Archive for July, 2012

Whatever it is your teenager has done. However they feel and however you feel. You can assert your authority in a way that gets them to where you want them to be… either grounded and in their room… or feeling sufficiently ashamed of what they did so they don’t do it again… or trusting more solidly that you do what you do because you care about them learning invaluable life lessons.

Below are the steps to follow. Obviously in the heat of moments, it will be extremely challenging to stay aware of your own state, and that of your teenager… but each time you’re able to stay aware and purposeful while managing your emotions instead of being driven by them… you increase your credibility with your kid, and consequently, you increase your influence (and peace of mind).

1. Before you speak, react or decide anything, know your intention. What’s your goal?

  • To educate?
  • To promote reflection?
  • To administer consequences?
  • To vent? (though be mindful of this one… it usually doesn’t end well with teenagers)
  • To show your power and authority? (also be mindful of this one… it usually works in direct opposition of your end goal).

2. Read the mood/emotion of the teenager. Have a sense of their level of receptivity or resistance. Aggressive? Defiant? Ashamed? Sad?

  • Eye contact
  • Posture
  • Clenched hands
  • Head up or down?

3. Choose your approach. Based on your sense of their emotional state, choose an approach that you think will bring them to a place of receptivity. If they seem withdrawn or detached, you might choose an approach to stir or provoke attention and presence (higher energy). If they seem too agitated to hear you, you might choose an approach that slows things down to get them receptive (lower energy). Choosing an approach based on their state is not giving in, it’s being clever and thoughtful.

  • Volume
  • Tone
  • Pace of speech
  • Body position

4. Once you start interacting with your child, pay attention to their responses/reactions (tears, breathing, eyes etc.) to your initial approach. Do not continue to pursue your goal until you feel their receptivity.

  • Did you stir too much aggression or agitation and lose connection?
  • Did you overdo things and provoke shut down and lose connection?
  • Did you stir too much shame and guilt and lose them into their own thoughts?
  • Did you make them feel unsafe, emotionally or physically and cause them to shut down?
  • Do you need to slow down to build more trust?

5. After you have your sense of their reaction to you, readjust and choose another approach… and continue to alternate between choosing your approach, reading their reactions and readjusting based on their reactions.

6. And once you feel they’ve heard your message and understand whatever decision it is you’ve made, check with them to be sure. Any emotionally charged interaction can easily confuse the message, and the goal is always to leave the teenager clear about the lesson you need them to learn, and your role and intention.

7. Know without a doubt that similar emotionally charged interactions will happen again… but because of your improved authoritative skills, your credibility with your teenager rises and consequently, the next storm will be that much more mutually and productive.

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and slowly crush our confidence. it seems that many people with authority or experience think that because we are young, or because we’ve had difficult lives, or because we’ve somehow been oppressed for how we look or how much money our families have, that we’re not capable of the same successes as other, more privileged people.  making things easier for us is far more oppressive than challenging us. making things easier for us only sends the message that you think we’re not as capable as everyone else… and it keeps us from building our mental muscles to their fullest abilities. the dangerous thing here is that because we’re young, we’d much prefer things to be easier than harder.  and because of this, we’ll usually just accept the lower standards rather than ask to be challenged. and if you do lower your expectations of us, we’ll end up just feeling pleased with ourselves for accomplishing small, basic tasks, rather than feeling the pride of pushing ourselves beyond what we thought we were capable of.  the bottom line here is that we are capable of more. it is not in our “best interest” to make things too easy on us. and the only way we’ll find out how great we can become is by being challenged and inspired to work harder and aim higher. so even though we may not have had easy childhoods, we won’t benefit from being patronized… but we will benefit from your faith in us to do better.  if there are people in our lives who don’t allow us to “coast” or use our lives as excuses, than you’ll get to see us shine and overcome.  otherwise, if people keep relying on lowering the standards to “build our self-esteem”, we’ll grow up unprepared, hiding behind false arrogance and not knowing how amazing real confidence rooted in ability really feels.

and because of this, we often feel like strangers in our own families. we have different styles, different ways of speaking, different opportunities, different influences and different expectations of ourselves… and this often makes our lives very confusing. we love our parents, but we don’t understand them, just as they don’t understand us. and this causes us great conflict. we go to school and need to make friends and fit in, but when we go home, the ways we try to fit in at school seem childish, shallow, disrespectful and unnecessary to our parents.

our parents grew up in a completely different environment with their own pressures and opportunities and values, and as a result, we often argue over how we should act and what our priorities should be. for us, fitting in feels like survival. if we don’t fit in, we feel alone, lost and scared. if we don’t acclimate to the values and pressures of our peers, we get teased and bullied. and if we don’t abandon some of the ways of our parents, we’re left on the outside looking in.  and it breaks our hearts to “betray” our parents as much as it breaks the hearts of our parents. but we are teenagers, which often means we’re going to be more selfish than deferential. these are the choices we’re compelled to make as children of immigrant parents and our parents just don’t see how and why we make the choices we do. it’s not that we don’t love them, or even respect them, but when most of our time is spent away from them and in the company of our peers, it’s inevitable that we absorb the ways and manners and styles and priorities of those around us.

we understand the desperation our parents feel when they’re watching us evolve into “pop culture” or “typical american” kids… and we can even understand why they try so desperately to impose their culture and faith upon us. but their refusal to accept us for who we are hurts. and all we wish is for our parents to partner with us in finding ways to juggle both worlds.  our choices to “fit in” are not just “rebellious” acts. we just feel that to survive our teenage years and high school, we have to make decisions that go against our “differently” raised parents.  we’re not thinking about ways to aggravate our parents, we’re just doing the best we can to satisfy both their expectations of us and our expectations of ourselves… and if there were ways to remain connected to our roots and the fundamentals of our cultures and faith AND establish our own identities as young people raised in american society… this is what we’d want. all we need is for our parents to be willing to partner with us in finding this balance.

The truth is, despite all the words in my other blogs, and all the books on the shelves of stores, and all the advice scattered over the internet… affecting teenagers really isn’t as difficult as we’ve been conditioned to think it is. The only thing that gets in our way of having the relationships we want and the influence we want is ourselves. And as strange or irritating as this might sound, keep reading if you’re at all curious, and more importantly, if you’re willing to make a few subtle changes.

Regardless of the behavior that’s confusing us or frustrating us or scaring us, we can, at the very least, be connected to our kids while they’re doing what they’re doing… even if we don’t understand why they’re doing it.  Drinking, having sex, using drugs, failing classes, fighting, breaking curfew, hiding, defying, wearing clothes we think bizarre or hurting themselves are all behaviors that have reasons… and we can learn what these reasons are if we can just learn to simplify.

Now before you write off this notion of simplicity as naive, absurd, unrooted in reality or maybe even condescending, try to understand what I’m saying and why I’m saying it. What our kids are doing is serious. Their lives are in danger and their futures are in jeopardy and they need to be affected by someone if they are to change course. And if you can put aside for the moment all  the different strategies and interventions and explanations you’ve read or heard about, you can see what you can do differently.

In simplest terms, influence over another person requires a connection. It’s no different than a light bulb. Without a connection, the light doesn’t get the electricity it needs to shine. The mistake many of us make is in thinking that our only chance is if we find “the right words” or make the “right decision”… when in truth, the words and decisions mean far less to our kids than does the feel of the connection.

If you’re a parent with a teenager who’s doing something, anything, that is causing you concern, frustration or any unwanted feeling, you just need a few seconds before you speak or react. These few seconds will decide whether or not you have a chance at having influence. It’s these few seconds before we speak the reflexive emotional words we normally speak that make the difference.

The bottom line is whether you fear your child is suicidal or at risk… or you feel the urge to lay hands on your kid because they continue to get suspended for fighting… or you are carrying an unspeakable sadness in you because it just doesn’t seem like your child “fits in”… if you can learn, or bring to mind, the qualities of the best people you know, you can take your interaction with your kid in the direction you both need it to go.

And you’re going to have to take my word for it, as over-simplified as my words sound, because I commit every day to employing this simple strategy. I commit every day I go to work at my huge New York City high school, to choosing the qualities I want to exude. And this is it… this is the way to keep influence simple. It’s to let go of the idea that some highly technical or clinical or clever approach needs to be learned and tried… and it’s to identify and choose the right qualities to convey to your kid. And I didn’t learn this in graduate school over years of study…  I learned it by trying too hard, by making my share of mistakes and by reflecting before, during and after my interactions with others.

First, you take in the words of the teenager (by listening) and sense their mood, need or state of mind.

Second, you recognize the emotions you’re feeling in reaction to the child in front of you.

Third, you catch your urges, no matter how strong, and you choose not to act on them.

And fourth, you choose to embody the absolute best qualities that exist in people… not minimally, but with complete sincerity, regardless of how you were raised or who your role models were.  You embody the qualities in the words you choose, in your tone of voice, in your facial expressions, in your posture and how you position yourself next to your child, and in the volume and pace with which you speak.

You commit, in the highly emotional moment, to being authentic… to being compassionate… to being understanding… to being attentive… to being patient… to being humble… to being direct… to showing your integrity, and above all else, to role-modeling the qualities you want your child to someday possess. And you commit to these qualities because they are your only chance of having the connection you need in that moment to affect your child.  Call it a more “Eastern” or “Zen” or “Buddhist” approach if you will, but know that as simple and “touchy/feely” as these suggestions may sound… they will give you more power and influence than you ever thought possible.

