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We’re so happy to have you join us!

Welcome to the launch of the new and improved Counseling Today website and my first blog post! I am Dr. Susan Rose, CEO of Counseling Today, and I am so excited to share with you MORE of what Counseling Today has to offer! The amount of ideas and inspiration whirling around in my head, collected over a lifetime of education and experience, is ready to jump out. I wanted to start by telling you why I created this blog, what you will be seeing more of in my posts, and my overall experience of revamping my website.


Animated Bookworm

Why I started the blog

Since I have been in education and especially since I became a Counselor Educator, many have asked “Why don’t you write a book?!” I have spent the most current years of my career in higher education, but have many years experience as a school counselor and teacher in both private and public schools. This experience, along with my education and research, established a broad spectrum of experience from which to draw and placed me in situations which prompted this blog so that I could informally share what I’ve learned with fellow counselors as well as parents. Additionally, writing is another one of my passions, so it seems natural to combine two of my passions (school counseling and writing) with this blog.

What you will be seeing in my posts

Counseling will obviously be the main topic of my blog, but get ready because you will be seeing much more of the face behind Counseling Today (me), and a mixture of what I’ve picked up along the way throughout my career, including counseling strategies, parenting techniques, and self-care. I may be a “perfectionist” but I am nowhere near perfect. That’s one of the main messages I want to convey with this blog – that we are all just trying to get through this life the best way we can. But, if we support each other, we can make it better for all of us. Please feel free to always share your experiences and communicate with me along the way! I hope to inspire you because, truthfully, I believe that one cannot help others without helping themselves. So, we’re all in this together.

Revamp experience

After being inspired to start my blog, I wanted to act fast. Yet, I learned that this is not a fast task. Not only did I want to start a blog, but after having my business for almost twenty years, I was ready to totally revamp my brand and website which I initially created on my own. Originally, the company and the website was focused on selling curriculum that I wrote. The new direction is to share information through the blog as well as through Professional Development workshops and seminars. The new website and this blog reintroduces us.

Developing Emotional Intelligence

Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

            It is one of the primary responsibilities of the school counselor to provide their students the necessary tools to be able to control their own behavior in a positive and appropriate fashion. This is what is known as EQ or Emotional Quotient.  Counselors teach their students how to understand and manage human emotions, encouraging the development of “internal assets” such as integrity, honesty, restraint, empathy, decisiveness, and friendship-making skills.

            John D. Mayer, a researcher and associate professor of psychology at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, a Yale University psychology professor, coined the term emotional intelligence in 1990 after exploring the relationships between cognitive brain functions (such as memory, reasoning, judgment, and abstract thought) and affect (including emotions, moods, and feelings of fatigue or energy).  They describe emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize how you and those around you are feeling, as well as the ability to generate, understand, and regulate emotions.  Once labeled, the concept of emotional intelligence spread rapidly. 

            In 1995, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and writer for The New York Times, expanded on the Mayer-Salovey theory claiming that the art of understanding and managing human emotions “can matter more than IQ” in determining whether a person leads a successful life (Goleman, 1995).

            Focusing on emotional intelligence or the emotional quotient concentrates our efforts on encouraging “internal assets”.  These assets including caring, motivation to achieve, commitment, to equality and social justice, integrity, honesty, responsibility, self-control, planning and decision-making abilities, self-esteem, a sense of purpose, and a positive view of personal future. 

            But the time a person reaches adulthood, emotional habits are fairly well set.  To change, an adult must unlearn, then relearn behavior. So, it’s up to us as the School Counselor to ensure that we are building the child’s emotional intelligence correctly from the beginning.

            Emotional intelligence works along with personally styles or traits.  People can be emotional intelligent whether they are extroverts or introverts, warm or aloof, emotional or calm.  It’s the development of such attributes as conflict-solving skills, self-motivation, or impulse control that proponents agree can contribute much to a child’s ultimate success.  Success also involves staying centered on a positive path to avoid risk behavior such as violence, drug and alcohol abuse, tobacco use, sexual activity and others.

            Hundreds of studies show that how caregivers such as parents, teachers, counselors, etc. treat children in general – whether with warmth and nurturing or with harsh discipline – deeply affects a child’ emotional life.  But these caregivers can also intentionally guide children to develop emotional skills.  Adults can teach empathy by simply expressing their own feelings frequently, pointing out another person’s feelings, and encouraging the child to share his or her feelings.

