TIME Parenting

Kids Value Success Over Caring Because Parents Do

The co-author of a new Harvard study reveals what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient

Last month a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education issued a study—based on a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students—which showed that teenagers value achievement more than caring, in large part because they think their parents do. The authors described a “rhetoric/reality gap” in which parents and teachers say they prioritize caring, but kids are hearing something different.

The study drew quite a lot of attention—most of it focused on this key finding: Eighty percent of the students chose high achievement or happiness as their top priority. Only 20% picked caring for others.

I recently circled back to co-author Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist, co-director of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project and a father of three, to explore what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient.

1. Given economic realities today, it seems understandable that parents are focused on their children’s success. And yet the underlying premise of your study is that focusing on success is a problem. Why is that?

We are not making the case that achievement and success are not important. It is “Success at what cost?” that we are concerned about. We are seeing a rise in depression, anxiety and drug use in kids, especially in affluent communities. And a big factor is the pressure to achieve.

These kids are strung out. We’re also troubled that achievement comes at the cost of caring for others. In life we always have to balance our concern for others with our concern for ourselves. If you are playing basketball, you have to pass the ball. If you are studying for a test, it is important at times to help a classmate. But we are moving too far in the direction of self-interest.

2. You and your colleagues have created a guide to help parents raise “ethical caring kids,” Your first suggestion is to “make caring a priority.” How would you advise parents to do this?

It begins early in kids’ lives. When you’re at the playground, it means tuning into other kids and encouraging your kid to do the same—to reach out to a child who doesn’t have anyone to play with, for example. Ask your kids to write thank you notes; require them to be respectful to you and other adults; don’t let them fudge their community service; make them honor their commitments (if they’ve RSVPed yes to a party, make them go even if something more preferable comes along). It is the quiet, subtle, daily, steady stream of messages that parents give their kids that matter.

3. You say parents should “provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.” Can you explain?

Kids should pitch in as a part of everyday life and not expect to be rewarded. This means they should set or clear the table, do the dishes, pick up their clothes, take the garbage out. Save the rewards for uncommon acts of kindness, like helping a few neighbors dig their car out from the snow. Caring is like playing an instrument or a sport; you have to practice it all the time. That’s how it becomes deep in your bones—it’s how it becomes a part of who you are.

4. Kids naturally care about their family and friends, but you say parents need to expand “children’s circle of concern.” How do we do that?

It is harder for kids to care for people who are different from them: Boys may not care about girls. Privileged kids may not care about kids who are struggling. Kids may not care about people with disabilities. Teaching them to care for those who are vulnerable or marginalized is important in and of itself, and it also is the basis of justice. There are always opportunities to talk because these issues come up all the time—it’s about what’s on your radar. It’s not letting your kid treat the bus driver, or custodian or waitress as if they are invisible. It is the way in which you steer a conversation about the new kid at school, or point out an unkind act you witness on TV. It’s just noticing and having the conversation day to day.

5. You suggest that mom and dad each “be a strong moral role model and mentor,” for their children because kids learn by watching the actions of adults they respect. Can you elaborate?

One of the big pathways for kids to become moral people is that they want to be like their parents. Parents have to live these values—they can’t just espouse them. Teens especially have razor-sharp antenna toward hypocrisy; they are attuned to when we are not doing what we say. You have to be appreciative of the bus driver and the waitress. You have to help a neighbor. You have to not tell “white lies” a lot. And you need to listen to your kids and connect your beliefs and values to their moral questions. You also have to be willing to learn from them. Sometimes they are going to have a more mature moral understanding than you do. As parents we need to be able to admit our mistakes and talk about them. The goal is not to demonstrate that you are perfect. The goal is to demonstrate that you are an imperfect human being who is committed to becoming better.

6. Your final suggestion is that parents need to “guide children in managing destructive feelings.” What do you mean by that?

When parents around the country are asked how they help develop their kid’s morality, they usually talk about teaching kids right from wrong and core values. But the reality is that by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old, they usually know the values and have a general sense of right and wrong. The problem is that they sometimes have trouble managing their behavior when they feel angry or envious or ashamed or inferior or helpless. That’s what causes them to violate others. The key is to give kids a range of strategies to help them manage these difficult feelings—from teaching them to take a deep breath or a time out to learning how to ask for help from a trusted adult.

7. You and your colleague reported that 96% of parents from earlier studies say that developing moral character in children is “very important, if not essential,” but that 80% of the teenagers you surveyed said parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Besides role modeling the right behaviors, what can parents do to make sure their kids are getting the message they mean to be sending?

Parents often tell kids, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are happy.” They are not saying, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are kind.” Changing course is about changing the steady stream of messages—verbal and otherwise—that parents are sending their kids. The truth is, our children’s moral development is much more under our control than their happiness.

8. The irony about your study is that although happiness is rated as more important than caring, most experts agree that caring leads to happiness. So should kids be more caring because it will make them happier?

I don’t think we should tell kids to be caring because it is going to make them happy. I think we should tell them to be caring because it is the right thing to do. But I also think that caring is going to make them happier in the long run, because when you are more empathetic, you have better relationships. And it is really deep relationships with people who you appreciate and who appreciate you that are perhaps our most important source of happiness in life.

