TIME Parenting

How to Talk to Your Kids About Rejection, at Every Age

Phil Boorman—Getty Images/Cultura RF

Hint: don't minimize their pain.

Did your kid have a less-than-stellar Valentine’s Day? The exact phrase “hurt feelings” exists in many languages, according to psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts, because rejection activates the same centers as physical pain in the brain. It actually does hurt.
So what can parents say to kids who are dealing with the sting of rejection, from romantic disappointment, to slights from friends, to a party invitation they never got?

Winch says the crucial thing for parents to let elementary age kids know is that rejection always hurts–and that that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them. Parents can also help kids focus on other peers who do love and accept them, asking question like, Who enjoys spending time with you? Who likes to have fun with you? They might also create more opportunities to spend more time with those friends.

Middle school kids, Winch says, are old enough to begin to respond to negative feelings of rejection with positive thoughts about themselves. “If they’ve been rejected socially, they can think about what they bring to the table socially,” Winch says. Parents can help replicate an exercise shown to alleviate the pain of rejection by asking kids, What do you think would make you a good friend? What do you think you have to offer in a friendship?

High school kids are more likely to be dealing with romantic heartache. And it’s important for parents to take that seriously, even when kids are young: Winch says the research shows it’s easy to underestimate how much rejection hurts another person. But parents can help kids recover from romantic rejection by asking questions like, What do you think would make you a good boyfriend or girlfriend? He encourages kids to make a long list, and then focus on one especially important quality, like being a good listener, or having a good sense of humor, and go deeper with questions like, What are some ways a sense of humor is valuable? What are some reasons that someone might love being around a good listener?

All of these are ways, he says, for parents to reinforce two powerful messages: to remind kids how much they bring to the table. And to encourage them that even if someone didn’t see that this time, someday, someone else will.

TIME Parenting

5 Things One Mom Wishes She’d Been Told Before Adopting her Black Son

Alexander Landau, 21, was hospitalized when he was 19 years-old after he was stopped by Denver Police. Landau at his attorney's office, Tuesday May 3, 2011, was given a $795,000 settlement after beating during a traffic stop by police. RJ Sangosti, The De
RJ Sangosti—The Denver Post/Getty Images Alexander Landau

Alex Landau’s mother Patsy Hathaway believed that love was enough when it came to raising her adopted black son—until he was beaten up by Denver police in a routine traffic stop. Landau says he was attacked after asking for a warrant; police say they thought he was reaching for one of their guns.

“Had I prepared Alex properly, he would have suffered less,” says Hathaway today, five years after the 2009 incident. “I regret this. But he would not have become the leader that he is destined to be either. Alex is in a position to help reduce others’ suffering, as well as to expose injustice and racism.”

Landau, who was given a settlement by Denver Police in 2011, is now a student and an activist. His mom wants everyone to know what she learned: a list of ways adoptive parents of kids can better support their children of a different race throughout their lives.

  1. “Preschoolers experience prejudice. So teach younger children the best you can [about racism], in simple language. Lessons can become more elaborate as kids mature.”
  2. “Children should deeply understand that racism is not their fault; there’s nothing wrong with them. Try to explain that without vilifying others.”
  3. “Universalize it. Talk about white slavery in Greece, the Jewish experience, the struggle that Hispanics face. It’s not just blacks who have suffered; it’s a problem of how people treat each other. You don’t want children to feel that it’s just their race, or who they are.”
  4. “Talk about the movement, the civil rights leaders and how they made a difference. Introduce people your children can identify with and want to emulate.”
  5. “When kids are older, parents need to get practical about how to handle potentially dangerous situations like police stops. Make sure your kids know their rights and that they understand the recommended way to handle themselves with the police. We want our kids to live to become peaceful agents of change.”

Hathaway’s story is part of Time’s special report on interracial adoption, available exclusively to Time for Family subscribers here.

TIME Parenting

The Key to Making Your Kid a Star Athlete: Back Off

Muddy legs of soccer players
;Getty Images

Ted Spiker is the chair of the department of journalism at the University of Florida and the author of DOWN SIZE: 12 Truths for Turning Pants-Splitting Frustration into Pants-Fitting Success.

Parents, lay off the pressure and just encourage your little athletes to play.

When my twin boys began their first high school lacrosse season last week, I took a few minutes to rewind my mind’s highlight reel to relive my kids’ days playing pee-wee this or that—the high-fives, the hustle plays, and the little moments that only parents can remember.