            Children develop optimistic outlooks when they observe their parents’ optimism, says Lawrence E. Shapiro (1997).  Shapiro, who frequently uses creative games to teach, suggests the “Stay Calm” game to develop anger control.  While one child concentrates on playing pick-up sticks, another child is allowed to tease him in any way he likes as long as he doesn’t actually touch him.  Each player gets one point for picking up each stick, and two points for showing no reaction to the teasing. 

           We can also use the following suggestions to encourage the development of the internal assets that build up emotional intelligence in their children.

  • Helping people.  Regularly spend time, whether as a family or as a school community, helping others.  Volunteer at local shelters or nursing homes.  Show care for your neighbors.
  • Empathy.  Model mutual respect in the school community.  Do not tolerate insults, put-downs, name-calling, or bullying.  Talk about how selfish or hurtful choices and behaviors affect other people.
  • Decision-making skills.  Include your students in decisions that affect them.  Give them a chance to talk, listen to them respectfully, and consider their feelings and opinions.  Allow for mistakes; don’t blow up at a poor decision.  Instead, help them learn from their errors. 
  • Planning skills.  Give your teenagers daily planners or date books and demonstrate how to use them.  Show them how to plan ahead for long-term assignments so they’re not overwhelmed at the last minutes.
  • Self-esteem.  Celebrate each child’s uniqueness.  Find something special to value and affirm.  Express your love (unconditional positive regard) regularly and often.  Treat your students with respect.  Listen without interrupting; talk without yelling even if they are interrupting and yelling.
  • Hope.  Inspire hope by being hopeful.  Don’t dismiss your student’s dreams as naïve or unrealistic.  Instead, share their enthusiasm.  Eliminate pessimistic phrases from your professional learning community’s vocabulary.  Replace, “It won’t work” with “Why not try”.  My father always told me, “It never hurts to ask” and “The worst they can do is say no”. Just this thinking provides hope.
  • Assertiveness.  Teach your students the difference between assertiveness (positive and affirming), aggression (negative and demanding) and passivity (vulnerable and effortless).  Point out examples of these behaviors in movies, television programs, media, and the community.  Teach your students to stick up for themselves instead of going along with the crowd because it’s easier.

References

Goleman, D. (1995).  Emotional Intelligence.  City, State:  Bantam Books.

Shapiro, L. E. (1997).  How to raise a child with high EQ – A parents guide to emotional intelligence.  City, State:  Harper Collins.

Life is not a contest!

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.     – Anna Quindlen

            Let me remind you that life is not a contest.  So much of the time we treat it as though it were a foot-race – that the first to complete all the stages of development and get there (wherever there is) wins.

            Piaget saw this as “the American question”.  When he visited the United States from his home country of Switzerland, he was repeatedly asked, “How do you accelerate the progress of a child through the stages?”  His answer, in summary, was that children develop at their own rate.  And, he cautions, do not push children through any of the stages.  This is especially true in the adolescent years when children are already so aware of their peers.  Forcing a false comparison only deteriorates the self-image further.

            Piaget emphasized that the development of skills must unfold naturally and cannot be easily accelerated by adult activities.  These conclusions support the belief that students should not be expected to function at levels that are beyond them.  It is believed that pushing a child through the stages does not encourage deep thinking.  The child is just surface learning and thus will remediate at the formal operations stage to catch up on the material that was skipped.  This supports the idea that the opposite outcome is actually when a child is pushed through.  It actually slows down the logical thinking and cognitive processes and, usually, cripples the decision-making skills. 

            Speeding up the developmental stages confers no advantage.  In fact, if there is a relationship, it is an inverse one.  That is, if any change occurs at all by pushing a child through the stages, it is a negative one.  The child needs to experience the depth of each stage, not simply the surface.

            So, what can you do as a counselor to help guide students through these stages?

