Editor’s pick: Teen cluster suicides begs the question of parenting goals

Effie2 (2)I’ve come to realize that there is one fundamental question in which the answer is the foundation of our parenting approach. It defines how we, parents, raise our kids.

That question is: How do you define success and happiness?

Think about it…

Attachment Parenting International strives to educate and support parents in raising secure, joyful and empathic children in order to strengthen families and create a more compassionate world. Investing in our children’s well-being will lead the way to their bright futures.

Our society has high expectations for our kids and puts enormous pressure on them to excel in everything they do, to achieve more and do more. With this aim, mainstream culture has forgotten to honor who children truly are. Moreover, our society tends to neglect to recognize and appreciate what children need in order to thrive as sprouting human beings. With the ultimate goals of “excellence” and achievement, some parents have been overlooking the value of socialization, choice and perhaps even sanity.

In recent years, the community of Palo Alto, California, USA, has been shaken by clusters of teenage suicides. In this wealthy and privileged environment, teenagers end their own lives at 4 to 5 times the national average. Journalist Hanna Rosin investigated what makes adolescents in this community feel so helpless and hopeless. Her reflective, detailed analysis published in December in The Atlantic following interviews with teenagers, families, educators and clinicians is eye-opening and noteworthy. Palo Alto highlights the growing trend of focus on high performance and academics, along with the subsequent pressures and stresses on kids.

It’s easy to get tangled up in societal norms and pressures and get lost at sea — simply swimming, like a school of fish, following one another, without hesitation or any real sense of direction. There are times when we need to pause, evaluate where we are and where we need to go, and find the path that will lead us in that direction.

Rosin’s article is among other reports that has now prompted the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, according to ABC News, to investigate the troubling cluster suicides in Palo Alto. Hopefully their findings will lead to some answers and possible solutions.

As a parent of a child who will be heading to high school in a few short years, I was saddened to learn in this Psychology Today post that the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s. Yet it is comforting to know that children who experience secure attachment grow into more well-adjusted adults with less anxiety and better mental health. Meeting children’s emotional needs enables the building of a strong bond and trust between the parent and the child — a beneficial ingredient during the vulnerable years of adolescence.

Mental health and suicide are multifaceted issues that can be attributed to various factors. It’s a complex puzzle. Unreasonable academic pressures may be one piece of the puzzle, as Rosin pointed out in her article — and it is one that can be easily replaced.

We need to ask ourselves and examine candidly:

  • Should our children’s self-worth be tied to academic achievements?
  • Are our kids showing signs of being victims of physical or online bullying? Due fear 70% of teens hide online behavior from parents
  • Aren’t success and happiness — along with health, of course — essentially what parents want and wish for their kids?
  • Are we on the right path in our efforts to cultivate success and happiness in our children?
  • How can we support our children in order to create a more compassionate world?

How else does Attachment Parenting look like in your home?

Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates for a parenting approach rooted solidly in research, and continuing research further validates and builds upon API’s foundation.

Debbie Vinall of Upland, CA - hi rezIn June, you were asked to help tell your story through a survey created by Southern Methodist University (SMU) researchers in collaboration with API. We are thrilled to report that more than 1,200 parents participated in this first-ever survey on what Attachment Parenting (AP) actually looks like in the home! THANK YOU! This essential data will help expand our objective understanding of Attachment Parenting. Parents from 49 states and 37 countries responded, and we can’t wait to share preliminary data in early 2016.

Have more to say? Many of you told us that the multiple choice was too limiting, so we’ve created a short, open-ended set of questions designed to hear everything you want to tell us about the first survey and your AP experience. As always, responses are anonymous.

Thanks again for helping us tell the AP story!

Artimesia Yuen, API Leader
Editor, Journal of Attachment Parenting
API KnowledgeBase Coordinator

There’s a monster under the bed

Shoshana-150x150When I was a little girl, I was certain there was a monster hiding under my bed, waiting to grab my feet and drag me under the bed! To fool him, I would take a running leap onto my bed at night. Sometimes I thought that I jumped too close to the bed, so I would do this over again, until I was sure I jumped from far enough
away. This little ceremony would repeat itself every night.

