The myth of teen incompetance

teen boy

Now that I have a full-fledged teen in my house, I’ve been met with a lot of eye-rolling and shaking of heads, presumably because people think my life has become an endless series of arguments, moodiness, withdrawal, and temper tantrums.

Which it hasn’t.

In fact, our relationship with our teen-aged son is pretty much the same as it’s always been, except that now we can talk and joke about more complex ideas and issues.

In a word this prejudice against teens is ageism just as much as ageism against two-year-olds or the elderly, a culturally defined prejudice against a certain age group or phase of life that does not exist in the same way in most cultures of the world.  

But it’s what our culture expects from teen-adult relationships. 

Robert Epstein, Ph.D, and former editor-in-chief of “Psychology Today has written extensively on the subject of adolescence, calling it an unnecessary phase that, in western culture is fraught with depression, suicide, teen pregnancy, and alcohol abuse.

He says that individual genes and environmental history form the brain over time and if there was a teen brain problem in physiology, it would be a worldwide phenomenon. 

But he says that social conditions and not any unique features in teens’ brains are the cause of teen turmoil, even though some claim that teens have a different kind of brain that makes them naturally incompetent and irresponsible.

Epstein believes that by infantizing our tweens and teens – artificially extending childhood past puberty – and not giving them authentic work that acknowledges their intelligence, we are making them angry and depressed and making it harder for them to recover from the psychological damage it imposes. 

We blame teens for not respecting us or for not showing interest in the things that we think they should care about, while at the same time subjecting them to many more restrictions than adults. From not being able to use the washroom when they need to, to not being permitted to go through school hallways at certain periods of time, to being profiled for trouble-making at a higher rate – especially of course – boys of visible minorities, and more – we show that teens are irresponsible, immature, and untrustworthy.

It seems inevitable to me that if you’ve had your rights, interests, and intelligence overlooked and belittled, you are going to become angry, resentful, moody, depressed and rebellious – even suicidal.  

Epstein says that in western cultures, teens and their parents have about 20 conflicts a week – a rate he says is tearing their relationships to shreds and hurting everyone. He says we should  give young people authority over their lives and responsibility for their actions as soon as they are ready for it they – just as they do in other cultures.  

Because from an evolutionary perspective, teens are at the peak of many of their intellectual and physical abilities including hearing, vision, reaction times, and memory. Historically they were expected to begin having families of their own at this phase of life or at least be given responsible roles in the family and community.

hummingbirdIt makes me angry and sad to hear kids and adults make blanket statements about “teens” that are not only derogatory, but in my opinion, unkind and unfair.

We start out as parents with so much love and generosity and hope for our children’s happiness and somehow we can become jaded and disrespectful as they approach their teen years. 

If we can be brave and give up the idea that we are the authority in all things and at the same time be genuinely open to our children challenging us, it will go a long way toward giving them the respect, generosity, and love they deserve, smoothing ruffled feathers, and giving them the tools to take flight as responsible adults in the world.




Posted in Aggression, Boys, Bravery, Child-rearing, Depression, Happiness, mental health, Respect, Sadness, Teen brain, Teens | Leave a comment

Girls Uninterrupted (book notes) – for stronger, happier girls

Girls Uninterrupted

You may wonder why I’m adding notes from this book on a blog about raising boys. It’s because boys need to know about girls and how our society stereotypes, portrays, and belittles them. It’s important to  help our boys develop healthy relationships with the girls and women in their lives.  And to help see that both sexes are vulnerable to damaging stereotypes that need to be challenged.



The sections of this book that I took notes on are:

  • Healthy Self worth
  • Friends
  • Fathers
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Rebuilding Connections and recovering empathy
  • Porn
  • Building communication (for older girls)
  • Online awareness

Points I thought were most important or particularly insightful are marked with an asterisk *

There are more sections of this book to do with older girls (ages 14+) but I didn’t take notes on those since I’m not at that stage yet – any takers?? 🙂




The author says she wrote this book to help our girls understand how to navigate the sexism of our culture so they grow to be healthy adults with healthy relationships

Encourage “bad girl” behaviour – according to girls, a bad girl is one who argues, doesn’t care about her body image, doesn’t care what people think, has a tough attitude, speaks her mind, and stands out

