Letting Kids Be Kids

It may be extreme to call it “Revenge of the Nerds,” but the “fast,” uber-popular, pot-smoking, risk-taking and all-around “cool” kids from middle school may be the duds at your 10-year high school reunion.

Or so claim the authors of a new study, “Whatever Happened to the ‘Cool’ Kids? Long-Term Sequelae of Early Adolescent Pseudomature Behavior,” which was published June 11 in the online journal Child Development.

Starting with seventh and eighth graders in middle school cafeterias, the researchers looked at attractiveness, popularity, romantic behavior, “social competence,” substance use and deviant (stealing dollar bills from parents, sneaking into movies) or criminal behavior among nearly 200 study participants over a period of 10 years.

DSCN1510The researchers, defining “pseudomature behavior” as “a desire to achieve social maturity without a concomitant level of emotional and behavioral maturity,” hypothesized that “…minor delinquent activity, precocious romantic involvement and a focus on physical appearance in friendships…linked to early adolescents’ strong desire for peer approval…will predict popularity in the short term…but fade over time.”

Those of us who have attended high school reunions know this to be true.

Even worse, the study’s researchers surmised that precocious behavior – and “overemphasis upon impressing peers” — could lead to lifelong problems in romantic relationships, serious deviant (or criminal) behavior and/or abuse of alcohol and marijuana.

The problem, the study found, is that “adolescents are most likely to engage in [this] behavior when they lack confidence in their capacity to meet the developmental challenge of managing peer relations.” As a result, they don’t hone the tools required for “competence in social relationships in the longer term.”

What’s more, “early reliance on upon minor acts of delinquency to impress peers may…lead to a greater likelihood of associating with deviance prone peers, who in turn would only be impressed by more and more serious acts of deviance over time.”

For more information about these findings, New York Times writer Jan Hoffman interviewed the study’s lead author, Joseph P. Allen, a University of Virginia professor of psychology, for the June 23 article: “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23.”

“These young teenagers sought out friends who were physically attractive; their romances were more numerous, emotionally intense and sexually exploring than those of their peers; and they dabbled in minor delinquency — skipping school, sneaking into movies, vandalism,” Hoffman writes.

Ten years later, in comparison to their “slower-moving” middle-school peers, the study participants had a “45 percent greater rate of problems resulting from alcohol and marijuana use and a 22 percent greater rate of adult criminal behavior, from theft to assaults.

At age 23, Dr. Allen notes, those who were socially advanced at age 13 “are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent.…They’re still living in their middle-school world.’

“Those early attempts to act older than they were seemed to have left them socially stunted,” Hoffman states.

Asked to summarize the research findings, Dr. Allen told Hoffman that while they were busy focusing on social status through risky or “pseudomature behaviors,” the teenagers missed a “critical development period.”

“At the same time, other young teenagers were learning about soldering same-gender friendships while engaged in drama-free activities like watching a movie at home together on a Friday night, eating ice cream,” Hoffman writes, adding that Dr. Allen urges parents to “support that behavior and not fret that their young teenagers aren’t “popular.”

“To be truly mature as an early adolescent means you’re able to be a good, loyal friend, supportive, hardworking and responsible,” Dr. Allen told Hoffman.

So, for parents, caregivers and teachers, the important lesson is to let kids be kids. We need to help young teens resist the urge to act older, dress sassier, hang out with influential, older kids and experiment with pot and alcohol.

I think this was easier when we were young. Throughout middle school, I read avidly and spent my weekend nights babysitting. I certainly wasn’t the most popular girl in the seventh grade, and I didn’t care. I knew that once I entered high school, I would gain both social status and a social life through the religious-based youth group my siblings had joined.

I’m sure that the skills those pursuits taught me – reading for pleasure, taking care of kids, earning and managing money – have served me better than premature “seven minutes in Heaven” would have.

Today, short of spending a dozen years in the African bush, as did the main character’s family in Mean Girls, how can parents insulate kids from the social pressures required for popularity?

Today’s youth can watch nearly any movie or TV show via Netflix, Hulu or iTunes. They listen to internet radio on their phones and laptops, and can read blogs, Facebook posts and foreign newspapers at any time online. Through the TV show TMZ, they can track the moves and mishaps of celebrities, and via Twitter they learn what those stars eat for lunch, wear to the gym and drink in clubs.