Even with all the good that can come from watching our kids compete, we sideline-squatters know that the mood of a youth sporting event can morph from pure to toxic in less time than it takes to yell “C’mon, Zebra, stop the home-cooking!”

So when David Epstein, author of The Sports Gene, visited the University of Florida recently as part of our Science Journalist in Residence program, I was anxious to hear him talk about what sports science tells us we get wrong when it comes to youth sports. Epstein spoke to classes, public groups, faculty members and others about the relationship between hardware (our genetics) and software (our training). During Epstein’s visit, I sat down with him to ask about the adjustments that parents, coaches and even our kids can make as they develop as athletes.

For Parents: More Play, Less Pressure

Perhaps because they think that focusing on one sport will get their kids on a college coach’s radar, many parents push for year-round specialization. Besides the risk of overuse injury, that approach also means your child is less likely to find the sport that he or she loves—and is good at. A better strategy: Encouraging your kids to experiment.

“Diversification doesn’t just mean playing multiple sports,” Epstein says, “but it’s also allowing a playful environment where implicit learning happens.” Epstein likes the “learn like a baby” model of sports development. A baby learns language skills by babbling and playing with no fear of failure, he says. Once the early skills are learned implicitly, that’s when you can start teaching the rules of grammar. In today’s sports culture, Epstein says, we’re teaching the grammar before our kids are implicitly learning and playing with basic athletic skills. “What the sports science suggests we’re doing for kids in sports is that we’re doing it backwards,” he says.

Epstein points to UCLA data that shows athletes on college scholarship don’t specialize in one sport until the average age of 15.4, while high school athletes on college club-level teams specialized at the age of 14.2. That data suggests that diversifying is linked to higher skill levels as the athlete ages.

“If a kid is a quick biological maturer, that’s different than them being the next LeBron James,” Epstein says. “The path that most elite athletes travel is the Roger Federer path, his parents forcing him to play basketball, badminton and soccer, not the Tiger path. That’s an exception.”

For Coaches: Clap, Don’t Correct

In one discussion Epstein was having on campus, he mentioned that positive feedback is linked to higher performance. He cited research by sports psychologist Christian Cook in which subjects performed better and were less likely to repeat mistakes when they were given positive feedback (as testosterone increased).

“I don’t know if it’s counterintuitive that positive feedback works, but it’s not the intuitive way for [coaches] to act,” Epstein says, explaining that coaches naturally identify what’s wrong and instruct athletes how to improve.

“If you had to choose between needing feedback when we did something wrong or when we did something right, I’m convinced now it’s when we did something right. And that’s when people don’t give feedback,” he says. “They pay attention to what’s wrong.”

For Kids: Play, Then Think

One trait that seems to be a hallmark for high-level performers: reflection. The athletes who reflect on their performance are able to self-evaluate what they can do better. This is largely based on the work by Marije Elferink-Gemser of the Netherlands, who believes that reflection (while more natural for some kids than others) can be taught, Epstein says. One way: By encouraging young athletes to ask themselves questions that will facilitate that kind of thinking. What did I do well? What didn’t I do well? Who are the people who can help me get there? “[Elferink-Gemser] is moving to saying the single most important role of the coach is facilitating the role of examining weakness and looking at remediating them, in that athletes are orchestrators of their own development, especially as they all get better and better,” Epstein says.

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

Christians and Spanking Culture: How and Why to Stop It

Given who we are and how we act, why do we have such impossibly high expectations for our children?

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The “cool pope” is speaking out in favor of physical discipline, bringing spanking back into the news.

Though I come from an evangelical background, I admire the pope, and so found his latest comments frustrating.

I don’t spank my children. (Full disclosure: my children are still quite young—but so far, so good.)

My relatives all spank their children with reckless impunity. To them I know it seems so simple: the actions of the child who has disobeyed is immediately met with the power and authority of their mighty hand, by which the child immediately learns that he or she has done wrong.

But I don’t discipline my kids that way. And people judge me for that. One relative mentioned casually to my husband, “You guys can get away with not spanking, because your kids listen—but my kid won’t do anything unless she’s spanked.”

I wanted to argue; I wanted to answer, “That’s because you’ve trained your child to be completely unresponsive to any form of discipline other than spanking. Your child knows that when you simply ask her to do something, you don’t mean it—you only mean it when you spank. (And no, my kids do not always listen.)”

