Life Skills Report Card, by Nesta A. Aharoni

July 14th, 2009

Smart, talented, happy, successful, and popular—these are qualities most parents hope to develop in their kids. But how impressive is a child’s intelligence if he has no sense of his personal hygiene? And how remarkable is a youngster’s talent if she has no clue how to schedule her time? Will a cheerful child carry on in good spirits if he doesn’t learn to value the property and feelings of others? Will a successful child continue to flourish if she doesn’t know how to listen to others or welcome feedback? Can a well-liked youngster maintain a long-term relationship if he doesn’t learn how to share unselfishly?


These are interesting questions. And Marlaine Cover, of Parenting 2.0, has the answers. Marlaine has created the tool we need to develop our children’s character and endurance: the new and necessary Life Skills Report Card.


Grades, ability, achievement, and acceptance are only part of the childhood equation. To cultivate decency alongside success, softer life skills—like personal care, organizational ability, respect for self and others, communication know-how, and social ease—must be given equal, if not greater, attention.


Marlaine Cover’s Life Skills Report Card enables parents and children to measure their progress as they work together to cultivate decency in a developing generation. And the results are a win-win for everyone concerned. Moms and dads enjoy the confidence of knowing that their kids will have the capacity to survive, compete, and excel as adults. Kids appreciate the assurance they gain through lessons learned about self-reliance and social interaction. And society rests easier as her youngsters prepare to take responsibility for their actions.


I highly recommend Marlaine Cover’s comprehensive approach to child-rearing. Her practical techniques present a simple and realistic way to produce civilized human beings, an outcome that is more relevant today than ever.


Are You Raising a Holocaust Museum Terrorist? by Nesta Aharoni

June 16th, 2009

                How does a parent raise a child who promotes and plans for the slaughter of innocent victims? What do you have to do—or not do—to release into society an adult who has little regard for human life and who is focused on destruction and desolation? In the case of James von Brunn, who recently attacked the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and murdered a blameless security guard, we may never know the details of his upbringing. Most likely, there are many complex contributing factors. But some recent descriptions of the perpetrator provide one important clue to his malicious mindset: “elusive,” “lone wolf,” and “loner.”

                The story of terror and death at the Holocaust Museum reminds me of a book that has been pivotal in my life: Altruistic Personality, Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe, by Samuel P. Oliner. This book studied the personal traits of ordinary people who risked their lives to save Jews in 1940s Europe. What did these humanitarians have in common? Of course, parenting styles and personal attributes were addressed. But the one distinguishing feature that stood out above all others was this: a connection to the community that surrounded them.

                Balance, participation, commitment, and community connect children to something that is bigger than they are. Kids should not focus solely on their feelings: “I want this and I crave that.” They should not live life as elusive loners. Conversely, children should feel as if they are part of a family, a team, a club, a school, an organization, and a neighborhood. When kids are active players in society, they become an entwined segment of humanity.

                In My Goodness: My Kids, Cultivating Decency in a Dangerous World, I devote a chapter to “Balance.” In this chapter, I encourage children to live full and active lives that stimulate their intellect, inspire their creativity, fuel their physical activity, and engender compassion for the needs of others. I don’t suggest these activities in order to keep childhood boredom at bay or to fill an empty calendar. I promote this viewpoint to protect children from negative influences, both internal and external, and to encourage them to develop and connect socially. Throughout their childhoods, kids soar to countless highs and plummet to countless lows. If their lives are replete with varied activities and companions, when one thing doesn’t work out, youngsters feel nothing more than a bump in the road—not total and dismal destruction. Balanced kids suffer pain temporarily; they don’t let their distress rise to a boiling point of angry expression.

                A balanced individual does not cut off his arm to express his personal anger. That’s a no-brainer. His arm is part of his identity. Nor does a balanced human being cut off the life of an innocent victim to release suppressed rage. That potential target—that security guard—is part of his greater community.

