Thursday, March 31, 2005
Smoking: How to Get Teens to Lay Off
In a joint project of journalism faculty members at the Universities of Missouri-Columbia and Kansas, the researchers asked youngsters questions on their knowledge of and attitudes towards smoking, and the type of communication they've had with their parents about it.
In short, they found that when parents "lecture" their offspring about the dangers of smoking without, in turn, attentively listening to what the kids have to say about it, their efforts may well be futile and and liable to backfire. In other words, one-sided communication just doesn't do the trick.
The researchers suggested that open discussions, especially if they that are part of a multiperson strategy would do a better job of deterring youth from smoking. Parents' first step should be to ask their children what they think of smoking and listen to their responses. Then, and only then, should mom and dad explain why their youngsters' perceptions or assumptions may be faulty or incomplete.
Over 20 years ago two erudite ladies wrote a runaway bestseller whose title says it all: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. The simple fact is that nobody, no matter how old or how young, likes to be lectured to. But there are ways of doing things to accomplish your objectives.
On the subject of improving your communication with your teenagers, you'll find this article on our site helpful.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2005
More Choices, More Misery...And Lousy Relationships!
A man decided to divorce his wife because, he said, he no longer loved her.
Unfortunately, for some technical reason, he could not file for the divorce for six months. Being a reasonable fellow, he decided to make the most of the situation. Just for the heck of it, he would make a list of all the things he would do, if he truly loved his wife.
So he began doing all those things. And the result? He was soon madly in love with the woman he couldn't stomach a few months earlier.
One thing we can learn from this is that love - I mean real, authentic love, not the Hollywood variety - is the product of giving, not of taking. But there's more.
The whimsically romantic notion that love just happens, that Cupid either strikes you with his arrow or he doesn't, is just that. It's a concept that has its place in romantic novels, but it has little to do with real life. I'm not denying, of course, that chemistry is often an important component in relationships, but at best, it's only part of the story. Anyone who's interested in a lasting, satisfying, "sticky" kind of relationship, the kind that may lead to a lifetime of bliss, knows that he or she has to work hard.
Darned hard. On the first day, the second day, and every day thereafter. Period.
A professor of psychology recently wrote a book with an intriguing title: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. In an article explaining his rationale for writing the book, Barry Schwartz alludes to the stunning array of choices available to people in modern Western society, in every sphere of their lives.
Just walk into the average supermarket in search of hair-care products, and you may have 300 or more shampoos, conditioners and the like to choose from. In countless areas of life in which we used to have few or no options, we have to make continuous choices. And of course, the present day "explosion of tolerance" for "alternative" lifestyles has given us a further set of choices unknown to our grandparents and which have far reaching implications.
But if it seems logical that having more to choose from should make us happier, in fact the opposite is true. Schwartz quotes the findings of respected researchers that "increased choices and increased affluence have, in fact, been accompanied by decreased well-being."
Now read the story of the guy who wanted to divorce his wife again.
Makes you think, doesn't it?
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
The Scourge of Gossip: Why We Are Fast Asleep
That's why I referred to the media as a kind of mental anesthetic. But what we really need to ask ourselves is this: Exactly how potent is this anesthetic? Is a normal person's natural aversion to extreme aggressiveness all that it kills, or does its desensitizing power reach further, to less obvious, more subtle, but equally important areas?
As a first step, consider this brief imaginary conversation around the office water cooler in one of the most popular articles on our site, Tracy Peterson Turner's How to Put an End to Office Gossip:
Ted: Bob, did you hear about Tim? He got a great promotion.Tracy correctly points out that as soon as Ted put in his own speculation about the reason Tim got the promotion, Ted crossed the line between sharing Tim's good news and gossiping. Yes, it's a line that's sometimes extremely fine, but it's a line you cross at your peril, and worse still, at the peril of your victim (and "victim" is a word that's appropriate in this context) and even of all those around you.
Bob: Really? What for?
Ted: Apparently he did a job for the boss and the boss liked it; so Tim got the promotion. I think they're friends, and that probably helped.