And this isn’t to say that you don’t ultimately set limits or administer consequences… because young people most definitely need and earn both. But it’s the qualities we exude and the approaches we choose (as 1970’s “love, peace and joy” as this may sound), that dictate whether our children resist, shut down and defy, or remain receptive to and trusting of our authority and influence.

I see it work every day. With any and all kinds of demographics. With kids from intact and broken homes. With kids with physical and emotional scars, and with kids who’ve grown up spoiled and entitled. The profile and issues of the teenager don’t matter as long as we are approaching them with the qualities I mentioned above.  The words and decisions will come to you, and more often than not you’ll choose the right words and make good decisions… but only if you can lock in, quiet down and listen, realize what you’re feeling, hold your urges to react, and choose to play, with authenticity, the role of the kind of adult you want most to be, and the kind of adult they most need you to be.

New to this blogging thing, I’ve been searching the internet to see what’s out there… and so far, I’m a little disappointed. I’m disappointed not because there aren’t great pieces written by amazingly inspired and intelligent parents and professionals, because there most certainly are, but I’m disappointed in what I’m not seeing.

I’m not seeing much for the urban parents struggling with their inner-city teens. I’m not seeing much for the single inner-city mothers. The grandparents raising too many grandchildren. The foster parents fostering young teens who have been heart-breakingly neglected or worse. I’m not seeing original and authentic ideas about why so many of our urban youth are barely meeting the low standards we set for them, and I’m not seeing thoughtful and simple suggestions as to how to get a kid to be the first in their family to go to college. And I’ll keep looking… but so far, not so good.

Urban teens absolutely get attention in the media, but other than the overwhelmingly negative depictions on the news of what urban youth are doing with their time, or not doing in school… I don’t see much of anything constructive. And I’m not trying to diminish the efforts or authors that are out there, because I have the utmost respect for anyone sharing their stories of triumph or their ideas about how to improve things, I just want a lot more attention given to this growing population of youth sinking deeper and deeper into their own apathy and resentments.

And I’m not here to pretend to know what it’s like to be a marginalized inner-city teen of color, nor would I ever presume to understand the plight of the young minority parent struggling with money and fighting to find a balance between meeting their own needs and meeting those of their teenager… but I am here to do everything I can with the skills, insights and experiences I have. I work with kids thinking about suicide. I sit with kids who are cutting themselves. I speak with kids in gangs who see fighting as a normal part of their week. I listen to kids who cut school to go to sex parties. I hear the stories of kids who have been molested by family members. I’m explaining to kids the possible consequences of sexting and sending facebook threats. I’m supporting victims of bullying, and the bullies themselves. I’m disciplining kids taunting teachers and harassing their peers. And I’m stirring kids to think more deeply about their own disinterest, self-loathing, apathy, hopelessness, helplessness or obsession with physical appearance. You name the issue, and I’m dealing with it every day.

I want to share what I’ve learned and I want somehow for my words, insights and suggestions to find there way to the urban parent who more than likely, isn’t looking for a blog on parenting. I want  somehow for my years of experience working in urban schools, shelters, group homes, drop-out prevention programs and with post-incarcerated teens to shed some light on what’s going on with kids, and how to approach them in ways that actually help them break bad habits.

I’m not claiming to have figured anything out with certainty, but I am claiming to have a lot of springboards… and by springboards, I mean words and ideas and suggestions that adults can use to jump in and stir some actual change in their own lives as parents, and in the lives of their teenagers fighting to navigate big city neighborhoods and schools.

So maybe this particular blog finds someone with some connections who feels so moved to connect me to a larger forum… or maybe this particular blog ends up just being a reminder to myself to keep trying… but whatever comes of it, I want nothing more than to affect some raw, positive, authentic change in the lives of our urban kids. Because underneath their alleged “anger” problems, and beneath their apparent “apathy” towards learning, and buried with them under the weight of neglect or subtle racism or abuse or misfortune, there’s a kid, just like any other kid, with all the skills and potential in the world. And all this kid needs is an adult or two armed with a little more insight, the humility to shut up and listen, and the courage and the care to talk to them directly without pity, and with respect and conviction.

So, you’re young, but you’re now old enough to start dating, unless of course you’re not old enough because you parents want you to wait until a certain age (in which case, you might need to decide if you really think going behind your parents back to date is going to end well). Either way, if you’re considering “dating” and entering into relationships with other teenagers, ask yourself these few very important questions. What qualities do you value in other people? Kindness? Honesty? Sense of humor? Intelligence? Or are looks and popularity all that matter to you? What do you want to “feel” when you’re in the company of your boyfriend or girlfriend? Do you want to feel safe? understood? respected? Or do you only want to feel appreciated as pretty or handsome to the person you’re dating? Also ask yourself what don’t you want to feel when you’re in the company of your boyfriend or girlfriend. And ask yourself if you’d be brave enough to end the relationship if you started to feel the things you don’t want to feel… like controlled, unsafe, pressured, manipulated, or under-appreciated.

Being in relationships can be very confusing. And sexual relationships can be even more confusing, especially if you don’t feel like you know everything you need to know about safety and the risks associated with sexual relationships. Your emotions can be very strong and they can drive you to say things and do things you might not normally do. It is very important that if you decide to enter into a relationship that you also try to keep your perspective and not lose sight of other things that matter… like your family, your friends and your future. Always keep in mind that you are young and that you also have long term goals, because there will be times when it feels like the only thing that matters is your boyfriend or girlfriend.  Be careful not to get so consumed by the relationship that your start to neglect school or your health.

Finding balance between your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend and the rest of your life is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT… and if you feel yourself losing perspective and getting obsessed or overwhelmed, you might want to ask yourself if you’re ready to be in a relationship, or if the relationship you’re in is the right one for you at this point in your life. And if you can’t get clear about these questions, find someone you trust to help you get clear.  Remember, healthy relationships will make you feel whole and good and safe and confident and they’ll make you feel excited to move forward in your life with the goals you had before the relationship… while unhealthy ones will make you feel anxious, jealous, obsessed, unsafe and they’ll make you forget about the goals you had for yourself before you entered into the relationship. Drama does not mean love… jealousy does not mean passion… and losing your appetite or ability to sleep soundly isn’t always a good sign (although sometimes, strong crushes on a boy or a girl can make you a little less hungry). So choose your partner wisely, continuously evaluate whether or not you think it is a healthy relationship, be brave enough to end it if it does not feel healthy… and enjoy it, SAFELY, if it does feel healthy, and you’re allowed to be dating.

If you’re a parent, you have to feed your teenager, provide shelter and medical care, and you have to clothe your teenager (and love and nurturance is nice too, as challenging as this might be when they’re nagging/begging/bargaining for new gear)… but nowhere is it written that you have to arm your child with all the latest gadgets and in-style stuff just because they ask. A few well timed “no’s” can go a long way in establishing your authority and making sure your child has healthy priorities.

Whether you’re wealthy, comfortable, living from check to check or struggling to get by, how much money you spend on your child  affects far more than just your budget. The frequency with which you buy them unnecessary goods (and yes, YOU get to decide between necessary and unnecessary, not them)  can significantly influence the kinds of earners and spenders they become as they get older.  We all know the saying… give a teenager a fish, he/she eats for a day, teach a teenager how to fish, they eat for a lifetime (or something like that)… and this couldn’t be more true than it is in todays increasingly style-driven, economically precarious society.

For teenagers, how they’re perceived by their peers matters a lot, in fact, it probably (and maddeningly) seems like it’s the only thing that matters. For your children, their confidence often hinges on how they think they look in the eyes of others. Are they pretty or handsome enough? Do they look poor? Is their cell phone as new as everyone else’s? Are their sneakers new and unscuffed or will they be teased for wearing shoes from a discount store? Understanding the pressure your teenager is under to “fit in” is necessary for your  relationship, but having an understanding of this pressure does not mean you need to give in to their very clever, subtle and sneaky tantrums or manipulations.

Of all the decisions you have to make and all the worries you have as a parent or guardian, preparing your teenager to be budget conscious might seem fairly low on the list of priorities… especially if you’re fortunate enough to be financially comfortable. You’re most likely more worried about their grades, the choices they make at parties, their adherence to rules and laws, practicing safe sex (or preferably, practicing no sex) or saying no thanks to drugs. But while teaching your child to have a healthy respect for (and fear of not having any) money might take a back seat to safety and grades, it’s one of those life lessons that they need to learn.

Not only are “entitled” and “spoiled” rather unattractive qualities in children, but raising a financially savvy child will actually stir them to be more motivated in school. A young person who has a clear understanding of the connection between work ethic and self-discipline and money, freedoms and “stuff”,  is a young person who is far more likely to take ownership of their education and post high school goals. If somehow, you can help your child understand that FIRST, you  work and earn, and SECOND, you get the good stuff (and not the other way around)  you will have accomplished a great feat that will pay huge dividends over a lifetime.

Discussing with your child the value of money, the work required to earn money, the fleeting nature of money and the necessity of recognizing that money, while nice, is not what life is all about, is a discussion that inches them closer to independence (and you closer to getting really nice gifts as you enter your golden years).

So speak with your teenager about the economy and job security. Teach them how to manage a checking account. Ask your adolescent what their understanding is of budgeting, credit and smart spending, and discuss with them how to differentiate between stuff they want… and stuff they need. And when you’re done having a lovely, calm, warm, respectful talk (I know I know) about moving towards independence, set up a plan that clearly illustrates how much of your money they have access to, what they are allowed to use it for, and exactly what they need to do, in their lives and at school, to earn some of your money.  And right after that, help them write their resume and with a smile on your face, invite them to hit the bricks to find a job.