I should also note that in our study,caring was ranked second by a high percentage of teens. Almost all kids say that caring is important to them. But it gets sidelined with all this pressure to achieve. It is evident that kids—and their parents—value caring. It just needs to be drawn out more. It needs to be prioritized. That is the encouraging part of this.

TIME Parenting

Study Finds Most Teens Sext Before They’re 18

A new study reveals that a far greater percentage of teens are sending explicit photos and texts at younger ages than previously thought. Here are tips for talking to your child about the consequences

If you’re a mom or dad and you learn that your child is sexting, that’s bound to set off alarms. But a new study reveals that the practice is quite common among teenagers, most of whom who think it’s no big deal. And that sets up an interesting dynamic in terms of how parents should handle the situation.

Researchers from Drexel University surveyed college students, asking them if they had ever sent or received “sexually explicit text messages or images” when they were under age 18. Fifty-four percent said yes—almost all of it in the context of a romantic relationship or as a means of flirting.

“We were shocked by the prevalence and the frequency of sexting among minors,” says David DeMatteo, an associate professor of psychology and law at Drexel and one of the study’s authors. He notes that previous studies have indicated the pervasiveness of sexting was much lower—around 20%.

DeMatteo believes that participants in the study may have been more honest because they were allowed to remain anonymous and were reporting on past behavior.

What’s more, while the authors defined sexting as sending or receiving “sexually explicit text messages with or without photographic images,” they allowed participants to define what “sexually explicit” meant to them. “A 13-year-old might consider a sext to be ‘I think your body is hot,’” DeMatteo explains. “Other messages were likely less gray, talking about sexual desire or activities and everything in between.”

Participants acknowledged sexting as young as 13, but the vast majority were 16 and 17 when they sexted. And very few reported negative consequences from their actions. Only 8%, for instance, said they endured humiliation or a tarnished reputation. To be sure, sexting can be used to exploit or intimidate—and there have been cases were teens have committed suicide as a result of such cyber-bullying. But fewer than 1% of respondents in the Drexel study reported being bullied as a result of sexting.

“We were struck by how many of those surveyed seem to think of sexting as a normal, standard way of interacting with their peers,” DeMatteo says.

All of which can make things tricky for parents, most of whom probably wish they simply didn’t have to deal with such an uncomfortable topic. Yet they should—ideally, as soon as a kid gets his or her first cellphone.

So, what do you say?

For younger teens, set a bright line. Tell them sexting is off limits—period. (For some families, this might be a real challenge, as indicated by another new study on the link between sexting and sex among middle schoolers.) Most of the time, those who are in middle school or even in ninth or 10th grade don’t have the experience to comprehend the impact that sexting can have.

“They do not understand how powerful it is—how other people might be aroused by seeing a provocative photo of them,” says Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Fairfield County, Conn., with a focus on adolescents and families.

When it comes to older teens, however, recognize that sexting is often just a digital form of flirting. “It is the 2014 version of teens experimenting with their sexuality,” Greenberg says. “They are testing their level of appeal—something we have been doing for centuries.”

That said, you should make clear to your older kids that dangers exist. Remind them that anything they do online leaves a permanent record—one that may come back to haunt them later. What may seem funny or flirtatious in the moment may not feel the same way a few months down the road.

Remind them, too, that once they hit the send button, their words and images are out of their control. They can’t be confident that any sext will stay with the intended recipient. The Drexel study found that 26% of respondents reported that, as a minor, they had forwarded or shared a sext they’d received with a good friend, and 3% reported sharing it with a mere acquaintance.

It’s also important to tell your older kids that not all sexting is equal. If they’re going to insist on engaging in this activity, they should at least reserve their most explicit messages for those with whom they’re in a real relationship. Casual sexting, just like casual sex, is not a good idea.

Finally, be sure to tell your kids—younger or older—that sexting can have serious legal ramifications.

Most states do not have laws that govern sexting, so if a minor sends a nude or sexually explicit image to another minor, he or she can be charged under child pornography laws. (The Drexel study found that girls, in particular, are likely to sext photographs.) These statues typically carry severe punishments, including jail time and having to register as a sex offender. In the Drexel study, nearly two-thirds of respondents were not aware of this risk.

But many of those who were aware of the potential legal consequences modified their behavior. Indeed, one of the study’s central findings is that only 42% of those who were familiar with this threat had sexted as a minor, compared with 61% of their peers who weren’t clued in to the legal implications.

“Young people need to be educated about the consequences of sexting—legal, social and psychological,” DeMatteo says. “The more they hear the message, the more likely it will be to sink in.”

TIME Parenting

5 Things Parents Should Tell Kids About Anonymous Apps

Woman using a smartphone
Getty Images

Looking for privacy, teens turn to secret or ephemeral mobile messaging apps—here is what you need to know to keep them safe

Whenever I read a story about a teen who has committed suicide, egged on by anonymous online taunts from other adolescents, my heart sinks.

No doubt, in most cases the reasons for the child’s death are complex, and the blame cannot be laid solely on an app or website that was home to the bullying, or even on the awful youngsters who participated in it. And studies show that most kids who are bullied online are bullied off line as well.

As the father of a 14-year-old boy who killed himself earlier this year told TIME in this week’s feature about the site Ask.fm, a place where users can post questions and answers anonymously, his son didn’t commit suicide because of social media. But, he added, “it didn’t help.”

