Category Archives: Parenting

When Teens Talk Back

Sara P Boy Photos

A big thanks to Rick McLeod for inventing this title for a class he taught many years ago at Families First in Missoula.

For tips on how parents can handle it when teens talk back, listen to the latest episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast. You can catch it on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Or Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Here’s the blurb for When Teens Talk Back:

In this episode, Dr. Sara decides to consult with Dr. John about her hypothetical “friend’s” teenage and pre-teen boys, who coincidently, happen to be the same ages as Sara’s own children. Other than being a disastrously bad consultant, John ends up complaining about how disrespectful our culture is toward teens. This leads Sara and John to affirm that, instead of lowering the expectation bar for teens, we should re-focus on what’s great about teenage brains. Overall, this turns out to be a celebration of all the great things about teenagers . . . along with a set of guidelines to help parents be positive and firm. Specific techniques discussed include limit-setting, do-overs, methods for helping teenagers calm down, role modeling, and natural, but small consequences.

If you want more info on this topic, check out the re-post below, originally posted on psychotherapy.net

A Short Piece on Disrespecting Teenagers

We have an American cultural norm to disrespect teenagers. For example, it’s probably common knowledge that teens are:
• Naturally difficult
• Not willing to listen to good common sense from adults
• Emotionally unstable
• Impulsively acting without thinking through consequences

Wait. Most of these are good descriptors of Bill O’Reilly. Isn’t he an adult?

Seriously, most television shows, movies, and adult rhetoric dismiss and disrespect teens. It’s not unusual for people to express sympathy to parents of teens. “It’s a hard time . . . I know . . . I hope you’re coping okay.” Stephen Colbert once quipped, “Nobody likes teenagers.” Even Mark Twain had his funny and famous disrespectful quotable quote on teens. Remember:

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

This is a clever way of suggesting that teens don’t recognize their parents’ wisdom. Although this is partly true, I’m guessing most teens don’t find it especially hilarious. Especially if their parents are treating them in ways that most of us would rather not be treated.

And now the neuroscientists have piled on with their fancy brain images. We have scientific evidence to prove, beyond any doubt, that the brains of teens aren’t fully developed. Those poor pathetic teens; their brains aren’t even fully wired up. How can we expect them to engage in mature and rational behavior? Maybe we should just keep them in cages to prevent them from getting themselves in trouble until their brain wiring matures.

This might be a good idea, but then how do we explain the occasionally immature and irrational behavior and thinking of adults? I mean, I know we’re supposed to be superior and all that, but I have to say that I’ve sometimes seen teens acting mature and adults acting otherwise. How could this be possible when we know—based on fancy brain images—that the adult brain is neurologically all-wired-up and the teen brain is under construction? Personally (and professionally), I think the neuroscience focus on underdeveloped “teen brains” is mostly (but not completely) a form of highly scientifically refined excrement from a male bovine designed to help adults and parents feel better about themselves.

And therein lies my point: I propose that we start treating teens with the respect that we traditionally reserve for ourselves and each other . . . because if we continue to disrespect teenagers and lower our expectations for their mature behavior . . . the more our expectations for teenagers are likely to come true.

John and his sister, Peggy, acting immature even though their brains are completely wired up.

Peg and John Singing at Pat's Wedding

Let’s Do the Sex Talk Again

Rita Reading

Now, more than ever, we need to actively teach children about healthy and safe sexual behaviors. Why now?

First, pornography (which is arguably NOT the best sex education source for our children) is extremely easy to access.

Second, a former reality show star who was recently elected President has made statements that are likely to reinforce archaic ideas about female bodies being grabbed and groped and objectified–all in the interest of male pleasure. Personally, I’m against that message and hope you are too.

Third, parents have an important role in protecting their children from the range of different sexually transmitted diseases are associated with unprotected sex.

Fourth, well . . . why would anyone not want to actively teach children about healthy and safe sexual behaviors?

