As I continue to work on things away from this blog (which is a collection of Free-Time/Casual Online Writing, Remarks, And Notes By ME Whelan) and continue to figure out what goes and what stays of my existing online-writing, the de-emphasizing of one or another continues as well....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Fighting Aging - Keeping Your Brain Young

Fighting Aging - Keeping Your Brain Young

NOTE:  This post is a "transfer post" and is therefore temporarily not available.

Is It Realistic for Baby Boomers to Start College and Aim for a New Career?

Is It Realistic for Baby Boomers to Start College and Aim for a New Career?

(This is a transfer post in process.  I haven't yet either removed the link or transferred the material as a way of helping myself keep track of transfers.  )

How WiFi Works and What Is WiFi, Anyway?

How WiFi Works and What Is WiFi, Anyway?

A Woman's Right to Equality

Note:  This is something I wrote awhile ago, but I thought it may be appropriate for a site aimed at women.

Every time a discussion turns to equality between the genders, people who are unable or unwilling to consider the idea that men and women should be seen as "equal" will inevitably bring up three tired, old, arguments:
1. "Men and women are different, so they cannot be equal - so let's not pretend otherwise."
2. "Men generally have more physical strength than women, so men and women cannot possibly be equal."
3. "Since Nature has designed women to have the babies, women's skills are best suited to raisiing children and caring for families; and women should be 'honored' for, and happy with, their 'special' role in society."
The reason these same, tired, arguments come up as surely as the sun rises each morning is that they contain some truth. In fact, the partially accurate aspect of these arguments is pretty much the only thing to which those opposed to equality for women can desperately (or arrogantly) cling. Yes, we are different. Yes, men are generally bigger and stronger. Yes, woman have the babies. The "grasping-at-straws" aspects of those arguments are, however, that those isolated differences are not good enough reason to view half of the human population as "less than equal".

The first argument is smoke-screen argument. Most people who see that women and men should be seen as "equal" don't claim that they are "the same". We all know that the two genders are different. (To borrow a slang expression from a generation younger than my own, "Duh!") If they weren't different there wouldn't be two different terms for describing members of each gender. We all know that when we hear, "woman", it means a "female human being"; and when we hear, "man" (unless it is being used to describe all mankind), it means a "male human being". Now, if we say, "giraffe," or "koala," we pretty much know that we are no longer talking about human beings.

So, having established that men and women are the two different "varieties" of human beings, we need to ask why, on Earth, approximately one half of all people in the world should not be considered, "equal".
Sure, the two sexes are different. Then again, so are eye colors, hair colors, skin colors, and languages. Oh - are eye colors and hair colors superficial things that can't be compared to the physiological differences between men and women? These things were not considered "superficial" back when Hitler was in power, and back before people learned how ignorant and evil such thinking was. Back in Hitler's day (which, of course, came after the time when women in the US finally won the right to vote), it was actually believed that some coloring and features were the indication of a "superior race". Modern cultures of today find such thinking either insane, grossly ignorant, or both.

Some people would consider skin color as superficial. Others call attention to the fact that different races or nationalities actually do share some characteristics deeper than skin color. One race or nationality may be at risk of one medical condition or another while the other races are not. Sometimes these risks are related to lifestyle, but some are genetic.

Does being at higher risk of Tay-Sachs, Sickle Cell, or Cystic Fibrosis mean one group is less deserving of respect or of being valued as human beings? How about actually having a disease (any disease)? Does that make someone less of human being? Does belonging to a group that may be at higher risk for a particular medical condition mean everyone in that group HAS the medical condition? Does it make them less intelligent, less emotionally strong, or of inferior character?

If we go back to realizing that, when all is said and done, skin color really is a pretty superficial thing, we should think, too, about how it was only in January, 2009, that people around the world were moved to tears when an African-American man was, after all these years, the first to become U.S. President. One might ask why it took so long, after African-Americans fought for equality in the 1960's. I am old enough to remember that there were, as recently as the 1960's, an awful lot of Americans who just were not going to see African-Americans as "equal". I am also old enough to see that most people (still not all) know better these days. Hillary Clinton's historic run showed the women have come a long way when it comes to being seen as "equal" ; but let's face it, the former First Lady's respectable showing was seen by many as a matter of her being boosted up in order to break that glass ceiling. Perhaps more worth mentioning is that fact in 2008 there was still a glass ceiling to be broken. A whole lot of little girls born even today will still be running into glass ceilings and closed doors from the day they're born, because who and what we are begins with our parents and teachers. Until all parents and teachers accept the idea that girls and women are "equal", those glass ceilings will loom, and those closed doors will continue to lock out.