With screens at their fingertips seemingly nonstop, teens experience a spectrum of influence that far exceeds anything those of us born before 1980 could imagine.

So how do we slow it all down? How do we give our kids permission to remain kids longer? What are your ideas or successful strategies? We’d love to read your comments below.

Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 30 June 2014
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Finding Happiness When Life Has its Own Plans

johnsonfamilyRecently, a bright, lively, beautiful, capable, involved and all-around amazing woman in our community received the shocking diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. True to her nature, she immediately began to face this unforeseen challenge with strength, courage, calm and even humor.

Openly and honestly, Diane has shared details and feelings about this experience on her CaringBridge website. (Click here for access.) While all of Diane’s posts are engaging and thought provoking, her thoughts on appreciating kindness and finding happiness “when my life is not what I had planned” could benefit all of us.

We are so honored that Diane agreed to share excerpts from her inspirational posts with PermissionSlips readers.

May 1, 2014, 9:26 pm
I have been diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma Stage 4 lung cancer and it has metastasized to my spine in my C4 vertebrae. We were totally and completely shocked at this diagnosis.

[I am undergoing radiation treatments] to shrink or eradicate the existing tumor in my C4 vertebrae. It is not feasible to undergo major surgery like lung removal when another tumor could resurface in another spot immediately thereafter. [Also], this tumor is in a very difficult place to reach, making it nearly impossible to remove. The hope is that chemotherapy will reduce the one existing lung tumor and halt the progression of anything else that might develop.

Will this cancer and chemotherapy be the fight of my life? Yes. I welcome your prayers and wishes for improved health. I will need all the help, miracles, luck and good medicine that I can find.

May 10, 2014, 1:40 pm
I am calling [this] a full offensive attack. I plan to use every means possible to fight against my opponent. I want to meet people who were diagnosed with STAGE 4 LUNG CANCER, [given a 5% chance of survival, like me] and beat the odds. I want to get their advice on what to do as I wage this major battle.

I want to say one huge THANK YOU to so many people who have sent texts, cards, emails, phone calls, visits, etc. with kind and loving wishes for me and our entire family. I can honestly say that the only good thing that has come from this cancer is the touching of hearts I have experienced.  I wish I had been living my life showing my affection and appreciation for everyone in it as much as I am experiencing now.

It is so easy to overlook and rush past a kindness, while forgetting to mention it to the giver. I am going to make it a point to not save these appreciations, compliment and affirmations silently inside of me. We would all be better off if we tried to express these warm thoughts to others more often.

June 9, 2014, 12:09 pm
Well, life has stabilized in the last few weeks. I had my second round of chemo. For the first five days, I didn’t feel well and had a heavy taste of salt in my mouth. I really couldn’t eat. Hah! I guess I was carrying around this spare tire on my waist for a good reason – it was sort of like “nourishment from the mother ship” for a while there! Anyway, after five days, the horrible taste and fatigue decreased dramatically and I reentered the world of the living. Since then, I have felt good and have surprised myself with [my] energy.

The bulk of my thoughts have been on a subject that is rather new to me: HOW DO I FIND HAPPINESS WHEN MY LIFE IS NOT WHAT I HAD PLANNED? I think we ALL deal with this to some degree – maybe we are waiting for a promotion, or for our house to sell, or waiting for school to be over, or WHATEVER you want changed in your life. Right now I just have a REALLY BIG subject that is not what I wanted or planned in my life. After interviewing cancer survivors and reading extensively, I am seeing that the most successful cancer warriors simply accept this unplanned life change and look for all the love and goodness around them. As trite as it sounds, it boils down to actually LIVING each day with love, happiness and appreciation.

For me, [what I call] OPERATION 5% involves utilizing all the drugs and treatments from traditional western medicine, and incorporating various whole-body health modalities like massage, visualization, acupuncture, meditation and energy healing.

The last component of OPERATION 5% has been my appreciation for the absolutely overwhelming love and support I have received from my family, friends and extended community. I can’t thank people enough for all the love you have sent my way – meals, dog walks, cards, texts, drive-by hugs, prayers, outings, jokes, jokes and more jokes, kind words, invites for my family, inspirational messages, flowers, emails and so much more. I am feeling the love and channeling all that energy to my T-cells to attack this cancer. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be fighting this with support from all of you!

