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Do Cell Phones Make Our Kids Safer?

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, June 25, 2013

We live in a worried society.  We worry about everything -- real and imagined -- and we go out of our way to protect ourselves against these dangers.  But in overhearing a parent at the mall say to her daughter, "And keep your cell phone on in case something happens," I wondered: do cell phones make our kids safer?

Ages ago I watched an Oprah show about a college student who was assaulted on her way through a campus forest after a party.  She said that she thought she was safe because she had her cell with her, but the moment she got off the phone, her attacker jumped her and tossed the cell in the woods.  With her safety net gone, she had to fend him off unprepared.  (Which, thankfully, she did, but who wants that experience for their daughter??)

I think the important question we as parents need to ask ourselves is: would I let my child do (fill in the blank) if he did NOT have a cell phone?  That should be the criteria we use to determine what we're comfortable with and what we're not.  Because at the end of the day, I'm not yet convinced that cell phones are the adolescent safety tools we wish they were.

Happiness at Home: Simplify Your Life

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Here's the article from my most recent newsletter...

Most people say they want to simplify their lives because they feel like they have lost control of their time. They want to have more time to do the things they want to do, both at work and at home. Every few weeks, there is another newspaper or magazine story about how people feel that they aren’t spending their time on things they enjoy. A recent poll, for example, found that 65% of people are spending their free time doing things they’d rather not do. Isn’t that amazing? It’s great if you have created a full and interesting life for yourself, but how frustrating if you don’t have the time to enjoy it!

The 80/20 Principle
The 80/20 Principle, first stated by Vilfredo Pareto in 1897, says that 20% of our effort produces 80% of the results. This means that a small number of resources are highly productive—and a large number (80%) are not very productive at all. Here are a few examples:
•  20% of the things in your house are used 80% of the time.
•  80% of the things in your house are used 20% of the time.
•  20% of your activities give you 80% of your satisfaction.
•  20% of the stocks in an investor’s portfolio produce 80% of the results.
•  20% of the books in a bookstore account for 80% of the sales.
The challenge is to identify those few vital items that produce the greatest value for you. Focus on the activities that result in satisfaction, such as money, better health, or more free time. At the same time, identify those many trivial items that don’t lead to things like satisfaction, money, better health, or more free time. These unprofitable activities are taking up 80% of your time. Doesn’t it make sense to deemphasize them in favor of the vital 20%?

Making Time Takes Time
The first challenge to simplifying your life is that it takes an investment of time. If you want to discover how to make time for the things you enjoy, you have to examine how you are spending your time now. If you keep living your life the same way you always have, it will stay complicated.
For some, the excuse, “I can’t slow down because everything is important,” is a way to avoid seeing what they don’t want to see: a relationship that is no longer fulfilling, a job that no longer satisfies, an emotional distance that has emerged between them and their family members. Some people keep their lives going at a furious pace to avoid seeing what they don’t want to see.
If you really do want to simplify your life, you will make the time. You don’t have to do anything radical; in fact, it is best to start small. Set aside just 30 minutes each day for a month. During that time, think about a simple question: What are the elements that contribute to my life feeling so complicated? Make a list of the factors in your private journal and write about them. Begin to think about what can be changed or eliminated.
Finding this time is not as impossible as it may seem at first. Maybe you can leave work 30 minutes early for a month and use the extra time for this exploration, possibly at home. Perhaps you can take the train instead of driving, or give up your exercise time for one month, or turn off the television during the evening news and write in your journal instead. Set aside 30 minutes a day for one month, ask yourself some important questions, and be prepared to learn some remarkable things about yourself.

Fewer Responsibilities
You may think that this sounds too simple. Most people who seek to simplify their lives think that the answer is to get more help. But this probably won’t help. In fact, if you hire someone to help you get more done, you will actually have added another complication to your life rather than making it simpler. You probably don’t need more help; you probably need fewer responsibilities.

Learn to Say No
If you want a simpler life, you must learn to say no. In Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter, author Elaine St. James says that people get into trouble because they agree to do things they really don’t have time to do. This leads to a constant state of being overcommitted and frustrated. Our culture makes it difficult for us to say no to requests to attend extra meetings, dinner engagements, or to take on new responsibilities. Many of us feel obligated to always be participating at a high level. We are proud of our high productivity and involvement, but it comes with a high price: a complicated life that leaves to time for you. St. James suggests that you actually schedule time for yourself on your calendar at the beginning of every month; when you are invited to participate in something, turn down the request because you already have a commitment.

