Tag Archives: Katherine Levine


“Keep Caring” is one of the main messages of my book ‘When Good Kids To Bad Things‘.  A reader raised this question: Why should care be the focus of a parent-teenager relationship rather than rules and boundaries?

Love is the tie that binds and it has to be extremely elastic to withstand the strain of living with a Good Kid Doing Bad Things.  Sever the tie and all efforts to bring a kid back from bad behavior is lost.

My belief is that no matter what, you have to keep caring.

As a baby it starts with wanting to be fed and tended for tenderly.  Soon baby knows to smile and light up when you and bottle or breast appear.  Then once the effort to master the universe sets in, toddler wants attention and approval.

Watch this video of a toddler performing angrily when Mom is watching and telling her “I’m over here” when she walks away from him. He wants his way, but he wants Mom’s attention, proof she cares.

Bring on the teen years and life gets much more complicated.  Good enough kids, with good enough parents know the caring is there and the need for approval and respect shifts from parents to the outside world.  Moreover, peer respect ranks higher than any respect from any adults, let alone a parent.

Sir Michael Rutter, MD. the leading child psychiatrist of the his time, in his seminal book ‘Depression in Young Children’ noted that the caring of a teacher, a coach, even a security guard or a secretary they see for a time while they wait to see a shrink, makes a difference.

Caring is magic.

What Is a Parent To Do?  Caring does not mean allowing rule violation or boundary infringement.  In some circumstances a caring parent might even have a teen arrested or hosptialized or sent away. Some parents may be so ashamed that their kid is in jail, or has psychiatric problems, he or she severs all contact with the kid.  Sadder are the parents who just get tired and fed up and dump their kid. All of the above behaviors are like cutting a scubba diver’s life line.  These mught be good parents doing bad things or they might be bad parents.  Just as a few kids have been so damanged by life, they warrent the label bad kid, the same holds true for some parents.

But if you are reading this you still care.  So make it clear that you do.  Make it also clear you will not support a law breaker, you will not  live with someone who won’t abide by your rules.  The most extreme example are kids who are placed away from home.  Then you show you care by writing, by telephoning, by small gifts, by visits.

Now some kids will continue with blaming you for all their problems and trying to get you to act like a bad guy. These are Gotcha Warriors.  Go to this  Wikihow for a quick introduction to what that means and how to win a Gotcha War. You are entitled to hang up on a kid who starts cursing you.  Try to use a line I leaned from my Gotcha Warriors.  “I care, but not for abuse. Will talk to you later.”  Then call again and no matter how often you have to hang up keep calling and writing and doing anything else that says you care and keeps the boundaries clear.

[Image Source]


Think again. For while it is true a child beaten and bullied at home, or raised without values, is more likely to become a bully, the studies show as few as 30% of abused kids become bullies.  Here is the more traditonal view as put forth by Lianne Castelino of  www.whereparentstalk.com.

Here’s her ending quote, which I disputed: “The apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Kids learn what they see, they tend to model behaviour they are witness to. Over-protective parents may not realize that their controlling behaviour is akin to bullying. It all starts at home.”


Here is a slightly edited version of the  comment I posted  on Lianne’s blog. Do remember I am dysgraphic and am forced to practice “good enough” and not perfection in my unedited writing.

I wish it was as simple as good parents doing the right thing.  Helps when that happens, but and a big but is parents can do everything right and still raise a bully.  Moreover, that is likely to be a smart kid whose parents believe “Not my kid!”

Briefly, bad apples might not fall far from the tree, but  that doesn’t mean the tree is to blame when an apple goes bad or doesn’t reach its full potential.  Might be the wrong mix of genes, not enough sun, too little rain, an unlucky lightening strike, crowding by other apples, worms. I think you get the point.

Our children are being raised in an unhealthy culture that preaches “Just do it” instead of do it with kindness.  We the parents need to take a stronger stand against unhealthy values.  I am not a preacher, a daily bible reader, but if the Golden Rule–which was first written in by a Hindu Pagan–was given the press of “Just do it” values, bullying might not die, but would be seriously wounded.