The idea that not spanking is some sort of easy, overly lenient parental response is baffling to me. It would be much simpler to smack my kids every time they did something wrong (especially when I’m angry at them) than it is to consistently treat them like human beings deserving of the same respect that I believe I’m entitled to.

So many parents make discipline a battle for control, when anyone who has researched effective conflict resolution knows that compromise and empathy, not forceful demanding, is the solution to problem-solving.

Spanked throughout my own childhood, I wasn’t taught anything about non-violent parenting until, curious about what other options might be available to me, I researched the matter myself. The number of experts who tell us (with decades of peer-reviewed research studies and staggering statistics to support their findings) that spanking is at worst harmful and at best simply ineffective is enormous.

But people don’t listen to that overwhelming evidence—often for the same reasons they ignore the science behind climate change and vaccinations. They don’t want to be told what to do, and so find it easy to ignore research that doesn’t fit in with their personal philosophies.

We expect our children to act like adults. We think they should be able to sit still for hours, listen to every command, follow all the rules, never speak above a whisper, and never express any negative emotion to a situation they find upsetting. We think their problems don’t matter, and we don’t value their feelings.

The truth is that we adults can’t even meet the standards of behavior most of us set for our kids. I lash out at my spouse when I’m frustrated. I may break speeding laws on occasion. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a day at work where I haven’t deviated from my duties and goofed off online, if just for a few minutes.

Given who we are and how we act, why do we have such impossibly high expectations for our children?

Proverbs 13:24 says, “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Rather than take the Book of Proverbs as simple suggestions, written thousands of years ago for a specific community in a specific time period, conservative Christians think of it—and especially its passages on child-rearing—as living, breathing words written directly to them. What they hear in the words above is, “If I don’t spank my children, I hate them.” So, for them, not spanking their children brings them instant guilt for failing as parents.

The problem is that, even if you take the Bible at face value, the Hebrew translation the for word rod is shevet—a stick or staff used to guide and lead sheep, like a shepherd’s crook. The word shevet appears in one of the most beloved passages in the Bible, in Psalms 23: “Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”

The rod—the shevet—is not an object of pain. It is an object of comfort, love and protection. This is the sort of vision I have for my children when I raise them. I don’t need their absolute obedience. My goals for them are that they grow up with the fruits of the spirit. I want them to be understanding and empathetic to the effect their actions have on others around them. Violent, authoritative parenting is not the way in which it will be possible for me to meet this goal.

Most conservative Christians—especially God-fearing, red-blooded Americans who want their children to grow up respectful and reverent of authority–believe that honoring and obeying one’s parents means honoring and obeying God. Well, I do want my children to honor and obey me—but not because they are physically afraid of me. I want them to feel about me the way I feel about God, which is that I honor and obey Him because I know that he loves me, cares for me, and would never harm me.

Jennifer C. Martin is a writer in Richmond, Virginia.

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Read more from Patheos:

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

Man Says He Was Forced to Choose Between Newborn Son with Down Syndrome and Wife

Samuel Forrest Samuel Forrest's son Leo

The baby was born in Armenia, where estimated 98% of all Down syndrome newborns are abandoned annually

When Samuel Forrest’s son Leo was born Jan. 21, doctors informed him that Leo had Down Syndrome, which made no difference to Forrest.

“I looked at this guy and I said, he’s beautiful – he’s perfect and I’m absolutely keeping him,” Forrest told ABC News.

But for Forrest, a native New Zealander living in Armenia, there was one thing he hadn’t counted on. Leo’s mother, Ruzan Badalyan, issued him an ultimatum there in the hospital room, he says: It was her or Leo.

As Forrest explains on his GoFundMe page, “scores of babies are abandoned [in Armenia] each year, for reasons ranging from physical or intellectual disabilities and minor ‘imperfections’ … health professionals estimate that 98 percent of all Down syndrome babies born in Armenia are abandoned, every year.”

Forrest said, “[Badalyan] told me if I kept [Leo] then we would get a divorce.” (Badalyan confirmed to ABC News that she had given birth to a child with Down syndrome and did leave the father and child, filing for divorce about a week after Leo was born. She declined further comment.)

Forrest hadn’t been aware of the practice beforehand. “What happens when a baby like this is born here, they will tell you that you don’t have to keep them,” he said. “My wife had already decided, so all of this was done behind my back.”

A freelance contractor, Forrest was unprepared to deal with the sudden costs of being essentially abandoned in a different country with a newborn son. He set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help him return to New Zealand with Leo.

