February 27, 2007

A High School Prom Reality Check

A Disturbing Event

Almost exactly two years ago I received a real dose of reality about the possible horror of a Prom Night gone wrong.

I was in in the Buffalo, New York area doing some of our Parenting with Dignity work for a couple of very special communities in that part of the country and I was staying at a hotel near the airport. That Friday night I did not get much sleep. On my floor were about 30-40 high school age young people who were spending the night. They started making a very loud "ruckus" early in the evening and then it became quiet. (I think it was while they went out to dinner and the prom dance.) I went to bed as I had had a long day and I had a fairly early flight the next morning.


About midnight the noise started again. I was awakened by some loud noise on my floor. Doors were slamming and I could hear the sounds of kids shouting, running, and laughing. Doors were slamming and music was playing on some portable stereo. I went into the hall to see what was up and was shocked at what I saw. Young poeople seemed to be running everywhere. Some were still in prom dresses and tuxedos. Some were wearing swim suits, which struck me as odd because it was still winter and there was snow outside. (I found out later that they were using the hotel swimming pool, even though it was posted as closed at 8:30 P.M.) Some seemed to just be unabashedly running from room to room in their underwear.

I Had Heard About These Parties...
Now I Was Seeing One Up Close!

Needless to say, I was shocked. I had been a school teacher for 29 years and had heard some of the horror stories about out of control Prom Night parties that turned into orgies and that were completely unsupervised by adults; but I had never witnessed one in person!

I called the front desk to complain. They sent someone up from the front desk a couple of times, but is seemed to make no difference. The party raged on. I am not a bashful man and I don't often shy away from talking to kids who seem a bit out of line... and this party seemed to be a dangerous event with lots of drinking, promiscuity, and such. I put on some clothes and went into the hall and stopped a few of the young people to ask them what was going on.

Most of the young people just ignored me as if I were not there. I was quite surprised by what I was told by the few kids who would even speak to me. Basically they told me that they were having their private Prom Party! When I asked them if their parents had any idea what they were doing I was told that their parents had made the reservations for them and had furnished the alcohol. (I'm not sure that I necessarily believed them but that is what they told me.)

I was really shocked by what I was seeing. The hotel manager finally came up at about 3:00-3:30 A.M. with a few members of his security staff and they began to throw the young people out of their establishment. Needless to say I did not get much sleep that night. I guess that I was pretty self-absorbed and annoyed.

Parenting with Dignity - Promotes Discussions

I did some thinking that night about how our society had evolved to this point where parents would actually condone an unsupervised party like the one I was witnessing. It made me know that our PWD Curriculum is a needed commodity. It made me once again think about how parents must get together and discuss what expectations they as a community hold for their children and their behavior.

A Shocker!

The real shocker of this whole experience came the next morning when I arose to go to the airport to catch my plane. As I left my room the hotel had left a copy of the local newspaper at the door to every occupied room. I picked one up, stuck it in my briefcase, and proceeded over to the airport. I went through security and arrived at my gate well in advance of the recommended one hour. I had some time to kill so I bought a cup of coffee and sat down to read the paper.

A Senseless Tragedy

Then it hit me. In the paper there was a report of a terrible auto accident from the previous evening. It had involved some teens who had attended a Prom Party! It sounded like the killed and injured young people might have come from the party that I had witnessed the night before. I was shocked. The sketchy report in the paper did not have much information but it hit me that I might have seen some kids at my hotel the night before who did not survive the night.

When I arrived home later I did some online checks and, in fact, confirmed my horror to find that the young people involved in the fatal crash were from the party I had witnessed!

I called the Manager of the Hotel to offer my willingness to testify as to what I saw the previous evening. He thanked me for identifying myself, but I was never called. I lost track of the tragic event because it totally disappeared from the news within a day or two. (I do not include details here out of defference to the families of those young people.)

There is help!

Ironically, at that time Tom Heatherington, our CEO/CTO of Parenting with Dignity, and his wife, Lori, had begun work on an online book on how to plan and conduct an After Prom Party that would totally avoid that type of tragedy. Their book is now available! It is an online download and you can have today! It is titled the After Prom Party Guide.

If you are associated with a High School that has a prom or if you have children who are "Prom-Age" this book is a must read. During my years as a teacher I was involved directly in planning may Proms and associated parties. I wish we had this book! As the end of the school year approaches, many communities plan and put on "Senior Parties" for the graduates on their graduation night and this book will work equally well in helping your community to plan and put on one of the coolest, and most fun and memeorable parties for the young people of your community! And... the bottom line is that it will be a safe and sane party that will not end tragically like the one I witnessed. Read more about this remarkable new resource for parents, schools, PTA/PTOs.

