Why My 12-year-old Is Riding Public Transit Alone

I’m nervous posting this because of the freakout when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride public transit alone.  I don’t want to be the next “America’s Worst Mom”!  But I think it’s important to talk about how to approach children’s independence safely and gradually so that they learn the skills they’ll need as adults.

Nicholas is 12 now.  He was 11 last summer when he started riding Pittsburgh city buses by himself.  His father and I think he could have handled it just fine when he was 10, too, but his day camp required that an adult sign him in and out every day until age 11.

Nicholas has been attending this day camp at the Carnegie Museum of Art & Natural History since he was 5.  He used to go every week as his summer childcare while we were working.  Now that he’s old enough to keep himself occupied while his father works from home, he only signs up for the week-long camp sessions that interest him most.

I used to work 4 blocks away from the museum, taking public transit to/from the bus stop right outside the museum.  It was easy for me to drop off Nicholas on my way to work and pick him up on my way home.  But the summer he was 9, I was on maternity leave until late July, and he wanted to attend some weeks of camp anyway.  Baby Lydia and I got an early start practicing getting out of the house on time, in order to drop off Nicholas by 9:00 each morning and pick him up at 3:00!  (When I wasn’t working, he didn’t stay for the optional “post-camp” until 6:00.)  We enjoyed the daily outings and sometimes did other things before heading home.

Last summer, I was between jobs.  My feelings about time were very different from maternity leave; I felt constantly busy and stressed about job-searching and trying to catch up on all those projects that are hard to do while working full-time.  It was a great relief to hear that Nicholas was excited about finally being old enough to sign himself in and out of camp!

We prepared carefully for his first solo bus trip.  Here are the details to consider and the ways they worked out for us: Read more of this post

What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much (and 4 other books!)

In addition to finishing the books I got for Christmas in time for my birthday, I’ve read a few other new-to-me books recently, including one that actually has the alternate title What I’ve Learned By Reading Too Much!  I learned something from each of these books.

The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner

This is one of the most helpful self-help books I’ve ever read.  It explains several ways that anger typically functions in women’s relationships (with men, family members, friends, and co-workers) and how our handling of anger often keeps a relationship stuck in frustrating patterns.  Although the book focuses on women and makes some generalizations about what women do vs. what men do, it’s more insightful than stereotypical, and some of the strategies could easily be useful to men, too, when they find themselves stuck in the same situations.  A particularly helpful section talks about the formation of triangles in which “we reduce anxiety in one relationship by focusing on a third party, who we unconsciously pull into the situation to lower the emotional intensity in the original pair.”  I’ve sometimes realized that I was doing this, or that two people had pulled me into the middle of a conflict that was really between them, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to get out of it.  The book explains how to figure out why it’s happening and how to get out of it by “staying calm, staying out, and hanging in”–none of which is especially easy to do, but the clear explanation of steps makes it sound possible, at least!  I also appreciate this book’s clear explanation of a pattern in which one person consistently “over-functions” (does too much) and the other “under-functions” and why both people find this difficult to stop.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

This dystopian techno-thriller starts with a fascinating premise and goes on into a saga that seemed kind of muddled… Read more of this post

Bullying: an article I wrote, and three I don’t have to write

Although I am discussing my work here, the point of view is my own, and this is not an official statement of the Pittsburgh Youth Study.

As the data manager of a long-term research study, I recently helped to write this academic paper: Bullying Perpetration and Victimization as Predictors of Delinquency and Depression in the Pittsburgh Youth Study.  What we found, looking at data collected from the 503 men we’ve been interviewing repeatedly since they were in first grade, is that bullies are more likely than non-bullies to grow up to be criminals, and bullying victims are more likely than non-victims to grow up to be depressed.  That’s not really surprising, is it?  But it’s good to add to the hard scientific evidence that bullying is a serious problem with lifelong consequences.  This whole issue of the Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research was a special issue on school bullying, with 7 more articles on the subject.

I had been kind of thinking I should write something about bullying that might be read by people who don’t read dull academic journals.  But I felt very shy about it and afraid to admit that, well, I know there’s a problem and can prove there’s a problem but can’t claim I ever solved this problem for myself or anybody and tried so many things that didn’t work and when I even think about it I get so scared and what if– Read more…

It’s high school musical season!

No, no, I don’t mean those tawdry movies–I mean the musical theater productions put on by many real-life high schools every spring.  My family sees at least one every year, and we always have a great time, for just $3 to $10 per person with all the profits going to a good cause.

The amazing energy and enthusiasm of teenagers can make these productions almost professional quality. Read more…

Parents of teenagers are still parents!

Last week’s Parade magazine feature article summarized some of the scientific findings about adolescent brain development.  None of it was news to me, but I work in developmental psychology and read lots of research articles; I thought it was a pretty good article for typical mainstream readers.  But this part got me steamed:

The phone rang at 2 a.m. Steven Weinreb, a physician in Hartford, Conn., answered, his heart pounding. It was two years ago, and his 18-year-old son, Jeff, was coming back from one of his band’s concerts. What was wrong? Car accident? Drug overdose? “Dad, we’re in New Jersey. We’re lost. I think we’ve crossed the river twice. What do I do?” Jeff said.