  • Be “askable”.  You want to be nonjudgmental so your students don’t fear disapproval or criticism when they bring an issue to you.  If you don’t watch for those windows of opportunities and respond honestly, children may not bring up any subject – small or serious.
  • Be open in all areas and subjects.  Books, pamphlets, television dialogue and music lyrics all can be used as a springboard to launch a chat.  The easiest way to communicate is by being open as questions occur during everyday occurrences.
  • Steer teenagers toward friends their own age.  Studies show that adolescents whose friends are the same age don’t have the behavior problems of those with older friends.
  • Encourage other pursuits.  Expose students to a broad range of activities so they can find something they want to get involved in.  Encourage activities that emphasize teamwork, strength, and character development.  Encourage doing volunteer work, playing instruments, going to sporting events, getting involved in the community, and other ideas that send a positive message.

One Positive Role Model

Research supports that children will thrive if they have just one positive role model.  Kids are not necessarily trouble makers.  It’s just that the teenage years bring on that developmental stage where they are individuating from their parents.  But, they still need that most important sense of belonging.  They just need a place where they feel comfortable, connected and welcome.  They need a mentor, friend, adult role model who believe in them and guide them to make positive life choices as a young person.  You can provide role models for your students that match values of the professional learning community!

            But, you can also be that support as the counselor.  Tired, tense and overextended counselors sometimes inadvertently fail at supporting their students in the way they need.  Educators often give material favors or “empty praise” as expressions of support, yet the teen remains apathetic.  Giving rewards doesn’t satisfy the question lurking deep inside, “Do my counselors and teachers really care about me?”  and therefore fail to be the real support they require.  We choose to spend time with people and activities that we love and bring us joy.  If we rob our students of our time in lieu of material and financial objects, then they get the underlying message they are not valued and/or loved.  Time is valuable, especially at this time of life when our teens are testing everyone’s love. 

            Try the following ideas, borrowed from both counselors and parents, to strengthen the counselor/student relationship:

  • Plan surprises.  Leave notes for your students or pull a few together for a special surprise such as a dessert you’ve prepared, popcorn party, etc. The time that you spent preparing the note or dessert sends an important message.  Remember, actions speak louder than words!
  • Play together.  If personalities are clashing, play can lessen the tension.  Pull the students to exercise, study together, simply play board games, etc.  Use anything that promotes discussion as the “play”.
  • Ask their opinions.  Allowing student input relates the message that their opinions are valuable and leads to less friction and more understanding.  Talking it out helps!
  • Be accessible. An “open door” policy requires making yourself available to students. Be available during transition points in your student’s day as well as for appointments when they need extended time.
  • Be there for your students.  Attend your student’s sports event, plays, concerts, etc. Your presence is a gift of time that is priceless.
  • Eat lunch with the kids.  Make it a habit to eat with the students. Whether you are pulling specific students for special time with you or simply eating in their space, your presence is time given to them.
  • Celebrate for trying.  Give flowers after cheerleading tryouts (to all – not just that make the squad), give a CD for running for class office or for completing a special academic project.  But, remember, these must be true gifts – not rewards every time your students do something.  They should not expect something – Surprise is important here. The point is to show that stepping out and trying is valuable.
  • Say no!  Being firm and consistent across the school culture speaks a message of love and loyalty.  On a deeper level that one only realizes as they mature, we appreciate our parents, teachers and administrators for being firm. 
  • Acknowledge their coming and going.  Welcome them as they come into school. Part with, “I love you. Be careful;” or “Hang in there”.

Walking Alongside Parents

Our culture is permeated with parenthood myths such as the one of being able to escape the adolescent stage of development mentioned in the previous blog.  These, of course hinder the parenting process and can cause them to feel defeated.  Accurate information about child and adolescent development helps stressed parents feel relief.  So, I’ve offered some myths you can dispel for your parents to help empower them. I’m sure you are aware of these from your own counseling training, but it’s good to revisit them for your parents.

Myth 1:  Good parents do everything they can for their children.

            Actually, quite the opposite is true!  Good parents encourage their children to do and handle as much as they can for themselves, including the consequences of their mistakes.  Particularly during the teenage years, they avoid swooping in to play “Ms. or Mr. Fix-it” and instead take pride in their children’s growing assumption of responsibility for their problems and blunders.  Supportive parents actively listen and ask powerful questions:  “Do you feel like talking?”; “Is there anything else you can share with me to help me understand?”; “What do you think?”; “What do you need?”; “How can we work this out?”  The answers are not as important as the conversation.  That is, the adolescent needs to feel connected and that someone is listening and caring. Put yourself in a position to be with your child and listen and wait more; you don’t always have to respond. Simply be there to pose these questions and allow the child to use the parent as a “sounding board” to work these issues out for him/herself.