Give girls encouragement to open their eyes to a world which might otherwise give them deeply unhelpful (and I would say unfair and unkind) messages about who they are and how they feel about themselves

If our daughters believe what they see around themselves continuously they start judging themselves by adult sexual standards



It will protect her from the effects of underlying societal messages

She won’t desperately need reassurance from her peers about what she wears or does

She will know herself well enough to protect herself from bitchy put-downs or bullying

She won’t seek out unhealthy friendships and sexual relationships in order to make herself feel desirable, loveable, and worthy

She won’t feel defined by what she owns or wears

She will choose a partner worthy of her and will be less likely to end up in unhealthy relationships

She will take healthy risks because she has belief and trust in herself

She will forgive herself when she fails and bounce back more readily



Bad friends are ones who:

Don’t want her to play with others

Says her ideas are stupid

Laughs at her

Makes me feel sad

Pushes her to do things she doesnt’ want to do

Says they’re better than her

Hurts her

Threatens her



If you can work flexible hours to accommodate to your daughter’s it’s a good investment of time

Plan things you can do together

Don’t judge others’ looks (at all and especially not in front of your daughter)

Keep hugging and maintaining physical closeness

Don’t segregate activities into boys and girls activities or teams

Fathers in particular need to guard against making their daughters into delicate flowers in need of protection; encourage her to build things, to stand up on her own, and to trust in her abilities

Ask mom to be go between to help interpret behaviour and reactions

Don’t tease her about her body or  her looks


Teach your girls to regulate, control, and understand their emotions

Give them tools to understand and control her dilemmas

Teach her to recognize and negative messages she hears in her head; not necessarily right and she doesn’t have to listen to it and also ways to counter/challenge those messages

Teach her that sadness is nothing to be ashamed of and that it takes some time to recover from

Give her the tools to look at the big picture of life

Ask your child to be kind to herself; around age 8 a girl can start being very hard on herself for doing or saying the wrong thing; tell her to replay a memory in her head and imagine her good friend reassuring her

Tell her to love herself and to know that she is looking out for herself

Encourage self respect – it’s not big headed but reaffirming that she knows and appreciates herself deep down

Brainstorm how to tackle emotional problems; don’t let on you (the parent)  knows the answers but give tools to work out how to approach a dilemma. They know their enviro and the players better than you. Ask her what she thinks the best approach should be. Get older supportive sibs to share their experiences and insights

Let her solve  her own challenges and problems

Ask her why she thinks people behave as they do (and talk about everyone’s perception of themselves as more hard done by, contradictory; put it into context

Respect your child’s opinion

Unpack your own emotional reactions (do this with boys too)

Teach your child that she is already the best person she can be and that there is a place for her unique gifts in the world

Only 4 basic emotions (joy, sadness, anger, fear) and everything else is a cocktail of these

Amygdala and brain’s chemistry responding to stress

Value of deep breathing and meditation

Hormones and mood swings

When she understands these, she will feel more in contended.  

Watch (however painful) pop videos of girl singers, performers, movie stars

While waiting for a bus, analyze billboards

Most teen arguments are about their desire to be treated as adults

Girls like to keep secrets

If your daughter is going through a hard time trying to figure out her feelings or how to manage a situation, keep a book out that all of you can jot down notes in as you think of them

Girls may tell a story 3rd hand to get your reaction to an issue but the incident may really be about them.

Girls don’t tell when things go wrong because they think adults would make the situation worse (by talking about it or confronting it)

Yelling about their challenge to your authority is what girls fear most (if you find them doing something you don’t approve of)

Take a step back and compose yourself.

Show gratitude if she comes to you to confess or share

No shame; no blame

Don’t get angry if she shares something with you

Girls prone to perfectionism

When you first notice your daughter pulling away from you look at your own behaviour and acknowledge that you are part of the problem



When you first notice your daughter pulling away from you look at your own behaviour and acknowledge that you are part of the problem

*Let go of your ego and any indication that your child is somehow not repaying you by behaving in a way you expect

She’ll be  more open if you acknowledge the fault is not her’s

Stick to giving her regular one-on-one time

Love-bomb her – spend a period of time along with her, offering unlimited love and control over activities and re-establish her trust

This takes the relationship back to its roots and stabilizes the “fight or flight reflex that gets  engaged when they feel they’re continually being criticized, rushed, or judged

Sulkiness is a defense mechanism.