Clear Away Clutter
Get rid of things you don’t use. Think of all the stuff you have acquired in the past five or 10 years. Most of it is designed to make life simpler, but in fact most of it brings along its own set of complications. Think of what typically happens when you buy a new electronic gadget: Consider all of the time required to earn the money to pay for it, shop for it, buy it, set it up, learn how to use it, fix the unexpected problems it causes with another gadget, and then the time you spend actually using it. Most of us have rooms in our houses filled with stuff that seemed like a good idea at the time, but ends up sitting on a shelf or in a drawer, unused. St. James suggests that you go through your house once each year and get rid of everything you haven’t used during the previous year.
She also has an idea for not acquiring new stuff in the first place. She suggests a technique called the 30-Day List. When you start thinking that you must have a certain product, add it to your 30-Day List and wait. At the end of 30 days, ask yourself if you really still need it. Chances are, you will have lost your enthusiasm for the product and will cross it off the list.

Suggested Reading

Sam Davidson, Simplify Your Life: How To De-clutter & De-stress Your Way To Happiness.  Turner, 2011.
Elaine St. James, Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways to Slow Down and Enjoy the Things That Really Matter. New York, NY: Hyperion, 1994.

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Weight Worries

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What do you do if you're worried about your teen's weight?

Begin by recognizing that however unhappy you are about the weight, your teen is guaranteed to be even more bothered by it.  So no nagging, harping, shaming, and other "helpful" behaviours designed to point out that what your kid is doing isn't working. 

Making the decision to put your teen on a diet is also not going to be helpful.  That requires compliance, and teens aren't so keen on complying with anything they haven't signed on for.  Try saying, "I'm concerned about the amount of unhealthy food we eat in our house -- would you be willing to help me to look through my cookbooks for some healthy and easy meals?  And maybe we could even go to the grocery store together."  This serves the dual purpose of getting buy-in from your teen AND teaching her how to spot a ripe melon and becoming an astute shopper.

Avoid having the junky foods in your house, even if you personally enjoy them.  Creating an environment that promotes healthy eating is an essential step.

Suggest that you get moving together.  Perhaps you take a morning or evening walk together, or join a fitness class or sport team.  By participating yourself you let your teen know that you practice what you preach.

Put a cap on computer and tv time.  You're bound to get resistance, but unless your kid is doing jumping jacks and arm curls while watching The Vampire Diaries, it's an extremely passive (and time-consuming) activity.

Stop being the eating police.  You can't want it more than your teen does.  There may be psychological reasons that are holding her back from taking control of her weight; if so, nothing will happen on the scale until those are appropriately addressed.  But for many teens, Mom and Dad backing out of the enforcer role allows the adolescent to step up and make the choices for herself or himself.  By positioning these changes as not just about weight loss, but about living a healthy lifestyle, your kids are more likely to step up and take the responsibility on for themselves.

Some Valuable Lessons For All Our Kids Suffering From A Sense Of Entitlement

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I just got a "chain email" sent to me, and although I usually just delete them (sorry if you've ever sent me one, but I just don't have time to worry about all the bad karma I will generate if I don't immediately forward it on to 10 people), this one struck a chord.  I think all parents might want to post this one on their fridge, for reference whenever either your kids feel the world owes them a favour...or when we as parents want to spare our kids the pain and suffering of a life lesson.  These rules are important reminders for us that we do our kids no favours when we pamper them. 

It was written by author Charles J. Sykes, who wrote the book Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add.  The email I got attributed this list to a speech Bill Gates gave at a high school, but that is untrue.  (For the record, I always check out rampantly-circulating emails on the urban legends web site  If you've never checked it out, you don't know what you're missing.  Any mass email you've ever received has been examined on that site -- so if you're forwarding any form of mass email, check Snopes out first to make sure it's legitimate.)

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it!
Rule 2 : The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.
Rule 3 : You will NOT make $60,000 a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone until you earn both.
Rule 4 : If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 5 : Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your Grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault , so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.
Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent's generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.
Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools, they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.
Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you FIND YOURSELF. Do that on your own time.
Rule 10: Television is NOT real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.
Rule 11 : Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.

These 11 rules are the most commonly circulated, but there are actually three more.  Here they are:

Rule 12:  Smoking does not make you look cool.  It makes you look moronic.  Next time you're out cruising, watch an 11-year-old with a butt in his mouth.  That's what you look like to anyone over 20.  Ditto for "expressing yourself" with purple hair and/or pierced body parts.