            It has been a source of great happiness for me that I was able to stay home with our children when they were young, but this also caused me some stress when they were ready to go to school.  They had never been away from me for any length of time.  So, whey my oldest went to Kindergarten, I sat in the back of the room on the first day in case he needed me.  After about twenty minutes, he politely came back to me and said, “Mom, you can go now if you want.”  It was then that I realized that I needed him, not the other way around.

 Myth 2:  If we have enjoyed a solid relationship with our pre-adolescent children, then we can count on being the exception to the rule.  Unlike the neighbor’s kids, our teenagers will not mouth off, question everything we say, or try anything of which we do not approve.

            If only that were true – but it is not!  If teenagers do not exhibit any of these behaviors, that is probably more a cause for concern than if they do.  On the other hand, the good news is that contrary to the bleak picture painted by much of the media, most teenagers make it through adolescence successfully and remain attached to their parents.  The emotional bond between parents and their children remains important throughout adolescence.  It is what gives adolescents the emotional foundation to reach out and develop a sense of self beyond the family.

Myth 3:  Responsible parents do not loosen controls during the scary days of adolescence – they tighten them.

            This approach amounts to throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out!  Increasing the number of rules, punishments, interrogations, and lectures from “on high” is like issuing an invitation to your children to go into immediate resistance mode or, at the very least, tune you out.  It is not that teenagers do not need limits and guidance.  In fact, when parents fail to provide limits, they are apt to conclude their parents do not care enough to offer any limits.

            Barbara Minton (2008) provides a good example in Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children. Imagine you are standing on the roof deck of a skyscraper. There are no railings, the wind is blowing and the building sways. Where would you be? You would probably be in the center where you could gather some feeling of security. Now imagine there are high sturdy railings around the edge of the roof deck. You walk over to the railing, push on it a few times to make sure it is sturdy and will hold. Now you feel secure and free to stand by the edge, maybe even look down or out into the beyond. Those railings really changed the experience. You went from feeling insecure to feeling secure just by having a firm boundary around you. It is just this kind of feeling of security your child is after when he challenges you to set firm and consistent limits and boundaries for him.

When you set solid limits and boundaries for your child, you are sending him a clear message that says, “I care about you and I want you to be safe and feel secure as you learn about the world. I am an authority on whom you can always rely.”

            Yet, adolescents feel resentful and degraded when parents continue to make top-down decisions and don’t acknowledge their developmental strides by soliciting their input.  This does not mean that you are automatically becoming your child’s friend.  They have enough friends.  You are still the parent.  The difference is that you are diplomatically teaching them how to make their own decisions once they are out on their own by allowing them input into the decisions of their life now within the limits of your control and role modeling the thought process of appropriate decision-making within these limits. Limits are the safe zone for your child. Within the limits, the world is safe and predictable. It’s easier for your child to venture out into the rest of the world when he know there is this safe zone you have created for him. (Minton, 2008)

The Truth:  More Than Ever, Caring Parents Matter!

            Though our young adolescents may appear to be retreating from us, the last thing they want is for us to pull away as well.  More than ever, they depend on us to be a “safety net” – the constant they can count on to listen and care in a sea of change.  It is in the context of warm, supportive connections with us that our children grow sturdy wings capable of carrying them to confident independence.

References

Minton, Barbara L. (2008). Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children. Natural News, May 10, 2008.  Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/023208_child_children_life.html.

Bridging the Gap

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant  I could hardly stand to have the old man around, But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.                                                 – Mark Twain

One of the troubles when working with children is that just when you think you are getting the hang of it, the rules change. They become adolescents. The basic directive that children need our unconditional love, acceptance, and nurturing always applies.  Yet, when we do not continuously adapt our behaviors and expectations to match children’s developmental changes, we risk defeating their efforts to grow up, not to mention endangering the health of our relationship with them.

            Nowhere is this need for unconditional love and acceptance more apparent than during our children’s early adolescence when an astonishing metamorphosis takes place.  Seemingly overnight, those reasonably cooperative, affectionate, admiring creatures from elementary school transform into a rather unappreciative, moody, and hypercritical bunch who find us known as adults hopelessly lacking.  Everything about us is now suspicious. 