                If you want to raise good children, cultivate their community relationships—artistic, physical, intellectual, and charitable. Take responsibility for what happens in your home. Raise honorable, responsible, and involved kids. We will all be safer as a result of your commitment.

Interfaith Second Marriage, by Marcia Essig, Ph.D.

June 16th, 2009

Interfaith Second Marriage

Dear Dr. Essig,

My twin sister and I are 14 years old. We are straight “A” students. We don’t smoke, drink, or do drugs. We are involved in extracurricular activities. So what’s the problem? Here it is—in a cracked nutshell!

Six month ago, our mother married our stepfather. We love him very much, and we call him “Dad.” My mom, sister and I are Christians, and our dad is Jewish. The four of us have no religious problems. We attend both Temple and Church. But my mom, sister, and I prefer the Temple, and we want to convert to Judaism. This is our idea, not our dad’s.

Our grandmother (our mother’s mom) is livid that our mother married outside of her faith, and she is open and obvious about her feelings! Is my grandmother a bigot? My sister and I are afraid she will try to break up our parents’ loving marriage. When she finds out that we all want to convert to Judaism, fireworks are going to fly!

Bewildered Twins

Dear Bewildered Twins,

Your family is a strong and loving one, and it cannot easily be broken. I have some ideas that I want to share, but first, let’s tackle the subject of conversion.

Conversion is a serious step to take, and the commitment is lengthy, not “drive-through.” Although you and your sister are not yet legal adults, in the eyes of Judaism you can have a bat mitzvah and take the oath at age 13. You, your sister, and your mom would have to study Hebrew for approximately two or three years. Are you willing to take that on?

Next, do not discuss conversion with your grandmother right now. She is not able to deal with an interfaith marriage yet, let alone the conversion of her daughter and granddaughters. Your grandmother may not be a bigot at all; she just may be in unfamiliar territory. She probably has never had anyone in her family marry outside of her faith. Maybe she just doesn’t know how to act around your dad.

Ask your dad to invite your grandmother to a family dinner and a movie. In addition, include her in other activities that you think she may enjoy. Your grandmother needs to get to know your father as a person, not merely as someone who practices a different faith. The subject of conversion may not even come up for two years or more. Until then, include her in family events, and attend church with her once in a while. I believe your grandmother will come around. With a little bit of patience and attention, it won’t be long before your grandmother learns to love your new dad.

Are You Raising a Bernie Madoff or a Bill Gates, by Nesta Aharoni

June 2nd, 2009

An expectant mom gently strokes her expanding belly and fearfully reflects: “Could my developing son or daughter become the next Bernie Madoff cheat? manipulator? narcissist? I love my child deeply, but didn’t Mr. Madoff’s mother love him just as much? Will love alone develop character in my child, or do honesty and integrity require something more?”

                Is there anything this mom-to-be can initiate now to ensure that her child acts honestly and decently throughout elementary school, middle school, high school, and beyond? You bet there is! First, she can start mulling over the concept of honesty—at this moment, before her baby is born. How does an honest child affect the level of harmony in the home? the neighborhood? the schoolyard? And, conversely, how does a dishonest child affect these same settings? Is honesty going to be treated as a serious character issue in her home? Or is a dishonest act going to be overlooked because her child is too cute and too young to confront? Is honesty a concept she should start to consider presently, or is it something she can postpone to an ambiguous, far-way time?

                When one of my sons was in fifth grade, he literally stole a cookie from the teacher’s cookie jar. While he was hailed as a hero by his brutish buddies, I had a different reaction. It would have been easy for me to overlook his act as bravado. After all, I knew he was just a young boy testing his limits. But it would not have been in his best interest for me to let it pass.

                Dishonest children are not trusted by their parents—or anyone else, for that matter. I explained to my son that the theft of the cookie meant that I could no longer trust him to be honest and respectful of other people’s belongings. Awareness registered in his mind. When he tells this story, he identifies that feeling as guilt. But he always is careful to add, “Any guilt I might have felt was not forced upon me by means of a guilt trip; my parents had already shown me in advance that there are many benefits to reap by being a trustworthy person.”

