TIME feminism

How to Raise Boys Not to Be Total Jerks

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Rubberball/Nicole Hill—Brand X/Getty Images

Ever since the Ketchup Joke incident, I have been challenging my boys (and their sister) with honest conversations about gender and stereotypes

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

At some level, I’ve known since before my oldest son was born that this moment would come. But when it did, it took me utterly and completely off guard. I was driving a car chock-full of boys home from a soccer tournament when my nine-year-old son piped up from the back.

“Hey Mom! I’ve got a funny joke. I’ll ask you a question and you say, ‘Ketchup and rubber buns’.”

“I’ve heard this one,” chuckled my 12-year-old son.

Snickers all around from the soccer players.

Apparently, I was the only one who didn’t know what was coming next.

My son: “What did you have for breakfast?”

Me: “Oatmeal and ketchup and rubber buns.”

My son: “No! Mom! Just say ketchup and rubber buns. Try again. What did you have for breakfast?”

Me: “Ketchup and rubber buns.”

“What did you have for lunch?” “What did you have for dinner?” Etc. etc. And then we got to the punchline:

My son: “What do you do when you see a hot chick? You CATCH UP and RUB HER BUNS!”

Peals of laughter from the boys.

To my very great credit, I did not run the car off the road. I kept driving—silent, hands gripping the wheel, looking straight ahead. It was a perfect autumn day. The sky was a brilliant blue, the late afternoon sun catching the full color of the orange and yellow leaves on the trees along the highway. It was a beautiful, perfect day outside, but inside I was angry. I was mortified. I was disappointed. And I was desperately struggling to think of what I should say to these boys.

Finally, as calmly as I could, I said, “I don’t think that joke is funny. You know, if you actually ran after a woman and touched her in an offensive way like that, it would be called ‘assault and battery’. It is a crime. You could be arrested.”

“You could be arrested for THAT?” said one of my son’s teammates.

“Yes. Plus, the woman could also sue you.”

Silence descends.

“Also, I’ve actually had that happen to me. How do you think it feels to have a stranger grab your butt?”

“WHAT? That actually happened to YOU?” they yelled in unison.

“Sure. More than once. Usually at parties.”

“This is kind of making me feel sick,” said my 12-year-old son.

More silence.

Finally, my nine-year-old said, “I remember you saying once that you didn’t like running past construction sites because the construction workers whistled and yelled things at you.”

I didn’t remember telling them that, but it’s true. When I was a teenager, I used to go way off my normal running route just to avoid running past a construction site. When you are a 14-year-old girl and grown men are yelling things about your body and what sexual things they want to do to it, it doesn’t feel like they are just some idiots being rude. It feels downright threatening.

Good, I thought. Sometimes they actually listen to me.

“So what are you going to say the next time you hear someone tell a joke like that?” I asked.

“Stop, Mom! We get it, OK?”

Teachable moment: ended. I decided just to leave it there for the time being. I knew that these kids didn’t really mean any harm. They were just repeating what was—to them—only a silly play on words. But I couldn’t blow it off as “just a joke.” If you have ever experienced sexual assault, a “joke” like this is just not funny. The reality is that almost every woman I know has experienced inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, or sexual abuse. Female friends of all ages, ethnicities and occupations have shared their stories, from a student told by her professor that she could get a higher grade in exchange for a “favor” to women in the medical profession who had patients touch them inappropriately in the examination room. Even my own young daughter has already experienced it.

Not long after this Ketchup Joke incident, my sons’ little sister was touched inappropriately several times by a boy in her second grade class. The sad truth is that these are experiences that are all too common for girls and women throughout the world.

The Ketchup Joke was a call to action for me. My sons are intelligent boys, good kids who love and respect their mom and their sister, their grandmothers, their female friends and teachers. But they, like other young Americans, are deeply impacted by the culture that they live in. Every day, children are exposed to an estimated 16,000 images through media that often portrays unhealthy and unrealistic stereotypes of both young men and women. Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Kids are also powerfully influenced by their peers. While they’ve never heard their dad tell a joke like that at home, there’s no way to control what they hear from other kids. How can all this not impact the way that my sons view girls and women?

I know I can’t change the society that we live in. I cannot raise my sons—or my daughter—in a world where sexism and misogyny do not exist. Eliminating bias completely is not even really possible; whether we are conscious of it or not, we are all biased. It is part of our human nature. But I realized that day in the car that kids don’t learn through osmosis how to evaluate and analyze gender stereotypes. It’s great to have parents who model respect for women, but it’s not enough.