          Suffice it say, “We just don’t understand.”  And, we have partners in this new development – their parents. This sudden fall from grace and strident declaration of independence can be devastating for them.  It feels like rejection.  In the words of these adolescents, it’s not fair!  After all those Moms and Dads have done for these youngsters, how dare they turn on them?! Not only are they hurt, but they’re scared.  At a time when the dangers and the stakes loom greater than ever, parents worry that they are losing control and influence over their children.  This is where we can work together for their good.

            First, we can remind the parents not to put their job as parents after being friends with our children.  Friends are equals. Childhood friends drop each other and move on to other friendships, experiencing all the different personalities that life has to offer. Friends don’t guide, nurture, and protect each other; they don’t set boundaries and limits for each other. (Minton, 2008) Being a parent is not an adversarial relationship, but one in which clear lines are drawn about who is in charge. If parents don’t create a solid, secure base from which their child can explore the world, they are probably being a friend rather than a parent. (Minton, 2008)  Parents have to be parents first, and the friendship will follow in due time. 

When parents try to be friends with their children it sends a confusing message. It undermines a child’s feelings of security for parents to be inconsistent in their role. (Minton, 2008)

Next, we can assure parents that this stage is a product of development; we all pass through it. One illustration is from my own personal relationship with my daughter. We had shared a special, close relationship when she was younger. We enjoyed going to concerts, the ballet, and shopping together. So, I thought I had done everything “right” and we would not go through a “rough spot”. After all, I had studied psychology and knew what do do. Yet, no one escapes this stage.

Finally, we can bridge the gap for adolescents who do not have parents with the wherewithal or capacity to provide the parental involvement for successful academic achievement. Some parents carry baggage due to their own lack of success in school. They usually are not aware that they are carrying this baggage, but it impedes their ability to provide proper boundaries and/or appropriate emotional support. It is not that they do not care; it’s that they do not know. So, it’s up to us as counselors to empower parents by collaborating with them and walking alongside them to both teach them and support their child.

References

Minton, Barbara L. (2008). Strong Boundaries Create Secure Children. Natural News, May 10, 2008.  Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/023208_child_children_life.html.

Answering the Peer Pressure Riddle

Now, we return to answering those questions from the earlier blog.

So what, specifically, can we do as counselors to help our students follow the “right” crowd?

It is our responsibility to be the type of counselor/leader/role model that has been described in the earlier blogs.  But, we need to do more as well.         It is our job as counselors to provide:

  • Empathy with the pressures under which your children and adolescents are currently working;
  • A willingness to listen and a commitment to try to help them;
  • Help to identify approaches, resources and evaluation techniques;
  • Contacts through a network of teachers and other professionals who share our concerns.

It is our job to get involved in our student’s lives and help them get involved in productive activities that allow them to grow and learn.  Adolescents may act as if they do not want us as adults around, but they actually appreciate the care, compassion and even rules if extended appropriately.

What can you do if you feel your students are following the “wrong” crowd and may be falling into the “at risk” category?

This is a very tough one, because you are now doing repairs.  It is so much easier to catch an issue before it becomes an obstacle.  Now, you not only have to follow the above steps, but you first have to pull them back from this influence.  This is much easier said than done, but I will to provide some guidelines.

  • First, begin to develop a new group within the same context of their choice of friends. (This is where Small Group Counseling can help.) You could also talk to the parents about not forbidding their children to “hang out” with their current group of friends, but allowing get togethers at a party, the movies, a ball game, the park, the skating rink, their house, etc. With these activities, the parents can open the invitations up to some kids of your own choosing that share the family values.  I have rarely see a child turn down a party.
  • Second, with the encouragement of the above, these new friends become infused into the friend group and bring positive peer pressure. More exposure to these friends will build a stronger relationship with these new friends. 
  • Third, compliment the students on their personality or attitude when they are with this new group of friends.  Although students do not show open signs that they still needs adult approval, we know from our studies that this is still a major need.
  • Fourth, get family members involved in the school as well. We all know that parental involvement is the number indicator of student achievement. When a student is focused on school, they don’t have time to get involved in at risk activities.  
  • Fifth, have patience.  This will take time!