There is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about any differences in personalities or thinking that may exist between men and women. Not all women think alike. Not all men think alike. People have unique sets of talents, personality traits, and thinking styles in varying degrees and combinations. When it comes to some studies that claim one gender has one trait/ability more than the other, keep in mind that many studies are done on existing people - not on the brains of newborns or fetuses. While it is not for me to attempt to claim that there is not one, single, difference in the thinking or personalities of men and women, I do know that my own three children provided me with enough anecdotal evidence to question the validity of many studies.
Before I began building my family, I believed that the way to nurture children was to nurture "humans first", while trying to help each child like his own gender. My belief was that if we raise "humans first" and let Nature take care of the rest when the time comes (adolescence), we would raised well adjusted children.
When my first son, who was adopted from infancy, came along I followed the plan I had so carefully considered before having children. I gave birth to my other son and a daughter later. Without wanting to see as if I was approaching child-rearing as a "science experiment", I couldn't help but realize that I had my own little Nature/Nurture experiment, as well as a sampling of a gender study. I went about what I believed in my heart was the best nurturing I could offer; and I began to notice that all three of my children had very similar dispositions, preferences, strengths, and levels of maturity at any given age.

As each child reached adolescence Nature took its course, and each child "branched off" in the direction of his own gender. My sons are masculine. My daughter is feminine. They all share traits that are generally believed to be associated with one or the other gender. They also have their own, individual, personality traits that aren't particularly associated with their gender.

The point is that while my own little "science experiment" does not a study make, I have seen for myself how wrong "the world" so often is when it comes to gender differences. Further, my children are not the only people I (or you) know who have traits that may be believed by some to "belong" to the opposite gender.
It is not for me to say that there are absolutely no personality/abilities differences between the genders; but I am very confident that any such differences have been, and continue to be, grossly exaggerated in terms of degree and/or importance.

What about that pointing out of the fact that men usually have more physical strength " and larger builds "and so men and women cannot be equal"? You won't be surprised that I will first bring up that some women are physically stronger than some men. "That's not most," you think. I don't argue that it is - only point out that criteria for equality cannot logically be physical strength or body size. Some women are bigger than some men. What about people with dwarfism? Are they "less equal"? Are men with dwarfism equal to men of average height? Is the five foot/four-inch woman with an IQ of, say, 160 "less equal" to the six-foot man with an IQ of 110? Which one of those individuals would you prefer become President? Should IQ be the measure of who is "more equal" than someone else? If it is, then all women with IQ's that fall on the shallower end of the bell curve would have to be "more equal" than any men or women with IQ's falling within the "fatter" part of that bell.

The "we're different" argument doesn't make a shred of sense. Yes, we're different. We - all of us - are different. Like my little family of three children, we all are individuals but we are also the same in so many ways. A five-foot/one-inch woman is not likely to make much of a basketball player, but a hulking man isn't likely to make much of a ballerina either.

Should the petite, 100-lb, woman be allowed to play basketball if, by some chance, she could actually play better than "conventional" players? If, theoretically, that same woman were able to out-perform candidates for job as firefighter, should she be given the job? This is where those who just don't want to see women as equal will say, "IF such a woman existed then maybe she should be given equal opportunity, but she would be an exception."

Well, regardless of our gender, many of us are "exceptions" in one way or another. We all have different talents and abilities. If we happen to have exceptional talent or ability in something that is generally associated with the opposite gender, is there some reason such extraordinary ability should be disregarded? More importantly, doesn't the fact that exceptions exist simply prove that there are far fewer "rules" about which gender does what best (in areas separate from that ever-present reproductive one) than many people believe?
And, speaking of reproduction: There is that argument that women have the babies "so Nature designed women to have talents that best suited for child-rearing and taking care of families". Let's look at Nature: In the animal kingdom (although, of course, there are exceptions), the most common behavior is that the males father the children, may hang around for a certain amount of time, and then move on to the next family. Some animals, of course, do live in packs. Not all. Whether it is a mother cat with her kittens or a mother duck with her ducklings, in a good number of species it is the mother who raises and teaches her offspring, as well as just giving birth to them. My neighbors and I enjoyed a Summer of watching a wild-turkey mother and her babies take their morning and evening walks up the street. We watched from the time the babies were very small until they were just about the same size as their proud mother, who continued to "call" any of her "children" when they strayed.

