How to Keep Six Kids Happy

One of the hardest things I had to get used to when I opened my day care was slowing down to kid speed. I mean, really slowing down. While taking care of little ones you can get in a rush pretty easily. But trying to get three toddlers down the front steps without falling and scraping their noses on the pavement can be an excellent exercise in taking one’s time.

Adults are always in a rush. Our heads are always in two (or more) places at once. We have pressures and stress and things to do and events to plan and people to care for and the news and our jobs, and all that noise in our heads makes it very difficult for us to actually be where we are.

Kids are always where they are. They might have some worries or be upset about something, but they’re still firmly planted in this moment. They see everything so clearly. I’m not talking about a life lesson, pay attention to the details, smell-the-roses kind of thing, but finding a way to connect with them, because our heads are in the clouds but theirs are in the now. (Ironic. We like to think it’s the other way around.)

For instance, the other day Mr. E saw the fan icon on the microwave, which spins, and said, “Wheel.” (The boy loves wheels.) From his perspective, that’s totally a wheel. And yesterday one of my girls gave me a colorful fall leaf. We looked at how pretty it was, then I absentmindedly started spinning it between my thumb and finger. This was like a whole new world of awesome. She stared at it for minutes while we both got a little entranced at the sight.

So I’ve found that one of the key aspects of successfully working with kids is seeing what they see. It takes practice, training, and an awareness of everything that’s going on around you. I have to know where everyone is, what they’re up to, and who’s playing with what toy, in case someone comes up and grabs it out of their hands.

When you are connected on this level, and can step in to any argument, and know what’s going on, and how to fix it, and talk for them, and walk them all through the solution, and make sure everyone is treated fairly: you will rock at taking care of kids. (And extra bonus: they will trust and adore you.)

I started a new, young group last month and my head was spinning. I was going in ten directions at once, barely keeping up, something always needing to be done and someone always needing my attention. I felt pulled in all directions and wasn’t sure I could keep up the pace.

Then I got sick. I thought I was doomed for sure. If I can’t keep up top speed, this ship is sinking. But here’s the weird thing: when you’re sick, you slow down. My head hurt so much I couldn’t run around, so I just sat, and the kids came to me. They each got a little fix of my attention in turn, and then they were happy to go off and play.

Instead of being on my feet and missing something, I could watch all that was happening and help them move through the day so much easier. There wasn’t as much attention-seeking behavior (which is our nice professional way of saying “bad”) because I was connected with them much more consistently.

Another trick I used is listening to everyone’s side and not having to “punish.” I have an infant now and while I’m busy feeding or changing her, plenty of other stuff is going on with my wild bunch. An adult may look at a situation and think, this child needs a punishment. When actually the other kid – as long as they get their toy back – could care less.

Children mostly just want to be heard. If I can listen sympathetically to both kids and name their feelings for them, they’re satisfied. By the time they’re done talking to me about what happened, they’ve moved on to the next thing and forgotten about what caused the hurt in the first place. This doesn’t excuse all behavior but it saves a lot of hurt feelings on both sides of a fight. Sometimes being heard is more important than seeing a friend get in trouble.

Another great technique I’ve fallen back on recently is broadcasting. While I’m under that baby (or suffering from a sinus headache) and watching what the kids are doing, I repeat it back to them. “Mr. O’s mowing my lawn – awesome! I needed that done. Wow Ms. G, that was a big jump.” When you verbally connect with the kids – even if they don’t respond or even seem to notice – they know you’re present and you care about them. They eat it up.

I feel better now, but I’m consciously keeping a much slower pace. I’m spending as much time as I can not rushing, not moving around. Sitting right down on the floor in the middle of the kids and observing. Being calmer and less agitated by all the things I have to get done, and finding that some of them I don’t really have to do. Maybe just keeping the peace is the most important one.

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The Week I Look Forward to All Year

I’m lying on the cold cement floor of a hotel room in Lowell. It’s not anything kinky, or the tragicomic result of a Hangover-esque bacchanal, or even a line from a Kerouac poem (though he is the local hero). I’m here because it’s the first night of my vacation, and my back is pretty seriously injured. And I’m pissed.