PS: One of the things Tom and Lori are trying to do is get the word out to as many people as possible. They have created a website called "Life Saving Virus". Won't you help them create awareness by spreading this viral message? See www.LifeSavingVirus.com/

February 15, 2007

Quality Time?

There is a term that I hear bantered about these days as I travel the country teaching parenting skills. It is the term “Quality Time”. Many parents tell me that they spend quality time with their children… to which I always say, “Bull-oney!”

T_I_M_E !

In raising children, there is TIME… period. No human being holds the power to turn on the switch for “quality” time! I could not come up to you and grab your arm, pull you aside and demand that right now you and I are going to have quality time! And… it is not possible to do that with children either!

Children spell love T-I-M-E!

When dealing with a child there is just plain old time. This is really a simple concept to understand. Time. As a parent you give minutes that turn into hours, hours that turn into days, days that turn into weeks, and weeks that turn into months, and months that turn into years! But, there is just time. As a parent YOU must decide how much of it you will spend with your children!

As a parent, you must give time to your children. Then, I will grant you that some of it will be of more significant “quality” than other bits of time. But just remember that you can never recapture time. Once it is past you cannot go back and reclaim it. Time passes and no person can turn it back. If you decide to take spend an hour away from your children… you will never get it back.

I would be willing to bet that Andy Reid, the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, wishes he could turn back the clock today to reclaim some time needed to teach his two boys how to make the critical decisions about the use of drugs and how those drugs will certainly ruin their lives!

Now, please do not get me wrong here, I was privileged to personally meet Andy Reid three years ago at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. I found him to be a very cordial and likeable man. He seemed to be humble and easy to talk to. We were on the decks of a battleship in Pearl Harbor for a party for the players, coaches, and families of the Pro Bowl participants. It was a nice opportunity for me to get to know a fellow who I have seen on TV many times. I was a football coach for thirty years and it was fun to meet one of the best coaches in the NFL. However, on that evening, I must admit that I wondered where Andy’s children were. Perhaps if he had been with his children rather than talking with me he might have had the time needed.

Not Sitting in Judgement

Now, I am not pointing my finger at that Coach Reid. I am not qualified to judge any person. But, he seemed like such a man of principle, so I do wonder if he might be regretting some of the time he has not spent with his children as he looks back today. His two boys may have made terrible decisions even if Andy had spent more time with them, but he will never know. Time might not have helped to avoid the mess that they find themselves in today but then again it just might. Perhaps in one of those hours he spent away from his children he might have been able to offer an idea about making that critical decision.

Strong Fathers

I have watched the job of being one of the key figures in the NFL pull many fathers away from their children. I have also watched other men stand up to that pressure by demanding the right to take time for their children. I have closely watched our son balance the role of being a father with the rigors and time commitments of the demanding role of an NFL quarterback. I have watched him stand up to the demands and say, “there are some times that this job comes in a distant second in my life. My Family comes first.” The NFL often does not seem to like to hear that, but in the role of Father, many men need to make that statement!

Being a Father requires time. It cannot be divided time. It must be time spent with their children on a daily basis. With huge pressures being exerted by big jobs, it is the strong man who can stand up and say, “This is my time with my family!”

There was a day at a Dallas Cowboys game a year ago when the game was over and our son Drew had left the locker room to come meet his family up in one of the booths at Texas Stadium. That was time he gave to his children after every game. Right in the middle of the most demanding hours of his job, he would always come up, get his kids and then go down to the field and throw passes to his own children on the game field. This was his time, on every game day, for him to spend with his children right in the midst of the crush of the NFL demands. I watched as some fans pushed their way into the booth, pushed his children out of the way, and crowded around Drew demanding autographs. I was amazed at how calmly Drew asked those people to leave and respect his time with his own children. He was not rude, but he very carefully pulled his children around him and asked the fans politely to leave and let him spend time with his own children. I watched as the fans became angry and called our son some unflattering names, but I also watched as he unwaveringly stood his ground on behalf of his children. I watched as his children’s eyes looked up at their strong father. I heard them as they laughed with their Dad as they ran to catch passes from him moments later down on the field. Their Dad was spending time with his kids! It is not too hard to understand why he is able to teach his children at other times. He has earned their respect with his time!

I would also be willing to bet that Tony Dungy, the Super Bowl winning coach of the Colts, would gladly give back some of his time spent at the office, if it would bring his son back! Tony Dungy seems to be a great man. Hisson seemed to have some problems that transcended his father's involvement with him. Again, I cannot say whether more time would have changed the outcome for Caoch dungy and his son, but we will never know!

I think it was admirable that Coach Dungy did not bring his team to Miami for Super Bowl until Monday, saying that he felt his team needed to be with their families on Sunday. He seems to realize thevalue of family time. He showed great courage in the face of the great pressure of the “Biggest Game of the Year”. I just wish that more Fathers would take those kinds of stands on behalf of their children.