                That day I explained to my son that he could gradually earn back my trust (and his skateboard) by showing me evidence of good deeds. As a young boy, he wanted all of the extras he could get. So he quickly learned to regulate his behavior in order to secure my trust.

                Pondering the consequences of honesty and dishonesty is an important first step for parents to take. Making honesty a family priority comes next. Moms and dads can establish honesty as a priority by modeling it for their children—every moment of every day. That means they must return extra change when it is mistakenly dropped into their open palms. They must inform the grocery clerk when they are accidently undercharged. They must truthfully tally points during the family’s weekly board game. In short, parents must lead honorable lives.

                Our anxious mom-to-be need not worry about raising a swindler or a fraud. With a little bit of forethought and lots of deeds, she can raise the next Bill Gates philanthropist, instead. But in order to raise an honest person, she must be an honest person. She must recognize honesty and trustworthiness as vital components of good character. And she must teach her children consistently, until honesty becomes so natural to them that they no longer feel the need to test the boundaries of decency.

Why Can’t We Drive to Prom? by Marcia Essig, Ph.D.

June 2nd, 2009

Dear Dr. Essig,

My senior prom is coming up soon. I am so excited! And my parents are excited for me. My boyfriend and I have been going steady since middle school, and my parents like him very much. Both sets of parents approve of our relationship. And they are all happy that we will be attending the same college in the fall. Neither my boyfriend nor I have ever caused our parents anxiety—until now.


My boyfriend and I both drive, and neither one of us has ever had an accident or a traffic ticket, which we think speaks well of our character. Our parents have banded together and decided that we cannot drive any of the family cars to the prom, which is located only 10 miles from where we live. Since all of our friends will be going to Magic Mountain after the prom, our parents insist on driving us to the prom, to Magic Mountain, and home again afterwards. Imagine what our friends will think; they will think that our parents treat us like little children.


–Why Can’t We Drive?


Dear Why Can’t We Drive,


Thank you for bringing this issue to the forefront. You and your boyfriend are “over the moon” with your high school graduation, senior prom, and college plans. Your parents share this excitement with you. But there is one emotion your parents are feeling that is different from the exhilaration you are experiencing. That emotion is fear. To one degree or another, most parents feel fear when their teenagers are driving. That fear is intensified on prom night. Why? Statistics show that the accident rate on prom night is higher than usual, and that is the root of your parents’ angst.


Let me offer you a compromise—one that you, you boyfriend, and the parents can all live with. Instead of having anyone’s parents drive you to the prom, to Magic Mountain, and home again, how about having both families, including you and your boyfriend, split the cost of a taxi or car service for the evening. That way, instead of ridiculing you, your friends will envy you. And your parents will not have to worry about you and your boyfriend driving on the same road as all of the other teenage drivers.


Learn to be a leader and a trend setter. Set an example that other kids can follow. By thinking outside of the box, you can teach this year’s juniors to plan ahead and to save money early so that next year they can follow in your footsteps!


Ride to prom in style, and then let me know how it went. Congratulations on your high school graduation, and on your entry into college. A high school prom is a once-in-a-lifetime event…enjoy yourself!


Dr. Essig

Is “Consenual Living” Healthy–for Society? by Nesta Aharoni

May 13th, 2009

Little Joey hit another child on the playground. Guess what his mother did. She ran up to her son and asked him about his feelings, the ones that led up to the intimidating act. Is her reaction the best one for Joey—and the best one for society at large?

                My local San Diego newspaper just ran a story about the “Consensual Living” movement, which began in 2006. The gist of the movement is that all family members are on the same plane, which means 1) that children have an equal voice in deciding family matters, and 2) that more traditional moms and dads are being coercive and destructive to the psychological health of their children.