I try to always see the positive. I know all the life lessons: being angry hurts no one but yourself. Depression is anger turned inward. This too shall pass. I usually try to deal with anger in healthy ways. But today, I just can’t.

I’m not the mean vacation mom, like the one in the campsite next to us, who’s just mad about everything. She’s annoyed that she had to pack up half their lives and drag it out here into the woods and set it all up again just to get her kids out of the house so they wouldn’t kill each other. She’s bothered by their behavior and nagging at them all the time. Her older son yells, “Oh yeah, sarcasm, that always works well.”

I’m the mom who lives for this. I’m not a sidelines kind of girl. I like to be out there in the middle of the action. Laying by a pool is fine for an hour or so, but what’s next? There’s a bunch of amazing stuff out there, let’s go see it.

Though I have to admit my packing experience was probably similar to hers. I was in constant pain and couldn’t bend over. I dropped the last clean spoon on the floor, left it there for my husband to pick up, and used a plastic one from the pantry. While trying to find the travel pillows, I emptied half the linen closet onto the hall floor and left it there. I didn’t even change the kitty litter (sorry Mich).

I think, you have nothing to complain about. You’re young and healthy, quit being a baby. I think of Aunt Rachel, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in her early 30s and spent most of the rest of her life in a wheelchair. Or my dear mother-in-law, who is literally in the hospital right now recovering from knee replacement surgery, and is in pain most of the time.

Still.

Being positive all the time feels like a big pain in the ass today. I’m angry. I feel gypped. I want my vacation and I want it pain-free. I don’t ask for much. I get very little to myself that I really want, and I deserve it to be nice.

My job is to function at a very high level all year so other people can have a life. I want mine just for this one week. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for.

My mother (who I’ve been texting for long-distance diagnoses and medical advice) reminded me of the year she put her back out and had to lay on the couch while her entire family went on with all their vacation fun. She said, “Four years later I’m still mad about that.”

I remember that week, and while we were relieved that for once Mom had to let go of the cooking and cleaning and let us take care of her, other than that we only wanted her to get better. No one was mad or resentful, and I think that’s how the men are seeing me this week (well that and trying to make me laugh by challenging me to race little old ladies with canes). I have to push them to go ahead and do the fun stuff without me. I got us here because I at least want them to still have a vacation.

And even though I’m waving them goodbye and hanging out on my own a bit, I’ll still have vacation memories. Like the look on Older’s face when he helped me grocery shop and found a double cherry that looked like a butt. Or clinging in fear to Younger during the scary parts of “The Lone Ranger.” And the way they charged toward me and actually wanted hugs every time we were reunited.

But as I lie here flat on my back on a picnic blanket waiting to pick them up at the end of their bike ride (on the stunningly amazing and beautiful Acadia carriage roads) I can’t help but feel sad.

I have to settle for the tourist views that you can see from your car. I know the hard-to-find ones are so much more impressive, and more rewarding because you had to work for them. This is the one I enjoyed while writing this post:

Bubble Pond

Bubble Pond

It’s not much, but it’s still pretty. I have to be content with the little things this week. Like the dragonfly that landed on me while I waited, and the two beautiful black and blue butterflies that danced over the pond. When the boys arrived they ran to me through the woods, grunting like apes to scare me. I asked if they’d do it again for my video camera but shockingly, no go.

Last year on the drive to Maine I told Dave this was the week I look forward to most out of the whole year. He seemed surprised. I couldn’t imagine why he was, since it really is the best time we have. He said, “There are so many other things to look forward to.”

Sigh. He’s right. It’s not the end of the world. This year I will sit on the sidelines a bit, and I’ll be angry and resent this injury and its horrible timing. As we drive along listening to the special vacation iPod mix I breathe in the ocean air, smell the pines, and try to relax. This is all that matters – that we are together.