I realized that, in order to raise these boys to recognize the problem of sexism in our society, my husband and I would have to try our best to make them aware of the bias and sexism in the world around them. If we could help them start seeing it, then we could help them find other ways to address it.

Ever since the Ketchup Joke incident, I have been challenging my boys (and their sister) with honest conversations about gender and stereotypes. Every example I see in a TV show, commercial, music video, or advertisement becomes a teachable moment. We talk about gender-based violence in the news, whether it is the girls kidnapped in Nigeria or domestic violence by NFL players. I have tried to share with them my own firsthand experiences with being female in a sexist society, something which hasn’t always been comfortable for me.

My sons aren’t always excited to have these conversations, so I don’t push it. But I don’t give up, either. Raising boys not to be total jerks is a long-term process. But they seem to be independently commenting on stereotypes that they see in the media more. They’ve even called me out for saying something sexist on occasion—and they were correct. So I am hopeful.

Hopeful that their generation will move us closer to a world where men and women are treated with more respect and equality. And hopeful that each of my boys will one day be men who, instead of chuckling when they hear a sexist joke, will speak up and say, “I don’t think that joke is funny.”

Jennifer Prestholdt is a human rights lawyer, wife and mother of three.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Watch Ashton Kutcher Practice His Fathering Skills in a Room Full of Kids

Looks like Kutcher isn't going to be a pushover dad

Ashton Kutcher isn’t expecting a child with fiancée Mila Kunis until later this month, but he’s already practicing how to handle talkative kids. In a promo for Lenovo, Kutcher asks a focus group of five- and six-year-olds what they think of the Yoga tablet that he designed.

One particular youngster named Colton keeps Kutcher’s hands full with lots of questions and comments. But it looks like Kutcher is ready to rule with an iron fist…or at least kindly calm down distracted kindergartners.

Kunis and Kutcher met on the set of That ’70s Show in 1998 and began dating in 2012. Their baby is reportedly due in September.

TIME Parenting

‘Time-Outs’ Are Hurting Your Child

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind Courtesy Random House

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, the founding co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and executive director of the Mindsight institute.

Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., is the co-author (with Siegel) of the best-selling The Whole-Brain Child.

In a brain scan, relational pain—that caused by isolation during punishment—can look the same as physical abuse. Is alone in the corner the best place for your child?

Time-out is the most popular discipline technique used by parents and the one most often recommended by pediatricians and child development experts. But is it good for kids? Is it effective? Not according to the implications of the latest research on relationships and the developing brain.

Studies in neuroplasticity—the brain’s adaptability—have proved that repeated experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain. Since discipline-related interactions between children and caregivers comprise a large amount of childhood experiences, it becomes vital that parents thoughtfully consider how they respond when kids misbehave. Discipline is about teaching – not about punishment – and finding ways to teach children appropriate behavior is essential for healthy development.

So what about time-outs? In most cases, the primary experience a time-out offers a child is isolation. Even when presented in a patient and loving manner, time-outs teach them that when they make a mistake, or when they are having a hard time, they will be forced to be by themselves—a lesson that is often experienced, particularly by young children, as rejection. Further, it communicates to kids, “I’m only interested in being with you and being there for you when you’ve got it all together.”

The problem is, children have a profound need for connection. Decades of research in attachment demonstrate that particularly in times of distress, we need to be near and be soothed by the people who care for us. But when children lose emotional control, parents often put them in their room or by themselves in the “naughty chair,” meaning that in this moment of emotional distress they have to suffer alone.

When children are overtaxed emotionally, they sometimes misbehave; their intense emotions and the demands of the situation trump their internal resources. The expression of a need or a big feeling therefore results in aggressive, disrespectful, or uncooperative behavior—which is simply proof that children haven’t built certain self-regulation skills yet. Misbehavior is often a cry for help calming down, and a bid for connection.

When the parental response is to isolate the child, an instinctual psychological need of the child goes unmet. In fact, brain imaging shows that the experience of relational pain—like that caused by rejection—looks very similar to the experience of physical pain in terms of brain activity.

On top of everything, time-outs are usually ineffective in accomplishing the goals of discipline: to change behavior and build skills. Parents may think that time-outs cause children to calm down and reflect on their behavior. But instead, time-outs frequently make children angrier and more dysregulated, leaving them even less able to control themselves or think about what they’ve done, and more focused on how mean their parents are to have punished them.

When children concentrate on their horrible luck to have such a mean, unfair mom or dad, they miss out on an opportunity to build insight, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Putting them in time-out deprives them of an opportunity to build skills that other types of discipline could focus on. Setting clear limits while emphasizing collaboration, conversation, and respect gives kids a chance to practice being active, empathic decision makers who are empowered to figure things out on their own.

