: What we learn when Iggy Azalea unplugs from social media due to haters

gma_feb2015_800400

Good Morning America brought me into the studio to talk to Lara Spencer this morning (video) about Iggy Azalea, her departure from social media, and what her experience with haters might tell us about cyberbullying.  Let’s discuss!

Should people just give up on social media if they’re having these kinds of problems?

Whether social media is for you or not is a very personal decision.

If you are a celebrity with millions of fans or a non-celebrity, you may encounter the occasional troll who aims to provoke you. It can be stressful and upsetting. So if these interactions are influencing how you feel about yourself or how you go about your day to day life, the internet may not be a healthy space for you. If, however, you feel that interacting with your fans or those who know you and love you is worthwhile and outweighs the cons, continue on but know that if you are dealing with an actual cyberbullying situation (i.e. sexually explicit messaging, hate crime language, threats), you must document it and report it.

How can you avoid online haters?  

You have several choices. You can:

(1) Shut off or limit personal interaction with social media, as we see in Iggy Azalea’s circumstance.  Celebrities are always going to be targeted because you are talking about millions of fans and some who feel entitled to criticize and demean at will. Non-celebrities can typically be more choosy about their online interactions.

(3) Switch to social media that allows you to create your own cyber bubble made up of people you know and love and who love you. Switching to this type of social media will often help you to avoid internet trolls.

(3) Join whatever social media sites you want—but if and when encountering a cyberbully, don’t retaliate. Nothing creates more online haters than engaging with online haters. Block the cyberbullies if possible, document the messages, screen shot what was sent and report to the authorities, website and/or internet service provider.

By one statistic, over half of teens have been bullied online – and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. It can be so hurtful — what should parents tell their children should this happen to them?  

When I’m presenting to parent and teacher audiences, this is one of the most typical questions to come up. If a child comes to you and tells you that s/he feels he is being targeted online, first say: “I’m sorry this is happening to you”—validate their feelings right away. Tell them “thank you for coming to me”—because it’s hard to admit that you are being bullied and you don’t know how to handle it. Then be sure to tell them that you are “with them every step of the way “and you and the child will “figure out what to do together.” You don’t need to know all the answers, but we want to ensure that our children don’t feel alone. You don’t want to take over for your child, but rather partner with them in finding the solutions.  Teens often voice frustration with parents or teachers who brush off the issue, tell them to just “get new friends” or start out helping and then refrain from following up.  We don’t want to make things worse.

And don’t forget—every child and teen needs to be taught how to interact on line. There should be an expectation of respect and strong character. As the cyber life is a huge part of a teen’s actual life, make sure you teach your child to use respect and kindness both off and online.

It’s worth repeating one more time, cyberbullying in the form of threats, sexually explicit messaging, stalking aren’t just scary, they’re crimes. They need to be documented, screen-shot and reported.

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

Am I Like-able? Teens, Self Esteem and the Number of Likes They Get on Social Media

How much do YOU “unlike” like?

I was recently on Good Morning America talking to Robin Roberts about how social media has become a constant part of the teen world. Teens are learning that the number of likes they receive is equivalent to how likable, popular and worthy that they are. While it shouldn’t be about quantity, but rather quality, given that many of these likes come from people these kids barely even know, when it comes to social media, it’s a numbers game—the more likes you receive, the better these teens feel.


More ABC US news | ABC Health News

Welcome to the 100 club— the exclusive club invented for those teens who’ve received 100 or more likes on a social media photo or post. Getting the most likes is the new extreme sport. The need for likes and getting an “in” to the 100 club makes a competitive sport out of social media- where the trophy is the privilege of saying you are in an exclusive club—which is not attainable for all.

Teens are at a time in life when they want to fit in and feel the approval of peers, getting likes is an immediate, albeit flawed way, of finding out “am I worthy, am I popular and am I likeable?” Getting likes fits our immediate push-button culture and the need for immediate feedback and gratification even if it’s from people that our kids don’t know well. Not getting the likes, the positive feedback, can feel like a slap in the face and a blow to the self esteem—not good enough. You see the number of likes, but so does everyone else. It’s easy for them to wonder; am I like-able enough?

Now what?

When presenting to teens and parents on this topic, here are two of the takeaways I provide:

First, break the like habit. Ask your teen, what are you hoping for when you post that photo? If the sole reason to post is to garner likes, you may have a slippery slope as it’s a self esteem trap. Make sure your teen is getting out and about, face to face with 3D people- through sports, drama club, martial arts, dance, cheer so they can get away from the likes, set meaningful goals and feel significant achievement.

Second, send a clear message to your teens that it’s who you are– not your number of likes that make you worthy. Social media can be a self esteem trap.  Teens may believe it all comes down to numbers when it’s really about quality of connections with your true supporters, how you feel about yourself and the gifts you contribute to the world.

A final word:

Don’t forget– the example we set is also vital to our children.  Many adults will go through their days, heads down and eyes buried into their phones, looking at how their posts fair on their social media pages.  It’s easy to get caught into the same trap at their children.  We must keep it all in perspective while acknowledging that everyone likes to get a pat on the back or a high five– even if it’s virtual.