Defining Peer Pressure

Peer pressure if easily defined.  It is that compelling influence to act or look like those of our same rank, value, age, etc.  So, by definition, peer pressure is not bad.  We are sometimes influenced in a good way by those around us.  Yet, it becomes negative when we feel the pressure to act as we know we shouldn’t or against our own value system in the presence of our friends so that we will be accepted.  This is a very good argument for helping steer our students toward more positive peer groups.  No, we cannot choose their friends for them, but we can place them in positive places where they are more likely to make positive choices in peers or friends.

            But, for now, we need to know what to do when they do fall prey to negative peer pressure.  What prompts this pressure?  It is that little voice in our head asking us “very important” questions:  What will people say?  Will they approve?  Will they laugh?, etc.  It seems that such concerns influence our actions – especially our public conduct – more than anything else.

            Social pressure is a powerful force for all of us, but especially in the adolescent years.  And, as we are talking about adolescence, this becomes quite meaningful.  Social or peer pressure works by appealing to our desire not to be insulted, embarrassed, ridiculed, shamed, criticized, and so on.  The question of right and wrong is changed into a question of acceptable and unacceptable.  There is hardly a problem that attracts adolescents – drugs, violence, sexuality, etc. – that does not have peer pressure as its primary cause.  Countless lives have been turned upside down or totally destroyed by it. 

            But, is teen peer pressure an anomaly in an otherwise healthy society?  Obviously not.  It attracts our attention because of the scale of destruction it causes. 

            As a professional educator, I have found two factors vital to the successful maturation of a child – the home environment and the quality of education.  It has been my observation that children with unstable home environments and failed learning skills readily fall prey to the taunts and pressures that peers can inflict.  Conversely, children with a sound family life and effective study skills have the inner strength on which to build a future of their choosing and the ability to strive for and achieve their goals. 

            We have examples of this all around us, but some choose to ignore them because it forces an acceptance of responsibility for the children.  The shootings and violence at school have all been traced back to one factor – the “shooters” felt that they did not belong or were not accepted and loved.  Maslow proved long ago that it is a basic human need to belong.  Hence, we can say with reasonable surety that the absence of parent support causes children to feel this loss in tremendous proportion and act out in negative ways. 

            We have all heard the phrase, “The rich get richer.”  While I do not believe this to be particularly true when it comes to money (Anybody can work hard and prosper), I do agree with it in terms of love and belonging.  If we have a plentiful amount of love in our upbringing, then we get the sense that we can do anything!  That is the wealth of kings – the gift of affection, commitment, and attachment.  When that need of belonging is met, then one can move on to meet the other needs of education and societal success. 

This is where our role is most important. I always said of my counseling role that I don’t do discipline, and I don’t do homework. I just get to be the lady down the hall that loves them. We need to stand in the gap for those students who don’t have strong parents. While I believe that every parent does their best, some just do not have the wherewithal or are carrying too much baggage to provide the strong support that promotes student achievement. That’s where we come in. We can be that one positive role model that makes a difference.

The Peer Pressure Riddle

The ugly reality is that peer pressure reaches its greatest intensity at just the age when kids tend to be most insensitive and cruel. ~ Walt Mueller

Adolescence ushers in a phase where friends become the most important part of one’s existence. And, those relationships comes the added responsibility of working with those friends or peers. Peer pressure has been around since the dawn of time. Most of us can think of several stories with peer pressure as the theme.

The one that comes to mind most often, for me, is Mark Twain’s The Glorious Whitewasher, Chapter two of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. If you weren’t lucky enough to have this as part of your reading in school, a summary follows from Spark Notes (SparkNotes Editors, 2017).

On Saturday morning, Aunt Polly sends Tom out to whitewash the fence. Jim passes by, and Tom tries to get him to do some of the whitewashing in return for a “white alley,” a kind of marble. Jim almost agrees, but Aunt Polly appears and chases him off, leaving Tom alone with his labor. A little while later, Ben Rogers, another boy Tom’s age, walks by. Tom convinces Ben that whitewashing a fence is great pleasure, and after some bargaining, Ben agrees to give Tom his apple in exchange for the privilege of working on the fence. Over the course of the day, every boy who passes ends up staying to whitewash, and each one gives Tom something in exchange. By the time the fence has three coats, Tom has collected a hoard of miscellaneous treasures. Tom muses that all it takes to make someone want something is to make that thing hard to get. 