The point is that while there are exceptions in the animals kingdom (as with human beings), it is often the mother to whom Nature has given the responsibility of not just having, but raising, offspring (both male and female offspring). Since so many female animals not only have and then feed their babies, but also raised them to adulthood (all the while, teaching them the ways of the world and survival), can we not assume that mothers (of any number of species) must be pretty knowledgeable about, and skilled with, life? Some people will readily agree that females have skill in teaching, as well as feeding, but if the care and raising of offspring has been entrusted by Nature to mothers as often as it is, how "less than equal" can be the skills that are required for "building" the next generation of a species?

When human babies are born they are born with only the potential to develop brain connections that will later determine not only the ways in which their brains are "wired", but some of their abilities and personality traits. In the first three years of life how a child is nurtured can affect how his immune system and stress response system will function for the rest of his life. Women aren't just feeding and loving their babies. They are "building" the brains of their children - boys and girls. Unless circumstances change the usual way things are done, today's men were yesterdays' little boys who had their brain development "built" by a woman. If Nature entrusted women with this role one would assume that the role goes well beyond "building another woman" and onto "building a human being". When boys grow up to be emotionally strong, intelligent, and of good character it isn't an accident. They learn those things not from a mother who "only knows about women's stuff", but who is skilled at "being a person". In other words, if anyone is "less than equal" it is not women.
Then, too, there are women who completely lack maternal instinct or ability to know how to do a good job of nurturing. There are those exceptions again.

Does not being a "natural mother" mean a woman can't run a company or run a marathon? Most people agree it does not. Aren't there men who are more loving, more skilled, and generally more capable of being a parent than women? If nurturing "belongs" to women, are such men "less than equal"? Who would be "more equal" - the non-maternal woman who builds up a multi-billion-dollar empire, or the "maternal" father who is a far better nurturer but who works as, say, an insurance salesman or auto mechanic?

Women have the babies, and that is both wonderful for them but inconvenient in a lot of ways. Pregnancy, after all, lasts for nine months (most of the time), and that can create "issues" in some employment situations. Although it takes four or five years for a child to begin school and require less time from his mother, children take up a lot of time, energy, and high-quality care in the first four or five years life. Children always need their mothers, of course, but as they grow they need their mother's undivided attention in smaller and smaller increments. All this makes having the babies inconvenient and challenging, in terms of careers or even just day-to-day living; but does the fact that women have the babies mean that they cannot, in all other ways, be equal to men? Does having a baby or two (or four or six) remove women from the human race? (because if it does not then what it is that would make them "less than equal"?)
Are we different? Sure we are - but not so different that my son doesn't seem to be a clone of me when it comes to many of his abilities and traits; or not so different that my daughter doesn't at times seem to be a clone of her father when it comes to similar things. We aren't so different that if I take, and get an "A", in the same accounting program a man does, that I will not be every bit as good an accountant. Female animals are often feared because of their instinct to kill to protect their offspring. When a female animal kills is her victim "less dead" because the otherwise non-aggressive female mustered up the courage and strength to attack when necessary? Is she, as a killer, "less equal" than her male counterpart because her motives are "nicer"?
When people talk about "equality for women" they aren't talking about "not noticing" that a five-foot/two-inch woman most likely does not belong on a football team. They aren't even talking about who likes Playboy Magazine and who doesn't. Women and men are different, but all people are different. Who is more different - a German woman raised by wealthy parents who are physicians and an American man raised in similar circumstances, or the same German woman compared with a woman raised by a parents in a primitive tribe of people, far from civilization?

Most of us don't live in a primitive tribe, and most of us have evolved well beyond the biological hard-wiring of animals who live in less complex societies. Women are actually said to generally say far more words each day than men do (although, again, there must be exceptions). If women were given the "gift of gab" (that is actually also a leaning toward being able to share knowledge and promote understanding between people); wouldn't it seem to follow that in a society where words are so often more powerful than fists, Nature just may have planned that women should eventually lead the world?