Basic Principles of Cultivating Money-Conscious and Respectful Children:

* Remember, just because you might be able to afford to buy your children “stuff”… doesn’t mean it’s good for their development. Preparing them for adulthood is the most loving thing you can do for them (even more than buying them the latest iphone).

* Weekly or monthly allowances should always be attached to some responsibilities… and not just brushing their teeth. It’s okay to make your child really earn their money. If in your home you can cultivate the quality of “strong work ethic” and “respect for authority”, your child’s teachers will be most appreciative, and you’ll see results on their report cards.

* Remain ever-mindful of the guilt-trips and sob stories, so you don’t fall victim to them. It’s okay to provide for your child, but once you start rewarding “explanations” instead of “efforts”, you’re putting yourself on a very slippery, and expensive, slope.

* As much as your child may kick and scream, daily routines are good for children. Adults have them as employers and employees, so children should get used to them early… and you can use money or privileges or special activities as their payment for completing their daily routines.

* When old enough, be sure to discuss with your children the economy, banking, credit and credit cards, debt, savings, investments and all the other matters related to money. It’s okay (and necessary) to have a sense of humor about the topic, but be sure that the seriousness and dangers of financial irresponsibility are conveyed.

So there you have it… a few, achievable strategies targeting the development of  financially responsible, hard-working children.

A few words to the pains I hear in so many voices… be they the stories of the teenage students I work with, the parents of the children I know, posters of blogs, teachers I spend my days with, or the friends and family I love.

None of us our alone in our pursuits of ease, and we are all more capable than we know of finding such peace… regardless of the chaos, the hurt, the fear, the loneliness or the loss that comes to us.  It’s a miraculous moment to be able to feel something we wish we were not feeling… and not need to rush or push it away… to quietly feel as graceful with our pains as we are appreciative of the pleasures that find us… finding strength in our confidence to endure the darkness, and in the knowledge that it is all merely texture, albeit at times indescribable pain, simply  waiting for its time to turn to something else.

I hear so many speak of their pursuit of happiness, and every time I hear of such pursuits, I feel only confusion… because for me, an untextured life defined only by the one emotion is not only an impossibility, but an unwanted reality. For me, I find peace in an unwavering pursuit of grace… I find peace in the idea of spending my days growing better and better at  being truly okay with each feeling that is stirred by the moments of my life, without preference and without need. And should I be fortunate enough to become graceful with the full texture of being human… I’m sure, without any doubts, that among them will be many moments of joy and happiness.

No, we will never invite darkness when we can be in light, but should the darkness find its way to our days, through mindless violence or natural disaster, the quality of grace, unreligious yet personal and deep, is a force that can ground us during such times of uproot… when all we have to move us forward, is the next strained or easy breath… and our connection to each other.

You see the cuts on your 14 year old daughters arm for the first time.  Your 17 year old son won’t come home until after midnight every night and when he does, he smells of alcohol.  You get your 15 year old kids report card in the mail and they failed all but one of their classes and the one class they passed was phys. ed.  You can’t get your 10th grade students to do their homework or stop talking in class long enough to absorb the material they should have learned 3 years ago.  You hear from your 15 year old client that they’ve already had 9 sexual partners.  Whether you are the parent, their teacher or their counselor, you are going to feel things when you find out what your kids are doing.  You’re going to feel many things. You’re going to feel panic, shame, disappointment, anxiety and frustration and you’re going to feel the pull to react from these feelings.  The urge to yell and cry and fix and shame and pity will be strong.  The temptation to throw the biggest consequences you can think of will feel irresistible or you’ll feel the urge to try to hug their problems away.  You may want to get on the internet right away to find the toughest boot camp or you may feel compelled to call information to find the closest psychiatrist who can medicate your kid…

… And this is precisely the moment you need to find a way to NOT do something.  As hard as it will be, you as the authority figure will need to figure out how to stop before you react emotionally so you can position yourself to have the greatest impact you can on your child’s behavior.  You will need to stay focused on your goal of helping them develop more than on the discomfort of feeling what your feeling.  At this moment, you need to understand two things; one, that your emotions and needs are trying to drive your behaviors, and two; that there are most definitely emotions and needs driving your children’s behaviors.

Our children and students are acting in ways that we don’t understand. They’re making decisions that scare us and they’re doing things that confuse us.  They’re reactive and impulsive and self-destructive and we feel helpless to have the impacts we want to have.  We’re feeling more disconnected than ever from the young people we know. We get frantic and feel a sense of urgency and we start to feel hopeless and powerless to wake them up to the short and long-term consequences of their actions… which is why we need to slow down and simplify.

First, ask yourself what an emotion is.  Right now, think about what it means to feel and recognize that our actions are separate from our feelings.  Think about the sensations in your body when you’re angry.  Think about the tightness in your chest when you’re anxious, the pressure behind your eyes when you’re sad or the heaviness in your limbs when you feel exhausted.  Remember what it was like when you were young and you felt stupid, ugly, unprepared or misunderstood.  Remember how those feelings drove your words and your actions.  Maybe you fought.  Maybe you buried yourself in your studies.  Maybe you drank, smoked pot, broke curfew or maybe you tried to be the perfect son or daughter.

Now, think about why you’re reading this blog.  What emotion compelled you to take the time to look for and read these words?  Was it fear?  Was it curiosity? Was it frustration, helplessness or professional obligation? Was it hope for a closer, stronger relationship with your child or student?  Too infrequently do we stop to think about the emotion that drove us to take a certain action.  Too often are we reacting to and dealing with our kids’ behaviors instead of the underlying forces driving them.

For all of us, especially impulsive youth, how we feel, how we want to feel, and how we don’t want to feel fuels what we do and the decisions we make.  This is our foundation.  This is the lens we need to see our kids and students through, and once we begin seeing the true forces motivating their strange and harmful behaviors, we’ll be far more prepared to influence them. Below are a few behaviors we’re seeing in our kids and some of the emotions driving the behaviors.  Remember, sometimes behaviors are in pursuit of certain feelings, and sometimes the behavior is trying get rid of certain feelings.

  • Having sex with multiple partners to quiet loneliness, feel more attractive or feel more loved… or all of the above.
  • Disruptive classroom behavior to hide the shame of not knowing or to feel more powerful and influential over others… or all of the above.
  • Using drugs and alcohol to numb the enduring pain of trauma or to take a vacation from the stress of ones life… or both.
  • Cutting ones own skin to distract oneself from feeling overwhelmed or to feel more in control of their pain… or both.
  • Joining a gang to feel more respected and connected or to feel less lonely and alone… or all of the above.
  • Fighting to release frustration, to feel more powerful or to find a skill that allows them to feel unique… or all of the above.

If we look at any action we take, deliberate or instinctive, driving it is some emotion.  Defiant actions are often driven by the need to feel more powerful.  Self-destructive actions are frequently driven by the need to avoid pain.  Dating can silence the feeling of loneliness, taking a higher paying job can help us feel more secure and lending a helping hand to someone can make us feel useful, thoughtful and generous.  We’ll read because we want to feel inspired, watch romantic comedies to feel joy and hope and we’ll exercise to feel more energetic and sturdy.  We often do things or react without stopping to think about the forces driving our behaviors, but if we can find a way to know more clearly why people do what they do, we’ll significantly increase the chances of having a positive impact on whomever it is we wish to impact.

Apply the framework of “emotion drives behavior” to the young people in your life.  Think about their behaviors and ask yourself what emotion could possibly be driving them.  But be careful not to believe too much in your own theories.  Remember that your explanations are only theories, and that their explanations and reflections hold the keys to their changed behavior.  Once we are more clear about the origin of their behavior or the need they’re trying to meet, than we can communicate with them in more constructive ways and we’ll be better equipped to use our authority and wisdom in ways that are in fact in their best interest.

Always remember to look beneath the behavior.  Be as curious as possible when a child tells you they need something.  A child who says they “need” new clothes may be looking to feel more confident, accepted, and/or less insecure.  A student who says they “need” to change their teacher or is acting out in class may be feeling doubtful about their abilities in a particular subject.  If we’re trying to influence our kids’ behaviors, we need to keep in mind that there is always an emotional reason for their behaviors or stated needs.

As parents, teachers, counselors or caretakers, remaining mindful of the connection between emotional needs and actions will keep us constructive and productive. For each person and child, the emotions driving the behaviors may be different.  Understanding your child or student and the larger context of their lives will help you to more accurately identify the underlying motivations of their actions.  A student raised around violence may be conditioned to feel powerless and act out in their own violent ways to feel more powerful.  A child whose emotional needs were ignored or dismissed by parents might be conditioned to feel invisible and lonely and may seek connection by engaging in sexual activity before they are ready.  Always remember that we won’t know until we find out from them, why they’re doing what they’re doing and what feelings or needs are driving their behaviors.

Being able to remain thoughtful during emotionally charged interactions is hard (and feels impossible at times), but it empowers us to remain more purposeful and influential.  Being able to reflect about our own histories with different emotions prevents us from becoming too righteous or enabling.  Keep in mind that we’re all conditioned in our own ways to cope with different feelings. One person may reject sadness while another person may wallow in it.  One person may take their hurt out on others while a different person may take their hurt out on themselves.  The less we judge the chosen behavior and the more we seek to understand the emotion driving it… the closer we’ll be to our kids and the more influence we’ll have as we pursue their empowerment.