June 20, 2014, 10:50 pm
[My first CT] scan showed there has been no advancement of the cancer, my lymph nodes are no longer inflamed and the bone tumor is either greatly reduced or gone and showing healthy bone regrowth. I am tolerating the treatment quite well, and looking and feeling good. Overall it was a very positive review. . . I believe I convinced my doctor that with my personal battle I [call] OPERATION 5%, I INTEND to be one of his cases who beats this cancer back and I INTEND to continue a normal life for much longer than what the textbooks [predict]!

Now I am continuing to be very realistic with my prognosis. . . BUT… I’ll put it this way…when you are given an unexpected, short-term, terminal prognosis at age 54 (while you still have young kids to raise)…and you can beat this thing back a bit…well, I am going to take my five minutes in the sunshine and celebrate.

I am a FULL BELIEVER that all the good karma from my friends has contributed greatly to my OPERATION 5%. I want to ask you to expand that support to someone else in your circle who is fighting their own battle (whatever it may be). Believe me, anything helps – a note, text, hug, joke, book, errands, food, prayers – it all builds up the person in need.

– Diane Johnson for Permission Slips, 23 June 2014
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Dads and the Atticus Finch Standard

Every Father’s Day, I enjoy scrolling through the photos and tributes friends post on Facebook. I love reflecting on life with my own father, who died when I was 22, and time with my husband, who – more than any other achievement – cares about being a good dad.

I think he, like many fathers of his generation, holds himself to the “Atticus Finch standard.”

20091206Caroline&RichMIChildrensChoir 019I would imagine that most people born after World War II were inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird – either in the form of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1960 book, or the film, which came out two years later and won three Oscars, including one for Gregory Peck, who played Atticus.

What’s not to love about Atticus? He is calm, patient, loving and thoughtful. He models high morals and a great work ethic. He reads voraciously on his own and with his children. Atticus allows his children the freedom to play outdoors and make their own mistakes, and takes advantage of “teachable moments.” And perhaps most important, he is present in his children’s lives.

Atticus tops numerous “best of” lists, including “Top 10 Father Figures in Literature” and “Top 10 Father Figures in Film.” Of course, these accolades are not surprising, given that the book has been named “Greatest novel of all time” and “best novel of the [20th] century.”

While my husband is not a lawyer, not exactly even of temperament, not a widower and not a Southern gentleman he, like Atticus Finch, takes his role as a father very seriously, and makes every effort to spend time with his children.

When the kids were young, he read to them and told bedtime stories at night. He invented “Star Wars” games and watched Jurassic Park and The Aristocats 10,000 times. He suffered through sleepless nights in bunk beds during Y-Guides and Y-Princess campouts.

My husband spent countless hours on bleachers, watching everything from T-ball practices to long swim meets to high school football games and dance recitals.

Now, he engages in meaningful conversation during family dinners and puts his smart phone and laptop away during weekends and vacations.

Perhaps most important, he is present in our home and family.

Much has been written about the negative impact of fatherless families. According to a recent blog post, one out of every three U.S. children – 15 million in all – lives without a father. From 2000 to 2010, a period in which the U.S. added 160,000 families with children, the number of two-parent households decreased by 1.2 million.

This blog, “The Fatherless Generation,” notes that coming from fatherless homes is attributed to a strikingly disproportionate amount of suicide, homelessness, behavioral disorders and imprisonment among youth, particularly boys.

While the impact of fatherless families on young women is harder to quantify, my guess is it is no less severe. In fact, a host of recent studies and books have delved into the issue.

In the Psychology Today article, “How Dads Shape Daughters’ Relationships,” Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD, wrote,“If there was a dad or other male caregiver in your early life, he probably set the first model of how a relationship with a man would be…[A] woman’s early relationship with dad, who is usually the first male object of her love, shapes her conscious and unconscious perceptions of who she can expect and what is acceptable in a romantic partner.”

Ken Canfield, author of Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father, notes that when a father is absent from his daughter’s life at a crucial time, she can become “frozen” relationally, and “There is a void in her life and the search to fill that void prompts her to take risks in relationships which usually result in some really poor choices.”