The Tyranny of Expectation

I recently wrote an article on school choice that I thought would earn me a good deal of backlash. Instead, what people responded to most strongly was the idea that we expect too much of our public school system. It got me thinking about expectations.

Parents are probably the kings and queens of expectation. We want the world to be safe and kind, all teachers to be perfect, all coaches to be nurturing, all drivers to slow down, all bullies to get theirs, and for our children to have the best of everything all the time and total happiness and fulfillment in their lives.

Is that too much to ask?

What about the expectations I’ve been given, as a woman and a mother? The debate that women can have it all rages on but I can tell you, we can’t. Did I expect that this job, which is harder, more demanding, and more complicated than any other job I’ve ever had, would eliminate me as a viable candidate for any other job I applied for after I was done? Nope. But it has. I am now “just” a day care provider, my label for life.

However. I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be if I had any job other than this. So I gave up a career to be a mom. Also not what I expected, or what I was led to believe I could have. I could be mad about this, or I could be grateful that I am here for my kids as much as I possibly can be. No “career” job could make me that happy. Though it would certainly pay better.

The very idea of “motherhood” is laden with expectation – no pun intended – right from the start of pregnancy. I was reminded of that by this hilarious (and profane) blog post, “A Letter to My Pregnant, Child-less Self.” Birth plan? How can you possibly control birth? And who decided it would be a good idea to let us expect that we could? Here’s what to expect from labor: a lot of pain, a lot of pushing, elation, fear, exhaustion, and hopefully a healthy mom and baby at the end of it.

Besides letting us down, expectations take us away from a place of gratitude. If there’s anything I’ve tried to teach my boys (in a world full of Joneses), it is to be happy for what they have. When they start envying what their friends have, I remind them of the friends we know who have less. When you can look at what you have and be satisfied, life is so much easier.

The other day I was explaining a “bad” event to Younger Son using the Zen story about the farmer whose son breaks his leg. The neighbors say how awful, but when the army comes and can’t take the boy to fight, they say how wonderful. At every turn, the farmer simply says, “Maybe.” (For the full text, click here and scroll down to “Maybe.”) We can’t see the benefit when we’re in a struggle, and we can’t presume to know the outcome. We need to learn how to accept that what we have may be just fine.

Fifteen years ago my husband took me on a hike to the top of Somes Sound, touted as “the only fjord on the Atlantic coast.” I sat on the smooth rock looking over the harbor below and thought, this is not what I expected. I wanted a dramatic chasm of rock rising on either side with boats like ants in the water below. Instead it was a gentle slope down to a rather wide, average-looking waterway. But it was beautiful, and blue, and breathtaking in its own way.

In a few weeks we’ll go back to that fjord with our sons, and climb the same hill and look out over the harbor. I’ll force them to stand still, pose, and smile for the camera though they can barely tolerate my picture-taking after a few days on vacation. It won’t be what I expected, but it will be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

My Baby’s in Double Digits

I wrote a paean to Older Son when he turned ten, so it’s only fair that I do one for Younger. So far, you’ll be happy to know, we’re all hanging in there just fine with hitting this milestone.

It astounds me how different my boys are turning out to be. Younger is quietly determined, soft-spoken and kind, but with an iron will. It might take him a while but he will get what he wants. He is responsible and organized. He folds the towel before he hangs it on the rack. (That’s even better than me.)

He is a boy who was less excited about his new baseball glove and video game than the donation that was made in his name to the World Wildlife Fund. But still young enough to be disappointed that he can’t actually go and snuggle the lemur he adopted.

He is a deep thinker and likes to hear everyone’s opinion. He actually wants my advice and asks for it, and if I forget to offer it he reminds me, “Mommy, you’re not saying anything to make me feel better.” This is because he is so mature and independent that sometimes I forget he still needs me.

He is a fierce but fair competitor and an asset to every team he plays on. He’s so clever that he can deliver a joke or sass completely straight-faced, to the point where I don’t even know he’s kidding. He loves to stump me and to make me laugh.