Next time the need for discipline arises, parents might consider a “time-in”: forging a loving connection, such as sitting with the child and talking or comforting. Some time to calm down can be extremely valuable for children, teaching them how to pause and reflect on their behavior. Especially for younger children, such reflection is created in relationship, not in isolation. And all of this will make parenting a whole lot more effective and rewarding in the long run.

 

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., co-author with Bryson of the new book No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, is clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, the founding co-director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and executive director of the Mindsight institute. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Siegel is the author of several books, including the New York Times bestseller, Brainstorm, together with the bestsellers Mindsight, Parenting from the Inside Out (with Mary Hartzell) and The Whole-Brain Child (with Bryson).

Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., is the co-author (with Siegel) of the best-selling The Whole-Brain Child, which has been translated into eighteen languages. She is a pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist, the Director of Parenting for the Mindsight Institute, and the Child Development Specialist at Saint Mark’s School in Altadena, CA.

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

‘My HIV Child Is Playing with Your Child, and You Don’t Know It’

One mom's essay about hiding her children's HIV status went viral after it was posted on the Scary Mommy blog.

In 1965, Kurt Vonnegut reminded us earthlings that there is only one rule for living on this planet: You’ve got to be kind. In God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Vonnegut wrote: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

It’s a rule that bears repeating, especially when stories like Jenn Mosher’s are making the rounds, reminding us all what an un-kind world we live in. Mosher wrote a brutally honest, powerful and thought-provoking essay at Scary Mommy about feeling that she must hide her children’s HIV positive status. The story went viral with 37,700 shares on Facebook and 637,725 likes. “My HIV child is playing with your child, and you don’t know it,” she bluntly wrote before going on to explain that her children have no sign of the disease in their blood, take medication every night and live the happy go-lucky lives of happy go-lucky children. But Mosher is worried that if her children’s HIV status is known, her community, friends, even school will shun her and her children.

When Mosher writes about fears of her children being stigmatized, it’s not the children on the playground she is worried about. Kids don’t know or care about such things, but their parents do. It’s the mothers and fathers who simply don’t understand that HIV isn’t a viral boogeyman lurking on toilet seats or playground swings. (In fact, it never was.) Now, as Mosher writes, HIV is a manageable illness that is not contagious through normal contact:

“Modern medications render the virus powerless. Every four months my child has her blood checked, and every time the results are the same: the sensitive lab tests detect no virus in her bloodstream. She is healthy, happy, and hilarious. I bandage her scraped knees; mop up bloody noses; share food, water, and kisses; and deal with boogies—all with no risk and no worries about contracting HIV.”

Parents who haven’t kept up on advances in HIV (and who has time, what with modern parenting being the all-hands-on-deck enterprise that it is?) may not know or understand that modern medicine has rendered HIV inert and Mosher’s essay addresses that. “Please, fellow mommies, know that HIV is nothing to be afraid of,” she writes and encourages parents with questions to seek answers from their own pediatricians. “Please look online, google it, and talk with your pediatrician. Learn and research so that you know the truth, too. You don’t have to take my word for it,” she wrote.

Still, Mosher has her own fears, but hers are not so much for her children’s physical health, but their mental and social well-being. “Fear that my children will be disinvited from birthday parties,” Mosher explained to Buzzfeed, “uninvited from gymnastics teams, kicked out of private school, and excluded and despised because of misinformation and baseless fear — as some others we know have been.”

Why would a school or a gymnastics team kick out a child with no sign of disease but a specter of a once-scary virus? Why would a parent disinvite a child to a birthday party over something they were born with? The combination of a lack of education and unfounded fear are a deadly cocktail, which can wreak far more damage on a child than an inert virus. But there’s something even more basic at play, too— the fact that many parents have forgotten one of the basic tenets of life on earth: kindness.

One silver lining of Mosher’s story is this: While internet comments are normally the antithesis of kindness, Mosher told Buzzfeed that she found thoughtful moms offering support, advice and even friendship. “They encouraged me, invited us on play dates, and made me realize that our tribe is definitely out there,” she told Buzzfeed. “They made my husband and I want to be braver.”

Essays like Mosher’s are important, because they teach from a place of kindness. They strive to inform, not yell or name call. They make people want to listen and become informed. Her essay reminds us all how far we have come since the days when Ryan White was shunned from his school, forced to eat with disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms, and skip gym class. But the essay also reveals how far we as a society still have to go to learn to live together on this round and wet and crowded planet.

