Archive for February 2020

Success-oriented parenting with Dr. Rob Evans and Dr. Michael Thompson

February 25, 2020

Last week, I wrote about “Evidence-Based Parenting” with Dr. Leonard Sax. In the lecture, Dr. Sax identified four issues facing parents– broken bonds across the generations, a culture of disrespect, video games, and social media – and offered concrete actions that parents can take.

A companion lecture on “Rigor, Emotional Intelligence, and the Real Roots of Success” presented by Dr. Rob Evans and Dr. Michael Thompson, was more reflective. According to Dr. Evans and Dr. Thompson, the key dilemma that parents, teachers, and schools face is this: How do we best prepare children for success?

This is a dilemma and not a problem, they emphasize, because problems have solutions, while dilemmas are something you cope with.

Today, schools tend to focus on academic rigor. That means we expect more from children, even the very young. We expect children to know more at earlier ages. This has a side-effect: high performance leads to high stress, and there is a growing concern about our children’s mental health.

The “soft skills” – or “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ) – are equally important.

In the workplace, skills such as the ability to read a room, empathy, and the capacity to adapt and rebound are more important than IQ (intelligence quotient) or GPA (grade point average). In one study, when asked whether college graduates are prepared for the workplace, businesses revealed that they look for leadership experience, communication, and ethical decision-making in job candidates.

After college, there are two things that predict a person’s success and life satisfaction: a connection with a teacher and involvement in school activities. We all need a sense that someone knows us and cares about us.

Reflection: Did you have a life-changing teacher? If yes, how did they inspire you? Consider the idea that the people who motivate and inspire us are not necessarily the most rigorous.

Reflection: What was your most illuminating experience? Was it in a classroom? Consider the fact that not all important learning is school-based. Trust your child’s development and academic journey.

Reflection: What do you treasure about your child? Consider the idea that one of a parent’s jobs is to accept their child’s strengths and weaknesses, and help them to be their best selves.

Reflection: What have you done as a parent that you’re proud of? Consider that idea that parenting styles don’t matter as much as long as you have strong underlying values and are consistent. Consider leading by example, not by sermon.

Dr. Evans suggests that every once in a while, parents take a “grandparent pill” that lets us think and act like a grandparent for a day – one step removed from parenthood, able to see the best in your child, without being as invested in their actions and attitude.

Who inspired you when you were growing up? What lessons helped you to succeed – and did you learn them in school? If you are the parent or family member of a child, how do you envision their success?


Rob Evans and Michael Thompson are clinical psychologists, school consultants, and authors. Rob is the author of three books, including “Family Matters: How Schools Can Cope with The Crisis in Childrearing.” Michael is the author or coauthor of nine books, including “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Lives of Boys.”

Evidence-based parenting with Dr. Leonard Sax

February 18, 2020

The teenage years were hard enough to live through. In a way, it’s like going through it all over again as a parent of a 13-year old son. I want to give him the freedom to take responsibility and make mistakes, but not so much freedom that it makes him undisciplined and anxious.

The biggest challenge we face is his time management and ability to focus on an assignment without distractions.

So I was very interested to attend a lecture on “Evidence-Based Parenting” presented by Dr. Leonard Sax. We were there to learn how parents can improve the odds that our children will grow up to be happy, healthy, and successful.

Dr. Sax talked the rise of anxiety, depression, and disengagement among children and teenagers. He identified four key challenges and what parents can do to counteract their effects.

Broken bonds across the generations. In the past, there were strong ties between grandparents and grandchildren. Today, parenting has become more insular, grandparents and communities are not as involved in children’s lives, and relationships with peers (other children) have become more important. This is in sharp contrast to enduring cultures, ones in which there are strong bonds across generations, communities of women for girls and communities of men for boys, and rites of passage into adulthood (like the Navaho Kinaalda or Jewish bar mitzvah).

What can parents do? If you speak another language at home, make sure that your children are fluent. Give children and teens opportunities to participate in cultural traditions.

A culture of disrespect. In the past, parents were treated with respect and viewed as role models. Today, parents are more often portrayed as inept and children are taught that it’s okay to ridicule them.

What can parents do? Eat dinner at home, talk with children in the car, teach them virtue and character, and role model good behavior. Choose not to watch TV shows and movies that teach disrespect for parents.

Video games. For boys, video games can be addicting, and playing 7+ hours per week correlates with negative academic achievement. And playing violent video games, such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto, can change boys’ personality, making them more selfish, less honest, more hostile, and less patient. The most alarming thing is that teens usually won’t realize that they have changed at all, because we judge ourselves relative to our nearest peers – other teens.

What can parents do? No video games until homework and chores are 100%, and limit video game playing to 40 minutes per day.

