Monday, July 15th, 2019
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John Rosemond Recent Columns

Copyright 2019, John K. Rosemond

How to Talk to Teens About Internet Pornography

Q: We recently discovered that our 12-year-old has been visiting pornography sites of all sorts on the Internet. When we caught him red-handed, he began crying and said he is addicted. Apparently, a friend of his got him involved. Our son has assured us it’s not going to happen again, but we really don’t know how to handle this. Should we punish him? Take him to a therapist? Have our pastor talk with him? We’re hoping you have some advice. We’re more worried and upset than we’ve ever been.

A: As a father and grandfather, I can certainly appreciate your worry and distress. As you may know, the problem of pre-teen and teen boys visiting porn sites on the Internet is huge. Visits to such online venues can lead to participation in chat rooms where teen boys (and girls) often end up being solicited by adults looking to exploit their naivete and need for attention.

There is no easy answer to the question of how parents should deal with a situation of this sort. Obviously, your son needs some reality education. He needs to be frankly informed as to the potentially dangerous straits he put himself in. He also needs to be told how pornography can adversely affect his attitude toward sexuality and females in particular. It needs to be emphasized to him that truly healthy sexual relations take place only in committed, loving relationships. The best person to have this conversation with him is his father, but its effectiveness will depend largely on the quality of that relationship. It goes without saying that the better the relationship, the more your son looks up to his father, the more of a positive impact this talk is going to have.

I definitely do not recommend punishment. It was surely punishment enough that you caught him. Given that you probably intervened before the proverbial snowball had rolled very far downhill, I would be reluctant to use words like rebellious, defiant, disrespectful – words that describe behaviors deserving of punishment. If your pastor feels comfortable having a conversation with your son concerning this issue, and your son has a good relationship with him, that might be productive. I would not, at this point, have your son talk to a person he doesn’t already know, trust, and feel comfortable with, even a therapist.

There’s no way to ascertain whether your son is addicted to pornography or not. Using that terminology may be an attempt on his part to throw you off. As for his assurance that he’s not going to porn sites again, I am reminded of the old saw, “How do you keep them down on the farm once they’ve seen Paree?” You are going to have to be on guard to make sure that he does not experience this sort of temptation again.

For the benefit of all my readers, these are my four top recommendations when it comes to boys and internet pornography:

    • Do not allow children private access to the Internet. Parents should be in a position, always, to provide direct Internet supervision to any child under age 18.
    • Instead of giving children and teens “smart” phones that can access the Internet, give phones that make calls, receive calls, and text. These are available through Wal-Mart and other box stores.
    • Talk to your children about the very real threat of pedophilia and how to deal assertively with a sexual advance from an adult.
    • Be informed and current concerning any sexuality-education at your child’s school. Such programs, however well-intentioned, involve the very real risk of stimulating sexual curiosity.

Personally, if I was raising children today, I would not entrust this education to anyone but myself.

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Autism in Its Classical Form Is Very Real

I am perennially asked whether I do or do not “believe” in autism. I suspect that on most occasions, it’s a test. Nonetheless, it’s a fair question that usually takes this form: “I know you don’t believe in ADHD; but do you believe in autism?”

To be clear, it would be absurd of me to deny that there are children – plenty of them, relatively speaking – who frequently exhibit behaviors associated with the bogus diagnosis of ADHD (attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder). Those kids are problematic, for sure. But no one has ever proven that they “have” something. Childhood behavior disorders like ADHD are constructs; they are not realities. Leukemia and nearsightedness are realities. The spurious claim that these kids “have” something – biochemical imbalances being the number one “have” – is used to sell various therapies, including drugs that have yet to reliably outperform placebos and involve the very real possibility of dangerous side effects.

But ADHD and classical autism are horses of different colors. I have no way of proving it, but I am convinced that autism in its classical form is a very real, “have” thing, albeit researchers have yet to discover the nature of its reality. They are handicapped in doing so by the fact that autism is classified as a psychiatric/psychological disorder. What, pray tell, is psychological about a two-month-old baby who doesn’t want to be held, doesn’t smile, and seems pained by eye contact? What unresolved issue is at work here? The answers to those questions are “nothing” and “none.”

The symptoms of classical autism appear much too early and much too randomly to think of it as anything but a yet-undiscovered physiological malfunction of one sort or another. Taking it out of the realm of psychology/psychiatry – that is, removing it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – would be a boon to research as well as a boon to the kids in question and their anguished parents. The roadblock to that has much to do with the fact that autism is producing a significant income stream for lots of mental health professionals. And yes, I proudly admit to cynicism.

The further problem is that one can’t talk in general terms about autism without consideration of the so-called “spectrum” that includes, most prominently, something called Asperger’s Syndrome. I say “something” because this Asperger’s something is about as ill-defined as something can be. The common denominator among kids who are hung with this label or are said to be “on the spectrum” seems to be “odd” and/or “quirky.” Personally, I think children should have the right to be at least slightly odd and quirky.