I try to teach my son to be kind and his school reinforces those lessons of inclusiveness. If one of his schoolmates is HIV positive, I hope he learns about the differences that make up this melting pot of a country. I hope he learns acceptance of those differences, whether skin color, weight, ability or boogeymen lurking in their bloodstream. And I hope most of all that he learns to be kind to everyone, no matter how different, while he learns how we are all very much the same.

TIME Education

What Happens When You Stop Testing and Start Teaching

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Jonathan Kirn—Getty Images

Darlena Cunha is a Florida-based contributor to The Washington Post and TIME among dozens of other publications.

While Florida wasted students' time with computer testing, my kindergarteners weren't learning how to write the alphabet

Last year, as I watched a trial run of an online test my five-year-old was taking, the decades-old earphones slipped down her head. She fumbled at the mouse in front of the computer, then clicked the button and liked the sound it made. So she clicked it again. She skipped a screen by accident. And once you skip a screen, you’re not allowed to go back.

The instructor went over to her and tried to explain that we could not just randomly click our mouse buttons, no matter how fun it was. We had to answer the questions. We had to get through the test.

My kindergartener looked at her blankly. Then came up with an answer she deemed a trump card.

“But it’s so shiny!” she exclaimed. The teacher sighed. She nodded slightly, but was called to help another student before she could re-explain the objective.

The FAIR test (Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading) is given to students grades K-2. It is supposed to take 35 minutes per student, but often takes up to an hour. It is given during class time at the beginning of the year and then twice more throughout the year. Each class has 18 students in it, and this year the teacher is required to sit with each one, devoting that hour to the individual student while another teacher, who has her own class to attend to, wrangles all the other students. This means the total time for test administration is 13 hours for one class plus 13 hours for the other class (as they’ve combined teachers). During that time, little to no actual instruction can take place. The assessment period, therefore, takes the first two weeks of school.

From a parental standpoint, it was a nightmare. Why should my kids miss out on instruction to take a rote test that doesn’t seem to measure anything?

This year, teacher Susan Bowles of Chiles-Lawton Elementary School in Gainesville put her job on the line by refusing to give the test to her students. Parents around the county gave her a metaphorical standing ovation.

“I know I may be in breach of my contract by not administering this test,” she wrote in a Facebook note to parents of her class. “I cannot in good conscience submit to administering this test three times a year, losing six weeks of instruction. There is a good possibility I will be fired.”

Letters of support came pouring in to the Superintendent’s office for Bowles, who had made it clear the issue was not with school officials, but with the government mandates for testing here in Florida.

On Sept. 11 of this year, I received an email from Owen Roberts, Superintendent of Alachua County Schools, in which he stated his support for Bowles, but asked parents to go to their local legislators to enact the change we all wish to see in regard to standardized testing.

“I have met personally with Mrs. Bowles,” he wrote, “and the district has heard from parents praising her as an excellent teacher. I certainly appreciate her concerns regarding FAIR testing. I have said clearly and publicly that I believe there is too much standardized testing here in Florida, and that much of it doesn’t offer a significant educational benefit for children.

“However, Florida law requires that all kindergarten students take the FAIR test during the first 30 days of school. Until the law changes, the district is obligated to administer the test.”

But the problems remain. Bowles stated in her note that the testing requirements have been increasing each year, yet the school budgets have not been given a boost to accommodate the changes. Teachers are expected to give the tests with no support. And things get lost. Important things.

Last weekend, I taught my twins, now in first grade, how to write a “g”. It’s not that they weren’t writing them at all, but because so much teaching time has been lost to testing, the kids are left to their own devices to build the basic blocks of learning, so that the teachers can keep up with the rigorous curriculum. My children, being adaptive and wily, devised their own ways to write the letters of the alphabet without formal instruction (other than what I’d taught them when they were four, the summer before school.) To write a “g”, my kids would draw a straight line down, then draw a little circle on top of the line, then make a tiny curve at the bottom of the line. It seems like no big deal, but when that is multiplied by every letter they have to write for every assignment, it ends up taking at least three times as long. My children were not finishing their work.

My kids work hard. I promise you, Florida, they do. And if we can’t trust our teachers to do their jobs, and to assess our kids given their expertise and experience in the field—if we ask them to give up their vocation to instead administer online tests and teach babies to bubble in the dots so that some machine can spit out a statistic to tell our state if we’re smart enough to get money to get smarter—we are doing a disservice to our children. We are no longer teaching them at all.

The good news is that Bowles’ stand, though a shot in the dark, helped to push an already growing unrest to its boiling point. Instead of losing her job, or having the state push the event under the rug, on Sept. 15 I received this email relaying a message from Florida’s Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart.