Tracy's excellent article explains in detail why, and how you can tell when you're about to cross the line. But why is there a need to write such an article at all? Why, nowadays, is talking about other people in a depreciating way so common in the workplace and everywhere else?
Yes, the inclination to gossip is nothing more or less than basic human nature. Always was, and doubtlessly always will be. We can't run away from that. On the other hand, the mark of a cultured human being has always been the the ability, and more importantly, the will, to control his or her urges. The head rules the heart.
So why do folk in our generation have such a hard time restraining themselves from conduct that may be pleasant in itself, but which they know deep down is harmful to themselves and harmful to those among whom they live, work and play?
Of course, the reasons are many and varied, and I've no intention of trivialize the complexity of the issue. All I want to do is to draw attention to one aspect, which at least might shed a little light on the subject.
Which brings us back to the media. Let's take a closer look at your typical newspaper, online news source, magazine or other medium offering political or social commentary.
As I mentioned last time, a major function of the media is to act as the public watchdog against injustice, corruption, bad government, and similar things. In the course of so doing, it has to uncover what it has to uncover and reveal what it has to reveal.
Fine. But why must every "respectable" news outlet, whether in print or on the Internet, have a column or section that is openly and blatantly labeled "Gossip"?
And we, frail mortals that we are who are deeply influenced by what we see and hear - is it any small wonder that we're falling asleep at the wheel of life, so to speak, that we're casting off whatever remains of our sense of healthy shame, and speedily losing our sensitivity to all things sacred?
Labels: interpersonal relationships
Sunday, March 13, 2005
Social Anesthesia: Media's New Role?
In one of my articles on the site, I referred to an eye-opening classroom experience that former teacher John Andrew Murray wrote about in Teachers in Focus magazine. It's worth repeating here.
Murray was teaching English at a private American school and he was using the old television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents to spice up his weekly lessons on plot development. After a few weeks, he decided to stop the show before the end and let the students write their own endings. The kids liked the idea so much that they wanted to read their work aloud in class.
Murray was happy to agree, but after the first three or four students, he put a stop to the reading aloud. Why?
Because what the teacher has heard had horrified and sickened him.
Once he had recovered a little from the initial shock, he began to discuss with the youngsters the highly explicit imagery of violence he had found in their papers. They insisted that media violence didn't affect them because, after all, the graphic scenes they saw on TV and the movies were "fake." Murray then asked them how they would feel if they saw a dog on TV getting riddled with bullets.
"How horrible!" they cried out in unison.
Murray concludes that unlike the human carnage they regularly witness on TV, his pupils found animal deaths appalling precisely because they had seldom seen it.
For the first time, they realized how desensitized they had become to violence.
Now you'll perhaps understand why I refer to the media (and I use the word in the very broad sense: newspapers, magazines, books, TV, computer games, email, Internet, the works...) as the anesthetics of modern society.
It's a funny thing. When I was a little younger, a major function of the " press", as it was then called - a term later largely replaced by "the media" to embrace more modern forms of communication - was perceived to be a public watchdog against corruption and social injustice. In other words, a red flag, a siren to rouse you from your slumber, to alert and sensitize you to communal and social maladies that need addressing.
Hopefully, the media, or part of it, still serves that role. But we see from the above story how the media can do exactly the opposite.
We see, in fact, a numbing effect that can really put us to sleep.
In my next post, please G-d, we'll examine whether the power of this anesthesia is confined to our natural aversion to violence and similar phenomena, or whether its effects reach further to far more subtle areas.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Shame Should Be a Badge of Honor
"Usually," my friend had lamented with a big sigh, "a small child arrives for his first day of school with an excellent self-image."
"Great - so what's the problem, then?" I had asked.
"Well, very often, that's the end of the story!"
The following incident, which I read of recently, may be an extreme example, but it surely represents the type of thing my friend had in mind.
A certain teacher asked her pupils to open the homework they were supposed to have prepared the previous evening. She noticed that little Suzie failed to open her book, and asked her why.
Suzie turned red and managed to stammer: "I...didn't ...do the homework. I...I...forgot about it."