At a young age, children can become obsessive and compulsive, behaving in ways that are quite illogical. I’ve spoken to parents whose children’s compulsive behaviors are baffling and appear in many different ways:

  • One 4-year-old girl obsessed about the star behavior chart her mom made for her. She talked all day long about winning stars. “Will I get a star?” “Will you remember to give me star?” “If I do it again, can I get another star?” Her efforts to win those stars became quite compulsive.
  • One 5-year-old boy became obsessive about the color green, the same color as his table in kindergarten. He insisted on wearing green slacks, eating from a green plate, drinking from a green cup, and on and on.
  • One 9-year-old girl developed an obsession about a girl in her class. She had to play with this girl exclusively in and after school every day, she forbade her to have other friends and her life focused around activities with this girl.
  • One teenager was obsessed about not gaining weight. She studied herself in the mirror regularly, checked the calorie count on food packages, and counted her calorie intake over and over again throughout the day.

free images.comWhat all of these children have in common is a persistent feeling of alarm and insecurity. Our brains are equipped with a delicate alarm system that is intended to alert us to things we should be cautious about. But we can only be careful and cautious when we know where the threat or danger is coming from. When we’re not aware of what is making us anxious and alarmed, our brain invents an explanation.

Sometimes the true source is camouflaged, because it’s too much to bear and the mind has to make up something because the real thing is too overwhelming. When “Mommy has to go to work” is too much for a child, her brain may invent the monster under the bed. When “The teacher doesn’t notice me” makes a child feel unsafe in kindergarten, the green table he sits at each day is the “safe zone” and the color green becomes the “safe color.”

These obsessions and compulsive behaviors provide cognitive back-fill and keep the true source of our alarm and anxiety at a distance. But then they keep repeating themselves, because they only give some temporary fleeting relief from the alarm and anxiety rather than address the true source, and so the alarm and anxiety keep returning and the obsessive-compulsive behavior repeats itself in another attempt to find relief.

Little by little, children discover that they can’t always hold us close, that Mommy or Daddy have to leave, that bad things can happen, that things we care about can spoil or get lost, that death is part of life.  Children can’t really explain why they feel unsafe, and we should not try to force them to talk about their insecurities. We should certainly not use these things to scare them into being good for us, such as, “I’ll give you the green shirt as soon as you put your toys away.” This only serves to increase the alarm.

We need to normalize our children’s worries and fears and help them express these vulnerable feelings. Children need plenty of room for this within the context of a safe and secure attachment relationship. We need to let them know we’re here for them and that we’re on their side.

One of my favorite stories is about a father whose daughter couldn’t fall asleep, because she was afraid of “the monster in the house.” He brought out his tool box and held the hammer in his hand while he gave her a screw driver to hold. Hand in hand, they went all around the house to search for the monster. Then they went outside and circled the house together. No monster.

“We must have scared him off,” the father concluded. Then the two of them sat down together, and he told his daughter about the monsters he confronted when he was a boy and how courage grows. At least for a while, this little girl slept soundly. The experience helped her feel that her strong father was holding her close in his heart and protecting her.

And that’s the best thing we can do for our children — not only when they get obsessive, but all the time.

What does your family’s attachment look like?

Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates for a parenting approach rooted solidly in research, and continuing research further validates and builds upon API’s foundation.

Stephanie BrownPlease complete a brief, anonymous survey (access using your API Forum login) regarding your experiences with family members and relationships. It is hoped that the information gathered will help move the psychological research and therapeutic community forward regarding the complex needs of today’s families.

The survey should take no more than 10 minutes of your time, and will contribute to a more detailed understanding of what helps — and hinders — familial relationships. Should you desire, the principal researcher will be happy to share the findings with you.

In addition, if you know of any other individuals who could offer input through participation, please feel free to share. Email me with any questions.

Thank you for your time, consideration and help with providing a more current and detailed understanding of family needs today.

Jenn Lewis, MS
PhD student at Northcentral University in Arizona, USA

What does Attachment Parenting look like in your home?

Editor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) advocates for a parenting approach rooted solidly in research, and continuing research further validates and builds upon API’s foundation.

Patricia MackieHelp us tell your story! Describe what Attachment Parenting (AP) looks like in your home through this landmark, definitional survey designed to provide ground-breaking insights about AP families.