I’ve heard many times from parents that they think their children are “just trying to get back at them” by acting in destructive or lazy ways.  If you as an adult have ever thought that “revenge” was the emotion driving your child’s behaviors… look a little deeper.  Young people only seek “revenge” when they feel they have been harmed in some way. Whether you as the adult agree or disagree with your kids’ behavior or their explanation, remaining more curious than irritated keeps you in a position of influence.  So instead of accusing them of being full of sh&t, be curious about why your child might feel compelled “to get back at you”.  Ask yourself if you somehow misused or abused your power at some point and made them feel powerless.  Ask yourself, rather than react with shock, judgment or righteousness, what emotion could be driving their actions and what approach you should take that maximizes the likelihood that they begin trusting you enough to re-connect with you. Getting defensive or righteous when our kids accuse us doesn’t help us, our relationships or our abilities to influence their behaviors. Here are a few more behaviors and some of the common emotions that drive the behaviors.

  • Truancy to avoid facing the hopeless feeling that comes with having fallen far behind at school.
  • Defiance to authority and rules to feel less powerless or more free or less constrained or more independent… or all of them.
  • Insulting, teasing and bullying others to feel more powerful or less victimized… or both.
  • Cheating on tests to feel the pride of a parent or to feel clever… or both.
  • Playing excessive video games to feel more in control or to avoid the frustration of a life where you never feel demoralized that you can get ahead… or both.
  • Silence and isolation to avoid the fears and uncertainties that come with relationships.
  • Watching excessive television to minimize anxiety or feel comforted by something familiar… or both.
  • Bragging and boasting to feel more confident and less insecure.
  • Obsession with style to feel more attractive or distinct.
  • Eating disorders to feel more in control.
  • Suicidal ideation to feel less constrained and more free.
  • Speaking threats and showing intimidating behaviors to feel more impactful on others.
  • Following the negative or disruptive behaviors of others to feel more belonging.
  • Running away to feel more independent or less dependent or to escape the feeling of confinement, loneliness or fear… or all of the above.

Remember, every child is different. Sons and daughters are different from their parents, and students and clients are different from their teachers and counselors. We all respond differently to the people and situations in our lives and we all deal with or avoid our emotions in our own ways.  Which is why it is so important that we avoid imposing our feelings and beliefs on our kids and simply try to understand what life is like for them.  Having grown up in a culture that undervalues communication and emotional awareness and glorifies aggression and reactivity, many of us, and especially our kids, never learned to truly connect with others or how to be thoughtful and reflective.  This chapter was about stirring you to think differently about the forces that drive your behaviors and those of the kids in your lives.  So pay attention to your kid.  Be curious about your students.  Try to understand the emotions driving the behaviors of the young people in your lives because they are undoubtedly different from your own. And when you’re tempted to freak out because you found out your kid is having sex or doing drugs, or you go home from school having exhausted yourself trying to teach the class from hell, first, catch your breath and quiet your brain as best you can, and then make your reflections and interactions about your kids.  If you can keep this curiosity and commit to their development, then you will have influence.

Sorry adults, but love and care and affection isn’t always enough.  Our kids need limits, and they need to be held accountable when they push or cross those limits.

We can’t hug the poor decision making out of our kids, and we can’t bribe them with stuff and freedoms if we want them to become capable adults.  We need to prepare them for the real world, and this means teaching them that there are consequences to their actions and that the good stuff must be earned.

Whether it’s our guilt  or pity that prevents us from being firm with them, or fear of their defiance and our embarrassment, we have to get over it.  If our kids don’t feel the pains or losses associated with their impulsivity or misbehavior, they’ll never feel compelled to change.  Remember that emotion drives behavior, so if our kids FEEL bad, or guilty, or ashamed, or disappointed in themselves as a result of something they did or didn’t do… THIS IS A GOOD THING.  No, we don’t want to pile on our kids and suffocate them with guilt and shame, but helping them to identify and FEEL these feelings will drive them to avoid them in the future.

Holding young people accountable for their actions is perhaps one of the most important skills we can develop as authority figures.  In fact, holding our kids accountable for their poor effort or thoughtlessness can be THE MOST LOVING thing we can do for them.  It shows them that we care about their growth enough to make them upset with us and it shows them that their development is more important to us than our need to not be hassled.  And as tired as we might be from dealing with our own lives, if we’re too fatigued to hold them accountable and follow through with our promises of consequences, then we most certainly can’t expect them to grow and do differently next time.

When we let our kids slide or when we protect them from feeling “bad” about themselves for the poor decision they made, all we’re doing is preventing them from growing and learning and reflecting.  There are countless ways that we can hold our kids accountable and promote their reflection.  Whether we hold them accountable by sitting them down and having a serious conversation, or we make them write an essay on why they did what they did, or we cut them off of their Facebook time (in conjunction with a conversation about what they did to earn them the consequence), we’re teaching them that their behaviors and choices do matter… and we’re challenging them to do better the next time.

Remember, holding kids accountable isn’t about our power and authority, it’s about maximizing the likelihood that they develop. So when you’re trying to figure out what to do with your kid, client or student after they messed up, remember to put your ego aside, and ask yourself what consequence you can enforce that would get them thinking and reflecting, and is also uncomfortable enough so that they won’t want to make the same mistake again.

Flirting and asking someone out can be very scary. Do you express your real feelings to someone and risk rejection? Or do you play games, mask your feelings and try to find out if the other person likes you first? Understand this, no one wants to be rejected.  No one wants to feel unattractive. But everyone, especially young people, want to know what it’s like to like someone, and be liked back by that person. So here’s the best advice… trust yourself. If you like someone, let them know (confidence is also an attractive quality), and trust yourself to handle the rejection if it happens. Trust yourself to get past the pain of being “turned down”  if it happens, and trust your “quality” enough where you think others will want to date you… even if it’s not the one you’re interested in right now. And then trust that just because someone didn’t feel the same way about you that you felt about them, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you.  It just means it wasn’t the right “fit”. The only way to find anything out for sure is to be clear with the other person about who you are, what you want and how you feel. The more confusing you are with them, the more confused you will be about how they feel. So be brave and when you flirt, flirt with honesty, confidence, sincerity and the understanding that sometimes people “click”, and sometimes they don’t.

but whatever you do, please, don’t try to be our friend and tell yourself that it’s in our best interest.  because it’s not in our best interest. it might be easier for you to be our friend and it might allow you to feel younger or enjoy our relationship more, but it’s definitely not in our best interest. the last thing we need you to do is act how we act.  of course we want to trust you and of course we agree that communication is important, but trust and communication with friends is very different than trust and communication with adults… and it needs to be different. we need to trust that adults will keep us safe and help us focus on developing and growing. with friends, we just need to trust that they won’t betray us and that they’ll go through stuff with us.  we need adults to be separate from our chaos and uncertainty so that they can be objective enough to help us endure the challenges of youth.

we’re kids, and we need people to guide us and teach us more than we need older people to try to relate to us on our level.  we need to know that when we mess up, the adults who care about us can care about us enough to point out our mistakes and teach us how to avoid the same mistakes in the future. friends our age don’t usually do this for us. if you’re our teacher, we need you to just be yourself and do your best.  if you’re spending time trying to get us to “like” you, then we’re not learning as much as we can. for us, it’s far more important to respect you… and you will get our respect only if you honor your jobs as role-models and educators and prepare us for our futures (though be mindful, we can be very clever in enticing you into trying to get us to like you).  we need you to establish boundaries and roles, without abusing your authority… just using it to build our skills. look, we’re not saying you have to be robotic and can’t be funny. and we’re not saying that you can’t be playful with us and enjoy your time with us… we’re just saying that before you’re more relaxed with us, make sure you’ve established your priorities and our different roles and responsibilities. make sure if you’re our parents, that we know that your priorities are to teach us, keep us safe and hold us accountable. and once you know we’re clear about the boundaries and roles, and once we’ve earned the more relaxed version of you by doing our jobs as students and children… than you can be a little cooler with us.  but until that time, please, don’t give in to our manipulative ways or your fears of our defiance… and just be the adults we need you to be, and the adults you’d like us to become.

instead of adults. because  it’s not that we want to be having sex at age 13 or drinking and experimenting with drugs at age 15… it’s just that some of us don’t see many other children our age playing board games or coloring or playing kickball or stickball in the streets. sure, a lot of our recreational options depend on where we live, but we’d like you to know that regardless of our neighborhood, city or state, we want to enjoy our youth. it seems a fog has been rolling over younger and younger kids that brainwashes many of us into thinking that we need to look and act older.

maybe it’s the movies and tv we’re watching or the music that we’re listening to or the video games we’re playing that are shrinking our needs for imagination. maybe it’s because everything is in front of our eyes and at our finger tips and there’s no need to imagine anymore. or maybe it’s the violence in the streets that is compelling us indoors when we use to be outside playing and creating and imagining. but wherever the pressure’s coming from… we’re not ready for it. we’re not ready for sex and drugs and the risks and responsibilities that go with adult behavior, no matter how convincingly we say we are… and we want to laugh and play in ways that aren’t mean or disrespectful to ourselves and our own bodies and spirits. but it almost feels like we’re not allowed to stay, and play young. it feels like we don’t have enough options and the more news about war and dishonesty and cruelty we see, the less likely it feels that we can go back to the innocence of playing like children deserve to play. we look to our peers but a lot of them are acting in grown up ways also… and we look to adults, and they’re often telling us to grow up and cautioning us to not be so naive and innocent… so we end up thinking that it’s not okay to be playful and youthful and that it’s actually something to be embarrassed about.