He is truly saddened, pained even, by injustice, poverty, and strife. He wants to change the world for the better and I believe that someday he will.

How do I feel having no more single-digit aged children? Wonderful. That’s certainly not what I expected. I thought I’d break down, shed tears, be curled on the basement floor next to the storage box in a pile of baby clothes. I remember when almost-three-year-old Younger was still not talking very much, and I told my friend Pam I didn’t mind, because I liked keeping him young. She said, “But Amy, don’t you want to hear what he has to tell you?”

I didn’t think I could ever let go of my babies. I didn’t want his blonde curls to lengthen and his hair to thicken, or his chubby, edible baby feet to become big and smelly. I think I feared that I could never love them as passionately as I did at that moment, or that that kind of emotion was unsustainable. Or that they would grow up and be embarrassed by me and we would fight over homework and messes and privileges and chores.

What I have learned is that all those things will happen. And every fight will bring a deeper understanding. A stronger bond. Every challenge faced together makes us closer. As they grow older and understand adult things like sitting still in a restaurant, appreciating a good story, and getting the point of really bad jokes, our experience of the life around us deepens. I am sharing my life with two amazingly spectacular, fully-formed humans, and I feel blessed every day.

I truly don’t mourn their babyhood anymore, and it’s such a relief. I am so fulfilled and happy watching them grow into the young men they’re going to be. I’m proud of who they are, the choices they make, and how they carry themselves in the world. My greatest success is hearing someone tell me that I have great kids.

When my friend Rosie’s son turned fourteen I whined at the thought of my babies being that old. She took me by the shoulders and said, “Amy, it just keeps getting better.” I knew her words were heartfelt but still I doubted I’d be as convinced as she was.

And here I am, with two boys who’ve made it through their first decade on earth. It gets better every day. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Protecting Our Children

For years I’ve wrestled with how protective I should be of my children. This has been a particularly bad news week for a mom who worries. When it feels like there’s terrible news everywhere I look, it’s usually time to take another news blackout. Or just continue to rely on Jon Stewart to sort it out for me.

But the question remains, how do you protect your children from random violence, and how do you explain it to them when they get old enough to understand?

The wonderful news of three women being released from their captivity in Ohio was nothing but a triumph. At the same time, I can’t stop wrestling with the chilling questions this event leaves in its wake. How many more are there? What happens to missing children? How well do we know our neighbors?

A new hero emerged from the publicity around this news. It was Elizabeth Smart, whose story I was transfixed by years ago, but I had thought faded into a much-deserved quiet life. No, in fact she’s out there advocating and has unbelievably brilliant things to say. I am still transfixed by her.

In this clip she describes a safety program for kids called radKIDS (Resisting Aggression Defensively). The program is not just for preventing abduction but also addresses bullying, molesting, and child abuse. Even if parents don’t want to think about this topic, I cannot imagine a better way to give our kids tools they need to defend themselves.

I knew one child care provider who did a safety training with her kids. She had them sit in a circle and – after warning her neighbors what she was up to – would grab each child and have them scream for their lives. I was torn about this practice. My first reaction was, how gruesome, and aren’t they scared? Her response was, “They should be.”

I hate it. I hate that we have to raise children in a world like this but it’s just reality. And here’s the interesting part. She said the kids loved it, and they felt empowered and happy when the training was over. Well, what kid doesn’t love the chance to scream as loud and long as they possibly can?

But the training made them feel like they had strength. And one of the things Elizabeth Smart said was that she’d never said no to an adult. We need to teach our kids that they damn well can say no to anyone, anytime.

One of my sons took a year of tae kwon do and gained immensely from it in a variety of ways. While I think it would help him if God forbid he was ever attacked, his learning was beyond the self-defense capabilities. It was about having strength and confidence in yourself, and that’s what our kids need in any situation, on a daily basis. (Especially in middle school.)