Thereupon, the teacher took a small coin out of her pocket, glared at the object of her anger and snickered: "Suzie, do you see this penny? Well, Suzie, I can tell you, it's even more than you're worth!"
I don't know what our teacher had hoped to achieve, except perhaps to imbue in the poor girl a hatred of learning for the rest of her school career. The only thing we can be certain of, is that it's past time that this lady looked for a new profession.
If what she had intended was to instill in her pupil a sense of shame, that's a kind of shame that's clearly very, very destructive. But it must be said, and said very clearly, there's another kind of shame that's very, very constructive.
And it's nothing less than a tragedy that in today's so-called civilized society, we've all but lost that sense of constructive shame. And as a society, we're destined to pay very heavily for it.
What inspired me to write this post was an excellent article by Dr. Joyce Brothers entitled Shame May Not Be So Bad After All in Parade Magazine of Feb. 27. I urge you to read it, and think about it deeply.
A world in which a woman boasts openly on a TV talk show about seducing her sister's husband, a man on a reality show confides his plan to humiliate an unsuspecting teammate - "knife him in the back" - a world in which songs about the joys of beating up women are openly aired and new computer games where the mission is to kill John F. Kennedy are openly sold on the market - is this a healthy world or a very, very sick one?
Carrying around the "baggage" of shame only makes people bad about themselves, say some pseudo-psychologists. But as Dr. Brother points out, rather than increasing our self-esteem, the suppression of shame can do just the opposite.
"Positive shame," she asserts, "occurs when we see ourselves as we really are - perhaps too involved to notice that our spouse needs our help, perhaps too scared of what others think to stand up for someone in trouble, perhaps too resentful of the past to allow a wound to heal..."
Negative, destructive shame is something we can all do without.
But bringing back the positive shame of years and generations gone by is what may yet save this world.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
Blame it on the schools? It's the family, stupid!
See, for example, my article If Marriage Is Dead, We're All Dead, which is basically a rant against the conclusions of a so-called "research" study a few years ago, published in a very respectable scholarly journal, that fathers are wholly dispensable to the functioning of a well-balanced family unit.
In this context, I was intrigued by a recent piece by Nicole Gelinas in the New York Post which an acquaintance forwarded to me last week.
Apparently, people have been complaining in New York state that the powers-that-be haven't been allocating enough money for education. A group of activists have been fighting in the courts for ten years to wring more money from the state government for the public schools in New York City
But Gelinas points out that far too many kids in the city come to school handicapped by a significant deficit of another kind - one that can neither be measured in or fixed by dollars.
"All the money in the world," she writes, "can't negate the stubborn fact that schools must work with the raw material they've got: the children."
In other words, too many of the kids are coming from dysfunctional, fractured and warped family backgrounds filled with stress and strife. By the time they get into the school system, educators already find themselves at a severe disadvantage. Their young charges are no longer the pliable vessels they should be to receive the wisdom and instruction their teachers desire to impart to them.
Apparently, "little kids come to school with anger-management problems so deep-seated that, at ages 9 and 10, they're already dangers to themselves and others. Pregnant teachers must insert themselves into vicious fights between pint-sized children....Other kids are prematurely burnt out or acutely, clinically depressed..."
According to the writer, local public-school teachers are adamant that lots of their kids are smart and creative, but they live "in noisy, polluted apartments where its impossible to grow or think amid a cacophony of honking horns and blaring music. Further, "the kids must deal with their mothers' and grandmothers' endless parade of new boyfriends, new apartments and new jobs." Apparently, single moms still head more than one-third of New York City's households.
And we can be pretty sure, unfortunately, that this kind of tragedy is hardly confined to New York City or the U.S. The phenomenon is widespread in many countries.
Healthy kids from healthy backgrounds shouldn't have problems learning how to read or do basic math. As always, the Family is King!
For the poor and underprivileged, a little money never hurts.
But if we want to be parents, we have to exert ourselves to give our wonderful offspring what all the state funding, indeed all the money in the world, can't buy.
On the topic of our responsibilities as parents, you might find this read on the site of value: When 'Everybody Does It' Comes Back to Haunt You.