Juggling Demands

As a Dad it may be difficult to juggle the demands of a job with the responsibilities of being a Father. That is why our Parenting with Dignity program spends two full hours of our nine week course on the topic of “Deciding what You Want”! The decision to spend time with your children must be made well ahead of time, or you can find yourself in the difficult situation of spending too much time away from your children almost by accident!

Time Requires a Commitment

Armed with a firm commitment that you will spend time with your children, the decision becomes quite easy. Just remember that the ideas in your head will rule your world! Pick the idea that “I spend lots of time with my children” and the decision becomes easy. You already made the decision when you chose that idea to rule your world!

February 09, 2007

Michigan Fatherhood Coalition 5th Annual Fatherhood Conference

An Uplifting Experience

On Tuesday the 6th of February I was privileged to attend the 5th Annual Fatherhood Conference for the State of Michigan put on by the Michigan Fatherhood Coalition in conjunction with the Michigan Head Start Association and let me tell you that there were some things that took place there that the rest of the America could learn from!

Overcoming the Obstacles with Dedication and Preparation

First of all, the conference took place on a date that saw most of the Detroit area schools closed because of the extremely cold (-20) temperatures and yet the room was completely full of people who came seeking to make Fathers a more significant part of families all across Michigan! The fact that so many people braved the weather to attend the conference in itself was quite amazing because it showed the depth of the commitment of the people of Michigan. This conference was also a testament to the Head Start Communications and Meeting Coordinator, Jennifer Nottingham, and her extremely well planned and promoted conference!

People from All Over Michigan

Next, the conference brought together people from all over the state of Michigan as was evidenced when they began to give out some awards and do some drawings for door prizes… the most heated interchange came when they were attempting to give away some money for lunch to the participant who traveled the longest distance to attend to attend the conference. It became obvious that MANY of the attendants came from long distances to get to the conference! This wonderful and extremely educational conference truly was a meeting that reached out to people from all parts of the state and not just the Detroit Area, where the conference was held.


The next thing that hit me was the ratio of men to women at the conference. It would be my rough estimate that there were three times as many men at the conference as there were women! “Now, what is odd about this?” you might ask. Since the conference was called a “Fathering Conference”, why is it odd to have men there? Well, I have some experience with conferences of this nature and it has been my experience that often the conferences held on Fatherhood are often populated by female workers who are trying to get men involved.

OBVIOUSLY, the State of Michigan has already reached the fathers! Yes, there many female Head Start Counselors and Social Workers in attendance, as well they should be, but it was so gratifying to see that those Head Start Workers, regardless of gender, had already reached so many fathers and had included them in the conference.

A few years ago I attended the New York State Child Abuse Conference and there was not one person out of the eight hundred in attendance, who had any history of child abuse! The conference was attended only by the people attempting to solve the problem and that struck me as odd. Should the conference not attract at least some of the people that they were attempting to reach?

An Impressive Conference

Suffice it to say that I was impressed that the Fatherhood Conference had attracted many fathers and it was my impression that those men in attendance were learning the tools that they needed to become leaders and activists on their own behalf!

Michigan Fatherhood Coalition

Next, and along the same line of reasoning, the Co-Sponsor of the Conference was a group called Michigan Fatherhood Coalition. Now, let me tell you, that group was unique in my experience. I don’t know any way to say this other that to just share my personal experience as I travel and meet people from all parts of America. Unfortunately, it has been my personal experience that most of the fathering groups that I have come in contact with have had some kind of a chip on their shoulder.

Many of the fathering groups that I have come in contact with, have had as their goal a change in the child custody laws of America. This change may need to to take place and many of the agencies have some very good, and sound reasons for seeking those changes, but the Michigan Fatherhood Coalition seemed so different to me. As I met the men at this conference it seemed that they were there simply to learn how to become better fathers!

It became even more obvious to me what the Michigan Fatherhood Coalition was all about when I met with a group of their Board of Directors and members following the conference. While they too might see the need for some changes in father’s rights in custody cases, that was certainly not their main focus! These men have formed their Coalition for the purpose of reestablishing the role of the strong father in the American home! Man, was that exciting for me to see! Strong men standing up and saying that they want to be leaders in teaching all fathers how to be strong leaders for their children! WOW!

A Learning Experience!

I was invited to attend the conference as a keynote speaker... and I left feeling like I had learned a great deal from a bunch of strong men! I had come in contact with a bunch of strong fathers building positive change for the children of Michigan.

I left with an overwhelming observation… “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every state in the country had a Fatherhood Coalition of strong dads, just like Michigan, who were working to bring strong fathers back into every home in America?”

February 02, 2007

We Can Teach Our Children

Examining What Works

A little examination of two behaviors, which are learned almost universally by all Americans, reveals some shocking information about the effectiveness of some of the teaching techniques that we choose to use to educate our children.