                In my book, My Goodness: My Kids, I express some politically incorrect ideas. Here are some examples:  1) Parents should act as the alpha dogs within the family unit; 2) family members should live within a hierarchy that places the parents unapologetically at the top; and 3) parents should raise children with one eye on what is happening in their home and the other eye on what is happening in their schools and neighborhoods.

                There is nothing consensual about “consensual living.” If Joey grabs a toy away from his little brother, is the burden on his younger sibling to consent and then understand that Joey is having a bad day? If Joey hits his mother because he did not get his way, is she supposed to consent and then praise him for releasing his pent-up feelings? If Joey spews foul language in the classroom, is the teacher supposed to consent and then support Joey’s need to communicate his anger? If Adolescent Joey steals a car, is the police officer supposed to consent and then empathize with Joey’s “need” for transportation? And when Adult Joey embezzles money from his employer, is his boss supposed to consent and then forgive him for the bookkeeping “error”?

                Although all of us are on the same human plane, there is nothing level about our standing in society. The U.S. president has more authority than the vice-president. A CEO has more power than a middle manager. And a parent who wants to prepare her kids for adulthood and the workplace better have more say-so than her children do. 

                If you want to live in an isolated bubble with only your family members, fine. Enjoy consensual living. But if you intend to share space with the rest of us, then consent when your kids behave honorably, and punish and teach when they don’t. Your child’s character and behavior affects all of us. Proudly use your position as a parent to cultivate decency in your offspring. Your kids’ psychological health depends upon it—and so does ours.

Telling Grandma’s Secrets, by Marcia Essig, Ph.D.

May 13th, 2009

Dear Dr. Essig,

                My mother is angry because I told my 11- and 12-year-old kids why she and my father divorced when I was a college student. I think my children are entitled to know why. I didn’t make up any stories or embellish any details. I simply told my children the truth about Grandma and Grandpa.

                My mother told me it was not my place to discuss her divorce with my children. She thinks I have meddled in her business.

                 I’m a good mother, and I did what I thought was best for my children. If you think I was “out of line,” I will apologize to my mother. I did not intend to hurt her.

                –Befuddled Daughter


Dear Befuddled Daughter,

                Many adult children hang on to painful memories of divorce. No matter how old a child is when it happens, divorce is devastating.

                As for telling your children the “grizzly” details of your parents’ divorce, you were out of line. You should not have shared any information you felt contributed to your parents’ decision.

You are your children’s mother, but your mother is their grandmother. The bond between grandparents and their grandchildren is special, and tampering with that connection is off limits.

                Here is my “rule of thumb”: Before you say something you may later regret, ask yourself this: What purpose will it serve? If there is no purpose, “bite your tongue.”

                I sense you have some residual issues with your mother that need to be resolved. Do not continue to cling to old feelings. It’s a waste of energy! Enjoy a loving relationship with your mother while you can. If you are unable to accomplish this on your own, find a reputable counselor to help you. When the inevitable time comes that your mother is no longer here, you will be grateful for the warm relationship that developed.

                Invite your mother for a cup of coffee or a phone conversation. Tell her you are sorry for what you have done. Don’t belabor the point. A sincere apology will do. And don’t beat yourself to a pulp over this. Your issue can be resolved. The big trick is not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

                Let go of old hurts and repair the current ones. You cannot change the past, no matter how you try.


Texted Sex Advice for Teens, by Nesta Aharoni

May 4th, 2009

As I was listening to the news and preparing for my workday, I heard a story that aroused my interest. It concerned a sex-advice text line for children between the ages of 14-19. I am all in favor of kids learning about sex–and at a much earlier stage than teenage-hood. But is a sex-advice text line the best place for our youngsters to probe this stimulating topic?


Before I get to my biggest concern about texted sex advice, let me express some preliminary misgivings. 1) Can the counselor who is answering a child’s question be certain of the age of the youngster they are responding to? 2) If a counselor provides more information than a child is ready to take in, could he or she be exposing our kids to potentially dangerous situations? 3) Is it possible that the advice givers have a sexual agenda they are seeking to pass on to our children? 4) Does texted sex advice undercut a parent’s role and rights?