essentially, what we’re saying is that we need your permission… we need to be shown how to play and we need to be given opportunities to adventure. we need to be spoken to about the risks of adult behavior and at the same time made to feel safe enough to get lost in our imaginations without the fear of being teased or surprised… and we need to grow up in homes or taken on vacations to new places where we can simply act our age… and be appreciated and even revered for acting our age. so maybe you might not want to over-react when we play spin the bottle (like you probably did). maybe you don’t need to buy us the tight clothes and make-up even though we keep nagging you to so we can fit in. and maybe, just maybe, you can find a patch of dirt or plot of grass in a park somewhere and run around with us (if you’re not already doing so) because we’d love to see you smile at us when you see us playing like children.

and there’s nothing we or you can do about it.  it’s like being born black in a racist society, being handicapped in a world that ignores people in wheelchairs or having acne, a big nose, thick thighs and a bad hair cut when you’re a teenager… we simply need to find a way to be at peace with who we are, regardless of how others feel about us.  no matter how uncomfortable you are with us being gay, we can’t change the truth of who we are and who we are attracted to any more than you can.  despite what you may think, we do not choose this lifestyle just to be different, we don’t “become” gay just to rebel or make our parents angry, and we are not perverts or deviants. there’s no voodoo that can be done to “cleanse” us and there’s no prayer you can send into the cosmos to change our “nature”.

we want love, connection and healthy relationships… just like everyone else. we have ambitions, want acceptance and appreciate family… just like everyone else… and yes, we get hurt when you look at us with loathing or shame… just like you would if someone you cared about didn’t like something about you that was fundamental to who you are. because it’s such a harsh, judgmental world, we’ll sometimes try to convince ourselves we’re straight when we’re young… but we can only deny or hate ourselves for so long.  we’re just built differently than heterosexuals, just like someone who shines in the spotlight is built differently who thrives in solitude.  regardless of our or your religious upbringing or philosophical beliefs, eventually, we need to be who we are… just like you do.  we don’t lie or keep the secret because we feel it’s wrong to be gay (although some of us do grapple with the notion of “right” versus “wrong”)… we’ll lie and keep it a secret from you because we fear most of the rest of the world thinks it’s wrong.  some of us do experiment when we are young because we aren’t certain of who we are or who we’re drawn to.  it is confusing being young. if we were hurt over and over again by men, we might explore relationships with women… if we were hurt over and over again by women, we might explore relationships with men… but here’s the thing, and it’s very, very important… no matter what you think about being gay, whether you’re our parents, our teachers, our counselors, our priests, our pastors, our rabbis, our bosses, our brothers, our sisters or the people we most look up to… you can only hurt us and our relationship if you try to impose your beliefs on us or rush us into making decisions that we’re not ready to make. so please, just try your hardest to care about us more than you hate the idea of us being different from you.

Let’s just get the scary word out there. Suicide.  It’s a word most people are too afraid to say to young people.  Suicidal thoughts are more common than anyone wants to realize.  Kids and adults all over have thoughts about death and yes, even taking their own lives. When things are rough, and they are staying rough over a period of time, many people start thinking about ways to end the “rough” times. This is when thoughts of “suicide” can enter your mind because it seems like “a way out” of the rough patch. Understand that thoughts of suicide don’t make you crazy, it just means that you’re struggling to find a way through something scary or painful and that you simply need a little help finding your way through… and most importantly, that you WANT to feel better.  While asking for help and being honest with someone about how deeply you’re struggling may be hard… know that it will help. Feeling lonely or alone stinks, and the best way to feel connected to others is to share your secrets and to be real with people.  Don’t worry so much about how people will look at you and don’t silence yourself just because you’re afraid no one will understand. Be honest.  Be open.  Be brave enough to say out loud  what you’re going through because it’s very likely that the person you choose to talk to will have gone through something similar… and if they don’t respond in a way that helps you feel better, talk to someone else, and keep searching until you find someone who puts you at ease… and trust that good, understanding people do exist, either in your family, in your circle of friends, or a teacher or counselor at school.  And know that every effort you put forth towards trying to feel better will feed your confidence and remind you of just how brave and strong you can be. Death is permanent, but your sadness, confusion or pain are absolutely NOT permanent… and you will feel better again soon.

If you’re getting bullied, harassed or teased, know with absolute certainty, that you do not deserve to be treated this way.  It is not okay.  You do not have to “just accept it”, and there is nothing about you that is “asking” to be bullied, harassed or teased.  All it means is that the person treating you this way is insecure and lacks courage. To put an end to their mistreatment of you, dig deep and find the courage to look them in the eye and ask them to stop.  Let them know, without being threatening or aggressive, that they need to stop.  Let them know that if they continue to treat you or talk to you this way, you’ll let an adult know… and not because you’re scared, but because they’re not listening and you will stand up for yourself. And remember, they want you to feel too afraid to tell someone… so they can keep doing what they’re doing. This is why the bullies created this rule that “snitching” will get you hurt… so that they can keep you scared, and they can continue bullying. And if you do tell someone, and they don’t do something to help, go to someone else. And keep going to someone else until you find the adult who will help… just never give up and never “get used” to being bullied, harassed or teased.

even if you think they’re silly. do you want to know why we pierce ourselves, get tattoos, wear the clothes we wear, put make-up on the ways we do, listen to music that hurts your ears or use the language we use? because it’s actually quite simple, and it’s not just to aggravate our parents or get attention (although sometimes, it is).  we experiment with different “identities” because for us, having an “identity” means that we’re visible and that we are somebody distinct.  during our teen years, we’re going through so many changes and we feel so much doubt and uncertainty inside, that having an “identity” gives us something solid to hold on to.  we can say… “i’m a jock, i’m a rebel, i’m alternative, i’m gothic, i’m the self-destructive kid, i’m the risk taker, i’m gay, i’m a ladies man, i’m a popular kid, i’m the cheerleader…” and on and on and on. we look at adults and they seem so formed, and we think to ourselves that we want to feel as formed as they look… so we choose an identity that we think might help us feel visible and confident and connected to other like-minded young people our age.

we know a lot of you wonder why we choose such “strange” identities that often conflict with your beliefs or your sense of “sane”… but you should know that it’s only sometimes that we choose identities to spite you or to cause you irritation. usually we choose an identity that reflects some quality or need inside us…like the need to feel less afraid of judgment, or the need to express creativity, or the need to feel and look more powerful. and sometimes we do just end up with an identity that is shared by a few other kids we’ve made friends with. but this doesn’t mean the identity we adopt isn’t genuine, and it doesn’t mean we’ll discard the identity just because you call us “followers”. as soon as we adopt an identity, we’re going to keep it for a while and we’re going to make it ours… so do your best bet is put aside your judgments, and be curious about what’s going on inside our heads and hearts that drove us to look and act the way we do. and then right after you express your curiosity about the identities we’ve selected, remember to continue to appreciate the character underneath the show you see. our experimentation with different identities and labels may or may not become permanent parts of our personalities, but whether they do or don’t, if we’re not causing others harm or putting our futures in jeopardy, try to keep your cool and just stay as connected to us as you can.

Most books about parenting or dealing with young people focus on doing the “right” thing with them.  But as we all know, we don’t always do the right thing or say the kind words.  Kids push our buttons.  We’re sometimes (and often) not in the mood.  And our lives and needs occasionally feel more important than theirs… which is when we do damage to our connections.

Damage to our connections with our kids is as inevitable as it is serious.  Without healthy connections, we can have no influence and we can lose sight of what’s going on with our kids, which can lead to other bad stuff.  Knowing when the connection is damaged and how to repair our connection with them is vital in preventing risky behavior and influencing healthy behavior.

Obviously as adults, we’d all like to handle situations with our kids perfectly and prevent miscommunication and disconnect.  But this should not be at the expense of discussing the utility of mistakes and the growth that can come with good repair work after relationships have been damaged.  The mistakes we make with our kids can become profound opportunities to teach and learn lessons… as long as we’re humble enough to own them and self-aware enough to recognize them.

The list of tempting “reactions” to our kids’ behaviors is long.  We’ll hit, yell, scold, shame, over-react, punish too harshly, insult or just plain be mean.  Our emotions in these moments are driving us, not our intellect or pursuit of their development.  Our unfiltered human expressions of emotion, painful as they may be to our kids, can either end up giving them permission to express themselves thoughtlessly, or they can be used as the vehicles to take them (and us) to the healthier place of mindfulness and thoughtfulness.

After we’ve “reacted” and caused damage to our connections, what do we do?  Do we blame them for triggering us? or do we own our recklessness and find ways to hold ourselves accountable?  Do we allow our guilt for having messed up to drive us to buy them stuff they haven’t earned or give them privileges they’re not ready for? or do we express our guilt to them and share with them the ways we’ll try to be more constructive and thoughtful in response to their behaviors?

Repair work is nothing more than the efforts we put forth after we’ve screwed up or role-modeled qualities we don’t want to promote in our kids.  It role-models self-awareness, humility, courage and communication skills and it can go a long, long way in building trust and credibility with our kids.

Knowing that we can “repair” fractured relationships doesn’t mean we should give ourselves permission to be reckless and thoughtless in how we respond to our kids’ behaviors. This would simply end up role-modeling empty apologies.  Repair work is only useful if it stirs lasting changes in communication, judgment or behavior.

