Category Archives: dads

What You’ve Taught Your Children About Alcohol Without Saying a Word

This puts into words what so many people know without knowing it, and is one of the most talked about excerpts from Between Baby Dolls and Boyfriends. The book is for parents of pre-teen girls, but this concept can be applied to girls or boys of a much wider age range.

I get asked a lot of parenting questions by friends and people that I meet. Sometimes I have to ask people “do you want me to answer this as a friend or as a psychologist,” because the answers are often different. When our kids were smaller, people would ask me about negative behaviors that their child was exhibiting. As a friend, I would probably say “wow, you DO have the most difficult child in the whole school” or “you poor thing, I’m sure this phase will pass.” But as a psychologist, I would be more likely to say “he’s acting out because you are not providing any structure or stability!”

I have been faced most often with this dilemma when people ask me about alcohol use by parents. Like so many of you, the people that I socialize with enjoy wine or beer with dinner, or drinks when out with friends. This is not necessarily a problem; there is a way to demonstrate responsible drinking. But I will say this in all seriousness: your tween has learned how to drink long before she ever takes a sip. Here’s how:

  • She knows why she should drink – maybe it’s to combat stress, or if she has had a bad day, or because she’s out to dinner, or because she’s sitting down to watch tv.
  • She knows when she should drink – has she seen that this is what people do when they get home at the end of the day, or because it’s what friends do when they get together, or because it’s 8:00?
  • She knows how she should drink – one drink in her hand before she even sets down her purse after coming home, one glass of wine with dinner every night, more bottles than she can count during a party, or as many beers as it takes to get from being a ball of stress to a couch potato.
  • She knows how she should feel about drinking – she knows if it is something to be ashamed of and done as secretively as possible, if it is done as a habit without giving it a second thought, or if it is something entertaining and something to brag about because she’s heard so many ‘funny’ stories about people she knows being drunk.

When it’s put like this, I think fear is struck in the hearts of all who suddenly see a tape reel of their drinking history, problematic or not. We suddenly realize what our tweens have been exposed to by us or those around us. I am not here to judge how much you should or should not be drinking. But I have found that a lot of parents downplay the impact that they believe their drinking has had on their children, or insist that despite their actions, they have told their children not to drink and believe this is sufficient.

There is a significant amount of research that concludes that children who grow up in a home in which one or both parents drink alcohol are at greater risk of beginning to drink and drinking excessively. This research extends to tobacco use as well. In fact, parents who smoked at the time their children were in the third grade had children who were 64 percent more likely to smoke by the time they reached their senior year in high school.*

No lecture here, but a suggestion to take a good, hard look at the drinking habits of your family and friends. If there are unhealthy messages being sent to your tween, you probably already knew this but may have been hesitant to make any difficult changes. Please hear my psychologist take on this, not my friend take. Take this opportunity to make the changes you need to make. And feel free to switch the word alcohol to Xanax, cigarettes, or marijuana. You get the idea – don’t kid yourself.

As far as what you should be doing to model responsible drinking, make sure that you:

  • Never drink and drive
  • Have plenty of times where you opt for something other than alcohol to drink
  • Don’t make drinking look glamorous, and challenge those who do
  • Talk about ways other than drinking to deal with stress
  • If you are with a group that is drinking excessively, leave the situation and tell your tween that you are leaving because you don’t approve of what is going on

You need to ask yourself how you expect your tween to behave around alcohol. And then ask yourself how much of that she has seen modeled for her. Children have a hard time becoming something they have never seen.


Ten tips for prevention for parents. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, inc. Retrieved from

Peterson A., Leroux, B., Bricker, J., et al. (2006). Nine-year prediction of adolescent smoking by number of smoking parents. Addict Behavior. 31(5), 788–801.


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What Leadership Means for Tweens

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.

– Alexander the Great

I am not calling tweens sheep… entirely. But I like this quote because it does bring to mind the idea that when someone gains a lot of attention, whether someone in their school or a celebrity, there is suddenly a mass following of that person. For better or worse, they are looked at as leaders.

The term leadership continues to be a buzzword for just about everyone. Most schools include leadership among the qualities they try to develop in their students, and all kinds of extracurricular activities aim to produce leaders now and in the future. But what does leadership really mean to tweens? Who do they consider leaders and why? We can’t expect them to become leaders if we aren’t even sure what this means to them.

The first thing to know is that for tweens, leaders are not usually global figures or Hollywood celebrities. People in high-level positions who have done significant, heroic, or momentous things seems quite out of reach for most of us, and today’s kids often look more to the cyberworld to find their leaders. These are reality stars, YouTube stars, or simply people with huge followings on social media platforms. I’ll give you a second to shudder as you recall what you’ve seen trending lately among the people your tween follows.

If you can have ongoing conversations about leadership with your tween, you can help to inform their idea of what a true leader is, and guide them to this role using the values important to your family. One way to start is by thinking of this: True leaders are best judged by how they affect those closest to them. Show them that someone can have a million Twitter followers, but if they have not positively influenced those closest to them, they are simply famous, not necessarily a leader. Tweens have a tendency to focus on what post might garner the most ‘likes,’ and therefore they tend to see the people whose posts have a lot of likes as leaders. Encourage them to view others in terms of what they do that makes the lives of those around them better before looking at their reach across the internet.

