You Forgot to Do Your Chores? Again? Really?

Dear Mr. Dad, My wife and I are extremely frustrated that we are always seem to be reminding our children, ages 10 and 14, to do their chores. They know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, but they’re constantly “forgetting”—even if it’s something they’ve done three times a week for the last six months. We’ve discussed this with some of our friends who have kids about the same age, and they all have the same problem. Is there some way to get kids to do their chores without having to nag them over and over?

A: Kids have been “forgetting” to do their chores since the beginning of time—and parents have been nagging just as long. I’m sure Ma and Pa Cro-Magnon got sick and tired of reminding their cubs to put their spears away or take the sabertooth out for a walk. No question, kids sometimes “forget” their chores as a way of getting out of doing them (an approach that’s often successful). But sometimes they really do forget—even after being reminded 174 times. Unfortunately, there’s no sure-fire cure for this kind of selective memory loss, but there are a few strategies that may help.
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When Too Much Is Too Much

Dear Mr. Dad: We’re a pretty busy family. Our two kids are in lots of extracurricular activities (Scouts, sports, drama) and we also do a lot of things together as a family. Lately, both kids have seemed more run down than usual. I’m feeling a little guilty because I suspect that it’s because they’ve got so many things going on. How do you tell when your kids are doing too much?

A: Sounds to me like your kids’ lack of energy is the result of burnout, and I agree with you: the likely culprit is trying to cram too many activities in to too little time. But don’t beat yourself up too badly. Childhood burnout is incredibly common these days and with pressure coming in from friends, family, the community, and the kids themselves—it’s hard to say who’s responsible.
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Lies: I Really Want to Believe You, But….

Dear Mr. Dad, I have a real problem with my ten-year-old daughter: Just about everything she says is a lie. If she tells me she’s texting a girl friend from school, it’s probably a boy. If I ask whether she’s cleaned her room, she’ll look me straight in the eye and tell me Yes, even though I know (and she knows I know) that she didn’t lift a finger. If I were to ask her if grass is green, she’d probably tell me it isn’t. Why is she doing this and how can we get her to stop?

A: Telling lies is a part of human nature, and it starts very early in life. A study on lying done at Toronto University in Canada found that about 20% of two-year-olds lie, but by age four, 90% were doing it. And the lying doesn’t stop when we grow up. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that 60% of adults can’t make it through a simple 10-minute conversation without telling at least one lie (in fact, people in the study told an average of three lies in that 10-minute period).

Lying is a learned behavior. When we’re very young, we look at the adults in our lives as all-powerful and all-knowing. Trying out a lie—and getting away with it—shows us that people can’t read our minds. As we get older, we discover that lying can sometimes get us out of trouble and may even help us avoid getting punished. The more successful the lies, the more often they’ll be told.

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Yes, Dear, Smoking Dope IS a Big Deal

Dear Mr. Dad: My 15-year old daughter has been suspended from school several times for smoking marijuana on campus. She also regularly comes home from parties smelling like pot. My wife and I smoked when we were in college (we don’t anymore), but we’ve told our daughter that she shouldn’t. She just calls us hypocrites and says that smoking weed isn’t that big of a deal. We’re worried about her. What can we do?

A: Step number one is to quit worrying about your daughter’s dope smoking and start actually doing something to make her stop. Cities across the country—and two entire states (Colorado and Washington—have either decriminalized or completely legalized marijuana use. So it’s no surprise that many of your daughter’s peers agree with her that smoking it is “no big deal.” In fact, that misguided opinion has been gaining popularity among teens for quite some time. In 2005, 74% of eighth graders and 58% of 12th graders said that being a regular marijuana user was dangerous. Today, it’s 61% and 40%, respectively.

A recent study done at Northwestern University found that teens who smoked marijuana regularly had “abnormal changes in their brain structures related to working memory and performed poorly on memory tasks.” But what does “regular” mean? In the Northwestern study, it was every day for three years. But according to addiction researcher Constance Scharff, from Cliffside Malibu (an addiction treatment center), “regular” could mean as little as once a week. “Pot damages the heart and lungs,” says Dr. Scharff. “And it increases the incidence of shorter tempers, anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia, and it can trigger acute psychotic episodes.” Regardless of your definition of “regular,” the younger one is when lighting up for the first time, the greater the damage.

Some say that marijuana isn’t addictive, but a growing amount of research shows that as many as one in six smokers—especially those under 25, whose brain is still developing—will become addicted. Many experts also consider marijuana to be a “gateway drug,” meaning that smoking it increases the likelihood of trying other, more dangerous—and more addictive—drugs.

Here’s what to do to get your daughter to quit:

  • Explain. The pot you smoked when you were in college was nowhere near as strong as what’s available today. Plus, in your day, most people didn’t start experimenting with drugs until about age 20. Today, kids as young as 11 or 12 are trying drugs. By the time they reach 20 they’ve already done major damage to their brain.
  • Get tough. If she gets an allowance, cancel it (If she doesn’t have money, she won’t be able to buy drugs, and her friends will get tired of her mooching off them). If she’s hoping to get a driver’s license or permit anytime soon, cancel that too. Take away her phone, ground her. If she any of those things back, she’ll have to earn them by taking regular drug tests (you can get at-home kits at many drugstores) and staying clean for several months.
  • Eat together. Children who have regular meals with their parents tend to have lower rates of drug and alcohol abuse. But the meals themselves aren’t magic—it’s the conversations and clear messages that mom and dad care that do the trick.
  • Encourage sports. Athletes tend to care about their body and they tend to stay away from things that could negatively affect their performance.
  • Get help. If none of this works, you’ll need to find a therapist who has lots of experience–and success—working with teens who have drug abuse or addiction issues.

For Kids, the Internet Can Be a Dark and Dangerous Place

Dear Mr. Dad: My 9-year old son is pretty computer savvy and my wife and I haven’t had much issue with letting him use the computer on his own. He likes to play games, visit a few sites, and read online comics. I’ve been hearing more and more about the threats on the Internet, and both my wife and I are becoming more concerned that we might be letting our son put himself in some dangerous situations without knowing it. What can we do to make sure he stays safe while he’s online?

A: You’re right to be worried. The Internet is filled with tons of information (some of which is actually accurate), and all sorts of things to improve our lives. But as hard as it is to imagine life without the Internet, we sometimes forget that it can be an incredibly dangerous place, home to any number of threats, from identity thieves to viruses and pedophiles. You wouldn’t let your child go outside alone without a firm understanding of basic safety rules (don’t talk to strangers, look both ways before you cross the street, etc.), right? So why would you let him go online without having similar boundaries in place?

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Keep on Scrapping—Just Do It Right

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been fighting a lot for the past few months. I know arguments are a pretty normal part of a relationship, but I’m concerned that our battles are starting to affect our two kids, ages 4 and 6. Both of them have been behaving differently lately—acting out, having trouble sleeping, and even squabbling between themselves much more than we used to. I can’t help but think that our arguments are rubbing off on them somehow. How can we stop our fighting and how do we reverse the damage I’m sure we’ve already done?
A: You’re absolutely right about two things: First, fighting with your spouse is perfectly normal. Frankly, I’d be pretty suspicious of any relationship that didn’t have its ups and downs. Not letting the sparks fly once in a while is a good indicator that one or both partners are feeling apathetic and would be better off apart. Second, children are extremely sensitive to the emotions of the adults around them, and the fight s they’re witnessing are almost certainly affecting your kids—probably more than you know. There’s a right way—and lots of wrong ways—to fight. Here’s what you need to know.