Without exception of which I’m aware, once a mental health diagnosis begins to gain traction – that is, it begins to sell – the mental health professions begins expanding it – explicitly or implicitly – such that it captures more and more people (i.e., paying clients) over time; thus things have gone with “the spectrum” and Asperger’s.

I don’t deny that some kids who are said to have Asperger’s may need help. Equally likely, their parents need help managing and disciplining them. The many anecdotes I’ve been told strongly suggest that most of the somewhat odd kids in question, however, grow out of it, whatever “it” is.

My long-time readers know that with some conservatively-defined exceptions, I’m not in favor of allowing children into rooms with therapists (and I’m a licensed therapist). Labels, which therapists have a bad habit of dispensing, tend to stick. For me to believe in Asperger’s (hypothetically) is one thing; for a child to believe he “has” it is quite another thing.

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The Most Powerful Love Is Tough Love

Q: On several occasions over the last six months or so, our 12-year-old son has told us he’s been thinking about suicide. Apparently, he’s been the target of a couple of school bullies and sometimes feels like life is too much. We’ve talked to him, tried to help him express his feelings, and tried to help him figure out how to solve these problems, but do you have other suggestions? Other than these three episodes, by the way, things in his life seem to be great. He has lots of friends, is liked by his teachers, and doesn’t act generally depressed.

A: I have one suggestion, but first, a fact: Over the past fifty years, child and teen suicide has increased, per capita, more than ten-fold, and that may well be an underestimate. Two questions ensue:

First, what’s going on? The short answer is that post-1960s parenting – informed as it is by bogus psychological parenting propaganda – leaves many young people inadequately prepared to deal with the challenging realities of life. That objective requires that parents, by and large, expect children to solve problems of their own making (and even a good number of the ones they don’t make), say “no” to at least 99 percent of a child’s requests for indulgence and entitlement, enroll children in more household chores than after-school activities, and insist, from a relatively early age, upon good emotional control. That’s merely the short list.

Beginning in the 1960s, people in my field (including an earlier version of yours truly) told parents that children should be allowed to express their feelings freely lest they “bottle up” their emotions and develop all manner of psychological malfunctions. The result of this atrocious advice has been children who have no governor on their feelings. To all too many of today’s kids, every feeling is a valid state, worthy of expression and deserving of attention. For proof of this, one need only understand that social media has become, for many teens, a stage upon which they perform their personal soap operas, one of which involves the “my life isn’t worth living” meme.

The second question is, what should parents do? The best advice I can give along that line is “If and when your child begins talking about suicide, even in a veiled way, make statements as opposed to asking questions.” Asking questions is likely to lead parents down one emotional rabbit hole after another.

In a situation of this sort, questions have a way of validating the child’s feelings. Despite what many therapists will advise, that is NOT the proper approach. Much better to make statements, such as: “To be honest, suicide is an inappropriate response to a problem, no matter how big the problem seems at the moment, so let’s talk about real solutions rather than dwelling on your feelings,” “The problems you are dealing with are not unusual and they certainly aren’t forever, but suicide is most definitely forever,” “You’re thinking entirely too much about yourself. Perhaps you need to do some service work, something that will take your mind off the subject of you and your troubles,” and “Let’s talk about solving these problems, because if you commit suicide, they will not be solved. The kids who are picking on you will simply start on someone else because the problem is them, not you.” Even, “That’s not the intelligent response to a problem, ANY problem, and you are, in fact, an intelligent person. You can tough this out. Let’s talk about how.”

The child in question does not need to be engaged in a personal pity-party that lends authenticity to his/her out-of-control emotions; but rather led to think correctly. Another way of saying this: When a child lacks a governor on his/her thinking and emotions, the child’s parents (or some other emotionally competent person) need(s) to step in and be the governor.

It’s become cliché, but it’s truth nonetheless: The most powerful love is tough love.

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Family Is Family, No Matter the Prefix

Q: We have two married daughters, one of whom is adopted. The biological daughter has two children who, we recently discovered, have been told that it is wrong to call our adopted daughter “aunt so-and-so” because she is not really family. Nor, according to our biological daughter and son-in-law, is her husband an “uncle.” We’re planning an upcoming visit with our biological daughter’s family. How should we deal with this?

A: Forty-three years of writing this weekly column and I thought I’d heard it all…until now.

First – and I really don’t need to tell you this, obviously – your adopted daughter is legally your daughter. She is not, say, twenty percent your daughter; rather, she is one hundred percent your daughter. Her legal status is not reduced relative to her sister’s because she is adopted.