Here are a handful of things for parents to keep in mind as they try to navigate this difficult terrain:

First, understand that even “good” teenagers can succumb to peer pressure. Parents can’t assume their kind, sweet kids won’t participate in teenage meanness—especially if they think they can hide behind anonymous talk or ephemeral social network or mobile messaging sites and apps such as Ask.fm, Yik Yak, Secret, Backchat, Whisper or Burn Note.

And it’s important to note that almost any social media outlet or app can be made anonymous. Nameless bullying takes place on most of the sites that are popular among teens—all a user needs to do is create a profile on hugely popular platforms like Instagram or Tumblr with a username or handle that doesn’t ID the owner of the account. And because apps like Instagram are more ubiquitous than many of the other anonymous sites, they may be just as likely to host bullying. So it’s essential to make it clear that talking about someone else anonymously online in any form is gutless—and violates the fundamental value of standing firmly behind what you say.

“Anonymity poses specific problems because there is no accountability,” says Emily Bazelon, whose book Sticks and Stones explores bullying in the digital age. “No one knows who you are. It is an excuse to be mean without considering the consequences.”

Second, parents should tell their kids that their actions (or those of their friends) can have unintended consequences—sometimes with devastating results.

When you read about a teen who committed suicide after being bullied via social media, seize the opportunity to talk with your son or daughter about it. Explain that sometimes schoolmates can have serious issues that no one knows about—like depression or some other form of mental illness—and that these problems can be exacerbated in unexpected ways by bullying or even just joking around.

MORE: Read TIME’s special report on everything you need to know about bullying.

Third, parents need to make plain to their children that certain actions can have unintended consequences for them, as well. Tell them that “anonymous” does not mean untraceable; data never really disappear. Explain to your teen that if he or she does something “anonymously” that leads to harm for someone else, there could be a terrible cost, including legal actions.

Fourth, parents should remember that their children could also wind up on the other side of the equation—as victims. Let them know that if they become a target of cyber-bullying, they should talk to you or another trusted adult about it. Bringing the subject up before something bad happens will make them more likely to come to you when and if it does.

And finally, don’t be afraid to set rules—based on your teenager’s age, personality and level of maturity—about which apps they can download and which ones they cannot. Kids need guidance, and as the parent you get to make those calls. “My house, my rules” is perfectly OK.

As you set those rules, however, don’t completely dismiss the idea that anonymous apps and sites, used in certain ways, may actually have some benefit. Indeed, some experts maintain that teens are attracted to them precisely because they’re an antidote to the more public hyper-curated social networks such as Facebook, where they feel relentless pressure to put their best self forward—to always look good and to be smart, clever, funny and popular. And sometimes they’re a way to get support for problems that a kid might be too embarrassed to ask about using their name.

“Kids are gravitating to these apps because they are fun, fast, fleeting and a more casual way to communicate,” says Caroline Knorr, who writes about technology for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that educates kids and families about media use. “And for most kids, it is harmless.”

At the same time, Knorr acknowledges that the anonymous nature of these apps enables some kids to act on their worse instincts. “But we don’t think that the technology is bad, or that parents should ban it,” she says. “Instead, we think parents should engage with the social media their children are using and teach them to use it in a responsible way.”

In other words, handling the latest technology comes back to one of the oldest rules of good parenting: Sit down and talk to your kid.


TIME Education

Why Parents Shouldn’t Fear Teacher-Student Texting

Never mind those scary headlines, with safeguards in place, texting can foster student learning and success

Updated 8:11 a.m. ET Friday

In case you missed it, a Baltimore dad struck his 15-year-old daughter’s teacher with a baseball bat last week. The teacher’s offense? Texting the daughter in what the father deemed was an inappropriate exchange.

The baseball bat notwithstanding, it’s easy to understand why many parents have a strong reaction to a teacher texting their kid. After all, creepy adults abound, and teens can be vulnerable prey. So, by extension, it’s tempting to want school districts to ban all such communication between teachers and students.

Even relationships that start out as innocent can take a bad turn. Better safe than sorry seems, on its face, the wisest course.

But research suggests it’s not that simple.

While certain safeguards that ensure texting can be monitored should undoubtedly be in place, the easy back-and-forth between teachers and students can create important bonds, especially for young people who are in need of extra help.

“Teachers are the first to spot trouble for kids who are at risk—kids with mental health issues, sexuality issues, problems at home,” says Danah Boyd, whose book, It’s Complicated is an anti-alarmist polemic that examines the social lives of networked teens. “These are kids who need more positive adult relationships, not less.”

Others who’ve looked deeply into the issue—the possible dangers weighed against the likely benefits—have reached the same conclusion. Mica Pollock, an education professor at the University of California, San Diego, found in a study published last year that texting “increased personalized student support by enabling, then strengthening, teacher-student relationships.” Pollock and her co-author, Uche Amaechi, a doctoral candidate at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, spent a year following two teachers who texted with 40 at-risk high school students from Somerville, Mass.

Still, among parents, the most common reaction to teacher-student texting is fear. “I know teachers who are afraid to even give kids a hug because they are afraid to be sued,” Pollock says. “There is a lot of anxiety on all sides about the appropriate way to interact. But there is no teaching without teacher-student bonds, so the question is how do we form those bonds safely and effectively.”