Remind daughters about seeing things on the internet and not being able to “unsee” them

Explain that porn is not the same as sex and discourage dressing provocatively (attracts the wrong kind of attn; not necessarily the young hotties but also the lechy, creepy, dirty older guys).

Explain the economic and political realities of porn, stereotypes, and marketing

Tell girls how boys and men, exposed to porn will unquestioningly expect women to behave

Name our culture for selling  ideas of sexuality that are especially harmful to girls (but also to boys)

Bring back love and emotional commitment, patience, trust, affection, pleasure to sex

Tell her to take her time about sex and to be sure only to do it for the right reasons

Tell her how porn affects men

Teach her her rights and respect for her body

Talk to your sons and other boys and men in your life about this too

Warn them that porn is addictive (and that women suffer more low self esteem, depression, physical deprivations because of it)



Ease off on the tiger parenting – be aware of the distinction between encouraging the kids to do their best and  pressuring them into thinking they must be the best, or they begin to view the relationship with us as jailers; seems like constant criticism and leads to gradual separation. Don’t allow her to think you value her for how she makes you look, not for how she really is.

Biggest misunderstandings come from how they think you feel about them and treat them; leave her in no doubt of your love for her and how much you value her

Keep hugging and making physical contact; 20 seconds a day will fill the minimum need

Keep talking

Eat together whenever possible; no lectures and put phones away

Check your body language; make eye contact; smile

Check your tone; one of the most hurtful is exasperation which makes the child feel she is a disappointment to you and you have lost faith in her.

Use humour to defuse tension; stress of life makes it easy to forget about the love and fun of family life; create in-jokes to keep the connection or watch silly videos together

Give children a voice with family meetings to help reset behaviour, explore developments in relationships, etc.

Don’t punish honesty or critiques of yourself – appreciate that your child feels empowered and secure enough to speak up for herself and see it as an opportunity for you to change



There was a lot more on this subject, but because I’m this isn’t an issue for us yet I only scanned it, but here are a few notes I made anyway

Kid friendly search engines

Kids Click

Ask Jeeves

** Switch on the safety mode at the bottom of the youtube screen (she recommends this but I’m not exactly sure what this does – let me know in a comment if you know)

Teach skepticism

Don’t be lured by prizes or flattery and never fill in forms or enter contests without asking permission

Turn off broadband connection at a set time of night


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Would men in North America be “man” enough to do this?

Men in the Netherlands are holding hands in public in solidarity with a gay man who was brutally assaulted.  Would our men be “man” enough to do this??

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The Mask you live in – revisited



Reading some notes I’d taken while watching the Miss Representation Project’s film, The Mask You Live In, a couple of years ago.  This film is about the unrealistic stereotypes we railroad boys into, so that they deny their emotional development and expression – at their peril. And to the detriment of society in general.

This was an immensely sad film for me to watch, but I live in hope.

However, in a nutshell, here are some points I noted.

  1. Increasingly hyper-masculine images, products, etc and hyper-feminine images and products increase the pressure to fit into the “right” stereotype
  2. Boys (and men) feel they need to solve pain instead of exploring it
  3. The “mean-team” among boys  as young as preschool age, is established within months of a cohort starting preschool. Boys not fitting in are in danger of being “fired” from the boys’ club and excluded
  4. A quarter of boys binge drink or do drugs to blot out loneliness; when they’re high they have permission to hug their friends and tell them they love them
  5. Every day, more than 3 boys commit suicide (I didn’t note the age of these boys but I seem to remember them being in the 12-15 year range); this is 5 X the rate of girls


And here’s the clincher in my opinion,

“boys yearn for guides and leadership from the men in their lives”






Posted in Boys, Bravery, bullying, Child-rearing, Community, Emotional literacy, Fathers, Football, Games, Happiness, Men, mental health, Peace, Rites of passage, rituals, Sadness, Sons, Substance abuse, suicide, Teens | 2 Comments

Building community one Pokemon at a time



Seeking the elusive, virtual Pokemon at Trout Lake

I just had to check out this crazy phenomenon of Pokemon Go tonight because I’d heard it was getting people out in the community – one of my heartfelt desires for my kids and myself.