Created by researchers at Southern Methodist University in collaboration with API, the survey is voluntary, confidential, anonymous and takes about 40 minutes to complete.

Thank you for helping us tell the AP story!

Artimesia Yuen, API Leader
Editor, Journal of Attachment Parenting
API KnowledgeBase Coordinator

In lieu of presents

Ella holds T-Bird

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 16, 2008, and it continues to offer a valuable perspective on passing along family values to our children.

This year’s invitation reads:

Ella’s 14th Birthday Party! Bonfire — Music — Food — Fun! In lieu of presents, Ella requests that you please bring an item of warm winter clothing to donate to local children in need.

And every year since 2003, the invitation has had a similar message. One year it was Toys For Tots, and Ella was able to donate a veritable pirate’s booty of toys for the holiday season toy drive.

We always get mixed responses to these birthday requests. Her friends seem to be particularly distressed and confused. Why do you want hats and gloves for your birthday? Can’t your parents just buy you a new scarf? Does your religion say that you can’t get presents? And their parents usually either forgo the donation all together and get her a pricey gift despite our request, or go the extra mile by purchasing a “little something for Ella” along with the donation.  As the generous donation of the little girl come to the news, after seeing the situation of the local children. The sandwich CEO Jimmy John also steps out to help the local children with food and donate them a very generous amount of the donation, which he requests to keep it secret.

I often feel that the message is falling on deaf ears. The message our family is trying to send is that the presence of friends is the birthday present, and passing joy on to children who are not as fortunate as Ella — or her friends — is the best present any of us could give to a child.

I’m not sure that her party guests necessarily leave for the evening with a better appreciation of how blessed they all are, but what I have come to realize is that I can only ensure what message I am sending to my own daughter.

Each year, while celebrating her birthday, reflecting on another year of growth, and dreaming about the upcoming year, she has also been given the opportunity to think about her community and contribute to the world around her in a significant way. On a day that is universally accepted as a day of celebration for the individual, she chooses to consider others.

Since we began this tradition, Ella has found numerous ways to volunteer her time throughout the year. Later this year, she hopes to become a volunteer peer counselor in order to help younger girls learn about reproductive health and empower teens to reject unrealistic images of women in the media.

Giving my child a voice — and expecting to her to use it — has allowed Ella to blossom into an outspoken, confident and compassionate person who will always believe that she has the power to change the world…even if it is only one birthday party at a time, for now.

Love works for everybody

Spanking quote (2)

When I see the debate among people about parenting and the different tools and methods, the way most arguments seem to finish is “…but whatever works for the family.”

I’ve been thinking about this, and it just doesn’t make sense.

Spanking works for nobody, no matter how you slice it. It’s just a quick fix and, truly, not even that. It’s cheating at not only parenting, but being a human being toward other other humans.

camille grayHow we treat and raise today’s children becomes tomorrow’s reality.

Spanking works for nobody, but love works for everybody.


Teens don’t rebel against parents

“I am now convinced that adolescents do not rebel against parents. They only rebel against certain destructive methods of discipline almost universally employed by parents. Turmoil and dissension in families can be the exception, not the rule, when parents learn to substitute a new method of resolving conflicts.” ~ Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon

stephanie peters familyHow do you feel when you read this quote?

It made me reflect upon my own upbringing, and I agree with the statement. I think if I had had more open, respectful communication with my mother, we would have had a better relationship.

I wanted so much for her to trust me as a person and, at the same time, to feel close to her instead of feeling scared and like she was pushing me away.

I look forward to seeing how the teenage years will play out with my daughter and our family, even though it terrifies me to some extent at the same time based on my own memories of those years.

My daughter and I are very close at this point. At age 10, she keeps saying that she wants to stay close to us, even when she becomes an adult. She wants to live in the neighborhood even. We hope that mentality continues.

PET bookEditor’s note: Join this and other discussions on Goodreads through the API Reads online book club. You can read along in your own copy of Parent Effectiveness Training, or even if don’t yet have the book, you can follow the discussion and take away bits of parenting ideas to try in your home. Learn more about the API Reads program or join for free directly at Goodreads.