This is a question all schools are facing—not just those with large at-risk student populations—given that texting is the primary way teens communicate.

Many school districts have created guidelines that allow teacher-student texting, but limit exchanges to school-related topics or confine them to group texts that would, for example, allow a coach to tell his team that practice has been cancelled or a teacher to direct a group of students to be prepared to answer a particular prompt during the next day’s English class.

But in their texting pilot, Pollock and Amaechi, along with the teachers and students they followed, came up with ground rules of their own—mostly to foster one-on-one exchanges, respect and to set some limits on encroaching on the teachers’ personal time: “Do not expect a text back before 8 a.m. and after 10 p.m.; no inappropriate language; and no sharing of anyone else’s business.”

They did not, however, set any limits on content, maintaining that the mix of personal and school-related messages were key to forging genuine trust and caring.

Texts were about school “mixed with lighthearted communication about life events and student needs,” Pollock and Amaechi found in their study.

Perhaps most important, the teachers in the texting pilot used technology that allowed them to use non-personal phone numbers and enabled texting over the computer on school accounts—providing both the transparency needed for safety, and the feeling of privacy that texting affords.

Most experts agree that this kind of balance is ideal.

“We should not ban the technology,” says Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at the department of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, who has studied sexual misconduct by teachers for 17 years. “It is here to stay, and it can be useful in education. But we can create guidelines that allow teachers to use it without blurring or crossing any lines. It has to be open and transparent, where everyone knows that it can be monitored.”

Indeed, it is fairly common for schools to insist that teachers and students communicate via email using open school accounts. In part that’s because adults are comfortable with the idea of using multiple email addresses—one for their work life and another for their personal life.

But they have a harder time thinking of texting in the same way—something that needs to change. According to a Pew Research Center study on teenage use of mobile phones, the percentage of all teens that used text messaging doubled from 27% to 54% between 2006 and 2010. More importantly, the study found that 70% of teens use texting to do “things related to school work.”

“Kids use text the way we use email,” says Amaechi who is working on a dissertation that examines how students and teachers use mobile devices in the classroom for academic purposes and to communicate. “We have built the rules and polices around the technologies that adults use most—and not what kids use.”

“For kids, their phone is the most important thing,” he adds. “The first thing is to accept that as the reality. Kids want to interact not just with each other, but also with adults through texting. If you limit their ability to text, you are limiting their interactions with adults in ways that could be beneficial to them.”


TIME Parenting

7 Things to Do Before Your Kid Goes to College

Blend Images - Terry Vine—Getty Images/Brand X Teenager loads car for college

Teaching them to do laundry and how to open a bank account are important, but don’t forget to spend time together and have fun

For the millions of parents who will send a son or daughter off to college in the fall, this is the summer of lists: making travel arrangements, picking meal plans and ordering linens and other items for the dorm.

But two lists, in particular, are of the utmost importance: One will help kids with the realities of being on their own for the first time. The other will prepare them—and you—for the emotional toll of this major milestone.

The first list is practical. As parents, we pride ourselves on getting our kids ready to leave the nest and soar on their own. But then reality sets in—and the kids land with a thump.

I remember feeling like a terrible parent when my oldest, Emma, called home at the beginning of freshman year to ask me how many stamps she needed to mail an envelope and where to buy them.

My good friend, Mindy, says she felt like a failure when her daughter called to ask, “Do you separate laundry by weight?”

Another friend, Ruth, who has seen three children through college, recalled a litany of first-year cluelessness: “How do you know what light bulbs to buy?” “How do I send a box by mail?” “How do I find a dentist?” “I think I broke my foot. Did I?”

Whether such ineptitude is a byproduct of us having overindulged our kids is beside the point. No need to beat yourself up now. Just use this summer to teach a few of life’s basic skills—and save yourself some panicky late-night calls, not to mention feelings of parental inadequacy.

  1. Teach them to do laundry and then insist that they do their own—clothing, sheets and towels—for the entire summer. By the time they get to college with a roll of quarters in hand, they’ll have the hang of it.
  2. Teach them the basics of banking—how to use an ATM card, how to write a check (or make a payment online), how to deposit money and how to balance their account. As an added bonus, then ask them to teach you how to use Venmo.
  3. Teach them how to navigate public transportation. Most kids go off to college without access to a car, and obviously they won’t have you to schlep them places. If they don’t already know, teach them how to get around on buses, subways and trains, and then take away the car keys for a while so that they gain confidence.
  4. Teach them how to cook a few things. While most freshmen are on some kind of meal plan, knowing how to cook at college can come in handy. Many dorms have communal kitchens, and it can be fun to occasionally make a meal and eat with friends. And just in case your kid ends up living off campus at some point, knowing his or her way around the kitchen will be useful. Plus, making a point of cooking and eating together a few times a week over the summer is a nice way of spending time together as a family.

That said, don’t be surprised if the last thing your teen wants to do is hang out with you. As I wrote at the time, the summer before my daughter left for college, she went AWOL. As far as I was concerned, Emma went out with her friends too much, spent too much time at her boyfriend’s house and stayed out way too late.

Over time, I came to understand that Emma’s uncharacteristic rebellion and moodiness were her ways of “soiling the nest.” In order to make it easier for her to leave in the fall, she was going to make my husband and I so miserable that we couldn’t wait for her to go. In other words, she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do—getting ready to grow up and out.