“…in light of the technical difficulties schools and teachers here in Alachua County and throughout the state have experienced with the FAIR test, the test will not be required for kindergarten screening within the first 30 days of school for this school year. In fact, FAIR testing will not continue for any students in grades K-2.”

We won. Susan Bowles won. Our students won. If this David-and-Goliath story doesn’t light the hearts of parents and teachers around the nation, and solidify efforts to teach our children, not test them, I don’t know what will. Alachua County has shown that we can make a difference. We just have to try.

Darlena Cunha is a Florida-based contributor to The Washington Post and TIME among dozens of other publications. You can find her on Twitter @parentwin or on her blog at http://parentwin.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Football

Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Son Play Tackle Football

The author's 9-year-old son in his football gear
The author's 9-year-old son in his football gear Courtesy Monique R. Henderson

It scares me every time he takes a hard hit, but I am beyond grateful for the ways he has benefitted from football's tough lessons

Not long after my husband and I found out we were having a baby boy 10 years ago, we did what most good, Southern-born parents we know would do: we ordered our unborn child his first football t-shirt. We went with two tiny tees, actually – a University of Alabama one to celebrate my husband’s native state, and an Ole Miss one to express my undying devotion to my home state of Mississippi.

By the time he was two, my brown-haired boy had a drawer full of college and pro football t-shirts and jerseys and a toy bin jammed with footballs in varying sizes.

At the time, I didn’t give any of this much thought. I had a boy. Boys play football. It’s what my husband did in rural Alabama; it’s what I grew up watching boys of all shapes and sizes do in Mississippi. It’s also what our fathers, uncles, grandfathers, and, I suppose, great-grandfathers before us did, too.

Fast-forward to my son’s second grade year.

Living now in East Texas, in the heart of football country, I’d delayed the inevitable for a season by convincing Hunter that flag football would be “just as fun, without the pain.”

He loathed every minute of flag football, where it seemed like all the boys did was set up for plays, only to have them stopped again when a flag was immediately pulled. Understanding his complaints, we agreed it was time for him to follow in his father’s footsteps and start playing “real tackle football.”

Happily, that first season he was drafted by a good coach – a tough but sane guy who cared more about player development, character and safety than about winning every game. Even more happily, my husband was able to serve as an assistant coach, helping to monitor the safety of practices.

Everyone involved with the team went through Heads Up Football trainings, and a lot of focus was placed on injury prevention league-wide. We purchased the safest helmet we could find, reminded Hunter to be careful, said our prayers, and hoped for the best.

My son is a fourth-grader now, and is in his third year as a tackle football player. I still hold my breath any time he takes a hard hit. My heart almost stops any time a young player is slow to get to his feet on the field. I’ve made a trembling 911 call before because a young player was unconscious on the field. I know the dangers well. And I certainly don’t take them lightly.

But I also see the ways my boy has benefited from playing football.

The truth is, my son – and other children of the suburbs – live fairly cushy, risk-free lives. They play in parks with rubberized playground mats to soften their falls. The brightly colored plastic park slides are curved to keep children from flying off at the bottom and banging their tailbones. Whirling merry-go-rounds have been replaced by no-pinch, spring bouncers crafted to look like smiling dolphins or particularly docile ponies.

Instead of meeting up in someone’s front yard to play-fight or wrestle, today’s boys are more likely to go on scheduled play dates, where multiple adults keep careful watch, and where no physical contact is ever, ever allowed. Similar rules are in place at school for obvious reasons.

Anyone who knows my son knows he is a kind, happy fellow. He adores people, and he doesn’t take life too seriously. But he also recognizes, on some level, that he is going into a world where a certain toughness and grit is required. From the first time he put on pads and a helmet back in second grade, he was able to push his ever-grimy mouth guard forward and tell me, “I love football because it’s the one place you can be rough – you can hit someone hard – and you don’t even get in trouble for it!”

He’s a tougher, braver boy because of all he has done on the field. I’ve also seen Hunter’s confidence grow from football. It’s given him a certain resilience that wasn’t there before. When he is going through challenges at school or at home, he immediately draws on his football experiences to motivate himself. I couldn’t count the number of times he has said, “This is tough, Mom. But you know what was tougher? Coach T’s football practices. Remember how I wanted to cry? Remember how I wanted to quit? But I didn’t. This is nothing compared to that.”

Football, in many ways, is good preparation for life – a life that is nowhere near as soft and kind as those springy, pinch-proof, eternally smiling park ponies.