What’s a parent to do? Lianne and I agree about much so as she suggests parents need to take on the hard task of teaching their children caring values.  Moreover, they better live by those values.  A stunning example of good parents doing bad things–Thank you, Trevor O’Keefe for that paraphrase of my book’s title–pops to mind from the days David was coaching kids soccer.

You may not know this but in most leagues, teams move up and down the rankings in part by what league they play in.  Where we lived the A league were the winners.  The B league were the sometime winners and occasionally a B league team would move up to the A league . Of course that meant they would usually be soundly trounced at every game.  When the kids my husband coached were mainly B league, for example, for a season they played A league.

Anyway, to cut to the point, David’s team lost every single game that year.

To lift morale, we decided to have a picnic following a kids versus parents game.  Now we naively thought the parents would not play their hardest.  Foolish us.  We stopped the game because it was clear that too many parents “were in it to win it” not to have fun.  Now, I would insist on handicapping the parents.  Make them walk while kids ran. Or for bigger laughs, tie two parents together so they have to run and play three legged.

We are an “In It to Win Society.”  Moreover, the media strokes and makes money off that human tendency to want to be a winner.  Witness TIME magazine’s stirring up angersabout nursing moms.  Drives this aging woman off her rocking chair.

Here are my tips

  • Tip one: continue doing your best to instill caring kindness as a better focus than “In it to win it.”
  • Tip two: Also teach your child solid self defense skills.  Being too kind makes you a target for bullies.
  • Tip three: Unite to force the media to promote caring values.  I do see some ads suggesting that.  But we need a true cultural revolution to stop the bullying.

Self disclosure note: Lianne (from Where Parents Talk) is interviewing me via Skype tomorrow.  That is why I read her blog and was inspired to write this.

PRACTICE KINDNESS. Sharing is caring and if you think this worth someone else’s reading share it.  I for one will be appreciative and sometimes the other person might thank you also.

[Image Source]


It would seem that something which means poverty, disorder and violence every single day should be avoided entirely, but the desire to beget children is a natural urge.

Phyllis Diller

Diller knows and she also knows there are no angel parents living among us mortals.   Parents are neither angels nor the devil as is so often portrayed in today’s media.

Since the 1960s too many parent advisors have touted things like “Siblings Without Rivaly” or “How to Talk So Kids will Listen” or “How to Raise an Emotionally Healthy, Happy Child.”  Mostly this trend started with Thomas Gordon who wrote the best selling parent education book “Parent Effectiveness Training.”  He didn’t stress happiness, but that parents could enjoy stress free parenting — peace on earth or at least in the home — a false promise that laid a guilt trip on most parents.

Gordon’s general thesis was that  parents should become a child’s therapist.  Essentially, he said parents should avoid doing any of the 12 following  things:

  1. Ordering
  2. Warning
  3. Advising
  4. Persuading
  5. Moralizing
  6. Judging
  7. Approving
  8. Shaming
  9. Interpreting
  10. Sympathizing
  11. Questioning
  12. Distracting

It still boggles my mind that his advice has become almost the standard for child rearing.  I think it also has made parent bashing much easier.

The only parents capable of not doing all of the above are those whose children are being raised elsewhere, by someone else, or who people are true angel parents, living in heaven and being idolized in absentia.

Parenting, particularly in a culture that encourages parents to be a master of all — to overwork, and to keep children happy — is probably the most frustrating job in the world.  Fortunately, for many it is also the most rewarding.

Expecting parents can teach values without conflict is one of the saddest delusions put forth by parent advisors.

To be fair, Gordon’s advice was not quite as simplistic as the above sounds. Moreover, it is good advice for parents of teens.  Teenagers are super sensitive to being controlled so do best when parents stop trying. All 12 of Gordon’s don’ts are control strategies and they are good advice, providing parents have instilled healthy values.

Teaching values means using every tactic Gordon says not to use, at least until your child becomes an adolescent.  It means being seen by your children as bad, mean, nasty, wrong, or just plain hard-hearted much of the time.