Given all this, emotions can run high, so as promised, here are a few more tips to make it easier to let your son or daughter go:

  1. Make sure your grad sets aside some one-on-one time with you, your spouse and any sisters or brothers, and does so regularly through the summer. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s fun. (This does not include going to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy stuff for college.) Head on a hike, take a walk on the beach, go out for lunch or coffee, watch a movie—whatever makes sense for your family.
  2. If you can manage it, take a family vacation. It doesn’t have to be anywhere fancy (and can even be a long weekend away). My friend Ellie and her husband, David, took their kids on a road trip up the California coast before their eldest went off to college. “All the kids have said it was their favorite trip we ever did,” Ellie says.
  3. Buy them one beautiful thing. This advice comes from Lisa Heffernan, cofounder of Grown and Flown, a parenting blog for teens and older children. “This moment, these last days, are worthy of commemorating,” she says. “Do not let them slip by unmarked. Jewelry and watches are traditional choices for senior year, but beauty and meaning, not expense, are the salient factors in this purchase.”

On that front, I indulged Emma—something I don’t usually do. I bought her a somewhat extravagant comforter for her bed at school to make her feel cozy, comfortable and at home. It was my way of tucking her in from afar.

TIME Advertising

What to Say to Your Kids About E-Cig Ads

A woman smokes an e-cigarette.
PAUL J. RICHARDS—AFP/Getty Images A woman smokes an e-cigarette.

What parents can do to offset the impact of a steep rise in TV ads for electronic cigarettes aimed at teens and young adults.

If your kids watch “The Bachelor,” “Big Brother” or “Survivor”—and there is a good chance that they do—odds are growing fast that they are seeing ads for one of the most controversial products to hit the market in years: e-cigarettes.

It’s time for parents to strike back.

A study published today in Pediatrics suggests that e-cigarette makers are aiming their products at young people, ages 12 to 24, by increasing advertising during the shows (such as those above) and on the channels (including AMC, Country Music Television, Comedy Central and TV Land) they watch most.

“If current trends in e-cigarette television advertising continue, awareness and use of e-cigarettes are likely to increase among youth and young adults,” says the study, which was conducted by a team from the nonprofit research institute RTI International and the Florida Department of Health.

The impact of e-cigs, devices that vaporize an addictive nicotine-laced liquid solution into an aerosol mist that simulates the act of tobacco smoking, is hotly debated. On one side are those who argue that e-cigs are much safer than conventional tobacco cigarettes and help people addicted to them to quit. On the other side are those who say e-cigs still pose serious risks, including from liquid nicotine.

What can be said, with great certainty, is that we don’t know nearly enough about the long-term health effects of e-cigs to let young people get hooked on them. And as a parent, this is precisely why the study in Pediatrics and other analyses that have shown e-cigarette companies are spending tens of millions of advertising dollars targeting our kids are so alarming.

So, in the absence of any government regulation of e-cig advertising, here are a few things parents can do:

For starters, as always, the best thing we can do is talk to our kids. Let them know that e-cigarette companies have them in their sights and, as I’ve written, are trying to reel them in with fun flavors and sexy ads that are designed to make them feel all grown up. Tell them that these companies have a vested interest in promoting the idea that e-cigs aren’t bad for them—but the fact is, we aren’t really sure. And share that some experts are concerned that because they contain nicotine, e-cigs may be a gateway to real cigarettes.

Second, set clear expectations. We need to make sure that our kids understand that we don’t want them to vape and will be disappointed if they do. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has found that “parental attitudes, opinions, and feelings about their kids’ smoking status greatly influence whether or not kids will smoke, even when the parents smoke.” Vince Willmore, the organization’s vice president of communications, says the same principle is sure to hold true for vaping.

Third, set a good example. You should certainly express to your kids your own struggles to quit cigarette smoking, if that’s the case, but don’t vape around them. If you do, they may think it’s something to emulate—especially given the onslaught of ads reinforcing that vaping-is-cool message.

The Pediatrics study found that 50% of youth, ages 12 to 17, were exposed to an average of 21 e-cigarette ads from October 2012 to September 2013, and half of young adults, ages 18 to 24, were exposed to an average of 35 e-cigarette ads during the same period.

That’s a sharp rise from just a couple of years earlier, according to the study. In all, youth exposure to e-cigarette ads on TV increased 256% from 2011 to 2013, and exposure for young adults jumped 321%. More than 80% of the advertisements were for the brand blu eCigs.

The tactic seems to be working. The Centers for Disease Control reported last year that 1.8 million middle- and high-school students said they had tried e-cigarettes in 2012—double the number from the previous year.

“When I give talks about e-cigs I call them ‘Back to the Future’ because I feel like I’ve gotten into a DeLorean and gone back in time,” says Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “E-cig marking today looks a lot like what conventional advertising for tobacco looked like in its heyday.”

That shouldn’t be surprising. Many of the same companies that have long sold tobacco products—including R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris parent Altria and Lorillard—have now gotten into the e-cigarette business.

Which leads me to the last thing that parents should do: Advocate. You can begin by writing in and supporting the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed new rules that include banning the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under 18. But we need to go even further. Urge lawmakers and the White House to ban e-cigarette advertising from television—as has been the case with cigarette ads since 1971.