Rule 13: You are not immortal (see Rule 12).  If you are under the impression that living fast, dying young, and leaving a beautiful corpse is romantic, you obviously haven't seen one of your peers at room temperature lately.

Rule 14: Enjoy this while you can.  Sure, parents are a pain, school's a bother, and life's depressing.  Someday you'll realize how wonderful it was to be a kid.  Maybe you should start now.  You're welcome.

The "More, More, More" Epidemic

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, June 04, 2013

We live in an era of rampant consumerism. Raise your hand if you’ve ever caught yourself trying to keep up with the Jones’…or at the very least snuck an undercover look at what they’ve got to see how you stack up. Advertisements are everywhere in our lives: in magazines, on tv, on the internet, in the newspaper, in our mailboxes, on the side of the road… And marketers are turning their sights onto younger and younger crowds. Did you know that in many countries it is illegal to direct advertising efforts at kids under a certain age? Sadly, we don’t live in one of those countries. Marketers rely on the “nag factor” to sell their products: sending kids off to Mom and Dad hyped and salivating over the newest product (usually toys and food), so that they bug their parents to get it for them until Mom and Dad can’t take it anymore, and give in.

To put this into perspective, not that long ago, the average child had received 50 toys by his fifth birthday. In 1995, a similarly average child had received 500 toys by the same age. Yikes!

But many of us, as parents, are doing pretty well financially. If we can afford it, why would we say no? And if we can’t afford it, is it fair for our kids to suffer by not having the latest toys and gadgets all their friends do?

The reality is, though, that we don’t do our kids any favours by giving them whatever their hearts desire, without any thought or effort on their part. Childhood is a training ground, and we know that as adults, all these things we buy have to be earned and paid for. So if we just hand over $5 here and $20 there, we aren’t really teaching our kids about the realities of economics. Although we may want our kids to be happy and have the best we can offer them, that need for stuff to feel a sense of worth is not usually part of the message we intend to send.

If we live in a rampant consumer culture, we also live in a rampant debt culture. While our parents might have never even considered putting a purchase like a tv or a vacation on a credit card (and leaving it there for many months), our generation often sees it as an inevitable part of our financial reality. But when would we like to see this cycle of debt stop?

I want to give my kids the belief and confidence in themselves to know that if they want something, they have the ability to work for it and get it. When things come too easily to kids, they start to get lazy, and not only expect that things will always just come to them, but that they aren’t capable of achieving something without it being handed to them. That’s very disempowering. It robs kids of their self-esteem and confidence in their capabilities.

Alfred Adler, who defined the theory of personality and psychology that I use with my clients, believed strongly that pampering a child was worse than neglecting him. And when it comes to toys and other stuff, it is very easy to fall into that “pampering” category.

So now what? Now that we’ve decided that we don’t want to contribute to our children’s materialism, what do we do instead?

Start by talking with your kids about money. Talk about where money comes from, how it has to be earned, and how there has to be enough to cover the other necessities in life. Talk about needs versus wants, and how to have a healthy balance between them.

Give your kids an allowance, and allow them to spend the money however they want (within acceptable moral and legal limits, of course). This is their opportunity to test the waters. If we rescue them or make all their decisions for them, they miss that opportunity to make mistakes in a low pressure environment.

You can use “nag factor” opportunities to teach your kids about the lessons and values that matter most to you. Delayed gratification can be a tough lesson for kids, but saving their allowance teaches them the value in not spending every cent as it crosses their hands. It isn’t cruel and unusual punishment to resist buying a toy for your child so that she can save up her money and buy it herself. It’s an important lesson that we can’t always have what we want, when we want it. And that sometimes our wants change, so jumping in too quickly leaves us without money or opportunity to change our minds.

Teach them about saving and anticipating future needs, and about giving to charity. Help them decide how much of their money should be ear-marked for all of these different areas. Teach them about comparison shopping, about price versus quality, and about determining what will be worth the money. These are all things adults need to know, so help them out now before they have their first credit cards and full-time jobs and school loans.

Remember that you are your child’s biggest role model. Include your kids in appropriate financial decisions, and demonstrate through your good example what it means to be free of the burden of attachment to stuff.

Contact the Oakville Family Institute office at (905) 491-6949 to book an appointment
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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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