A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.

– Max Lucado

I was just talking to a friend who has a seventh grade son; she was telling me that there was a debate during one of his classes. Apparently the debate went poorly when her son was the only one who had an opinion that differed from his classmates and the teacher. The teacher did a poor job of managing the class, and this boy was chastised by everyone – including the teacher. He was left feeling angry, embarrassed, and hurt that he asserted and maintained his view and was not supported. Just before the end of the day, he opened up his locker and there was a note from a classmate. It said “I think you are so awesome for standing up for your beliefs, you’re my hero today!” I’m sure you can imagine that this changed everything for him. All he could think about, and all he could tell his parents, was how this one message made him proud of how he’d behaved in class. And even though the girl had not made a loud, public gesture, her kindness showed exactly what we’re talking about – viewing leadership as what one does to make the lives around them better.

True leadership does not just appear. It is shaped, guided, practiced, probably failed a time or two, and always evolving. You can help by defining what leadership means to you and your family, discussing the leadership qualities (or lack thereof) of the people your tween sees, and celebrating even the smallest examples of leadership efforts that they show throughout their day. There are some amazing people out there, and they started out looking a lot like your kids!

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The Importance of Dads to Tween Girls

As I do every Father’s Day, I spent time thinking of what my daughter could do for her dad. When she was little, she would draw pictures and make cards and crafts. She would help me make breakfast for him that he would eat – no matter what was in it or how it tasted. Now that she’s older, I’ve spent more time thinking about what he’s done for her. Dads can sometimes feel a little unskilled as their daughters get older, but their impact is far-reaching and important, so it’s quite valuable to look at what daughters want and need from dear old dad.

I’m pretty sure if it weren’t for her dad, my daughter would have never been allowed to go down the slide at the park by herself or swing from the monkey bars. She also would have been the undisputed Candy Land champion of the world since I always let her win. He was the one who convinced me that she would gain confidence (and have fun!) by going down the slide by herself, that if she fell off the monkey bars she would (gasp) be okay and try again, and that he didn’t want to see the result of a kid who never had to learn to lose a game. We had a pretty good balance in those years: I was the one who insisted on vitamins, coats in the winter, dentist appointments, and healthy foods, while he was the one who let her try more things, let her fail more often, and threw her higher in the air than I would ever dare. Of course it’s not that black and white – I was fun and played with her as well, and he fixed her healthy snacks and zipped up her coat. But the point is, we each brought something to the table.

As she got older, it became harder for my poor husband. He did not want to hear about the need for bras or anything else of that nature. He was confounded by the girl drama that surrounds the tween years. And he certainly did not want to know anything about boy-craziness other than the promise that she wouldn’t date until she’s 35. This is totally normal, but I told him, and I’m now telling you, that he still plays a vital role in her life. Here’s how:

Her future romantic relationships. In some psychology circles, the saying goes that moms teach their daughters who they will become, and dads teach them who they will later choose. Daughters watch how their fathers treat their mothers and other women, they learn quickly and early on what to expect in a partner. Daughters who have a positive role model in their fathers generally go on to have more fulfilling, emotionally stable, and happier marriages themselves.

Her future career path. Did you know that in the world of politics and other high-achieving fields women with no brothers are more prevalent than those with brothers? Many of these women report being encouraged by their fathers to be tenacious, ambitious, motivated and successful. Researchers attribute this to the fact that these women received promotion of their academic success in fields traditionally filled by men. Some of these traditional notions still exist today, but thankfully the tide has turned and many men encourage their daughters without gender roles in mind. The impact of a father who is involved in his daughter’s academics and shows her that he believes she can do anything is immeasurable.

Her future in general. As if what I’ve just described isn’t a tall enough order, I have to point out that daughters who have a caring, supportive, and communicative relationship with their fathers have reduced rates of everything from early drug use, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, and abusive relationships. In short, if a girl doesn’t have a solid guy to go to in her father, she will look to someone or something else – and usually make the wrong choice.

When my daughter was little, there was the typical “mommy do” phase. Even with dad standing right there, it was only mommy who could fill a sippy cup, make a boo-boo better, and play with dolls. Dad was, however, often requested to read stories because his voices of characters were way better than mommy’s. A new phase replaced this in the tween years. When boys talked about having a crush on her, they always expressed concern over doing something wrong because they were afraid of what her dad would do. What? I volunteered at the school for years, I ran forgotten lunches up to her, I did carpool… I was a lot more visible to her peers, why was no one afraid of me? The point was that even if her dad was at work and not seen as often, it was widely known that his presence looms large. The protection that our daughter feels from her dad is well known to her, and by extension, everyone else.

It’s okay if dads feel out of their depth when dealing with all that comes with the tween years (and beyond). He doesn’t need to suddenly be entrenched in the reasons that Susie will no longer sit with Ashley at lunch, or take over conversations about puberty. If he hasn’t plugged into her life, it’s time, and he’s now got all the motivation he needs. But he has hopefully already found a niche in her life, participating in her sports, helping with homework, or having a favorite show that they watch together. Find or continue ways to connect with her that are comfortable and enjoyable for both, and know that the role he plays in her life will ultimately shape her future. No pressure.


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