With e-cigs, tobacco companies are clearly taking a page out of their old playbook. It’s time for regulators to do the same.




TIME Education

‘Money Is Only Actually Fun If You’re Already Happy’

A nail polish exec wows new grads at Scripps College with her commencement speech and surprises at least one skeptical parent.

For weeks, all I could think was, “Come on, this is the best you can do? What about Sonia Sotomayor? Can’t someone check and see if she’s available?”

My pique had been brought on when Scripps College announced who would be speaking at my daughter’s commencement: Nonie Creme, an alumna of the school who in 2006 started a nail polish company.

It’s not that I have anything against polishing one’s nails; I wouldn’t dream of missing my bi-weekly mani-pedi. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder whether having someone in the beauty business send the graduates of an all-women’s college out into the world might send the wrong message.

What’s more, at a time when other commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients have been coming under heavy fire for their politics—International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde at Smith, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers, rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali at Brandeis—Creme seemed a pathetically apolitical choice.

Boy, was I wrong.

Creme rocked the house, giving one of the best commencement addresses I’ve ever heard or read. She introduced herself as “the first straight C student to give this speech,” and then related how she went on to found a multi-million dollar company, Butter London. Along the way, she dispensed the kind of practical advice that any parent would be thrilled to have their child take in.

First, Creme counseled, don’t let your major define you. Instead, she told the graduates, an area of study is really just “a jumping-off point.” So, when people stick up their noses at a liberal arts degree and ask, “What will you do with that?” there is only one reply: “Anything I want, actually.”

Of course, it took a bit of distance for Creme to understand this. She explained how she first felt like a failure when, as a fine arts major, she realized that she “sucked” at painting. It was only in retrospect that Creme figured out how her education had given her the tools she needed to create a successful beauty brand.

“If you told me that I’d end up using my Scripps fine arts degree to build beauty enterprises I would have laughed at you,” she noted. “I’d have said ‘I’m not an MBA, I don’t know anything about business.’” But what Creme did know was how to mix paint—the perfect skill for someone who would one day develop her own line of nail polish.

The second lesson Creme imparted was about humility and hard work. She recalled what it felt like when she first started out, standing outside a London subway station every morning with “business cards, a basket full of nail supplies, and a pay-as-you-go mobile phone” trying to drum up work as a manicurist. While she made decent money providing desk-side service to patrons in the financial district, she was ashamed at her occupation.

“I was well-educated, upper-middle-class, and here I was doing this job that required little more than a grade-school education and was what people ended up doing when they had no other options,” she said. “This time in my life taught me . . . we are not better than anyone else.”

Creme also reminded the undergraduates gathered under the shade of the school’s beautiful 75-year-old elm trees that their education was a gift and “not a free pass in life.”

“You are still going to have to work really bloody hard to succeed,” she said, and success won’t come overnight. Creme herself went from booking jobs on the street to becoming a sought-after manicurist for runway shows to being quoted in glamor magazines about the latest trends. Fashion editors coveted her custom-mixed nail polishes, and industry insiders implored her to start her own company.

But that was still just the beginning, really. At 34—more than a decade after graduating—Creme temporarily moved away from her husband and comfortable London home and joined her business partner in a “rat-infested basement” in Seattle, where, with the $50,000 in start-up money they cobbled together, Butter London was born.

“I have never worked that hard in my life,” Creme said, “and I pray that I’ll never have to again.”

As Creme gets ready to launch her second company—extending her signature custom colors to a new line of cosmetics and hair products—her third lesson for the young women sitting expectantly in front of her was for them to follow their passion.

“I learned to listen to myself, and trust that if I was happy, the only measure of success that mattered was my own,” she told them. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Money is only actually fun if you’re already happy.”

Later, she added: “Don’t be scared about what comes next, don’t worry about whether you’ll set the world on fire. Just stop, think, as you’ve been educated to do—and then try some stuff that looks fun and interesting. If you’re truly unhappy, try something else, and so on and so on, until . . . you know.”

Oh, and there was one more lesson. But this one was for me. I had prejudged Nonie Creme, deciding in advance that she was not feminist or intellectual enough for the occasion. That was wrong, and I told my daughter so. For me, it was an important reminder that some of the richest learning is to be found in unexpected places.

Creme later mentioned to me that she had heard how her selection had “caused some eyes to roll.” Yet she did not bow out. Instead, she took on the challenge, stood before hundreds of people, and with warmth and wit shared her amazing story of hard work, grit and smarts. And, fittingly, she nailed it.



TIME campus sexual assault

What I’m Telling My Son About Drunk Sex and Consent

Talking with a good friend the other day about all the recent attention regarding sexual assault on college campuses—much of it bravely brought to light by coeds who have come forward to tell their stories—we quickly got around to an angle that cuts close to home: What would we tell our teenage sons, who themselves will go off to school in the next few years?

At one point, my friend held up her iPhone and, half in jest, clicked the video button. In order to protect her two boys, she said, she might advise them never to have sex with a girl before getting her consent on the record.

Sexual violence on campus has reached the level of a “crisis” in the words of a recent cover story in Time—one that led the White House last month to issue guidelines raising the pressure on universities to more aggressively combat the problem.

We know that regretted sex and false accusations are undoubtedly the exception, not the rule. Still, as my friend suggested, fabricated claims of rape do happen. And when they do, a young man’s reputation is instantly, and often irreparably, shattered. His freedom may be lost.