Though his initial goal was set at $60,000, the page has raised nearly $300,000 at the time of this writing, some of which Forrest says will be used to “fund facilities and programs here in Armenia that will support future parents to keep their kids despite all disabilities.” Another portion will go to the one orphanage in Armenia that regularly takes Down syndrome babies.

“After what I’ve been through with Leo, I’m not going to sit back and watch babies be sent to orphanages,” Forrest said. “As a child with Down syndrome, that becomes somewhat of a label. If we can get around this label, we’ll see that they’re normal. They’re a little different from us, but they’re still normal.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME Parenting

Mom Threatens to Blow Up School After Daughter Fails Exam

Allegedly made the threat to a guidance counselor

A New York mom is accused of threatening to blow up her kids’ high school after she found out her daughter had failed a major state test.

Karen Shearon, of Staten Island, allegedly told the guidance counselor at Susan Wagner High School “I am going to blow up the school,” after the counselor called to inform her of her daughter’s failing grade, according to a criminal complaint first reported by DNAinfo.

She was arrested yesterday for aggravated harassment in the second degree, but has not yet been arraigned. Shearon has not yet made any public statements.

TIME Parenting

16 Clever Ways to Entertain a Child Who’s Home Sick

girl-drinking-from-cup
Getty Images

Watching Frozen isn't the only way to brighten up the young one when they're feeling under the weather

Take a Stroll Down Memory Lane
Pull out your child’s baby book or family photo albums and leaf through them together. Children rarely tire of remembering vacations or hearing about the day they were born—and thinking about the good times can distract them from their sore throat or crummy tummy.

Create a Secret Hideout
Forts or special nooks are cozy places for kids to pass the time while they’re recovering. Drape blankets over chairs or create a tent in a corner. Fill the space with a sleeping bag, pillows, favorite stuffed animals, a child-safe camping lamp or flashlight, and some books or toys.

Play Hospital
Misery loves company, and so do most sick kids. Set up a doll or animal hospital and let your child play MD, tending to stuffed patients and dispensing Band-Aids with abandon. Just say “ahhhh”!

Hit the “Spa”
Run a hot shower and let your child sit in the bathroom, soaking up the steam, for 15 minutes. The warm, moist air will help alleviate coughs and soothe the nose and lungs. Plus, misty mirrors are great canvases for budding Rembrandts. Warm baths can also help, and bundling up in pajamas and fluffy robes afterwards brings extra comfort.

Close Your Eyes and Listen
If your child isn’t up for much activity, try listening to audio books. Pick a favorite story and hear it in a new way, or find the latest book everyone’s talking about at school and settle in. If stories aren’t your thing, try lullabies.

Stick With Magnets
Pull out a cookie sheet and fill it with magnets, so bedridden kids can play without running around. Younger kids can use letters to make words; older kids can use poetry sets to unleash their inner bards.

Make Ice Pops
For sore throats, nothing says “I love you” like popsicles. Try some of these recipes to soothe swollen tonsils. Or use the Zoku popsicle maker to make frozen treats in minutes.

Pull Out the Play-Doh
Make homemade Play-Doh and let your child create mosaics, mazes, and a mushy multitude of other options. You only need flour, oil, salt, cream of tartar, food coloring, and a stove. Essential oils are great additions (try peppermint, lavender or eucalyptus to help clear the nose and lungs).

Give Presents
Next time you’re at the dollar store, pick up a few toys or games your child might like. When your son or daughter is sick, you can wrap one up and give them a “Get Better” present.

Try Out Tattoos
Face paint might be too much for a sick day, but temporary tattoos (favorite superheroes, dinosaurs…even glitter hearts) are an easy way to make a dull afternoon a little more colorful. And if your kids start looking like Kat Von D, they can wear long sleeves when the fever breaks.

Get Into Graffiti
With Crayola Window Markers, your child can create designs or doodles on any glass surface—from cups and windows to picture frames. She can play graffiti artist to her heart’s content, but her masterpieces will wash off easily with soap and water.

Travel Back in Time
Travel back in time with nostalgic toys and games like Smethport magnetic boards, Shrinky Dinks, Mr. Potato Head, Cooties, Operation, and Silly Putty. They’re all readily available in stores and online, and (a blast from the past) none of them involves staring at a screen.