Given the fragility of children’s ego’s, we need to remain very mindful of just how powerful our reactions are and just how deeply they affect our kids.  Obviously, we’re going to feel and react at times without thought, but when we do this, if we can go back to our kids and listen to how our “impulsivity” affected them, than we’re increasing the likelihood that something good comes out of something “bad”.  No, we don’t want to baby our kids (unless they’re actually babies), and there will be times when we need our words and decisions to leave a mark (and I don’t mean physically), but we can’t just leave the mark without being sure that we’re leaving the mark we want to leave.

Repair work ensures that lessons are learned and that the damage we’ve done isn’t permanent.  The conversations we have after damage has been done to trust and connection are the mechanisms for growth and change, both for them as well as for us.  So when (not if) you screw up, in your home, office or classroom, with your kid, your client or your student, at some point shortly after you lashed out thoughtlessly or selfishly (and once you’ve cooled off), get a moment alone with the kid and have a conversation.  Repair what you’ve broken and show your kid how to do the same.

We haven’t heard them all, because humans have an infinite number of them… and the ones kids make are usually the best.  No matter how absurd, shocking, irritating or funny they are, they do serve purposes.

“My alarm clock didn’t go off.  My teacher’s a racist.  I had a long day. My parents were fighting all night long and fight all the time.  My friend got shot this weekend.  I had to take care of my little sister.  I sprained my ankle.  It was raining, I stubbed my toe, I sneezed 5 times in a row, my head hurts, my ears ache, the President of the United States is black, I’m white, you’re fat, I’m Hispanic or my family’s poor”.

I often ask my kids if they know the difference between a reason and an excuse (usually just after they made an excuse), and 9 times out of 10, they pause, smile a sheepish grin and get my point.  It’s very easy for young people to confuse legitimate reasons and excuses or justifications.  Even the above list of excuses challenges us to think about what’s legitimate, and what’s an excuse.  For example, if one of our students lost a grandparent recently, does this justify getting failing grades all year long?

Our reactions to their “explanations” can be very subjective.  When our kids come to us with their “explanations”, it’s our job to assess the validity of their claim, whether or not their claim actually justifies their behavior, or whether or not we’re going to accept their “explanation” and how long we’re going to accept it.  Remaining mindful of our own emotional reactions to their “explanations” or circumstances is crucial in making the decision that is best for the kid.  Sometimes we’re just too tired to call them on their lame excuses and challenge them, and sometimes we just feel so sorry for them that we make allowances for them as a gesture of our sympathy.  Either way, we need to be mindful of the reasons behind our decisions and try as hard as possible to make the decision that teaches them the most.

Challenging our kids (as well as ourselves) to think about the difference between reasons and excuses compels them to move closer to the “adult” behavior of taking responsibility and away from the juvenile behavior of blaming outside forces.

Excuses are designed to justify behavior.  We make them for ourselves, and we listen to others make them.  It’s rare to meet someone who never makes excuses and takes full and complete responsibility for every decision they make.  For our kids, excuses are often their first and last resort.  But for us, the adults in their lives, the 2 most damaging things we can do to our kids development are 1) make excuses for our own misbehavior, mistakes or lack of effort, and 2) make excuses for our kids misbehavior, mistakes or lack of effort.

When we accept or make excuses for our kids, we’re essentially lowering expectations of them.  We’re delivering the very powerful message that we do not have faith in our kids to do right, even when circumstances are difficult.  Lowering expectations of our kids is a trend that society as a whole seems to be following.  We use race, gender, neighborhood, family dynamics, sexual orientation, family income or any other differentiating detail to “explain” a young persons behavior or performance… and this does nothing but inhibit our kids’ growth and diminish their fortitude and effort.

Obviously, there are forces that make things easier or harder for certain kids.  But there is a huge difference between harder… and impossible.  Kids that grow up in neighborhoods where violence is “normal”, may have a harder time focusing on their futures… but it is not impossible and they are just as capable.  Kids who belong to a demographic that statistically shows lower average academic performance doesn’t mean they lack the ability to perform as well as the demographic that shows higher average academic performance levels, it just means they need the right support… and to be challenged thoughtfully.

When our kids have real factors working against them, it simply means that the adults in their lives have to work harder to get them to rise above the built in excuses or “explanations”.  The hard part for many adults is finding a way to both validate the challenges they face AND hold them accountable for their effort, behaviors and performance.  And for anyone who doubts whether this can be done… it can.  We simply have to give our kids the time, the support and the space they need to deal with their harsher, more unfortunate or challenging realities… and then we have to stop pitying them and stop them from pitying themselves… and then we have to take them by the hand, move on and get back to work.

As soon as our kids hear from the adults in their lives that less is good enough, they’re going to achieve less.  As teachers and parents, we can deliver this message in many ways. The most common ways we send the messages that less is enough is when we lower standards and expectations or when we make things easier on our kids despite their obvious capacities to do more.   But this is not what’s best for our kids.  It may be what alleviates our guilt or gets our kids to like us or love us more… but it will not prepare them for independence.

DESPITE their circumstances and WITH  the heavy baggage that many of our kids carry, they need to continue to work and perform.  They need the adults in their lives to role model courage and how to endure and overcome challenge, and they need us to partner with them until they develop their own momentum.

This is not to say that we ignore our kids’ struggles and just rush them forward. In fact, our kids need time to make their excuses, whine, complain and talk about the obstacles they’re facing.  They deserve opportunities to cry about the hard stuff they’ve been through and the pains they carry with them every day.  But they can not have endless opportunities.  As the adults, we have to separate the times we listen and validate from the times we challenge them to work and push through.  Kids need from the adults in their lives the structure that teaches them that there’s a time to sit and feel and mourn and grieve… and there’s the time to step ahead, even with heavy hearts or uncertainty.

Making excuses can become habitual… we all know this.  And lowering expectations can be very sneaky and there are countless ways we can justify accepting less from our kids (as well as ourselves).  But just like with every other worthwhile cause, with a little self-awareness, transparency, accountability and effort, we can get better at seeing through our kids excuses, validating them AND holding them accountable, and making sure we’re doing everything we can to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be.

As strange and calculating as it may sound… tell your kids you are trying to manipulate (also known as influence) how they think.  Explain to them exactly how you’re trying to manipulate their decision making processes.  With a sense of humor and lightness, take the negative connotation out of the word manipulate and explain that part of your job as a parent  is to guide them. And let them know what benefits and skills may come to them if they evolve in the ways you’re trying to help them to evolve. Let them know that when they do start to think before they act, they’ll experience less embarrassment and more pride and confidence.  Tell them when you’re trying to make them feel guilty for having hurt someones feelings because they should feel guilty… hurting peoples feelings is mean… and it’s a good thing for them to feel guilty, because the unpleasantness of the guilt they feel will dissuade them from making the same choice next time.

Be as clear and as honest as you can be about your intentions and what changes you’re hoping to see in their behaviors… but also be crystal, CRYSTAL clear that while you are trying to influence them, it’s only the unhealthy, risky, dangerous elements of what they do that you’re trying to influence… and that you absolutely support their individuality and independence. When trying to influence how your child thinks, be sure to explain why. State very openly what your assumptions are about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it… and than tell them to correct your assumptions if they are wrong. I know it might sound radical, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results. If you get a call from your child’s teacher telling you that they’re disruptive and their grades are low, tell your child you’re assuming that their social life is more important to them than learning at the moment… or tell them your assuming that they feel insecure in class for having fallen behind and that they’re acting out to hide their insecurities… and than invite them to disagree with your assumptions.

Our connections with our kids are built on trust, and when we fall in love with our own cleverness, or underestimate our kids’ savvy and intelligence, we’re damaging their trust of us.  Young people sense stuff.  They feel dishonesty, they sense selfishness and they get suspicious and defensive when they do. This is why transparency is so important, to minimize their resistance and distrust. Not to mention the fact that being transparent is just faster and easier than being sneaky and clever when pursuing behavioral change or trying to gather information.

Many adults allow their ego’s to drive too much, when it’s our care for our kids’ development that needs to be driving.  When we’re beating around bushes with our kids or cultivating master plans to manipulate our students’ behaviors, we’re doing so because we’re underestimating our kids or we like the idea of pulling strings and secretly influencing others with our intelligence… or we’re just acting out of habit.  And we just need to get rid of this way of thinking.

Instead, we should prioritize their development over our own ego’s, speak openly from our experiences, tell them exactly what we think and what we see, and tell them why we’re making the decisions we are… and than we should invite their transparency with us.

Inviting our kids to be transparent with us about their feelings, assumptions and decisions doesn’t mean we’re telling them they’re our equals (because they aren’t), we’re simply helping them cultivate communication and reflection skills.  Our kids aren’t our equals, they’re kids, and just because we’re inviting them to be transparent with us doesn’t mean we have to give in to them (unless of course they’re making more sense than us… which does happen at times). Helping our kids develop their voices shouldn’t scare us. It should simply be one of our goals.  And if we’re cultivating a relationship built on trust and transparency where their voices are getting developed, than this just means there will be less secrets between us and them… and this is a really good thing.