A lot of men have not intellectually/emotionally evolved to the point where they have overcome their aversion to the idea of ever having women in powerful roles in society. Many women who have been taught otherwise, or who lack the self-confidence, strength, education, and/or intelligence to expect to be seen as "equals" are also made to feel uncomfortable by women who expect (and deserve) to be seen as "equals". There are, without a doubt, a lot of people in this world who are emotionally invested in making sure that women are never seen as "equal". It is said that even on the biological hard-wiring level, male sexuality is aimed at dominance; and female sexuality is expressed in competition with other females.

Yes, we men and women are different (that's for sure). The trouble is that we human beings have evolved to where we have complex, educated, societies; and brains that, even if rooted in a long-ago, simpler, biology, are developed enough to be called, "human".

When I think of my beautiful, intelligent, strong, capable, sensible, and talented daughter; the thought that anyone on this Earth would consider her "less than equal" is enough to turn me into every bit the warrior that any mother in the animal kingdom becomes when her offspring is threatened.

Today so many of us see the horrible, horrible, crimes and sins of the racial injustice, inequality, and cruelty that stains the fabric of U.S. history. The sickening thing is that so few of us still don't see another version of crimes and sins that have been (and in spite of progress in the workforce, often continue to be) perpetrated against the human beings who happen to be of slighter stature and happen to be the ones to have the babies. Even more sickening is the fact that so many, who do see the ways in which women are not seen as equal, still don't believe there's anything wrong with that.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tips for Keeping Kids Unplugged in an Electronics Age

Even in a world where "the latest thing" is ever-changing, what is not ever-changing are the parts of childhood that help children develop the skills they need to be well balanced adults. To choose an old fashioned approach to make a point, if Nature wanted kids to be "wired" they would be born wearing an over-the-ear, Blue Tooth, headset (a bad example, perhaps, since Blue Tooth requires no wires). Technology or no technology, children need a certain amount of time to interact with family and friends in more conventional ways. They also need some time to engage in interests that are not associated with electronics.

Debates and studies about how much it too much or possible negative consequences aside, common sense should tell parents that when kids are tuned out to their immediate surroundings, and instead tuned in to something else, there is obvious some "break" in the natural order of childhood experiences. Common sense should also tell parents that the younger the child, the more "unplugged" time he needs.

The good news is that it isn't difficult to manage a younger child's time spent with electronics. The even better news is that nurturing a child's other interests, as well as face-to-face relating, can help develop patterns of behavior that may naturally reduce (at least some of) the time spent with electronics in later years.
Keeping the following tips in mind can help parents keep some degree of control over the time their child spends "plugged in":

1. Take Advantage of the Control You Have Over Preschoolers' Activities

Limit preschoolers' exposure to activities involving electronics, and don't use the PC or other electronics-related activities as babysitter. It's one thing for Mom or Dad to sit with the child and let him learn to use the PC. It's another to leave him sitting at it alone, or to allow him to head for his favorite program whenever the mood strikes. Allowing a preschooler to play a cell phone once in a while can seem like a special treat. Allowing him to pick up the cell phone and play games on it whenever he wishes sends a different message.
The interests parents encourage in their preschoolers are often interests they bring with them into their school years. Whether it's love of reading, fascination with science, or the fun of taking some kind of lessons with other children; parents have the chance to build "a lot of foundation" for the years that will follow the preschool years.

2. Don't Be the One Who Encourages More Electronics Than is Wise

Don't fall into the trap of believing that the latest electronic toys are "the most educational" for your preschooler. Overlooking classic childhood activities and toys is overlooking a child's developmental needs. Overlooking a preschooler's needs for one-on-one interaction with parents and others, as well as their need to learn to socialize with other children their own age, is overlooking some very important aspects of development. Parents have complete control over the activities they offer preschool children. This is a time when they should take advantage of their complete control.

3. Take Advantage of the Built-In Structure of the School Day

Just as parents can take advantage of the complete control the preschool years offer, they can do the same with the built-in structure of the school years between grades 1 through 9. Establish a few rules about when electronics will be used.

It isn't difficult to set up a rule that there will be no electronics in the morning, before school. Establishing that the afternoon hours following school are for other activities is usually easy. Between children's natural wish to go outside and play or participate in after-school activities, and their need to do homework, discouraging computer use during these hours can be relatively effortless. Allowing school-aged kids to use the PC or play electronic games on a rainy afternoon isn't likely to dissolve into a habit when parents make it clear it will not.
A "no-electronics" during dinner is usually a rule kids can easily accept/understand, which leads to the hours between dinner and bedtime. In most families, these are the hours where homework that hasn't been done must be finished, some television-watching may take place, and/or a child may head for the PC or video games.