In the 10th episode of the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast (PPPP), Dr. Sara Polanchek and I discuss why and how parents and caregivers should “. . . do the sex talk again and again.” Given the ubiquity of sex in the media, parents can’t afford to ignore this important topic. No longer is it good enough for parents or caregivers to toss an old sex education book into their child’s room and then hope that healthy sexual learning will magically occur.

Parents need to be brave. Parents need to face their own sexual issues and hang-ups. To get started, parents might want to listen to our latest PPPP episode titled: “Let’s do the sex talk again.”

Here’s the link to iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Here’s the link to Lisbyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

Please forward this post and these links to parents or guardians or grandparents who you think might benefit. Feel free to ask questions and engage in discussion. Our podcast offers ideas about how to get more comfortable with this exceptionally important topic. Listening to it is a reasonably good way to spend 28 minutes of your life.

Dear National Review: I’ll help you get government out of parenting if you’ll stop letting bad journalists write articles.

Naked Babies II

A little over two months ago I got all worked up over an article on parenting published in the National Review that I thought was a little too “pro-child abuse” for my taste. I sent them a query about publishing it right away. Their editor responded a couple weeks later, asking to read the piece. Then he politely declined it, noting it was a bit stale (meaning too much time had passed). Of course, it got stale because he sat on it for two weeks. But I figure he didn’t want to publish it anyway, since I basically accused his writer of writing fake news and supporting child abuse.

So . . . I decided to send it to myself. And, after sitting on it for another six weeks, I’m publishing it because it’s crunchy like a piece of old stale bread.

Setting the Record Straight on Government

Interference in Parental Rights

John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.

Abby Schachter’s National Review article (12/26/16) titled, “Why is the government telling us how to raise our kids?” is troubling on many levels.

To start, Ms. Schachter’s headline is inaccurate and misleading. The National Review deserves better than that. In reality, the government isn’t trying to tell parents how to raise their children. An accurate headline would have read, “Why is the government telling us how NOT to raise our kids?”

This is still an important question and begs for a clarification between laws that mandate behavior (e.g., seat belts and registration under the Affordable Care Act) and laws that prohibit behavior (e.g., driving while intoxicated and physical or sexual abuse of minor children). Laws that protect children from abuse are laws that prohibit particular (and unusual) parenting behaviors; they don’t mandate specific parenting behaviors. As is well known, laws mandating specific behaviors—whether within the realm of parenting or focusing on other citizen behaviors—are aligned with tyrannical governments. However, government policies that Schachter mocks in her article are legal efforts designed to protect children from parental abuse and neglect. Is it possible for the government to over-reach in that area? Absolutely yes! But Schachter’s complaints of “bureaucratic busybodies” miss the point and put children at further risk.

Schachter’s complaints about rampant government meddling with good-enough parenting represent a narrow perspective. The historical and current prevalence of child abuse and neglect is stunning. Even the usually stoic Sigmund Freud was shaken after viewing abused children’s bodies at the Paris Morgue in 1885. Child abuse is ugly and disturbing and children need protection. Schachter’s defense of parental rights at the risk of overlooking neglect and abuse implies that she hasn’t seen or appreciated the extent of child abuse in America. Her rhetoric could be interpreted as suggesting that child abuse and neglect should be legal variants of parental rights. I’m sure that’s not her intent.

There’s also a mathematical component to Schachter’s misunderstanding. Government laws prohibiting parental abuse and neglect are a best effort at predicting and therefore reducing child abuse. Schachter’s complaints stem from real cases, but her personal interpretation of the problems reflects no understanding of math and the Bayesian Theorem. To take her position, Schachter must assume the base rates of child abuse and neglect are extremely low, so low that parents and children might be better served if child abuse laws were eliminated. But the facts belie this perspective. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, over 1,800 incidents of child abuse occur every day in the U.S. Even assuming this is an overestimation and the real rates are 20% lower, this still translates to 1,440 abuse incidents daily or 60 per hour or 1 per minute. Let’s assume that Schachter is correct and some laws are an overreach and result in false positive identification of parents as abusive or neglectful. How many times do you suppose false government accusations occur per hour in the U.S.? Do we have 60 parents falsely accused of child abuse per hour? Not even close. But if we embrace Schachter’s position, we protect parental rights and risk a massive increase in unreported child abuse and neglect.