Transparency works.  It’s one of the simplest and greatest tools when trying to influence young people and it’s a tool that when used often, becomes the norm both for them and for us.

in fact, and we’re sure this will sound strange, but it’s really logical why some of us do it. and we want you to know that cutting ourselves, or burning ourselves, actually works when we want to feel something different. we’re going to try to explain it to you, so read slowly and carefully, and pause when you’re reading to make sure you understand. because we need you to understand and not just run to call 911 or hurry us to the psyche unit (although for some of us, an evaluation and an opportunity to focus on our mental health might actually be necessary). you see, when we go through any experience, we end up feeling things inside. when bad stuff happens, we feel sad, scared or overwhelmed. when good things happen, we feel excited, joyous or connected. being affected by our experiences and relationships is inevitable. and when we feel painful or confusing things, if we don’t have the self-awareness or vocabulary to understand our feelings and label them correctly,  sometimes they just stay stuck inside us. and if these feelings stay stuck inside us, and we remain confused by them without any way of communicating them or asking for help, they eventually turn toxic and overwhelming… which leads to desperation because we so badly want the pain to go away.  and it’s this desperation that can lead to us cutting our own skin. in trying to figure out how to release these stored up, overwhelming emotions, we sometimes end up turning to physical pain.  again, this may sound strange, and you might be asking yourselves “why cause physical pain to try to deal with emotional or psychological pain?”… and again, it’s not that complicated, so keep reading.

for those of us who are younger, emotional pain can feel nameless and faceless and beyond our own understanding… which is why we cut (and so you know, we’ll use all kinds of things like scissors, hard plastic, sewing needles etc). we’ll cut ourselves because a cut to our skin is obvious, isolated, and healable… which inside pain isn’t (at least not in our younger minds). in addition, a cut to our skin is something we are in control of, where as the emotional pain we’re feeling is usually caused by someone else, and therefore, beyond our control. so it boils down to choosing actual physical pain which we’re in control of, over abstract emotional pain which we feel like we have no control over… and it’s not to kill ourselves, and it’s not always for attention. often, it’s just for the release of brain chemicals that happens when we cut. often, it’s because the people in our lives aren’t taking our experiences seriously enough. often, it’s to punish ourselves for acting in ways that we’re ashamed of. and sometimes, it’s for the excitement we feel when we’re doing something wrong or unhealthy. unfortunately, it is a coping strategy that has become much more visible and as such, many of us have adopted it as a way of dealing with our feelings… but if you think about it, it’s no different than drinking, smoking, having sex or engaging in any other risky behavior… it’s just another attempt by us to feel like our lives belong to us, and not to the forces affecting us.

look, we know it scares people when we do this, and sometimes it scares them so much that they turn a blind eye to our reality… but if it scares you, imagine what it’s like for us to feel so overwhelmed, and so unprepared to deal with our lives…  and so alone that we have to turn to causing ourselves even more pain as a way of coping. so if you know a kid, or suspect a kid you know is cutting themselves, try your best to approach them without panic and judgment, and do your best to engage them in a conversation about what they might be feeling and needing. because the more supported we feel by the adults in our lives… the less likely we are to cause ourselves harm.

for so many reasons. some of these reasons are healthy (like when we’ve been in a longer term, honest, committed, trusting relationship and have talked about sex with our partners and doctors). and some of the reasons are unhealthy and self-destructive (like when we’ve been abused when we were younger and have confused ideas about boundaries, or when we have been made, over time, to feel more like objects than like whole people).  for us, whether we’re straight or gay young men, or straight or gay young women, having sex is often a very confusing experience. even if we seem confident in our decision making or choice in partners, we’re often wondering and doubting inside our own minds. we wonder about our attractiveness. we wonder about our sexual “skills” or if our partners are enjoying us physically. we wonder about what our partners are thinking or whether or not they actually like us, or are just using us for our bodies.  many of us are even wondering if we’re causing shame to our families, really want to be having sex or even if we’re ready to have sex. for a lot of us, we sleep around because we’re looking for something that we feel we’re missing. we’re looking to feel loved. we’re looking to feel appreciated. we’re looking to feel useful, or to feel like we’re good at something.  for a lot of us, sex seems like the gateway to adulthood, and if feeling like “a kid” doesn’t feel so good, we rush ourselves. we have sex with more people than we should and more frequently than is healthy not to make adults angry with us (although sometimes we do)… we often sleep around just because we don’t value ourselves enough or feel that we deserve relationships defined by safety, respect, intimacy and trust.  many of us, male or female, gay or straight, allow ourselves to be used because we’ve learned through media, friends and family that our greatest and only real asset is our bodies. for us girls, we’re often portrayed as things, or objects or toys… and for us boys, we’re often glorified for treating women as numbers or conquests. and this is no different for those of us who are gay.  magazines accentuate body parts and sexualize everything. music videos illustrate sex more as a sport, activity or a competition rather than a relationship. songs refer to us girls as bitches and whores and smuts and chicken heads and all kinds of other demeaning words. and boys are being taught that to be a man, they have to have sex as soon as possible with as many women as possible. nowhere are any of us really being taught, especially by the media, that sex can and should be something shared, something mutual, something discussed and something safe. instead, a lot of us teenage boys feel entitled to say what we want to girls, and a lot of us girls feel like we have no choice but to be treated like less than boys.

you see, for us young women, we spend so much time being whistled at, harassed and pressured to be sexual, that eventually, we start to feel powerless to stop it.  and once we feel powerless to stop it, we often unknowingly start convincing ourselves that we “like” it just to avoid feeling powerless. and for us teenage boys, we put so much pressure on each other (and we get it from our elders as well) to start having sex, that we stop thinking about how the other person might feel or what they want. eventually for all of us, having sex stops being a meaningful experience, and simply becomes something to do.  sadly, many of us aren’t having sexual relationships defined by care, thoughtfulness and connection. and many of us don’t have healthy relationship role models in our lives… and in the absence of couples to look up to, or adults to speak to openly and honestly, we often end up mimicking what we see, watch, read about and hear. but don’t misunderstand, we’re not all victims and we’re not all sexist pigs and we do understand that there is such a thing as being sexually confident. and many of us do know about safe, safer and safest sex… but the point is that many of us don’t know what we need to know and do hide our insecurities, questions and doubts… which is why we need the adults in our lives to push through their own discomfort and sit and talk with us.

and it doesn’t matter if we’re white, black, hispanic, asian, indian, rich, poor, suburban, urban or in college… we’re all eligible for gang membership. and there are hundreds, maybe even thousands out there just waiting for another member.  bloods, crips, MS 13, latin kings, vice lords, surenos, nortenos, skinheads and white supremacists are the more common gangs, but there are countless other “sets” or factions in all regions of the world. each gang also has their own distinguishing features which you can keep a look out for. if you see any of us getting tatoos, doing grafitti, wearing beads, specific sports clothes, hats or team emblems or only some colors and not others, we might either already be connected, or we might be considering joining.  what we want you to keep in mind is that while the word “gang” often stirs fear and outrage, the factors that drive many of us to join gangs are very similar to the factors that drive people to join fraternity’s, sorority’s, high school cliques or even church groups. obviously, the activities of street gang members differ greatly from other groups or communities, but if you’re trying to understand us, or even influence our decisions to join gangs, having a greater perspective beyond what the media portrays will help.  for a lot of us, the main reasons we’re willing to mug, steal, hustle drugs, cut people, rob people or even die are simple. we’re willing to do all these things for loyalty. for the sense of belonging, safety and importance that comes with being a part of a community. we’re willing to sacrifice our futures, and sometimes even put our real family members at risk because the other gang members would do the same for us… and knowing this with certainty can make us feel amazingly powerful.

many people assume all gang members must simply be “rotten” or “evil” to do the things many gang members do, but it can be far more complicated. for those of us who grow up around constant violence and threats, we learn to seek safety in numbers and shut off our consciences or emotional switches. this “shut off” allows us to do some of the awful things we do without the regret, guilt or remorse most people would feel. and this doesn’t mean we are “evil”, it just means our survival instincts are overpowering our senses of right and wrong and our loyalty to our gang, our color, our flag, our neighborhood or the friendships we’ve made give us all the justification we need. sadly, any young person who knows deep loneliness, powerlessness, fear or invisibility is at risk of being recruited into a gang, especially the young people who don’t feel connected to or seen by their own families. so even if you don’t think the kids in your lives have any real reason to seek out the perks of gang affiliation, if you have any doubts, be sure to take a deeper look and ask the right questions… and than listen. this will give you the best chance of knowing where we stand, what we’re into, or what we’re considering getting into.

it’s an “emotional management” issue that people have labeled as an anger issue.  the problem is, we’re just not as angry as we often look. but we are hurt. we are overwhelmed. we are scared. we are ashamed. we do feel powerless. we do feel neglected, rejected and abandoned. and we are lonely and we do feel more hopeless and helpless than we’d like. and instead of being taught how to face and feel our real feelings, we reflexively just flip them in our heads and hearts into anger… which is why people think are problem is with anger, and not the real stuff underneath.

disguising our real feelings as anger has become a habit for those of us who you label as “angry”. instead of being taught that all emotions are natural and actually useful and beautiful, we learn to ignore them, deny them, repress them, or drown them in alcohol, drugs or other distractions. think about it. think about how you judge or perceive different feelings. do you look at depressed people as fragile or weak? do you get irritated with yourself when you let yourself feel lonely? think about what feelings you would choose to show if you had the choice…  would you feel more comfortable showing sadness? or anger?…  to express shame? or anger? … to convey loneliness or powerlessness or hopelessness?… or anger? and while you’re thinking about which feelings you think are more acceptable, keep in mind that we’re teenagers who think appearance is everything… and looking weak is not an option.