This is about turning fear into empowerment. For parents, it means we must stop being in denial and simply have direct conversations with our kids. It is said that we should take this talk as seriously, and have it as often, as we talk to our kids about sex and drugs. But at an even younger age. And we should not just give dire warnings of “Look out for bad people,” but instead ask, “What would you do in this situation?” And then, here’s what you do: flip out as if your life depended on it.

Ironically, at at time in their lives when people tend to be incredibly overprotective of children, I give the toddlers and preschoolers in my care immense freedom. Our climbers are really climbers – with kids not just using the steps but sitting on top of them yelling, “Mommy! Look at me!”

It makes everybody nervous but I say, let them explore while they still can. I think about the freedom my boys don’t get and the skills they may not be learning from being simply alone in the world and figuring it out.

I’ve bemoaned this with many parents over the years. We all spent hours alone, riding bikes or wandering in the woods, or running through the neighborhood with our crew, away from the prying eyes of our parents. This way of life doesn’t exist anymore and I worry about what my kids are missing out on.

At the same time, we do awesome things with them. We challenge them in different ways, be it soccer games or hikes where they can climb five stories up on rock walls. I have to come to a point where I realize that it’s OK to be as protective as I want to be. I’m done living with the stress of somehow failing to give them enough freedom.

In the end, every time I send them out the door, they will go with my prayers for their safety and blind hope and faith for the best. They will only be armed with whatever skills I’ve given them to be smart and protect themselves. This is one place where I cannot fail.

So What IS Discipline?

After my last piece about finding a balance in parenting styles I had several people ask, well how do you do it? How do you reach that magic place where your kids are behaving without having to beg, negotiate, or yell at them? How do you get kids to do what you want them to do?

In my mind, we’ve got it all wrong. Let’s look at the word discipline. Merriam Webster has this definition:

1: punishment
2 obsolete: instruction

And there you have it. Somewhere along the line, we twisted the idea of discipline from teaching to punishment. I’m not surprised. We’re pretty good at warping stuff here.

Dictionary.com has this definition:

discipline: activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training: A daily stint at the typewriter is excellent discipline for a writer.

Ha! Love that. It really said that. What’s a typewriter?

And finally, the Latin root for discipline is:

disciplina: teaching, learning. “Instruction given to a disciple,” from discipulus.

Have I made myself clear?

When parents begin to see themselves as teachers rather than disciplinarians, things are going to get a lot better for us.

Kids worship their parents (up to a certain age, of course). Your parents are the ones who tell you what’s right and wrong. They give you their outlook on life. They interpret what happens in the world and filter it for you. They make the rules and show you – with their actions – how to behave.

Now, if you had to be governed by your very own demi-god in your very own home, wouldn’t you want that god to be a benevolent one? One who understands how you feel and tolerates your mistakes? Who gets your whims and truly forgives your transgressions?

The behavior you want to see from your children is the behavior you should be teaching them. If you yell at your kids, are you shocked when you see them yelling? Really, that shocked? So it’s not only teaching, but demonstrating. Living. And you have to teach it over, and over, and over, and over, for years and years, until they get it. Practice and discipline.

Seriously. I’ve never said parenting was easy.

I can list off my cardinal rules for parenting, but unless you have the discipline to use them, it’s not going to work. (Bazinga!! See how I did that?)

So. Cardinal rules for parenting:

1. Remain calm. I cannot stress this enough. Kids throwing rocks in a pond want a big splash. They’ll find whatever makes you go splash and use it to their heart’s content. No splash – no rock thrown.

2. Don’t hold grudges. For God’s sake, have a fight and then be done with it. If you keep bringing up the lie he told when he was seven, how do you really think that’s gonna go over? Somehow that’s going to improve his future behavior? Let. It. Go.

3. Do not be moved by nagging, begging, whining, and all-around annoying behavior. Ignore it. Be moved by politeness and direct communication. Teach your kids how to be respectful by being respectful to them. Talk to them like they’re human. (Newsflash: they are.)