Number 4 is the biggie for me. Although a sex-advice text line may offer some cold, hard, technical facts, it is missing the most important elements of sex education—the morals and responsibilities that must infuse the topic. These missing elements can only be conveyed by committed parents/care givers who are dedicated to raising honorable and responsible children.


Should we teach our soccer-playing children the rules of the game without educating them about such values as effort, fair play, and teamwork? Of course not! Nor should a remote text message be instructing our kids where to put their tongues when they are kissing (an actual text question) without including that family’s standards of respect, honesty, and commitment.


Parents, do your job. Teach your children about sex long before they turn 14. And while you are at it, make sure your child understands your family’s principles of sexual ethics and decency. If you don’t teach sex education to your children, somebody else will. You do all of our sons and daughters a great disservice if a moral code is missing from the mix.

Lessons From Michael Phelps, by Nesta A. Aharoni

March 6th, 2009

                Michael Phelps has lost a lot – endorsements, income, trust, and respect. But his public ordeal is a gift to those parents who have the sense to recognize it and the spirit to act on it. A parent’s job is to raise honorable and responsible children who will one day become honorable and responsible adults. That means that parents must constantly be on the lookout for character-building opportunities, the kind that happen in family units every day.

                When Michael Phelps smoked an illegal substance at a college party, his contribution to parenting became significant. Michael Phelps opened the door for moms and dads to discuss many topics with their children—and to instill their family values while in the process. Here are some questions you may want to bring up with your children:

1.       Are you willing to restrain your social impulses and think about possible consequences before you act, even if you are surrounded by a room full of energetic and influential peers?

2.       Do the decisions you make impact you exclusively, or do they affect others, as well—your family, your friends, your school, and your neighborhood?

3.       Trust can be lost in an instant. Can it be earned back? If so, how?

4.       What are you willing to risk in order to keep the things you have worked so hard for?

5.       What’s more important? The physical courage it takes to swim faster, longer, and harder than anyone else? Or the moral courage it takes to control your urges and act responsibly?

6.       When you stand out from the crowd and behave wisely, are peers more likely to mock your viewpoint or admire your conviction?

7.        Would real friends encourage you to smoke that joint, knowing that by doing so you would be risking your name and reputation?

8.       After Michael Phelps lost his Kellogg endorsement, he apologized. Was that apology enough? Does he need to do more to satisfy his followers?

Get Involved in Your Kids’ Education, by Marcia Essig, Ph.D.

March 6th, 2009


                School is not a game of wits between parents and their children; it is a serious business. More often than not, your child’s classroom performance is a predictor of his or her future workplace performance. Parents must take an active role in their children’s education, and the time to start is in kindergarten. Today’s kindergarteners do more than sing and play. Most likely, they are learning to read simple stories and develop basic math skills.

                To help ensure your child’s educational success, ask “Johnny or Susie” to tell you what they did in school—every day. Do not accept “nothing” as an answer. Probe them, and then probe them some more. Be an active participant in your child’s school day. This also applies to children in the lower grades. These days, even the youngest students receive homework assignments. If you get nervous every time you mention “schoolwork” to your youngster, it’s time to get on the phone and make an appointment with the teacher.

                If you’re available, volunteer in your child’s classroom. I’m not aware of too many teachers who would turn down extra help. Make yourself visible. Your son or daughter may ask, “Mom, why do you have to be in my classroom?” And your answer should be simple: “I love you and I enjoy seeing what you do in school.” While you are helping in the classroom, you will be getting a “bird’s eye” view of where your child is, educationally speaking, compared to the other students in the room. If you think you need to have a conference with the teacher, make an appointment to discuss your concerns. Keep an open mind and remain objective.

                One of your goals as a parent is to help your kids succeed. One way to do that is to take an active role in their education. When you get involved, your children will be the lucky beneficiaries of your effort, your interest, and your love.

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