Social media. For girls, social media is more about performance, not about living – and it can have an adverse effect on girls’ self-worth and happiness. Social media can make us hyperconnected to our peers, and also disconnected from our true selves.  Girls are more likely to spend time managing their profiles, posting photos of themselves (rather than others), and comparing their lives to others.

What can parents do? There’s nothing wrong with giving a child a “feature” phone that can only make phone calls; and if you do give your child a smartphone, there should be no expectation of privacy. Carefully monitor children’s use of social media, limit social media use to 30 minutes per day, turn off devices at 9 pm, and no devices in children’s bedrooms.

The key thing to remember: be the parent, not the best friend.

If you are the parent of a child or teenager, at what age did you (or will you) give your child a smartphone? How do you handle video games and social media?


Dr. Leonard Sax is a psychologist, author, and expert in child, teen, and adolescent development. For more information about his books and speaking engagements, visit

Making un-resolutions

February 11, 2020

I thought that I don’t make new year’s resolutions anymore. Looking back, I realized that I do make resolutions… I just don’t call them resolutions.

Resolutions are for legal contracts or board meetings.

You might call it a lifestyle change, but that sounds too extensive. You might call it a change of habit, but that sounds too defined.

Instead, think of them as “un-resolutions,” choices that are informal and easy-going. A big part of it is practicing mindfulness, bringing my attention to a choice and not judging myself if things don’t work out.

There are no goals or measurements of success. I don’t really hold myself accountable. And “un-resolutions” don’t need to have an end-date.

Two years ago, without my realizing it, my un-resolution was to take a risk on a new job that I wasn’t sure I was ready for. It’s a job that still challenges me and often takes me out of my comfort zone.

One year ago, my un-resolution was to say “yes” to more invitations and opportunities. I made a conscious choice to do it, but I don’t try to reach a specific number of opportunities, and I don’t feel guilty when I turn something down.

It’s only February, but I already know my un-resolution for this year, and it’s a little different from the previous years: I want to strengthen my language skills. My foreign language skills.

(Really, we need a better word than “foreign.” World language? International language?)

I tried Hawaiian in middle school, Japanese in high school, and Spanish in college. It was always a struggle for me and I retained very little, a few words here and there. My mind was like a foreign language sieve, not a sponge.

Maybe, without the anxiety of grades, I can let myself learn without pressure or expectations.

I’m not sharing this because I want someone to hold me accountable. I don’t have any expectations for myself, no milestones, no time-limits. It’s an “un-resolution” that’s attentive, forgiving, and on-going.

What were your new year’s resolutions? Or if you don’t make resolutions, what choices have you made this year?

Learning about compassion fatigue

February 4, 2020

I work at a nonprofit counseling center, and I talk to clients almost every day. People share their stories with me, and sometimes they really touch my heart. Later, there are times I feel anxious and even have trouble sleeping at night because I’m worried about them.

At an interactive workshop with Elizabeth Kent, an experienced mediator and proprietor of Meeting Expectations Hawaii, I learned that there’s a name for the anxiety I sometimes feel: “vicarious trauma” or “compassion fatigue.”

It’s not stress. It’s not burnout. There are interpersonal, emotional, physical, cognitive, and spiritual symptoms of compassion fatigue.

This can happen with first responders, social service workers, caregivers, family and friends, and judges who are affected by the trauma that someone else experienced or witnessed.

In fact, Kent’s interactive workshop, shared at a Kokua Mau meeting, was adapted from a presentation by Judge Michael Town (retired), who presided over contested divorce and family cases in Hawaii.

I learned that some people are more susceptible to compassion fatigue, such as people who have unrealistic views, people who are domestic abuse survivors, people who are very compassionate, and people who cope with distressing situations where children are involved.

There are many strategies to help us prevent and cope with compassion fatigue, such as communicating our feelings with someone who listens to us, using active optimism to reframe our experiences, keeping boundaries between work and life, and keeping things in perspective by refusing to “catastrophize” things (I love this new word!).

Kent encouraged us to create our own resiliency plan, focusing on ABC – Awareness, Balance, and Connection.

Awareness. What are your personal warning signs? For me, it’s anxiety, difficulty concentrating on work after talking with someone who shared their story, and trouble sleeping.

Balance. What can you do for your own resilience? At work, I can take a short break or check the mail. At home, I can read a good book or plan something fun for the weekend.

Connection.  What strategies can you follow to improve your office environment and lessen the impact of compassion fatigue? This one is a little harder, but we already started a “gratitude journal” in the office to remind us of good things, and I want to invite a speaker who can talk to us about resiliency at one of our staff meetings.

Do you work with or care for people who have experienced trauma? How do you take care of yourself?


Elizabeth Kent ( offers mediation, facilitation, and training to prevent and resolve disputes. Kōkua Mau ( provides accurate information on advance care planning (ACP), hospice and palliative care.