4. Reward the behavior you want to see. Constantly. Always. Whenever you see it. Don’t see them do something right and have that smug little I-told-you-so attitude about it. Celebrate it. Tell them how well they’re doing. How proud you are. This makes so much more of an impact than any other thing you will do as a parent. I swear. Even if they don’t respond, and just turn away like they didn’t hear it – they heard it. And they’ll do the same thing again within 24 hours, I guarantee.

5. Practice gratitude. We are lucky enough to live in a place where we have everything we need. Security. Freedom. Food. Shelter. Hot showers. Medical care. Protection by a virtual army of civil servants who are willing to rush to our aid at the drop of a hat. And yet, kids are outraged because they have to go to the store to buy the latest game release on DVD instead of downloading it instantly. Wow.

6. Have boundaries. Enforce them consistently, but not cruelly. This is where that whole “discipline” thing gets tricky. You don’t have to yell, intimidate, or punish your kids to get them to behave. Just mean what you say. If you say, “Don’t climb on the table,” and your child climbs on the table, remove them. Repeat steps one and two until they stop climbing on the table. After about seven or eight times they’ll get that you’re not gonna let them climb on the table.

7. Use logical consequences. We make this so complicated, but if you start practicing it, it will begin to be more obvious after a while. In fact, that’s the trick: go for the obvious consequence. When our kid breaks a window, he pays for it, and either helps fix it, or owes us time for how long it takes us (my husband swears that fixing a window is a one-man job). Taking away Xbox for a week doesn’t make sense. Did he break the Xbox?

And really, in so many situations, the true, natural consequence is simply having to make it right. Saying you’re sorry, that you regret what you did, or going back to someone you wronged and finding out how you can fix it.

We ground our kids and expect them to learn a lesson when so often the real lesson is humbling yourself enough to apologize to someone. Trust me – way scarier, more effective, and they will actually learn something that will benefit them throughout their life, instead of being pissed off and sulking around the house for a week with nothing to do.

They may even learn that being direct about what you did wrong, showing some remorse, and feeling someone else’s forgiveness is way better than carrying guilt around on your shoulders.

Coincidentally, this week I found out that the state of New Jersey does not allow its child care providers to use timeout. I mentioned this to one of my dads and he said, “Well of course, that’s because you just spank ’em.”

I humbly disagree with the state of New Jersey. One of the hardest things about being a parent today is telling your child when they’re wrong. Because we’re never supposed to do that, we’re just supposed to “re-direct” them. But if you don’t address the problem, how is wandering away from it going to help?

Humans – especially small children – are quite full of natural arrogance. At the risk of sounding a bit militant, it is our job as parents to tamp that attitude down every once in a while. Yes, you are the light of my life and the most precious creature I’ve ever seen, but you’re also acting like a total ass right now. Let’s work on that.

But most importantly, to balance all this tamping and rule-setting and deep breathing and understanding, Cardinal Rule of Parenting #8: just laugh. Please, I beg you, make it fun. Don’t take it all so seriously. My husband and I allow our kids to be outrageous at home so they don’t have to try that particular skill out in public. And when we get going, our dinner table time is hilarious. We laugh so hard. These are the best moments of my life.

And PS – put down the screens. Right now. Go hang out with your kid.

Steubenville

“It is tempting to point fingers while ignoring some of the root causes that are much more difficult to resolve. The extent that youngsters (and some adults) spend endless hours being entertained by violence says more about lack of supervision and control as well as disengagement. It isn’t that the entertainment media are so powerful, but that other institutions — family, school, religion and community — have grown weaker. Banning violent entertainment seems like an easy fix, but would do little to avert the next mass murder.” – James Alan Fox, Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University

It is strange that I would find the most enlightening comment about the Steubenville sexual assault case on the NY Daily News website (not exactly your top journalistic contender), and not in an article about the case but in a related link about violent video games and mass shootings.

Violence is pervasive in our culture, and there is no one root cause or easy fix, as Professor Fox says. It seems that our institutions have grown weaker, and it feels like little we do will stop the next assault and ensuing social media/entertainment news circus.

