Kids & Families

Author gives parents a good talking to

[attach]7746[/attach]Toronto-based parenting expert Dr. Karyn Gordon, a regular contributor on Good Morning America, Cityline and Breakfast Television, was in school late on April 7 talking to parents at Leaside High School about raising healthy kids and teens.

The best-selling author of Dr. Karyn’s Guide to the Teen Years outlined tips for parents to get a balanced family life in an age of overindulgence — where over-spending, over-eating and over-scheduling reigns.

“Don’t take down the strategies,” she said with a smile. “Go home and say we heard a speaker tonight [and] we’re making some changes around here!”

Then, telling parents to, instead, take notes but implement one at a time over several weeks, she added: “Generally speaking, families need time to adapt to change, so you don’t want to overwhelm your kids or yourself.”

Here are a few try-at-home tips from Gordon, who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in counselling and a doctorate in marriage and family.

Book it off

Gordon suggested parents keep a night or two a week unscheduled — meaning an evening without sports leagues or drama rehearsals. One way to cut down on the amount of running around and after school commitments is to limit the amount of teams
that kids play on per season, she said.

Designating at least one night of the week to family time is another idea.

Although in her home it happens on Friday nights with her 6-year-old twin boys, she quickly acknowledged the same night wouldn’t fly with teens.

“A lot of families with teenagers like to do Sunday nights,” she said. “Make it really fun.

“Whether it’s a movie or pizza, make it something that’s really enjoyable and don’t talk about school. Don’t talk about problems.”

This way, she said, teens can start looking forward to the family gatherings instead of dreading them.

A chef is born

By Grade 8, Gordon figures, kids should start cooking one meal a week.

“Before you think to yourself, ‘We’re going to die! We’re going to starve!’ you’ve got to realize cooking is a really important life
skill,” she said. “It’s amazing the amount of kids that go off to university that don’t know how to cook.”

In the process, kids will learn a vital skill and parents benefit by saving time on preparing dinner. She suggests you get started by having children pick a recipe they enjoy and is fairly easy to make.

On night one, have them observe while parents whip up the recipe. The next week, parents should watch while their kids make the dish, being sure to give praise and feedback. By week three, parents should simply show up and enjoy the meal.

“Not only do they feel really good about it, [but] you feel good about it. It’s actually teaching responsibility and independence. This is a win, win, win.”

Money matters

Gordon told parents to outline what they will and what they won’t pay for, and to set boundaries.

If parents are offering to purchase a pair of jeans for their kids, they have to set a finite amount, such as $90.

Otherwise, kids might not understand the difference between getting a $50 or a $500 pair of pants.

The same can be applied for tuition for college or university, she noted.

“A lot of parents say, ‘I’ll pay for your university’ … so if they go to Princeton are you going to pay for it?” she asked. “If they fail an entire year, are you going to pay for the second year?

“If you have one child that’s going to go to college and they’re going to live at home, versus another one that’s going to go off to an elite school, are you okay to pay the different amount?”

By defining the amount and outlining what they will and won’t pay for, she said parents gain more control over the finances.

“If you’re saying you’re going to buy a cell phone but there’s no finite amount, they’re owning that decision too much,” she explained.

She also suggests that parents set up a bank account for each child as early as Grade 1, and teach kids how to make withdrawals and deposits and to balance their chequebooks.

This should be separate from any savings accounts for their future education, she said.

“This is their own account,” she said. “It’s very, very important for kids to have that sense of ownership that they can actually start making those decisions.”

Gordon said she gives her boys money for completing chores like folding laundry. Recently she asked one of her sons if he would be using his money to make any purchases during a school book fair and he responded that he could take out books at the library for free and instead was saving up for an iPad.

“It’s not only teaching responsibility,” she said. “It’s teaching independence, financial literacy and decision-making skills.”