What’s a parent to do?  Don’t despair. Being capable of standing a child’s anger is part of every parent’s job description.  It helps to remind yourself of that at least twenty times a day.

You do have to live the values you want your child to live. Children learn by imitating and modeling what others do. So living your values is a biggy.  It is also a hard one, for most parents want their children to do better then they did.  I certainly wanted my children to profit from the lessons I learned blundering my way to who I have become.

Children do learn from voices of authority–the things parents, teachers, and preachers say; children also learn from experience and experience often over-rules what voices of authority say.

My mother, now an angel mother, but not always angelic when raising me, had some stock phrases she repeated over and over.  Here are three.

  1. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
  2. There but for the grace of God
  3. Maybe the sun’ll shine tomorrow.
  4. If only we saw ourselves as others see us.

At some point, probably as a teenager, I hated hearing these.  Then when I began writing my blog I  realized how these four statements became part of my value system.  My translations include:

  1. Trying matters more than winning.
  2. Be grateful for all you have been given.
  3. Now is not forever.
  4. You are not always the person you think you are.  Your truth may not be the truth.

My kids still put on the “Oh-mother-face” when I put these phrases into play.  That does not mean they haven’t heard and made them their own.

One of hardest things about being a parent remains not seeing the results of  some efforts for years.  Meanwhile,  practice gratitude for the good times, create more good times than bad, be as patient as you can, endure the tough times, forgive, hope to be forgiven,  and love as hard as you can.

Practice kindness: Share if you know someone who might find this helpful.  You will strengthen them, help me, and because  kindness always  circles back, strengthen you. Stay strong and keep caring.




I am 75. I have graduated from high school, college, graduate school. Three graduations. All three accomplished before my 25th birthday.  Each a source of pride and the culmination  of quite a few years of hard work.

Some kids I know have graduated three times before they turned five. Two involving moving up a year in nursery school and the final graduating from nursery school to kindergarten. These will then most likely graduate from kindergarten to the first grade, from fourth grade to middle school, from middle school to high school and from high school to college.  Some are also graduating from various Sunday School Classes.

So to answer the question, have graduations become meaningless: Yes, at least for many.

Another story.  I was born in 1937.  I was eight years old when World War II ended.  I remember blackouts, the horror found when the gates of the concentration camps were opened, the greater horror of the A-bomb dropping.  I also remember sugar rationing and that relates to too many graduations.

My mother bought my brothers and I one Hersey’s chocolate bar about every two weeks.  We would get one or two squares a day.

As she doled out the squares, Mom always said,  “Don’t chew.  Let it melt in your mouth, that way the sweetness lasts.”

And that was an important lesson.  But rationing held another lesson–that I realized when as a young adult I could eat a whole chocolate bar, gobble it down and get another right then and there.  The specialness had faded. Yes, I still enjoyed the chocolate, but not the way I had as a child.

This applies to so much of life today.  Toddlers going to Disney World, electric cars kids can drive as four year olds, the list is long and growing longer.

What’s a parent to do: Bucking the precious, over praising, over rewarding aspects of Western Society, early exposure to Disney World and the like is not easy. But there are a few things parents can do.

When you have a choice, I would hold back on the easy rewards as much as I can.  The younger the child, the easier it is to by-pass some things.  He won’t miss graduation day at nursery school.  Instead of Disney World as a toddler aim for at least six or seven years old, even then the memory will probably fade. No electric cars, please.

Insist some things be worked for and worked for with some rigor.  An allowance that is earned for jobs well done is a good start.  We gave two allowances–a small one that we called “Love money” and a much larger earned allowance.  There was a bonus for perfect behavior.

When I ran a group home, most of the girls turned tricks. They always seemed to have money.  We had a weekly allowance based on behaviors.  It became quickly obvious that the paltry allowance carried greater meaning than what they were given by the toughs in the neighborhood.

So my advice–reality check dreams, encourage real talent and hard work. Stress pride in the journey versus the happiness goal.

Practice kindness: Share if you know someone who might find this helpful. Help me by liking or commenting.  When you share  you also  help yourself for kindness always  circles back.