Assuming the homework has been done, parents may find that a half hour or hour of family television (even if only a few evenings a week) offers a little more "together" time. Of course, if parents have to run an errand, or if kids have an early evening activity, this further eliminates the time available for electronics.

Today, kids younger than high-school age often have cell phones. One way to keep their use to a minimum is to establish that calls are for emergencies or quick transportation arrangements, and limiting the amount of available talk time.

4. Talk to Children About the Importance, and Joys, of Well Balanced Activities and Even Possible, Negative, Consequences of Too Much Being "Plugged In"

Most kids don't need lectures on the importance of having friends, or the fun of having a special collection of athletic activity. Still, having parents show they value these things (by talking about how important such things are, how proud parents are that their child is so "well balanced", etc.) can help reinforce, for the child, that the non-wired aspects of life are, in fact, very important.

5. But What About High-School Aged Kids?

Let's face it - trying to keep kids of this age from being too electronics-inclined" can be a losing battle. Kids who were encouraged to be well balanced in earlier childhood may be a little less likely to have too unhealthy an attachment to video games; but "wired" is the way of the world these days - for everyone. The PC, video games, iPods, and cell phones are all just a way of life these days. Kids who have reached high-school before seeming too "electronics-inclined" could be considered their own, or their parents' accomplishment. The picture changes for kids this age, though, because some of that electronics social interaction for kids this age is not necessarily a negative thing.

While parents and family are always important in even an older kid's life, the teen years are the years when the focus is on friends, school, and future plans. The ten-year-old, who "should be outside, playing Hide 'n Seek" but who is, instead, inside playing video games may be trading a more valuable activity for one that offers little (other than, perhaps, a hand/eye-coordination exercise). The teen who is chatting with friends online is, in a lot of ways, actually engaging in the kind of socializing and relating that people that age need to do. The point is that, at this age, being "plugged in" is not the negative thing it can be for younger kids. Some may say, too, that it not as undesirable as it is can be for people past their teens. In other words, for kids this age, parents may to raise the bar with regard to how much is too much. Still, regardless of anyone's age, it's never good for people to allow themselves to be completely removed from family.

Parents of kids this age may find that changing their own expectations, as well as altering some of the earlier rules, works best:

Expecting anyone who is home in the house to eat dinner with the family is one way to guarantee at least some family time. Another good idea is for families to agree that things like iPods and cell phones won't be used where family members are gathered. If a teen heads for his bedroom before making his calls it won't, of course, mean he's using his phone less. It can help, however, not to establish a family practice of having everyone gathered in one place but communicating with people outside the home.

High-school students have homework and early school days. While kids this age can't be expected to follow the same kind of rules that are right for eight-year-olds, establishing that school nights should include a "decent" bedtime, and that homework must always be handed in when due is a reasonable expectation that may naturally cut down some of the electronics time.

Just as it always helps for parents to talk to younger kids about priorities, values, and balance; talking to teens about the same things, and offering reasons for not allowing electronics to "take over life" is also important for more grown-up kids.

Kids this age usually have more time outside the house than their middle-school-aged siblings have, so their age sometimes builds in a certain amount of face-to-face socializing and other activities.
Besides altering the rules as kids get to be this age, parents may want to ask themselves whether it's such a bad thing that a sixteen-year-old who is home all evening spends that time socializing online, provided his homework is handed in on time.

One other way parents can encourage older kids to have a more balanced approach to electronics is that time-tested approach of setting a good example. When parents turn off the cell phones, and get away from the PC's, long enough to show kids they value them enough to have some real "in-person" communication, kids will see an example of how people who care about one another treat one another. Parents need to keep in mind, too, that balance isn't just achieved by cutting down on one thing. Sometimes it can be achieved by adding more of something else.

The "latest thing" may be ever-changing, and technology may have changed our lives dramatically over recent years. What has not changed is the fact that when families build in lots of love, care, and enjoyable time together even the most amazing technological gadgets tend not to have the power to pull loving family members too far apart.