In the last six months I have been conducting a little informal survey as I travel across America, and it has yielded some very interesting and very thought provoking data. I hope that sharing this information with you might stimulate some serious thought about what you choose to teach your children and especially some thought about some of the techniques that we all use in teaching life's important lessons to the next generation.

During this six month time period I have asked literally tens of thousands of Americans if they know how to ride a bicycle and I have found only seven people whom cannot ride a bike! We have universally taught almost 100% of all Americans to ride bikes.

I have also asked that same large sample of Americans if they wrapped presents at Christmas and gave them to loved ones, and I have found only thirteen men and seven women whom did not perform that loving task! (And it was not because they did not know how, but rather because they had decided not to for moral or religious reasons.)

Looking at Learned Behaviors
Honesty, Integrity, Diligence?

So, you say, “what has amazed you about this data?” Simply this… bike-riding and present-wrapping-at-Christmas are both learned behaviors! You are probably still saying, "so what?" Well, it appears to us that we, as a society, are doing a masterful job of teaching both of those behaviors with almost total universality! We have succeeded in teaching almost everyone in America to ride bikes and wrap presents at Christmas! And yet, we have left other, seemingly much more critical behaviors like honesty, integrity, teamwork, compassion, reliability, respect for private property, respect for diversity, diligence, love, manners, and many other critical behaviors, to be taught much less universally and much less effectively!

It has occurred to us that it might be interesting to examine both of those behaviors (bike-riding and present-wrapping) to see why we are so successful in teaching those activities. And, more importantly, perhaps we could learn a little bit more about being more successful at teaching life's more critical lessons.
Why Do We Succeed in Teaching?

How do we teach kids to ride bikes? They do not learn to ride bikes by reading a manual. They do not learn to ride a bike by listening to us talk about how to do it. And, they surely do not learn to ride a bike by watching us do it! Kids learn to ride bikes when we put them on the seat, put the handlebars in their hands, and turn them loose! They learn by experience! And, maybe even more important, they want to learn because we paint such an exciting picture of how great it will be when they master the fun activity.
How Do We Succeed When the First Attempt Fails?
And what do we do when they tip over or fall down? We pick them up, dust them off, give them encouragement and instruction and then we put them right back on the seat, give them an “I know you can do it this time!” then give them a shove to try again. Sometimes we might give them some training wheels or run along beside them to offer occasional assistance but the learning comes because they are on the seat with the handlebars in their hands.

How well do you think that kids would do at learning to ride bikes, if the first time they fell off we ran to them, scolded them for falling off, and then told them how disappointed we were with their failure, took the bike away, grounded them for three weeks, and sent them to their rooms to think about how to ride a bike. Do you think that technique would bring about a society with only a few people in thousands who cannot ride bikes? I sincerely doubt it.
Let's Learn From What Works!

Why, then, do we think that we can teach responsibility by scolding kids, grounding them and taking away further chances for being responsible and sending them to their room? Shouldn't we "put 'em back on the seat?" Should we not "pick them up, dust them off, give them some encouragement and instruction in responsibility and then, as soon as possible, give them another chance to be responsible?"

Should not a child who has acted cruelly to another child be given instruction in kindness, encouragement that we believe in their kind nature, and then, immediately be given another opportunity to be kind?
How Do We Motivate Children To Learn?

Now, let's take a quick look at present-wrapping and gift exchanging at Christmas. Why are we so successful at teaching this rather complex and wonderful act of love, kindness, joy, and sharing? We succeed at this task for many of the same reasons that we succeed in teaching kids to ride bikes… we let kids learn by experience. Even before they are old enough to understand much about what is happening to them, we begin letting them experientially know about gifts by giving them some. We continue to let them have experience by giving them gifts every year and then as soon as possible we let them experience the thrill of giving from the other side of the coin by helping them to wrap gifts for others. On top of all that experience, we make present-wrapping into a huge pageant of excitement. We start counting down the days until the big day… "Only 72 shopping days left." Our whole society talks, with excitement and anticipation, about the Christmas Spirit and the magic of the upcoming event. And, SURPRISE, they all end up gladly participating in the behavior every year.

What if we, as a total society, were to celebrate ethnic diversity with the same degree of joy, ceremony, anticipation, and enthusiasm as we assign to giving gifts at Christmas? Interesting to ponder what might happen in the next generation.

We believe that a simple adjustment in priorities by our society might bring about some amazing and welcome changes in the behavior of the youth in America. (Hey, it might even bring some welcome changes in adult behaviors.) I believe that we as parents, and as a society as a whole, can do this if we choose to, but to make the change, communities like yours all across this great land must commit to it. What behaviors would you like to see being taught universally in your community?