Certainly, we need to protect our daughters. But we need to protect our sons, too—especially given the widespread hookup culture and the messy realities of binge drinking and of drunken, casual sex on campus.

Let me be clear: This is not about blaming the victim or diminishing the crime of sexual violence on campus and its rampant mismanagement by universities more concerned with their image than with protecting young women.

But we suddenly live in an era where talking to our sons about condoms and STDs before they begin to have sexual encounters is not enough. We must talk to them frankly about consent—and by this I do not mean just teaching them that “no means no.” As parents, we must explicitly tell them what’s at stake and how to avoid finding themselves in a situation where their actions could possibly be misconstrued as having crossed the line.

With that in mind, there are half a dozen things that I’ll be telling my now-16-year-old son before he heads off to college.

First, I am going to talk to him about consent—something that might well seem murky to an inexperienced, awkward, nonverbal teenager, especially when alcohol is involved. A recent must-read article in Slate—which I will share with my son—makes plain that it’s a crime to have sex with someone who is too drunk to give meaningful consent, even if the young man is not violent and even if the young woman does not physically resist or verbally object.

Lindsey Doe, a clinical sexologist who has created a free YouTube series dubbed “Sexplanations,” lays it out this way: “Consent is not an absence of a no; it is the presence of a yes.” Her fantastic video on the subject, “What is Consent?”, should be watched by every freshman (male or female) before stepping foot on campus.

Second, I will tell my boy that if he’s drunk, he shouldn’t have sex. Period. Doe offers this gem: “If you cannot drive a vehicle you ought not to wield your wiener.”

Third, I will warn him that he should never take advantage of someone who is drunk. Indeed, if he thinks his only shot at having sex with a woman is because she’s smashed, that’s a sure sign he should walk away. This is also a great opportunity to explain to my son that sex is better when it’s with someone you genuinely care about.

Fourth: I know it can be awkward to talk about sex, but I will advise my son to do exactly that. I will tell him, specifically, that before having sex he should talk about it what it means to him (friends with benefits?) and to her (a relationship?) to make sure there is no misunderstanding. And I will tell him that if he’s ever unsure about the signals he’s getting from a coed, he should flat-out ask her if she wants to have sex—all without worrying that doing so is unromantic or unsexy or unappealing in any way.

Fifth, I will tell him to take the newspaper test: If what he is about to do were reported on the front page of the local paper, would it be considered improper behavior—or worse? If so, walk away.

Finally, I will tell my kid that it’s not enough for him to behave appropriately himself. There will be times when he can safely intervene, encouraging a guy to go home and take a cold shower, or escorting a young woman back to her dorm so she can sleep it off. As Charlotte Alter has pointed out on TIME.com, bystander intervention is becoming an important tool in fighting sexual assault on campus. I’ll encourage my son to be one of the good guys.

TIME Parenting

Why Your High School Senior Should Take a Gap Year

Jekaterina Nikitina—Getty Images/Flickr Select

The growing trend of taking a year off between high school and college can be a benefit if done right

Earlier this month, more than a million high school seniors across the country committed to attend college. But a growing number of them aren’t going to set foot on campus in the fall, electing instead for a gap year—a trend that is leaving some parents feeling anxious and uncertain.

Many educators tout taking a gap year, saying that kids who step off the academic treadmill after high school to work, travel, volunteer or explore other interests are more mature when they arrive at college and more engaged in their education going forward.

With this in mind, a handful of colleges—Princeton and the University of North Carolina, among them—offer scholarships and fellowships to incoming freshmen who take a gap year. Harvard has long encouraged the practice. And in February, Tufts University launched its 1+4 bridge program, which, starting in fall 2015, will offer gap-year opportunities for national and international service regardless of a student’s ability to pay. Meanwhile, organizations that promote a gap year, including the American Gap Association and USA Gap Fairs, are expanding rapidly.

Still, the idea of a gap year can be frightening for parents—especially for those who have carefully cultivated a cradle-to-college track for their children. Many fear that once their son or daughter veers away from a formal education, they won’t go back.

“As parents this is not what you expect,” says Abbe Levin, whose 18-year-old son, Jules Arsenault, attends a small college-preparatory school in Bethel, Maine. “When you have a kid who is not showing interest, or even curiosity about college, that is a tough place to be.”

In the end, though, Levin and her husband came around to accept Jules’s decision to take a gap year—and, in so doing, they wound up following three guidelines that experts say are crucial to ensuring a successful experience.

First, they had Jules apply to college—and then defer enrollment—so that he knows he has something solid waiting for him at the end of his hiatus. For him, that’s a spot at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Second, they’ve made sure that Jules has a structured plan—and isn’t just sitting on the couch, playing video games and thinking about what he’ll do next. And third, they’ve made sure that he has skin in the game, helping to fund his own gap-year plans.

Formal gap year programs can cost as much as $30,000. But there are many low-cost options, including volunteering for a program such as AmeriCorps, City Year or WWOOF-USA, all of which pay for room and board. Other kids work for a while in order to fund a six-month gap-year program or travel abroad.

This is exactly what Jules is doing. Starting next month, he’ll be washing dishes on Monhegan Island in Maine, a tourist destination a boat ride away from his hometown of Boothbay. He’ll work through early October before traveling to Southeast Asia.