A Secure Baby Sleeps Better

Most parents are more than familiar with their own sleep problems that occur after a frazzling day. The truth is, even though babies don't have to worry about nasty bosses, paying bills, and a water heater than needs to be replaced; they, too, can get frazzled and anxious. They, too, are likely to have trouble going to sleep, or staying asleep, when their day has not been one during which they have felt calm and secure.

While adults' threshold for becoming anxious is much higher than that of babies, the principle of anxiety causing sleep problems is the same. One of the biggest mistakes any parent can make is to assume that, because a baby "only eats, sleeps, and plays all day" , stress and anxiety can't play much of a role in sleep problems. The truth is that we, adults, generally take for granted that we are safe and secure during our days. Healthy adults don't get anxious unless there are those stressful worries, such as bills, sick family members, or any number of other things. Babies, on the other hand, require the close-to-constant reminders that they are, indeed, safe and secure. The perfectly happy and comfortable baby who feels safe and secure as he plays will suddenly feel less sure when hunger sets in. In other words, a baby's days are filled with "ups and downs" when it comes to feeling safe and secure. Too many "downs" will lead to a particularly frazzling day.

With their immature central nervous systems, their helplessness, their inability to understand language, and their general need to have a sense of equilibrium; babies can also be prone to becoming over-stimulated too. Each baby has his own disposition, and some babies are more sensitive to "too much going on" than others; but all babies, to some extent, can suffer a sense of anxiety when life gets to hectic. Whether it's too many bright lights, too many different loud noises, being brought around to too many unfamiliar places, or being passed around by too many people; babies can get frazzled and anxious from over-stimulation. Even too much "active play" can lead to a baby's feeling frazzled; because although a baby may enjoy such play, there can be a sense of feeling a little too unsure about what is coming next. All of these things that can contribute (sometimes in small ways, sometimes collectively) to a baby's having a frazzling day are likely to also contribute to his having sleep problems. Many of a baby's potentially "frazzling" activities/situations during any day may actually be pleasant experiences. That does not, however, always translate into being experiences that are most likely to contribute to a sense of sureness and security.

Sureness and a sense of security come from those quieter, surer, calmer, interactions between parent (usually mother) and baby. A sense of security comes, too, from knowing that Mommy is always there to respond to needs and distress. For a baby, a sense of security also comes from having his needs met and from experiencing a caretaker's calming, gentle, touch and voice. Until a child has grown enough not to experience some of the more active parts of some days as frazzling, it's important that he experience enough time feeling super-secure and super-safe to balance off some of the more frazzling times in his day.

In general, most of cannot make the leap from feeling anxious to being asleep without having some time in-between to bridge the gap. Some adults may simply stay up until they're ready to "pass out", but that doesn't work for babies. Babies get over-tired, which means they get yet more distressed. Feeling yet more distressed means they feel that much less safe and secure. Even when a baby has been over-tired and distressed, once he does "pass out" he is likely to have a fitful sleep and wake during the night.

Babies who feel safe and secure are babies who are generally happier babies, who are also easier to care for in general. They're usually happy with whatever is going on, and being putting in their crib for the night can just seem like one more pleasant part of their day. Some secure babies will have those frazzling days that make them feel a little less secure for a brief time. Some babies, however, will live all their days feeling a little anxious because some parents may not be quite as skilled as others at helping their baby feel safe and secure. Essentially, whether a baby feels a little less secure on a particularly frazzling day or is a child who lives feeling a little less secure, the root of the problem is that when any of us is anxious our brain chemicals change in a way that is not conducive to getting a good night's sleep. To make the problem worse, a baby who does not get the right amount of the right quality sleep will begin the following day at a disadvantage, when it comes to feeling safe and secure.

When it comes down to it, babies require very little in this world. With the exception of getting their nutrition, the need to feel safe and secure is the most crucial need any baby has. When such an important need is overlooked, or when parents are not skilled in meeting that need, that is certainly a problem big enough for anyone to lose sleep over.

The Myth of the Perfect Discipline Strategy for Children

During one of the many screening interviews that took place prior to my adopting one of my children, the social worker asked, "Could you tell me what your parents did as far as disciplining their children went?" It was the only question she asked that left me feeling as if I didn't have an immediate answer.