For my money, I’d rather have a few parents deal with the emotional pain of government hassles than to have children deal with the pain of parental neglect or physical and sexual abuse. Over four children a day die from parental maltreatment. I’m betting Schachter can’t find four cases a week like the one she covered in her article.

In the end, I agree with Schachter that government interference in good-enough parenting is wrong. But I also know that in the time it took you to read this article at least five more children in the U.S. experienced abuse or neglect. Parental rights shouldn’t be needlessly usurped. However, in this case, I’m siding with thousands of abused and neglected children over the rights of a relatively small number of parents.

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John Sommers-Flanagan is a clinical psychologist and professor of counselor education at the University of Montana. He’s the author of eight books, including How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen (John Wiley & Sons).

Post-Partum (now Peripartum) Depression: What you should know . . . and some resources to help you know it

Note: This post is provided for individuals interested in learning more about post-partum or peripartum depression. It’s also a supplement for the recent Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast on “Post-Partum Depression.” You can listen to the podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2

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For the first time ever on planet Earth, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes the diagnosis of Peripartum Depression. Although I’m not usually a fan of labeling or big psychiatry, this is generally good news.

So, why is Peripartum Depression good news?

The truth is that many pregnant women and new moms experience depressive symptoms related to pregnancy and childbirth. These symptoms are beyond the normal and transient “baby blues.” Depressive symptoms can be anywhere from mild to severe and, combined with the rigors of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting a newborn, these symptoms become very difficult to shake.

But the most important point is that Peripartum Depression is a problem that has been flying under the RADAR for a very long time.

Approximately 20% of pregnant women struggle with depressive symptoms. The official 12-15% estimates of post-partum (after birth) depression in women are thought to be an underestimate. What makes these numbers even worse is the fact that society views childbirth as a dramatically positive life event. This makes it all-the-more difficult for most pregnant women and new moms to speak openly about their emotional pain and misery. And, as you probably know, when people feel they shouldn’t talk about their emotional pain, it makes getting the help they deserve and recovering from depression even more difficult.

Jane Honikman, a post-partum depression survivor and founder of Postpartum Support International has three universal messages for all couples and families. She says:

  • You’re not alone
  • It’s not your fault
  • You will be well

Keep in mind that although peripartum depression is thought to have strong biological roots, the first-line treatment of choice is psychotherapy. This is because many new moms are reluctant to take antidepressant medications, but also because psychotherapy is effective in directly addressing the social and contextual factors, as well as the physiological symptoms. Additionally, as Ms. Honikman emphasizes, support groups for post-partum depression can be transformative.

Below, I’m including links and resources related to peripartum or post-partum depression.

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A very helpful informational post by Dr. Nicola Gray: http://cognitive-psychiatry.com/peripartum-depression/

Books by Jane Honikman can be found at this Amazon link. Her books include: I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families.  https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_book_1?ie=UTF8&text=Jane+I.+Honikman&search-alias=books&field-author=Jane+I.+Honikman&sort=relevancerank

Although it’s true that peripartum depression can be debilitating, it’s also true that it can be a source of personal growth. Dr. Walker Karraa shares optimistic stories of post-partum related trauma and growth in her book:

https://www.amazon.com/Walker-Karraa/e/B00QTWH9PW/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

 