Amid groups of bluegrass musicians jamming as they do every Monday night in the summer, were kids and adults, in groups and alone, with dogs and without, milling about seemingly glued to their individual devices in search of the virtual Pokemon lurking  throughout Trout Lake Park.

I have to admit, it struck me as kind of surreal watching the single-mindedness of the seekers, seemingly oblivious of their surroundings – the lake, the mountains, the playground, the musicians.

But clearly my kids were not the only ones thrilled to be engaged in the challenge of tracking down Pokemon with who-knows-how-many others. I watched in fascination as they hunkered right down into the game, sharing finds  with a few other kids in the area, and crossing the field to different areas of the park.

Obviously I was missing the banter.

Although it’s not exactly what I’d call a communal activity, who am I to say?  People were together, outside, and talking – the first and most important part of creating community and opening up to one another.

I’m curious to see if it will lead to people becoming more spontaneous, playful, and ultimately trusting and happy.

After all, it’s innate for us to feel great when we belong in a community.

And as Jan Gehl, the Danish urban designer said,

“Space should be like a musical instrument that suggests how it is to be played but does not predict all the wonderful music that can be made by its owner”

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Don’t forget….

Boys my son’s age (11) seem to think video games are always going to be more fun than anything outside. It’s like they’ve forgotten all the other things they like to do

We have to remind them – and play with them – the kinds of chasing games, hide-and-seek, climbing, tossing, and moving games they loved when they were younger. I think we have to play too, to kind of kick-start them into remembering how much fun real-life, outdoor games can be. And to connect with them.

The fact there aren’t enough unstructured boys in neighbourhoods to make up two baseball teams and give the traditional pack kind of bonding that boys in older times seemed to thrive on may be part of the reason why so many tween boys are inside, even on sunny days.

The black-and-white, all-or-none nature of most boys’ toys, books, games, movies makes it easy for them to forget all the other things they like to do. And makes them forget how dynamic and intellectually challenging real-life situations are.

We have to help them remember but not in a nagging way – in a playful and inclusive way – bearing in mind not what we think they should want to do but really tapping in to their desire for fun, physical, challenging, and yea – even combative play (for which our foam swords have been life-savers).

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Stop Using Girls Campaign

Something to talk to our boys and men about


I was happy to see an ad for this campaign aimed at young men about respecting girls and women.

It says, “If you laugh, share her picture, use her body you are sexually exploiting her” and states that BC’s most exploited youth are girls 15-18.

It’s a campaign by WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) a Vancouver organization that’s been doing great work to protect women for more than 30 years.

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Mask You Live in – screen and chairs needed

If anyone knows of a screen that can be used to show the DVD of The Mask You Live in in East Vancouver on the evening of Friday June 26 and/or have chairs to lend or rent cheaply, please contact the film’s presenter, Loren Spagnuolo at

Also – if you want to see the movie, please purchase tickets early as it is a small venue.

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Mask You Live in – Vancouver – Friday June 26

FILM SCREENING INVITATION – FRIDAY, JUNE 26TH AT 7PM – Dyer Fitness – 3972 Hasting Street, Burnaby, BC

The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating society’s narrow definition of masculinity.

Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom – Miss Representation


Q & A discussion will follow the film screening, facilitated and led by Loren Spagnuolo with the support of a 4-panel group member of experts in their respective fields.

Four panel group member:

Navid Fallah, Support Worker with Street Smarts Leadership Program-
Dr. Lisa Ferrari, R. Psych –
Lana Maree, Somatic Yoga Educator –
One more panel member TBC

SEATED IS LIMITED – your payment is confirmed entry. Payment details:
No cash at door
Adults – $15.00
Youth & Senior – $10.00

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Mask You Live in – next screening now may be June 26

Sorry for not being able to be definite about the next possible screening of the Mask You Live In.

The organizer is working on finding a venue and now the proposed date of the screening in Vancouver is Friday June 26.

I will let you know more details when I get them

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