The kids wanted to belong and have “grown-up” fun so much that they were willing to accept that what would be considered work any other day was actually fun. It goes back to Maslow’s hierarchy and the need to belong. This is why it is so important that we use our leadership skills to help them choose the right friends. Everyone is doing it seems to be all that is necessary for justification. Yet, we as adults have to be cautious of two questions:

1.) Who is everyone?

2.) What is “it”? ( What is it that they are doing?) 

We’ll discuss these answers in the next blogs.

As counselors, we have to accept peer pressure, recognize it, and deal with it as peer pressure comes at us from all sides.  Yes, I said us.  We do not outgrow it once we’re adults.  Sometimes it is positive, but more often than not it is negative.  It seems to be an oxymoron in our Western society that we pride ourselves in our differences but still want to fit in with the rest by being alike.  We must help our students to learn to embrace the differences and role model that by doing it ourselves.  Magnificence is in all of us.  We need to be our student’s cheerleaders and help their peer become the same, so that peer pressure can become positive.

References

SparkNotes Editors. (2005). The Glorious Whitewasher.

Activity

This post provides an activity for your program. You can practice for yourself as well as with the students. This is a primary step in helping your students, because they see themselves as reflections of their role models. Look at that beautiful self in the mirror and promise that reflection that you will not put it through any emotional threatening molds or moods again! The truest form of tragedy is when others can recognize your beauty and your assets, while you cannot. Others have praised you, yet you cannot get through some barrier to find that true beauty.

Allow those compliments and that praise from those who love you to set the stage for your list. Accept yourself, so you can help your students accept themselves. Now, write at least five good things about your body image. Keep going if you can. Pull out more paper when you need it. (Notice I said “when”, not “if”.)

We live up to self-fulfilling prophecy. If someone we loved and respected told us we were valued and beautiful, then we believed it. If someone did not give us this gift, then we had and still carry around with us this low self-image. This activity provides that outlet for you and your students.

Self-Image and Attitude

Have you ever wondered why some people turn heads when they enter a room? Because they arethe most beautiful or magnificent? Then, why don’t all people of the same category turn heads? And – a more difficult question – why do some people whom society would deem merely average also turn heads? The answer this time – it’s the presence. Attitude rules! It’s the confidence that counts. Their own perception of themselves breeds a positive attitude that is inviting and contagious.

My husband made a reply to me one day when I fell into the trap of comparing myself to another that has stuck with me. He said, “Don’t be so insecure. It doesn’t look good on you.” What he meant by this was to remember who I was. I was his wife, the mother of his children. Do not be so foolish as to think that he had chosen second best for himself. And, I am lucky because he reminds of this each and every time I fall into this line of thinking that I “so affectionately” call the Rudolph Syndrome.

If you remember correctly, Rudolph was given a special gift. He had the shiniest nose of all the reindeer. This could have made him feel “puffed up” or conceited, because he was special. But, instead, he allowed the other reindeer to cause him to feel ashamed of his gift. It wasn’t until the weather (the circumstances) caused a need for his gift that he truly felt special about it. The other reindeer “never let him play”, because he was different. They made fun of him! He allowed the others to make him feel less than the rest. When we begin comparing ourselves, we allow others to pull us down with them. What is your “Rudolph gift”? What is your teen’s “Rudolph gift? Is it the same or similar? It is our job as parents to find these gifts and make the most of them for yourself and your teen. Remember who you are! Whoever you are, you can count on being special to someone. 

One of my favorite stories is from my daughter. I am human and have all those other insecurities with which we all fight. But, one day, when she was about five, we were getting ready. She looked at me and said, “Mom, will I look like you when I grow up?” At that time, she looked so much like me that I had to be honest. I replied, “Yes, honey, I’m sorry, but you will.” She threw her hands up as if in a cheer and said, “Yes!” That was the biggest compliment I have ever received. She loved me enough to want to look just like me. 

This love is most important as Rudolph taught us. When Rudolph accepted his nose and loved himself, others did as well. Now, lest we forget, we know that Rudolph was a fictional character. Still, the moral of his story is so significant for us today. Because he accepted himself right down to what others considered his faults, he “went down in history”. We cannot love others fully if we do not first love ourselves.