The Missoula CASA Keynote

There are a number of problems associated with being asked to do a keynote speech for a local non-profit. Maybe this is all just me, but the pressure feels very big. Keynotes are supposed to be informative and inspiring and funny. Right? Well, to be perfectly honest, although I love to think of myself as able to be informative, inspiring, and funny, to actually have expectations to be informative, inspiring, and funny is miserable. That might be why, 15 minutes before stepping up to the microphone at the Doubletree banquet room in Missoula, I had a case of the complete BLANK MIND. I seriously had no idea what I had planned to say. Two days before the event I was sure I could memorize my 25 minute speech. Now, I looked at my notebook and words were there, but they seemed stupid and boring and not funny and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who wrote this crap?” I suppose that’s an example of an unfriendly dissociation.

To top all that off, every speaker who offered introductions and who spoke before me was smooth and articulate . . . and I had decided to drink a cup of herbal tea which led to my bladder was telling me that I HAD to get to the bathroom right away. But I wasn’t sure how long I had before being called up as the highly acclaimed keynote speaker whose name was in big bold letters on the program. Mostly, I felt like crawling under the Crowley and Fleck sponsored keynote table or escaping to the bathroom. Neither of these options seemed realistic.

So I told my bladder to wait its turn and listened to Eden Atwood sing along with a group of fabulously talented and cute young girls. A man at the front table started crying. That’s what happens when you’re at an event celebrating and funding an organization that works with abused and neglected children. It was around then that Eden Atwood and her group (called the MOB) distracted me from my anxiety, calmed me out of my dissociative episode, and inspired me to go ahead and sing and dance around the stage as part of the ending of my keynote.

Just in case you missed it, the whole darn event was awesome. The best part was to be right in the middle of the generosity of so many people who help make Missoula a better and healthier and safer place.

And just in case you’re interested, I managed to deliver most my planned speech and people laughed and afterward offered big compliments. But I’m not certain how well I stuck to the script because at some point I remember saying “Of course, I’m lying about that” which I followed with, “But I understand that lying is popular right now.” I also recall, after one particular non-sequitur, saying something about the fact that because I was a university professor, I could say whatever I wanted and didn’t really have to make any logical sense. None of these comments were in the transcript to my speech. Obviously, I went way off script.

It might be surprising, but my plan to start singing and dancing actually was in the script. However, partway through the song my blank mind returned and I forgot the lyrics. The good news is that I’m fairly sure that everyone, including me, was greatly relieved when I stopped singing.

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Sleep Well in 2017 and Beyond: Podcast Episode 5

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High quality sleep drives nearly everything; it improves your memory, enhances emotional stability, and contributes to good health. This means that nap-time and sleeping through the night is equally good for children and parents. In episode 5, Sleep Well in 2017 and Beyond, Dr. Sara Polanchek shares her personal story of being an exhausted parent and how she turned to sleep to turn her life around. Our special guest, Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents, will tell you how she gets her children to sleep and why sleep depriving your children is just as bad as feeding them doughnuts all day long.

You can listen on iTunes:https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2

Or Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/sleep-well-in-2017-beyond

Please like it if you like it and comment if you have a reaction or to offer feedback.

The PPP Podcast is also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/?hc_ref=SEARCH&fref=nf

For a couple other sleep-related blog posts, see:

https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/05/23/insomnia/

https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2012/06/08/insomnia-2-0-13-2/

Why You Should Listen to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcasts

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast is live at:  http://tinyurl.com/ppppod

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that even though the PPPP has been live since October 31, John and Sara still haven’t become famous podcasters.

Apparently, these things take time.

Even so, we’ve gotten a couple fabulous reviews. Here’s one from Brittany Moreland: “For whatever reason, I have avoided “parenting manuals” of any type BUT folks this is awesome. Not only can I attest that one of the hosts (John Sommers-Flanagan) is a great person and parent, but objectively this is worth any parent’s time.”