Fox is also right about disengagement. With everyone having a screen in their face all the time, whether or not that screen is showing us violent images, we are disconnected. And the screen enables us to post a horrific picture online without thinking twice. This is why all those institutions, as well as our human interactions, are weakened.

One of the tenets of human interaction is seeing the consequences of our behavior on the faces of those around us. We learn how to behave with others’ approval or disapproval. When we’re staring at a screen we don’t see the person on the other end. Or the one right in front of us, for that matter.

I’d been thinking about consequences before the Steubenville case blew up. Parents today are frantic to create a world for their children that is painless, and somewhere along the line some expert told us we can have that. We’ve bought into the notion that life can truly be a bowl of cherries, and for our kids that means no consequences.

In our effort to remove everything hard or painful from our kids’ lives, we’ve also eliminated their feelings. Their natural emotions and responses are tamped down and hidden. There is no appropriate place for letting them out. We don’t play in the neighborhood. We don’t ride our bikes unless it’s on paved trails. We barely even have recess anymore.

Kids rarely have interaction without adults telling them how to behave. They need to learn with their peers, outside of the protective bubble. They need to be wild, get in scrapes, and let their friends show them what’s acceptable. They need to kill a frog and feel how downright awful it is in the pit of their stomach. They need to learn this before the teen years, when we assume they’re ready and give them more freedom. And they should be doing it without social media at their fingertips 24/7.

I want to tell my sons to never ever do anything stupid, because it will be on every kid in your school’s cell phone the next morning. You will be damaged. But never making a mistake is impossible. We all do stupid things (thank God there were no pocket videorecorders around when I was young). I’m not sure how they’re going to make it through unscathed.

The atrocities that happened in Steubenville are not just about the sexual assault – they are about the overall treatment of another human being. Not just what was done to the victim’s body, but to her emotions and well-being. With all the disengagement that Professor Fox speaks of, young people are simply not learning how to treat each other.

I teach a brain development class in which I talk about the fact that the teenage brain is often incapable of seeing the consequences of actions, and exhibits deep denial behaviors (“We’re indestructible!”). How the moral centers in the brain have not yet developed even though the emotions and hormones are churning. That teens have an adult body with all the capabilities, but are still using a child’s brain. The U.S. Department of Justice tells the scary statistics: one-third of all crime is committed by children under the age of 18.

Still, one would hope that we’ve taught our kids well enough to know when to draw the line. We hope they’ll make good choices, and the work we’ve put into that will show when it counts. But alcohol plus a bunch of kids standing around cheering always leads to one hell of a dangerous situation.

Kids need consequences from adults and each other. They need to know that everything they do isn’t the greatest thing ever to hit the planet. It’s why I spend so much of my energy railing against the cult of sports. I’ve seen eleven-year-old boys being praised to the sky because they ran down a field with a ball. From that moment on, that boy knows he has every adult in the room wrapped around his finger. And if that’s true, what can he get away with among his peers?

Steubenville can and will happen again – precisely because there are cameras in every person’s pocket. While the images were used in a horrifying way to humiliate one young girl, they’ve also shed light on the type of activity that kids are participating in. The same images also led to the consequences that these kids so desperately deserve, and I applaud the local authorities for taking action and continuing their investigation.

As I write this, there are three boys wrestling rather violently in my play room. I’m not stopping them. They don’t want me to. Part of this play is learning limits to how far you can go with someone else’s body. When they hurt each other, they stop and check if the hurt person is OK. Someone said, “Time out,” and the others immediately let him go sit down.

I said, “I will let you continue this if timeout is sacred,” and they all accepted that rule without me even having to explain any further. They want to push the limits, but they also want to know the rules. If everyone is safe, they know that individually they’re safe too.

I hope and pray that as the boys in my playroom venture out into the teen years, where I can’t be there to supervise, that they will remember the lessons of these wrestling matches. And the lessons they see me working on from day one in my profession: We don’t put our hands on people in a harmful way. We don’t take things from them. We don’t hurt people’s bodies. No one is allowed to do these things to anyone else. It is unacceptable. And there will be consequences.