Tour the Globe
Use a globe or map to pick fantasy trips—from Disneyland to Denmark. Talk about why you want to travel there and what you’d do, even if you’re just making it all up. Check out National Geographic’s website for stories and stunning pictures of destinations both far-flung and domestic.

Make Astronaut Tea
Mix equal parts (roughly 20 ounces each) powdered Tang and powdered sweetened lemon ice tea in an airtight container. For an extra kick, add one teaspoon each of cinnamon and ground cloves. Shake well. Add 2-3 heaping teaspoons to hot water and enjoy. It’s full of sugar, but your little astronaut will probably be over the moon.

Create a Scavenger Hunt
If your kid is up to it, ask him find 10 things that are blue or 20 things that start with the letter S—or hide his favorite stuffed animals around the house and give him 20 minutes to find them. Reward him with Popsicles or tomato soup with goldfish crackers.

Take a Short Walk
Sure, it’s tempting to stay in bed all day, but so long as your child is comfortable and not running a fever, a short walk can do wonders to clear out a cough and get the blood flowing.

If all else fails, go ahead and pull out the movies or turn on the TV. Sometimes, mindless entertainment is truly the best medicine.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

More from Real Simple:

TIME Family

This Chart Shows Most Americans Agree with Pope Francis on Spanking

Pope Francis Leads Mass With Members Of The Institutes Of Consecrated Life
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis speaks during a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 2, 2015 in Vatican City.

Spanking isn't all that controversial for most parents in the U.S.

Pope Francis angered child abuse activists this week when he suggested it was ok for parents to discipline a disobedient child with a smack “if dignity was maintained.”

The comments, apparently in support of corporal punishment, fly in the face of consistent research that’s found spanking has essentially no positive effect on children and may actually harm them in the long run.

Still, as it turns out, spanking isn’t all that controversial for most parents in the U.S., black or white, high school dropouts or college graduates.

More than three quarters of men and 65% of women in the United States say they support giving children the occasional “good, hard spanking,” as TIME highlighted in parenting feature The Discipline Wars.

Sources: Child Trends’ original analysis of the General Social Survey 2012

The numbers are only marginally lower than in 1985, when 84% of men and 82% of women said they supported the practice.

Views around the world are somewhat mixed—43 countries, including Francis’ native Argentina, ban corporal punishment. Still, all of North America and most of Western Europe either explicitly allow it or have no laws on the books.

But even supporters of the occasional spanking draw the line somewhere. The father who prompted Francis to discuss the issue in the first place, for instance, said he would never try to “humiliate” his child. In his remarks, Francis said that parents should only “correct with firmness” when it is done “justly.”

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TIME Books

Teens Crave Young Adult Books on Really Dark Topics (and That’s OK)

Gayle Forman
Dennis Kleiman—© Stomping Ground Photo 2014 Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of the novels: If I Stay, Where She Went and the Just One Day series. Her latest 'dark' book, I Was Here, follows a young woman in the aftermath of her best friend's suicide.

It's time to stop worrying that great YA novels about risky behavior or even death will be a bad influence on kids

When I was 12 years old, I became an avid reader, my bookshelves stuffed with paperbacks like Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives, Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight and Harold Robbins’ Dreams Die First. Much as I loved reading about groupies and spies and Hollywood wives, and drug addicts and murderers, I was not one of them. I hadn’t even French kissed. Though some of the girls at my school were already sexually experienced, in spite of my racy reading, I was not. I wasn’t much into boys, at least not ones who existed off the page of a juicy book.

I think about teen-reader me a lot when I hear about adults bemoaning the dark material in Young Adult books. (Interestingly, I rarely meet these folks; only read about them.) Because the concerns seem partially predicated on this idea that you become what you read. By that logic, I would’ve become a cocaine-snorting groupie years ago, or a lunatic or a murderous Russian. Because by 10th grade, it was Vonnegut and Dostoyevsky I was obsessed with. Partly because by this time, I’d become a wee bit pretentious. But partly because the kinds of books I would’ve loved to read weren’t being written yet.

The other concern with dark YA seems based on a worry that these intense stories—which sometimes deal with issues like self-harm and addiction and abuse and even death—could irrevocably damage fragile minds.

Huh.

I’m never all that sure what makes a book “dark” in the first place. It seems to vary with seasons, or the trends. Are dark books the ones that allegorically explore serious subject matter, like warfare (The Hunger Games) or the human capacity for destruction (Grasshopper Jungle)? Or at they the ones that reflect our actual world, including the capacity for human cruelty and kindness (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) or the messy stuff of human mortality (The Fault In Our Stars)?