The sport has taught him not to quit when times get hard. He has learned to stick with his team and to support them, even when they make inevitable mistakes. He understands now that you are only as strong as your weakest player. He’s learned to prepare carefully for his biggest, scariest fears – and then to face them head on. And he’s also learned that it’s really, really important to wear deodorant.

I’m stunningly thankful for all those lessons.

So, this season, I will be the mom on the sidelines, alternately cheering like crazy and holding my breath. And through it all, I know that lessons will be learned. Life will be lived. And my son, I hope, will continue to be the better for it.

Monique R. Henderson is an educator and the author of Motivation, Education and Transformation: The Change Agent’s Guide to Reaching Our Youth and Lifting Them Higher (2011) and Inspirational Youth: Tranforming Average to Extraordinary (2013), both written with Marina V. Gillmore and Keith L. Brown. Though a Houston resident, she irritates the locals by cheering wildly for the New Orleans Saints.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

And the Quality Most Parents Want to Teach Their Children Is …

A new Pew Research study reveals trends in parenting and values

Responsibility. That’s what most parents list as the No. 1 quality they want their kids to have. No matter their age, race or political leaning, parents want kids who can be relied on. The ability to work hard also makes most parents’ wish list. After that, opinions begin to diverge quite markedly, with more conservative folks listing religious faith and more liberal types opting for helping others as the attribute they most want to their children to develop.

The results come from a new Pew Research study of parenting attitudes among a nationally representative sample of more than 3000 adults (Pew has convened a special American Trends Panel to poll regularly) who were asked about the relative importance of 12 values kids need to learn. They were also asked to list their top three. A full 93% said teaching children to be responsible is “especially important” and 55% rated it as one of their top three.

In order of most to least popular, parents ranked the relative importance of each attribute this way: responsibility, hard work, helping others, good manners, independence, creativity, empathy for others, tolerance, persistence, curiosity, obedience and religious faith.

While religious faith was not rated as important to as many of the respondents, their support for it was deep; it was often one of the most important things these parent wanted to instill in their kids.

The results could be a barometer for the future as the nation becomes more polarized. Pew speculates that the sharp political divisions between people could evolve into cultural divisions as parents try to pass on increasingly different sets of values to their children. For example, while “being well-mannered” rates high among nearly all groups, it doesn’t feature as strongly among the most liberal, who rank “empathy” and “curiosity” much higher.

Meanwhile, “obedience” is much higher up the list for consistently conservative parents than any other type.

Part of what’s behind the differences is education. Fewer than half of college graduates put much emphasis on obedience or religious faith among their children, but regard tolerance, persistence and curiosity more highly than do parents with less education. Having kids who help others is more important to high-school-educated parents than it is to any other category.

education

While these differences are interesting, one could argue that several of them may be a matter of interpretation. To some, good manners are a set of outmoded behaviors that symbolize membership in an upper class. To others, they are a set of practices established to ensure that people are taking others around them into consideration — also known as showing empathy. Similarly, religious faith often leads people into activities that help others. Different motivation, but with an almost identical outcome.

In fact, one of the biggest takeaway from the Pew parenting study is that, despite beliefs or education or race, a lot of parents want the same things for their kids.

TIME Parenting

It’s Time for the U.S. to Ban Spanking

Spanking Corporal Punishment
Dario Egidi—Getty Images

Studies show that spanking is harmful — and unnecessary

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I know very little about the case of an NFL player hitting his child, I have seen the photos in articles and it disgusts me that a grown person thinks it is ever okay to do that to a child, especially when you are the size of an NFL player. Not that ones size makes abuse any different, but to know you are a massive, strong person, and then unleash that strength upon a child, you are a vile human being.

But leaving the NFL behind, and looking only at the action of spanking, what is one to do? It is not uncommon in the US to hear of parents spanking their children, I was spanked, I know friends who spank, and I fully disagree with their decision to do so.

If my friend does something wrong, even terrible, it is illegal for me to hit them, it is assault and I can be jailed for it. Yet if my child eats a cookie when I tell them not to, I am legally permitted to hit them, or spank them as we call it because hitting sounds to violent. Yet there is no difference between hitting and spanking a child.

The defense in spanking is that by doing so you teach your child to stop an action you no longer want them to do. Spankers believe that the pain of being hit will remind them to listen and obey. But is this true?

No, it does not work, according to research done by Yale University psychology professor and director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, Dr. Alan Kazdin.

You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want,” says Kazdin, speaking to the American Psychological Association. “There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”

Even more so, there is evidence that spanking actually causes harm. Even cause the The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a directive in 2006 to call physical punishment “legalized violence against children,” and urging the practice be eliminated through legal and educational process.