“This is a boy who had it together enough to book dates for his own band; he had a GPS in his car; he had maps; he could ask at a gas station,” Weinreb says. “Instead, he called me at two in the morning and practically gave me a heart attack.”

Gee. It’s like he thought you were his parent or something. Like he trusted you to know the right thing to do in a difficult situation. Like he trusted you to help when he needed you. Wherever could he have gotten that idea? Read more…

Thinking Out Loud

I talk to my kid a lot.  He’s five-and-a-half years old now and has some interesting things to say, but long before he was capable of conversation I talked to him quite a bit.  It wasn’t really a conscious strategy, just that I like having a companion sharing my experiences.  In my own childhood, I was treated as a valued companion by my parents and other relatives, who talked to me as if I were an intelligent person–not an itsy bitsy wuggums who needs baby talk and must be sheltered from reality, not a burden who should be seen and not heard–so it comes naturally to me to talk to kids in a normal way about real things. Read more…

The Difference Between 16 and 36

Overall, I was a pretty sensible teenager, and there aren’t a lot of things I roll my eyes about when I think back on my adolescence.  However, the other day I saw a television commercial to which I would have reacted very differently 20 years ago.

The ad: Here’s a new soda pop!  It is lavender!  The flavor has a name that does not evoke any fruit or other food occuring in nature!  No calories!  Look at these excited, trendy people drinking it!

My reaction at 16: What a pretty color!  I wonder what it tastes like?  I guess I’ll try it sometime . . . but it’s diet. . . .  Well, I bet Jenny would split one with me, and I’ll drink it with food.  [Artificial sweeteners give me an unpleasant metabolic reaction.]  Ooh, it’s purple!!

My reaction at 36: No calories, no nutrients . . . so it’s a bottle of nothing for $2?!  No thanks!  I’d rather drink lemonade and buy some more purple clothes at Goodwill.

Hmm, I guess I have matured!

Breaking the shell of shyness

I was a shy child.  I liked to be around people and was very interested in them, but for some reason I found it difficult to talk to unfamiliar people or even to feel that they were looking at me, and I was nervous that I might do something “wrong” that would make people yell at or laugh at me.  Some people continued to seem unfamiliar even when I was around them frequently, so in public settings like school I often spoke very little and tried to pass unnoticed.  (I got teased and harrassed by other kids, which motivated me to keep trying for invisibility…but in retrospect I wonder if it was because I was so quiet that I made a good victim!)  My shyness lasted until I was about 15, and then I began to come out of it gradually. By 18, I could walk up to strangers who seemed to have something in common with me and start a conversation feeling only slightly nervous, whereas at 11 that would’ve made my heart pound in my throat, and before that I was hardly willing to try it at all!

An old friend recently asked about my transition out of shyness, how it worked and what made it happen.  It doesn’t seem completely explainable to me–it felt like my innate temperament changed at some deep biological level–but these are some experiences that I think were helpful:
Read more…

The TV Game

My brother and cousins and I came up with this game when we had been sent to play in an upstairs room at our grandparents’ house and were wishing there was a television to watch…

One person is the TV. Everybody else sits down facing TV, each holding an invisible remote control. TV stands there looking blank until somebody presses her remote and says, “On!” Then TV acts out a show–it can be a show you’ve really seen or something you make up. Read more…

Anything works better when you know how to use it!

This columnist argues that teenagers shouldn’t be taught about contraception because studies show that younger, poorer, unmarried people using oral contraceptives or condoms are more likely to get pregnant than older, more affluent, married people using the same devices.  It’s an interesting attempt at logic, but it leaves out a crucial point:

Any contraceptive method that requires action by the user (that is, anything except surgery) works better when used correctly.  How do you learn to use it correctly? Read more…

Sex Myths and Facts

Many people are terribly uninformed about sex. At the extremes are people like the girl I overheard in high school, telling her friend that she didn’t understand how she’d gotten pregnant for the second time at age sixteen, when she’d been using “foam”–the foam from a can of cola! She went on to say that she’d gotten pregnant the first time because she not only had no contraception but also didn’t know that the activity her boyfriend called “screwing” was the same thing as this “sexual intercourse” that she’d heard was the cause of pregnancy.

Most people manage to pick up more information than that. Still, in college I met many highly intelligent people who believed some inaccurate things about sex. Here are a few examples: Read more…

How Fear Handicaps Feminism

The unequal status of women in our society is popularly blamed on men. Certainly men were responsible for much of the historical oppression of women, and some men continue to try to keep women down in order to make themselves feel better. Many men today, though, reject the idea of female inferiority and are happy to give women a fair chance in society. The struggle against sexism can’t progress much further until we acknowledge that men’s behavior is not the only obstacle. There are problems with women too.

I don’t mean that there is anything innately, biologically wrong with women. I mean that there is something wrong with what females in our society are taught about themselves. Read more…