I learned of this connection a decade ago, while speaking with another mom during a preschool field trip. This woman told me she had spent time volunteering at a Planned Parenthood facility in a very conservative part of Texas.

She recalled that she had seen women of all ages, from young teenagers to 40-somethings, struggling with unwanted pregnancies – mostly because they lacked consistent romantic partners. When I asked if she could draw any conclusions or generalities from this experience, she said, “Definitely. Those woman all had one thing in common: no stable father in their lives.”

I shared this with my husband, and he took the information to heart. While by nature he prefers watching sports on TV, throwing a football in the yard and floating down a river with a fly-rod in hand, he became an involved father to his little girl.

He wants his daughter to remember that they played dress-ups and read books about princesses. He sat on the floor and played out Barbie and Ken scenarios with her. He watched dance, piano and choir recitals and even volunteered to join a group of “dancing Santas” for a children’s choir show.

Today, while Pea is a teenager and not particularly open to heart-to-hearts with her dad, his impact on her life remains strong. She is confident and driven and, so far, has not sought affirmation in the wrong places.

Like Scout Finch and Harper Lee, Pea knows her daddy loves her, and that he is watching.

– Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 16 June 2014
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#Cats-a-Pulting to Fame

If you have perused Facebook, Instagram or Twitter recently, you must have encountered a funny photo or video featuring a feline.

Cat videos and photos are the new social media standards. In recent weeks, it was hard to miss a video showing a tabby cat coming to a young boy’s rescue during a dog attack. As is clear in this clip, a neighbor dog knocked the kid off his trike, and the family cat rushed onto the scene and ferociously chased the canine away.

Together, seven YouTube videos presenting the same security-camera footage of this event have, as of this morning, attracted more than 7.5 MILLION views.

Today Show and ABC News clips featuring the family talking about the rescue have charted an additional three million views.

However, this cat’s sudden celebrity is not an anomaly.

Girls and KittenAccording to the British mobile network Three, while social networking users post about 1.4 million “selflies” a day, more than 3.8 online photos, videos and memes featuring felines appear daily.

What’s more, Three claims, at least 350,000 cat owners have set up Facebook, Instagram or Facebook sites for their pets.

“Sorry, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna,” a blog post about this study begins, “but we British web users are more interested in sharing pictures of our cats than images of your bums.”

It seems the public’s appetite for all things feline continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I’m thinking it’s time my own cat, Pumpkin, gets his day in the sun.

A few months ago, Marie Claire magazine introduced me to “Seven Cats Who Have More Followers Than You on Instagram.” To be clear, I am certain that MILLIONS of cats have more followers than the 60 I count on Instagram.

Years ago, friends who know me as a Francophile told me about Henri, the Existential Cat. I became enamored with this “chat noir,” who in his first video states, “My thumbs are not opposable. Yet I oppose everything.”

A quick Internet search will link you to Henri’s Twitter page (28.2 million followers) and several of his (or, rather, owner Will Braden’s) videos, which have attracted tens of millions of views.

In recent years, Henri’s stardom has been eclipsed by several others, including Grumpy Cat, a two-year-old, permanently scowling female (formally named Tardar Sauce), who listed as a “Public Figure” on The Official Grumpy Cat Facebook site.

Another rising star is the adorable Scottish Fold cat Maru, who, according to the blog “Cutest Paw,” has a series of Japanese videos that have been viewed more than 200 million times.

Yesterday, several Facebook friends linked to a Friskies cat food ad, which imagines a conversation between an established house cat and a newly arrived kitten.

I ask you, what’s not to love?

While I was growing up, and for the first 15 years of marriage, my family was 100 percent cat-centric. When my kids begged for a dog, I would engage in discussions about why cats are superior and make better pets.

Cats are quiet, independent and loving, I stated. They cost less to feed and maintain. They’re smarted than dogs. If necessary, they huntPumpkin on lap 10-11 for their own food and, perhaps most important, they cover up their own poop. Our cat hasn’t used a litter box since he was a tiny kitten.

My kids know I love them fully and unconditionally, to the moon and back. However, they know that I love my cat, too, and understand that when I say I love Pumpkin “just a little bit more,” I’m only 90 percent joking.