Don’t delay. Right now you can access three PPPP episodes on our podcasting website: http://tinyurl.com/ppppod

You can also listen to all of the live episodes on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting/id1170841304?mt=2#episodeGuid=2d80f23353e2c7f9d21af865f190d2c4

If you listen on iTunes, be sure to give it a rating. If you’re uncertain about what rating to give, we generally recommend 5 STARSJ.

On Monday, a new episode goes live. It’s titled: Get Curious, Not Furious: Discipline Again and Again and Some More.

Just so you’re up-to-date, here’s a list and description of the line-up through January:

Podcast Schedule

New podcasts will become live on a twice-monthly schedule.

October 31 – Episode 1: Dear Mom and Dad, Please be my Parent and Not my Bestie

Modern parents want high-quality relationships with their children. In this podcast Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the downside of forgoing parental responsibilities in favor of parent-child friendships. A balanced relationship where parents have strong emotional connections combined with parental decision-making authority is recommended.

November 14 – Episode 2: Practically Perfect Positive Discipline

Discipline can be a dirty (and misunderstood) word. In this episode, Dr. Sara and Dr. John knock-out old negative notions about discipline and replace them with new and research-based methods for using positive approaches to discipline.

November 28 – Episode 3: Discipline, Part 2

Dr. John and Dr. Sara continue their discussion of how parents can maintain structure and discipline in the family. In this episode they focus like a laser on specific techniques parents can use to set limits and teach their children positive family values and helpful lessons about about life.

December 12 – Episode 4: Get Curious, Not Furious: Discipline Again and Again and Some More.

You can’t get too much information about positive approaches to discipline. Seriously. That’s why Dr. Sara and Dr. John can’t stop talking about it. This episode will help parents step back and get curious about what causes misbehavior. John and Sara will review the four psychological reasons why children misbehave and focus on how to break through the obstacles that get in the way of using positive discipline strategies. This episode’s special guest: Meg Akabas, author of “52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids.”

December 26 – Episode 5: Sleep Well in 2017 and Beyond

As a locally renowned expert on helping children sleep, Dr. Sara shares her story of being an exhausted parent and offers her tips for parents who want to embrace the value of healthy sleep in their families. Special Guest: Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of “Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents.”

January 9, 2017 – Episode 6: Sleeping like a Baby (Should)

In this episode Dr. Sara continues providing tips on healthy sleep habits, this time focusing on babies. Medical and developmental guidance is included. Special Guest: Chelsea Bodnar, M.D., a Chicago-based pediatrician and co-author of “Don’t Divorce Us: Kids’ Advice to Divorcing Parents.”

January 23 – Episode 7: Post-Partum Depression

In this post-Thanksgiving special, Dr. Sara and Dr. John discuss the natural challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The signs and symptoms of postpartum or peri-natal depression are described and specific recommendations for coping with PPD are offered.  Special Guest: Jane Honikman, M.S., author of “I’m Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families.”

General Program Description and Co-Host Bios

The Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast features Dr. Sara Polanchek and Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan discussing cutting-edge parenting issues, offering specific guidance, and sharing parenting resources. This podcast is a valuable resource for all parents interested in the art of parenting well. It’s also recommended listening for parenting educators, counselors, psychologists, social workers, teachers, and other school personnel who want more information on basic and contemporary parenting issues.

Sara Polanchek, EdD, (aka the Sleep Guru) is a licensed clinical social worker and Clinical Director in the University of Montana’s Counselor Education department.  Previously she was the Parenting Director at Families First in Missoula and continues to present at workshops and write articles on many issues pertaining to parenting and intimate relationships.

John Sommers-Flanagan, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Counselor Education at the University of Montana. He is the former cohost of “What is it with Men?” on Montana Public Radio and former executive director of Families First Missoula. He is author or co-author of nine books (including, “How to Listen so Parents will Talk” published by John Wiley and Sons) and many professional articles, blogs, and rants.

*All podcasts are sponsored in part by a grant from the Engelhard Foundation and support from the National Parenting Education Network.

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