Because if those books are dark, and that’s a problem, I’m confused. Are these not the same subjects young people are encouraged to engage in at school, by reading the newspaper, or canonical texts like The Iliad (warfare) or Macbeth (the capacity for self destruction) or To Kill A Mockingbird (kindness and cruelty) or A Farwell to Arms, all Emily Dickinson poetry (that messy morality business)?

But for a moment, let’s put the question of whether books are dark aside. For a moment, let’s just say that some YA is dark. And….so what?

Literature swims in the murkier waters of the human condition. Conflict and matters of life and death, of freedom and oppression—it is the business of books to explore these themes, and the business of teenagers, too.

New brain mapping research suggests that adolescence is a time when teens are capable of engaging deeply with material, on both an intellectual level as well as an emotional one. Some research suggests that during adolescence, the parts of the brain that processes emotion are even more online with teens than with adults, (something that will come as absolutely no surprise to any parent of a teenager). So, developmentally, teens are hungry for more provocative grist while emotionally they’re thirsty for the catharsis these books offer. Of course teens are drawn to darker, meatier fare. The only surprise about this is that it’s a surprise.

There may be another reason for the appeal. Adolescence is a time when teens are statistically more likely to come into harm’s way, and thus more likely to witness harm among their peers. According to the National Institutes for Mental Health, teens between 15 and 19 are about six times more likely to die by injury than people ages 10 to 14. Is it any wonder that they want books to help process what they’re experiencing around them, often for the first time?

That increased death rate, however, is a chilling statistic, particularly if you’re a parent. Seen through that lens—the fear of something terrible befalling a child—the wariness about dark YA begins to make more sense. Because if your child doesn’t read about death, about abuse, about rape, about suicide, then these terrible things won’t happen to him or her. 'I Was Here' by Gayle Forman

But that is a form of magical thinking, and no matter how well intentioned, it’s wrong. Because books don’t create behaviors. It’s possible they reinforce existing behaviors, but those behaviors are already present, not created by a novel. A novel won’t turn a bookish drama geek into a promiscuous drug abuser any more than it will turn a promiscuous drug abuser into a bookish drama geek, unless the seeds of those transformations were already planted.

What books can do, however, is reflect an experience and show a way out of difficult, isolating times. It’s why Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak has become such a touchstone, giving young women a voice to speak about sexual abuse, or Sherman Alexie’s Part-Time Indian has been a life raft for young people who can’t see their way out of existences straightjacketed by addiction and deprivation. I don’t believe that books, YA or otherwise, have the power to save lives. That’s a bit too grandiose for my thinking, but seeing your experience, your sometimes difficult experiences, reflected can be a powerful incentive to reach out and get the help that could indeed save a life.

I suspect that most teens who read and love “dark” YA have little in common with the struggling characters they relate to. Whenever I ask teenagers why they’re drawn to books like my novel If I Stay—in which the main character loses her family in a car accident—they overwhelmingly say the appeal is seeing an ordinary teen forced into an extraordinary circumstance. Reading about everyday fictional teens rising to the occasion (and, spoiler alert, in YA books they almost always do) allows actual teens to imagine themselves doing the same, within the lower-stakes conflicts and contexts of their own lives. This is empowering, and hopeful, words that I would use to describe many YA books. Even the dark ones. Especially the dark ones. These “dark” books may seem to be about death, about illness, about pain, but really they are about life. The kids get that, even if the adults sometimes, do not.

Some of my favorite “dark” YA books:

(Gayle Forman’s best-selling novel If I Stay was made into a motion picture in 2014. Her latest novel, I Was Here was published in January 2015. )

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

This Barber Is Punishing Unruly Kids By Giving Them Ridiculous Old-Man Haircuts

Comb Still Life
Nancy R. Cohen—Getty Images

If they want to act old, they can have a bald spot

Do your kids talk back to you because they think they’re grown-ups? Well now, they can look like one, thanks to a genius barber who designed a special haircut to punish obnoxious kids.

The barbers at Atlanta’s A-1 Kutz came up with the “Benjamin Button Special” to punish kids who “act grown,” by shaving their heads so they look like old men. Barber Russell Frederick and his staff are even offering the haircut for free.

Frederick told the Washington Post he first tried the haircut on his own 12-year old son after he was slacking in school, and said his grades “dramatically skyrocketed” after he got his bald spot.

(h/t Washington Post)

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