When he was in fifth grade, my oldest son was assigned a research report about his favorite pet. He chose to write about a dog. So, we looked through books and internet sites, and came up with the perfect canine for our family, a Bernese Mountain dog. He wrote as if we owned one.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t ready to take the plunge. “Let’s wait until your sister is old enough to stay home alone when I walk the dog,” I said.

Finally, when Son #1 was mid-way through high school, he threatened, “If you wait to get a dog until I leave for college, I will never forgive you.”

Not long after, after dropping that son at school one morning, a woman driving down a hill ran a stop sign and T-boned the SUV that contained me and the other three children. We rolled three times and finally came to a stop against a fence, with the driver’s side against the ground.

Miraculously, although the car was totaled, the human passengers were completely intact.

I gained a new perspective on life, and decided to stop saying “No” so much. The next weekend, we acquired a dog through the football team auction.

Five years later, that adorable, 90-pound Golden-doodle holds a prominent place in our household, along with his beloved, younger “brother,” which we purchased at a Young Life auction three years later.

My dogs are loveable and loyal. They are happy with one good walk each day, which gets me outside, exercising, even during Seattle’s darkest, rainiest days. They follow me from room to room, keep my feet warm (as I write, they both are lying peacefully under my desk), are game for any activity and never talk back.

Bauer Bimmer and donutsHowever, they are sneaky and steal any food that is left out. They especially love donuts…as do the rest of us.

Which brings me to this morning’s drama. I awoke to the sound of my husband stomping around the kitchen, sighing, running water and clattering pans.

When I went downstairs to see what was the matter, he told me he was cleaning up the mess one or both of the dogs had created during the night. Oozing and brown, in several spots on floors, carpets and doors…well, you get the picture.

It turns out the dogs felt left out of our “National Donut Day” celebration on Friday. Late yesterday, they found the box containing the remaining six donuts. Apparently, the maple bars didn’t sit well.

So, as of this morning, it’s still Advantage Pumpkin.

– Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 9 June 2014
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Husbands and Fathers in Pink Tutus

I can’t imagine my husband or three sons strutting about in pink tutus, but then again, I’m not sure anyone imagines that breast cancer will impact their family.

So far (knock wood), that particular cancer has not touched our clan.

Nevertheless, most years I choose to join thousands of runners in the Race for the Cure, which raises funds for the breast cancer awareness and research activities of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Yesterday was no exception.

RFTC pink moustacheAnd as I neared the site of the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, with the Jetson’s-like Space Needle in view, I couldn’t help noticing that each year the race seems to attract more men…in pink tutus.

As Martha would say, this is “a good thing.”

I can’t recall how many runners joined me in New York’s Central Park for my first Race for the Cure, back in 1991, but I don’t remember seeing many men or much pink. In fact, that race was where the Komen Foundation, which held its first race in Texas back in 1983, debuted its iconic pink ribbon.

Here in Seattle, for several years our local lacrosse team encouraged players and their families to sign up for the RTFC as a group. I distinctly remember when our group’s top finisher was a high schooler whose mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He didn’t don a tutu, but he certainly ran for a reason.

Yesterday, apparently about 6,000 of the 8,000 participants in Seattle’sRFTC tutus and carriage
RFTC events ran or walked for a reason, too. According to the Komen Foundation, three-fourths of those who participate in RFTC events – something like 1.6 million people in 150 cities around the world – have survived breast cancer or have a close friend or family member impacted by the disease.

At the Seattle Center, I saw very fit runners in short shorts and tiny singlets, competing for  medals and personal-best times. I also saw red-faced, sweat-drenched athletes who had not trained adequately for the event, and slow, but smiling, walkers of all ages and shapes.

I spotted elderly and ailing people in wheelchairs, kids in strollers and wagons, babies in backpacks and women from all “walks of life” wearing “survivor” shirts and scarves over their hairless heads.

Groups of runners and walkers gathered in coordinated outfits, such as tutus and feather boas and funny hats, with signs on their backs naming the women they were honoring.

Yesterday, instead of focusing on my 5K time, I took note of the diverse crowd, smiled at the survivors, chuckled at the costumes, cheered for the children and felt compassion for those who had lost loved ones.

I headed back home feeling happy that we humans value, and gather strength from, community.

-Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 2 June 2014
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