for most of us, the choice is easy (even though it often doesn’t feel like a choice)… and that’s to show the emotion that others see as more powerful, and not the ones that make us look weak or vulnerable.  as kids, most of our sense of self revolves around how others see us. and we’d much rather be seen as angry than ignorant, embarrassed, stupid, sensitive or even thoughtful.  it’s just how we’ve been conditioned. by our families, by movies, by athletes, by singers/rappers and performers.  we’re taught feelings are for wimps. tears are only shed by babies, “little girls” or the weak.  we’re taught power is gained by overpowering others, and not by picking others up.  we’re taught strength is measured by physical ability and not the capacity to do right when all others seem to be doing wrong. and we’re taught that confidence is measured by how little we care about what other people think about us, rather than by how true to ourselves and our own hearts we can be.  these statements may sound dramatic or exaggerated… but they’re really not. it’s how a lot of us think… without knowing it’s how we think.

these thoughts might be more extreme for some of us than others depending on where we grow up or who raised us, but the basic points about which emotions are more “acceptable” to others are pretty true for most young people. it’s just how a lot of us have been raised.  it’s an aggressive world we live in and we often feel like if we don’t match the aggression… then we’ll become the victims. and no one likes feeling like a victim. we’ve confused aggression with power and we’ve never been challenged to develop our emotional vocabulary or self-awareness. and we’ve never been taught that it takes far more confidence and courage to look directly at our vulnerabilities, than to look away from them. nor have we known many people who have role modeled the bravery to express how they really feel, even if it makes them “look” weak in the eyes of others.

we’ve only learned that anger looks strong and most, if not all other feelings look weak… and this is why so many of you think we have “anger” problems. which we don’t. so if you really want to address our “problem” and teach us how to “manage” ourselves in healthier ways, try not to address the anger you see or we show… look deeper, put a little more thought into your approaches with us, be more curious… and most of all, role model the courage to feel and express all of your emotions… not just the ONE that media says makes us look tough.

Being young is much easier and much more fun when you go through it with friends… but they have to be the “right” friends for you to enjoy your young years.  Loneliness and fear often drive kids to make friends with people who may not be good for them or their futures.  Many young people end up friends with other young people without thinking about “why”.  Do you try to make friends with the “popular” kids just because they’re popular? Or do you try to make friends with them because you have similar interests, values and goals?  Do you make friends based on how a kid looks, dresses or how much money their family makes? Or do you make friends based on the kind of person they are and what they stand for? Friendship is something we all get to define for ourselves, but as a rule, if a person is bringing more stress, drama, danger and conflict to your life, they might not be the “friend” for you.  If you can have the patience to wait for and choose friends that improve your life and bring laughter, safety, kindness and inspiration… your teen years will most likely be a lot more peaceful and satisfying. And if you end up becoming friends with people who you later realize are wrong for you, it’s okay to move on from them… you don’t need to be loyal to people who bring you down or put you at risk. The best way to find friends who improve your life is to join something that you enjoy… and make sure that when you meet new people, that you’re true to yourself… because it gives permission to those around you to be true to themselves… and than you don’t have to be something you’re really not.

Or if you accidentally do something that leaves you feeling embarrassed (like accidentally passing gas or ripping your pants), make a joke and laugh at yourself.  It makes the moment go by faster and shows true confidence.  Don’t get mad at those who may be laughing… simply join them for a bit, and than you can move on. And if your friends or other observers continue to laugh and tease and it starts to get irritating… smile, nod and calmly say “yeah, I get it, pretty funny… now can we move on”… and than move on, with or without the others.

Have you ever blamed “boring” teachers for doing poorly in a class? Have you ever said something like “how am I supposed to learn or do well in that class? the teacher’s so boring and I’m just not interested in the subject”. If you have, you’re not the only one… but… now brace yourself for what you’re about to read… when you use “bordom” as your explanation for doing poorly, you’re only making excuses and looking for the easy way out. I know, no teenager wants to be told they’re making excuses, but you need to hear it if you want to grow up and be seen as an adult. Education is not entertainment. As annoying as this truth is for you to read, education is education. It’d be great if all your teachers were effective teachers AND funny and entertaining… but it is not their job to entertain you (and as you probably already know, most of them aren’t that funny). It’s their job to educate you. It’d also be great if you were interested in all your subjects, but you just won’t be, especially the ones you find more difficult. There’s no gentle way to say this… but even if you’re bored and disinterested, it’s still your job to learn. And guess what, you’re still capable of learning and doing really well. You just have to do the work and put in the time. It’s called discipline.  When you want to be entertained, go to the park with friends or to the movies (just not during school hours).

School is for learning and growth (and some fun, maybe, after you’ve done your job as a student), so with all due respect… and again, brace yourself for some direct truth that sounds harsh…  you might want to stop whining and complaining about how “boring” everything is, and start being proud of yourself for doing what’s boring because it’s good for your future. Start feeling the dignity that comes with doing what is necessary for you to become an independent adult capable of making your own dreams come true.

Have you ever felt so proud of yourself for accomplishing something so challenging that you wanted everyone to know what you did?  Have you ever felt so confident in your character that you didn’t need anyone’s praise or recognition to feel good about yourself? Everyone wants to feel these ways about themselves; proud and confident. But most just don’t know how, especially young people.  Many kids think that hero’s only wear masks and capes but don’t exist in real life.  But this just isn’t true.  Look at your teachers, your parents or anyone you know who offers help and support (as corny as this sounds). We’re all capable of being heroic, but it takes a different kind of courage than most people think.  It’s not courage that makes people fight or act aggressive… it’s fear.  It’s not courage that gets kids to refuse to work hard or follow rules… it’s insecurity and self-doubt.  Courage is what you show when you do the hard thing like show kindness when people expect you to be aggressive.  Courage is what you show when you succeed at something where people doubt you.  Courage is what you show when you think about someone else’s feelings as much as your own. And kindness isn’t weakness. Showing kindness to others is far tougher in today’s society than showing aggression towards others. What shows weakness is giving in to your fears of being seen as “weak” and pretending to act tough by showing disrespect and aggression.  Toughness isn’t saying or showing that “you don’t care”… toughness is having the courage to admit that you do care.

We all have the capacity to be heroic. Whether it’s by writing a book to try to help young people… or by picking others up when they’re down.  You, reading this book, have the capacity to be a hero.  Whatever your race, gender, sexual orientation, home neighborhood, religion or financial situation, you have opportunities every day to feel confident, proud and powerful. All you have to do is find the courage to work hard at the stuff you’re afraid to fail at, be brave enough to show compassion when those around you are more comfortable being selfish, and display your character by proving to others that toughness isn’t shown though violence… it’s shown through thoughtfulness.

For the most part, teachers are good, caring generous people. The fact that you’ve chosen to devote your time to the betterment and development of young people is a strong indicator that you are compassionate, thoughtful individuals who want to contribute to the lives of others. And people know this. Even your colleagues know this and unfortunately, sometimes knowing this about you makes others think they can ask you to do things that you don’t have the time or energy to do. Many schools have budgetary problems and consequently, there are services that should be in place that aren’t. This unfortunate reality compels many administrators to find creative ways to provide necessary services to the students… which brings me to you, a first year or a relatively new teacher. You are more likely to have extra energy for the work than a 30 year veteran, and your new devotion and idealism make you commodities in schools. So be prepared to be asked to volunteer your time before or after-school or during your lunch period. And this isn’t to tell you to say no to these requests, nor is it to get you to resent or mistrust authority figures who ask you to volunteer for activities or tasks. This is only to notify you that it may happen, and to remind you that you always have the right and the choice to say “no thank you.”

When making your decision as to whether or not you will commit yourself, simply think about whether or not you have the time, the energy or the desire to commit yourself fully without resentment. The last thing you want to do is over-burden yourself, add to a long list of other stresses and create a situation where you feel like you have to say yes to every request. Volunteering is an honorable and wonderful gift to give to the students and to your school, but be sure that if you choose to give up your personal time without compensation, that you’re doing so in a healthy way where you can keep your balance between your personal and professional lives.

When you take a job as a teacher, you’re electing to choose a job where you will have to answer to a number of different authority figures. You may have content area Assistant Principals, Academy Directors and Principals over-seeing your performance. There are many different titles for supervisors and administrators depending on your region, your state or the type of school you work in. Regardless of what they are called, they are in charge of you and you are accountable to them. Every one of us has our own relationship to and experiences with authority figures. And it is very important to have the self-awareness to know how you respond to different kinds of authority figures.

Over the course of your careers you will undoubtedly experience both effective leaders, and ineffective leaders. You will be made to feel confident in your abilities by some, and insecure and exasperated by others. You may be yelled at in front of your students, written up for insubordination or given a letter by your principal expounding upon your brilliant contributions to the school and to your students. You will be observed, criticized, rated, evaluated and you may even be promoted or fired. What is of paramount importance while you’re experiencing your leadership in the ways that you will is that you maintain your standards and role-model the qualities you wish you’d see in your bosses. If you don’t like the way your bosses gossip, be sure not to engage in gossiping. If you don’t like the way your boss berates teachers in public, be sure not to berate your students in public. If you value and respect the boss that listens attentively to you and offers constructive feedback at the appropriate time in the appropriate setting, be sure to do the same with your students.

Unfortunately, there may be times in your first few years (or for the rest of your careers) when you feel pressured to do things or engage in conversations that you challenge your integrity, and if and when these times come to you, be sure to remember what matters most… sleeping well at night (though admittedly, this is easier said than done). Granted, you want to keep your job and you don’t want to burn bridges, and the anxiety you may feel when in the company of a boss you don’t entirely trust may be warranted, but it is always in your best interest to choose your words carefully. And despite the temptation to “play the game”, remember that you do not have to play by rules that you know are unethical. There are entities in every school that will support you and protect you, and as a young educator, do not hesitate to reach out to your union representative for guidance or even to a colleague who you sense is honest and trustworthy.