Just for fun:

taylorswiftandme-1After my segment on Good Morning America, I ran into Taylor Swift in the elevator!  What a fun, happy treat.  I posted the selfie of us and you know what?  I received the most likes I ever got.  Ironic given the segment topic!

Here’s to you!

Dr. Robyn Signature

 

 

 

 

 

Parents: Boys Are Sexting More Now Than Ever– What You Need to Know

Today_aug2013I was on the Today Show this morning talking about teens and sexting.  A new study suggests that boys are sexting more than ever–  aiming to get the attention of girls in profoundly inappropriate ways.  Here are some questions parents have asked me– and some answers that I hope will be helpful to you as you navigate today’s high tech culture with your children.

(1) Is this the new normal?

This kind of behavior has become a lot more common likely because there is so many messages out there that are telling young people this is the norm. Pornography is just a few key strokes away.  Objectication and sexualization is part of the natural landscape of advertising and marketing to teens today.  (3) Hook up culture is celebrated in many TV shows and reality shows for teens. And don’t forget (4) Real life politicians, sports heroes and entertainers are made into household names for doing it, make excuses for it and are excused for doing it.  These messages happen 24/7 so their frame of reference is, this is the norm.

(2) What should parents do?

When I’m presenting to parents or educators I tell them that they must look & listen, Engage & explain and Be a powerful example.

  • Look/Listen:  What is my child doing?  What is he watching?  What kinds of texts is he sending? What is he saying about girls?  To his friends?  To girls?
  • Engage & Explain: Ask directly. For example; Dr. Robyn was saying on The Today Show that boys are sending texts to girls about hooking up and having sex—is this happening in your world?  What do you think about it? Be very clear that what he is seeing and hearing on the internet and on TV is not the norm.
  • Provide a powerful example: There are too many messages out there that are telling your children that hook up culture is to be expected—so show them what it means to have a meaningful relationship based on respect, kindness and character.

(3) When should parents talk to their children about it?

Parents need to start talking to their children about the power of the media, their bodies and treating people with respect and kindness from a very early age.  This is not one conversation but a series of conversations we have over a childhood so that when we move into sexting, dating, hook up culture and sex, it’s not strained or strange—it is a natural continuation of countless conversations you have had with your child.  We can’t just have “the sex talk” we need to have the relationship talk, the character talk, the technology talk and many others to raise a healthy, respectful child. Conversation not only with boys—but absolutely with girls too who may have more power than they think to change the way boys talk to them and relate to them.

(4) Boys are acting with clueless aggression that is fueled by anonymity so I tell them that a good litmus test is– Would you be embarrassed if this text was seen by your mother or your sister?  If yes, it’s probably not something you should send.

What do you think?  Is this a concern of yours?  How do you deal with it?

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Amanda Todd: Teen Ends Her Life After Relentless Battle with Bullying

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOHXGNx-E7E

I’m stuck. What’s left of me now…nothing stops.  I have nobody. I need someone. ?

amanda-todd-300x225Amanda Todd, a once, promising happy young Canadian girl committed bullycide on Wednesday after relentless, senseless attacks– physical, emotional and psychological– over several years followed her from town to town.

Her horrible story is hauntingly told in a youtube video with cue cards and shaking hands. What began in seventh grade when, she wrote, “I would go with friends on webcam [to] meet and talk to new people.” A stranger made her feel attractive and convinced her to flash the camera.  A mistake that would unravel into years of stalking, black-mailing and bullying, this girl was shamed and made to feel worthless.

Even when moving to place to place to get away from the abuse, the tormenters would find her and continue to cyberbully and physically bully this young woman who was trying her best to find someone who would love her as she is.  She spiraled into depression, complicated by intense and crippling anxiety, self hatred, self harm, and private self-bullying (see the connection between bullying, mental health and suicidehere and how to report responsibly on suicide here).

At one point, 50 kids bullied her at one time.  A boy had lead Amanda on, told her he liked her, and slept with her only to gang up on her later with his then girlfriend and friends.  “Just punch her!” they yelled.  The kids filmed it. Her father found her in a ditch later that day.  Even then, she didn’t want to press charges and get anyone else into trouble.  Her self worth was obliterated.  She went home and drank bleach– which landed her in the hospital– and urged on her tormenters to make fun of her that much more– and even urge her to kill herself.

Sadly, that’s exactly what she did.  At the end of this video, uploaded just last month, she writes “I have nobody.  I need someone.”

amandatodd_cheer-200x300I think this is the legacy she leaves– a message to all of us to be the someone these kids need.  Studies tell us that a majority of young people don’t feel that they have at least three people to turn to in a time of need or challenge (see more on this in the new Bully book I am proud to have been part of along with Rosalind Wiseman and Michele Borba).  As I tell my audiences when I present on bullying;

Please, be one of the three. Because you may actually be the only one. I know it’s hard. I know we’re all busy. I know we have no time. But cries for help don’t wait for a hole in our schedules.

It’s National Anti-bullying month and it’s way past time to make a change and commit to making this situation better for those who are suffering.

Peace be with you, Amanda Todd. I am so infuriated…So saddened by this tragic story and the many others that tell a tale of struggle and loss. How could this continue to go on like this? We must do better for you so it can get better for all.