“At first I wanted a year off because I thought it was going to fun,” Jules says. “But now I realize that it will give me time to figure out what I want to do. I didn’t want to go to college and not know what I want to study, or get a degree just to have one. With what college costs these days, I wanted to get a degree in something that would be useful to me.”

Levin credits Jules’s high school college counselor for reminding her “that every kid has their own timeline,” and for encouraging her to “let Jules take the lead.” She also bluntly told Levin that if she pushed her son to head straight to college, it could backfire.

“As parents we raise our kids to think for themselves, to be creative, to follow their own path,” Levin says. “But then suddenly, starting in their junior year, we are asking them to go along this very prescribed path that might not be right for them. Now I feel like when he does go to college, he’ll really be ready.”

Studies suggest that Levin is right. Robert Clagett, who served as a senior admissions officer at Harvard and is also the former dean of admissions at Middlebury College, has found that those who delay a year before starting college have GPAs that, on a 4.0 scale, are 0.15 to 0.2 higher than otherwise would be expected.

“What we saw was startling,” says Clagett, now the director of college counseling at St. Stephens Episcopal, a college preparatory school in Austin, Texas. “The prevailing wisdom is that kids are going to lose their hard-earned study skills if they take a gap year. The opposite is true.”

While taking a gap year is not right for everyone, Clagett believes that many college-bound kids could benefit from taking time off—particularly those who are burnt out from years of piling on honors and AP classes, tutors, test prep, community-service projects, varsity sports, piano lessons and other extracurricular activities.

A gap year is a chance for kids to take a breath and do something that doesn’t require them to ask, ‘How will this look on my college application?’” he says. “To just do something for the pure love of doing it.”

Corinne Monaco, 23, was certainly ready to take a breath after she graduated in 2009 from ICE Institute for Collaborative Education, an academically rigorous public school in New York.

“I was always one of those kids who liked school and was looking forward to going to college,” Monaco says. “But by the end of second semester senior year it became clear that I needed a break. I was exhausted. I didn’t have the energy to dive right back into school.”

Monaco worked part-time for the better part of a year for an environmental education, arts and advocacy organization. She then spent a few months traveling across the country.

When she finally got to college, she was genuinely excited to be back in the classroom again. Says Monaco, who will graduate on Saturday from Pitzer College with a dual degree in art and environmental analysis: “Taking a gap year was the best decision I ever made.”


TIME Parenting

Spanish Law Requires Kids To Do Chores. What a Great Idea

Vintage Images—www.jupiterimages.com Boy Helping Mother with Laundry

The Spanish measure, dubbed the Child Protection Bill, would extend beyond regulating housework and homework. According to the Madrid newspaper The Local, children under 18 in Spain would also have to “respect school rules” and “study as required”

Suddenly I’m thinking of moving to Spain.

A bill introduced recently in the nation’s parliament would require that Spanish children do housework and homework. They would also be required to “participate in family life” and “respect their parents and siblings.”

Wow. Good luck with that.

Back here in the United States, I can barely get my 16-year-old to take out the trash. Sometimes, it feels like Middle East peace talks must be easier. Meanwhile, other parents don’t even ask their kids to pitch in—either because they’ve completely surrendered, have concluded that it’s easier to do the job themselves, or have decided that after-school activities and playtime are more valuable. Children have gone “from being our employees to our bosses,” Jennifer Senior notes in her book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.

The upshot: Kids ages 6 to 12 now do less than half an hour of housework a day on average, according to Sandra Hofferth, a professor of family science at the University of Maryland.

Some find this alarming. “Parents working to support their kid’s leisure instead of everyone working together to support the household is a poor choice,” says Agnes Howard, an assistant professor of history at Gordon College and a mother of three school-age children. “It is good for kids to do chores because it helps them develop responsibility and competency and to gain a sense of belonging to a community beyond their autonomous self.”

The Spanish measure, dubbed the Child Protection Bill, would extend beyond regulating housework and homework. According to the Madrid newspaper The Local, children under 18 in Spain would also have to “respect school rules” and “study as required.” And get this: They’d have to “maintain a positive attitude about learning” and “respect their teachers and fellow students” to boot.

The proposed law also aims to keep children safe from sexual predators.

But it is the housework provision, which stipulates that kids perform household chores “in accordance with their age and regardless of gender,” that seems to be generating the most buzz—and, in certain quarters, drawing jeers.

“Are we going to have court cases where parents say that a kid is old enough to take out the trash and the kid’s court-appointed lawyer says, ‘No they are not’?” asks Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute. “It’s like saying motherhood and apple pie are good. Yes, we want kids to be respectful. But at some point having a national parliament declare that kids should clean their rooms, well, I think they should find better things to do.”

Actually, this is not the first time the Spanish government has weighed in to legislate what is usually considered a family matter. In 2005, the country’s civil ceremony marriage contracts were updated to require men to pledge to do housework and care for children and elderly relatives. Honestly, who knew the country that coined the word machismo was so feminista?

As for the newly proposed housework and homework statute, there is one big caveat: It has no teeth. No penalties are contemplated for breaking it.

Of course, if it passes, I’m pretty sure that parents would keep that tiny detail to themselves. There’s no point, after all, in sharing everything with the kids.


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