If in your will you were to assign half of your estate to each of your two children, and your biological daughter claimed the entire estate, asserting that she is your only child, said challenge would not succeed in a court of law. In other words, the terms “adopted” and “biological” are simply adjectives. That, by the way, is straight from the so-called “horse’s mouth,” the horse in this case being a federal judge.

The argument/claim can be turned around. Your adopted daughter could claim that she was specifically chosen to be your daughter, that your biological daughter was the product of mere chance; therefore she (adopted daughter) is your only true child. Yes, that argument is absurd; nonetheless, it is the equivalent of your biological daughter’s equally absurd argument.

It may be that your biological daughter and son-in-law are simply and innocently mistaken, but I strongly suspect there’s more going on here than meets the eye. I would wager that this “mistake” is the upshot of long-standing jealousy on the part of your biological daughter.

Let’s face it, a disproportionate amount of attention goes to a new sibling when he or she enters a family – whether by adoption or birth. If, as I suspect from the wording of your question, your biological daughter is your first child, she may not have exactly welcomed her adopted sister with open arms. Instead, she may have felt displaced, deprived of attention that she felt “belonged” to her, and harbored a good amount of resentment as a result. To put this another way, she may have long felt that “biological” is a synonym for “real.”

Assuming I am correct, there is a volcano smoldering beneath this issue. I doubt there is a way of correcting what your grandchildren have been told without uncapping the volcano. One option, therefore, is to ignore it. But sweeping matters of this import under a proverbial rug rarely works for long. Sooner or later, this is going to have to be dealt with.

In that regard, there are two aspects to the overall issue: legal and emotional. The legal aspect can and should be addressed by a legal expert. That, relatively speaking, is the easy part. The emotional aspect is the tar pit. In my estimation, a reasonably sane discussion and resolution of the pertinent issues is going to require mediation by a very experienced family therapist.

Even suggesting that is likely – pardon the mix of metaphors – to set the pot boiling. Brace yourselves.

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The Definition of Bullying Has Been 'Dumbed Down

Q: Our son is 13 years old and in the 7th grade. Last week he came home from school complaining about how a few of his friends have been bullying him. These same boys were at his birthday party just the weekend before and they seemed to get along fine. Sometimes they poke fun at him when he is hanging around girls that these other boys have either “dated” or currently like. I think he pokes them right back, but they are three or four and he’s just one. Besides, we teach him to be kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and inclusive, so getting in a tit-for-tat really isn’t what we want him to do. I don’t know if we should let it work itself out or mention it to the other boys’ parents. My fear is that telling his friends’ parents will cause them to pick on him even more. On the other hand, I want it to stop. Any thoughts you can share would be most appreciated.

A: Having been a child who was picked on, made fun of and more, and relentlessly so (or so it seemed) from grades five through eight, I consider myself to be an expert in such matters.

The first thing I’ll point out is that children do not tend to do a good job of representing facts when they’re recounting events, especially when the events in question have elicited strong emotion. Getting picked on qualifies as an emotional event; therefore, I’d bet there’s more going on than is reflected in your son’s report. I’m not suggesting that he’s lying; I’m simply saying that emotions tend to interfere with recall.

Second, the definition of bullying has been “dumbed down,” and considerably so, since I was a truly bullied kid. When I was being run down and abused in various medieval ways, there was no doubt about it: I was being BULLIED. Several of my peers took turns chasing me home from school, for example. Like Forrest Gump, I learned to run fast, but if the “Bully of the Day” caught up with me, I was then subjected to various tortures, including being pinned to the ground and tickled until I nearly passed out from delirium. (By the way, in case the reader has never been tickled while immobilized, it’s funny for about a half-second, after which the experience is akin to being roasted alive.)

Name-calling was in a different category altogether. That was not regarded, by me or anyone else, as rising to the level of bullying. “Sticks and stones could break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was the stock response to being called a name. Looking back, it’s apparent to me now that my schoolmates and I were competing with one another for The Best Slur of the Day.

Today, name-calling – making a joke of someone’s last name, for example – is considered bullying. That’s part-and-parcel of the dumbing-down I referred to earlier. It’s no wonder that today’s kids seem to think that anything that causes them momentary discomfort is an aggression. This has had the effect of weakening the emotional resilience of a generation or more of children.

The fact is, name-calling is the sort of thing boys do to one another. (Girls do it too, but more covertly.) It causes some pain, yes, but it’s not life-threatening and left to their own devices, boys will usually work these things out.

You undoubtedly don’t have the full picture, your son is probably over-dramatizing what actually happened, kids’ relationships at this age are on-again, off-again, and you are absolutely correct that intervention on your part may well make matters worse. In that last regard, consider that today's parents tend toward being very defensive where their kids are concerned. For all those reasons, I’d definitely stay out of this.

Bottom line: Tell your son to figure it out for himself or find new friends. He needs to begin learning how to solve his own problems.

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