Thirty countries around the world have banned spanking in all settings. These countries do not use the bans as threats against parents, but as tools to educate parents about better ways to discipline a child. Often, parents use physical punishment as a way to train a child, but if it doesn’t work, the parent then escalates the punishment and can cause even more severe physical and psychological damage.

In his book The Primordial Violence, Murray Straus says that spanking does correct behavior, but further explains:

“Research shows that spanking corrects misbehavior. But it also shows that spanking does not work better than other modes of correction, such as time out, explaining, and depriving a child of privileges. Moreover, the research clearly shows that the gains from spanking come at a big cost. These include weakening the tie between children and parents and increasing the probability that the child will hit other children and their parents, and as adults, hit a dating or marital partner. Spanking also slows down mental development and lowers the probability of a child doing well in school.”

The author continues:

“More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them. There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behavior where the results are so consistent.”

With such research and a huge understanding of spanking why is it still condoned in the US as a valuable practice?

Religion has a lot to do with it. Many religious groups condone and endorse corporal punishment techniques, with books like To Train Up a Child that is responsible in teaching physical punishment techniques that have been responsible for multiple deaths as a result of their endorsed methods.

While most religious parents do not go as far as To Train Up a Child suggests, the practice is highest among born-again Christians, according to research shown by FiveThirthyEight. (See article for graphics.)

They also show that spanking is associated with your political beliefs and demographic location in the US, and it is most likely no coincidence that Christian beliefs align much the same in these areas:

So really, is it any surprise the practice is still condoned in the US where the religious majority endorses the practice? Would it be going too far to speculate that a campaign in congress to end physical punishment would be met with cries of religious persecution?

We have a duty to protect children, and knowing that physical abuse is not only painful and unnecessary, but also psychologically damaging, we must act and bring this practice to an end.

Dan Arel is an author, journalist, speaker and secular activist. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy.

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TIME Parenting

A Young Southern Woman Remembers the Fear and Shame of Being Whooped

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images

The difference between a spanking and child abuse has nothing to do with race

I’m grown, but I’m not grown grown.

Maybe my decent credit score is proof the downy feathers of my childhood have somehow molted to reveal adult plumage patterned with W2s and check stubs and old text messages from men, but relative financial independence doesn’t make me feel like someone who’s planted her foot firmly at the adult’s table of the Thanksgiving dinner of life. As a twenty-one-year-old Southerner, I still teeter on this cusp of age-affirmed identity — full-breasted and home trained and French 75’d down, absolutely, but not yet a veteran of childhood. My mama doesn’t care what the hell FICA says, how grown I think I am. Like many black mothers might say, she could still whoop me — and that’s a promise.

Twenty-one years is a long enough time, I think, for me to be able to find that language humorous, tell myself that I now take value and wisdom from those past threats of bodily harm. Living in my own apartment, I am detached from the poking straws of the nest that nurtured me and the methods like corporal punishment that were used to prepare me to live outside of it. Spankings in my household weren’t perceived as brutalizations or assault. Neither were they administered as such. For bad behavior or disobedience, spanking was righteous judgment, swiftly executed, but the memory of the pain, not an explanation of my wrong-doing, kept me obedient.

And I wonder, in light of the news of Adrian Peterson beating his son so badly that even the child’s testicles were bruised, whether or not the pride that accompanies Southerners when it comes to withstanding beatings as children, this conviction that we are all somehow better people because of it, is rooted in some puerile sense of belonging, as if children must be hazed into their Southern identity in order to truly respect some arbitrary societal order. The pictures of Peterson’s son make one wince, and the dismissal of his obvious abuse by those of us who claim that our regional background makes us experts in the social growth of children is troublesome.

Because I understand parents who choose corporal punishment as a means of training their children and that that choice isn’t always a malicious one, though I might wince in regional camaraderie with other Southerners as we recall selecting our own switches, what I remember most looking at Adrian Peterson’s son is the humiliation of being hit. The pain is intense, but your sore ass heals, eventually; the confusion at being physically punished sans communication from people who might not be equipped with the tools to communicate their reasons for hitting you in the first place lingers. I don’t remember being a little girl who sometimes did bad things that were met with matching punishments by authority figures — my recollection of those times only yank forward misery, with fear of asking questions and fighting back because I wasn’t grown enough to do so.

So, at 21, I’m not grown enough now to know what’s best for those who navigate the landscape for raising children in a constantly socially-shifting world. Maybe I, like Charles Barkley claims, will swell the ranks of Southern black parents who whip their kids if I’m ever a mother myself, but hopefully with critical self-examination and that past shame in mind, I can figure out for myself if it’s actually worth it.