As I searched my mind for what to say, I could feel my eyes "looking" for an answer and my shoulders shrugging. After a few awkward "ums" and the realization that no answer had come to me, I said, "I don't really know. Nothing, I guess. They just talked." I was incredibly horrified and terrified by an answer that seemed so inept and unsure. The social worker wrote something down in her notes and moved on to the next question. I worried that my "horrible answer" had destroyed my chances of passing the screening. I hoped she would realize that my seemingly inept response was rooted in the fact that my own parents had been loving, skilled, and kind parents.

Thinking back as far as I can remember, I recall how kind and loving my parents always were; but also that they simply let us know what was expected of us, the difference between right and wrong, and that - if nothing else - we were to treat them with the respect with which they treated us and each other. Before becoming old enough to go to school, my siblings and I were all pretty well behaved kids at home. There was about five years between us, so we got plenty of attention.

We absolutely adored our parents, who were (in the words a young child) "so nice". We didn't view what they expected of us as "unreasonable", because they never expected anything unreasonable of us. The simple rules by which we were expected to live involved things like not breaking things, behaving well when we went somewhere, not fighting, and "NEVER, EVER" talking back to our parents. (It's important to note that they did not yell at us either.)

Once we got to be school-aged life got a little more complicated. Children of school age often just do things they shouldn't do because it "seems like a good idea at the time". When our parents found out we had done something we shouldn't have they would (as I would eventually tell that social worker) talk to us. They would talk about why what we had done was wrong, how disappointed in us they were, how they couldn't understand how we would ever do such a thing, and what other people would think of us if we ever did that thing again.

They would talk about integrity and reputation. They'd talk about how "being sneaky" would make people think very little of us. They talked about honesty, self-respect, being a good friend, what kind of person they wanted us to be - and on and on and on. It was always one of the most uncomfortable experiences of our lives, and when they'd wrap it all up with a reminder of how disappointed they were in us it pretty much sealed in the guilt rather effectively.

Upon thinking about it, though, I realize how, even though something had seemed like a good idea at the time, I, for one, had my own guilt long before I had been caught. So, when my parents did find out and would begin on one those marathon talks about the misdeed, it became quite clear what a good idea the deed WASN'T.
Still, my clever parents had managed to raise three kids without any real "discipline strategy" and by simply ad libbing as the occasion called for it. They had managed three decent, caring, people who didn't get into trouble while creating the impression that they had never really used any discipline strategy.

As an adult, and recalling the degree of "feeling rotten" that my parents managed to create in me; I have to say that I think they could have lightened up a little on the guilt. After all, I had my own conscience (thanks to their doing a good job in my preschool years) and was only a kid. Kids mess up. It wasn't that they were abusive or demeaning or belittling. It was more that they over-estimated the seriousness of the offense and let us know (or at least led us to believe) that they were worried we would turn into criminals. When you're ten years old, and you know that just because you and girlfriends rang a few doorbells it doesn't mean you're headed for a life a crime; you don't know how to reassure your parents they don't need to worry. It may not be the best thing for a child to have to think, "Wait until I grow up, and they'll see that I didn't turn into a criminal". (Then again, it was, I suppose, an effective thing.)

Once I had grown up and knew I would be building my own family I thought quite a bit about my own parenting approach. For the most part, I wanted to do things very much as my parents had, with the exception of attempting to make my children feel guiltier than they already did if they did something wrong. I would let my children know when they had done something unacceptable. I would talk about most of the things my parents talked about. If they were old enough, and if the occasion called for it, I may even impose some consequence that seemed appropriate (such as taking away a toy or not allowing television). My plan, however, was to try, too, to help my children know that even if I did not approve of their unacceptable action I understood (and they should as well) that kids mess up. It's all part of being a kid.

29 years after that interview with the adoption worker, I still don't know what she thought or wrote down when I gave my "horrible" answer that day. I passed the screening, so I like to think that my utter inability to describe my parents' approach to discipline showed that I had been raised by loving, good, parents who understood the importance of setting some reasonable rules, telling children right from wrong, and further elaborating when the occasion seemed to call for it.

I suppose the reason I essentially told that social worker my parents didn't really have any "approach to discipline" was that my parents just knew their role as parents (and how much they loved us) and never viewed "discipline" as a separate "category".

When it comes down to it, the reason there is no "perfect discipline strategy" for children is that strategies are for things like finances, business, and football games. Being a good, loving, capable, parent is about so much more than strategy - so very much more.