 

Sierra Mannie is a senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, and her writing has previously appeared on TIME.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Spanking Can Be an Appropriate Form of Child Discipline

Dr. Jared Pingleton is a clinical psychologist and minister and serves as the director for Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.

We won’t go wrong if we exercise a firm and consistent hand with a soft and loving heart.

NFL running back Adrian Peterson’s recent arrest for allegedly abusing his four-year-old son has once again sparked the debate over whether spanking is an appropriate form of discipline. Though some contend any form of physical correction equates to child abuse, there is a giant chasm between a mild spanking properly administered out of love and an out-of-control adult venting their emotions by physically abusing a child.

At Focus on the Family we believe that parents have been entrusted with the incredible privilege and responsibility of shaping their children’s behavior in a positive direction. Unfortunately, each of us enters this world with desires that are selfish, unkind, and harmful to others and ourselves. Spanking, then, can be one effective discipline option among several in a parents’ tool chest as they seek to steer their children away from negative behaviors and guide them toward ultimately becoming responsible, healthy, happy adults.

It is vital, however, that spanking be administered within proper guidelines. The reports about the punishment meted out by Peterson to his son, and the consequent injuries his son suffered, indicate his behavior on that occasion was far outside those boundaries. These kinds of experiences are why this whole issue is fraught with controversy – a child should never be abused.

Properly understood and administered, spanking is most effective as a deterrent to undesirable behavior for younger preschoolers (but never for infants). That’s because reasoning and taking away privileges often simply don’t work with kids in that age range. As children age, spanking should become even less frequent as other types of consequences are utilized. Spanking should be phased out completely before adolescence.

Generally speaking, we advise parents that corporal discipline should only be applied in cases of willful disobedience or defiance of authority—never for mere childish irresponsibility. And it should never be administered harshly, impulsively, or with the potential to cause physical harm. Along those lines, we caution parents who have a hard time controlling their temper to choose alternative forms of discipline. There is never an excuse or an occasion to abuse a child.

For parents who do choose to spank, the proper philosophy and approach is extremely important. Too begin with, as with all forms of correction, the concepts of punishment and discipline are absolute opposites. Punishment is motivated by anger, focuses on the past, and results in either compliance (due to fear) or rebellion and feelings of shame, guilt and/or hostility. On the other hand, discipline is motivated by love for the child, focuses on the future, and results in obedience and feelings of security.

This is because the term discipline derives from the root word “disciple” which means “to teach.” Parents have an ongoing opportunity and responsibility to teach our children how to love well and live life as effectively and healthfully as possible. What we want children to understand is that the gentle sting of a spanking is connected to the greater and often long-term pain of harmful choices. Simply put, prevention is easier than cure.

A child should always receive a clear warning before any offense that might merit a spanking and understand why they are receiving this disciplinary action. If he or she deliberately disobeys, the child should be informed of the upcoming spanking and escorted to a private area. The spanking should be lovingly administered in a clear and consistent manner. Afterward, the lesson should be gently reiterated so that the child understands and learns from this teachable experience.

Many parents today view themselves primarily as their child’s friend and recoil at the idea of administering discipline. Children, though, desperately need their parents’ love and affirmation as well as their authoritative guidance and correction. Disciplining our sons and daughters is part of the tough work of parenting, but it will pay big dividends in the long run.

The author of the Bible’s book of Hebrews writes, “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11, HCSB). So spanking, when used judiciously, appropriately, and in combination with other disciplinary techniques, can be a helpful part of training our children.

Let me offer a final word on the national tragedy of child abuse. I oversee Focus on the Family’s counseling department, and my colleagues and I deal with the fallout from those who were abused as children on a daily basis. The pain from these horrific memories lingers with many of these individuals for a lifetime. Abusing a vulnerable child is always, and extremely, damaging and wrong.

That’s why my heart goes out to Adrian Peterson’s young son. Peterson has apologized for his behavior and expressed his desire to be a good father to his son, to, in his words, “teach my son right from wrong.” I earnestly hope he has learned from this serious mistake, and I wish him well in his desire to be a good father.

Parenting is a hard job. None of us do it perfectly. And to make it even more challenging, none of our kids come with an instruction manual attached. But our children need us to do it to the best of our ability, with all the wisdom, love, gentleness and strength we can muster. We won’t go wrong if we exercise a firm and consistent hand with a soft and loving heart.

Dr. Jared Pingleton is a clinical psychologist and minister and serves as the director for Focus on the Family’s Counseling department. In this role, he provides leadership for the 13 licensed mental health professionals and two ordained chaplains who offer guidance and resources to people facing a variety of circumstances.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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