Talking about Islamic Terrorism

ismlamic terrorist

ismlamic terroristDear Mr. Dad: What happened in Paris last week has me shocked, upset, and frightened. The death and destruction are hard enough for my wife and me to grasp and to explain to our children, ages 7 and 10. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to answer their questions about Islam and to keep them from demonizing Muslims. We tried avoiding the issue, but that’s not working anymore. How can we talk to our children about terrorism and Muslims without slipping into stereotyping?

A: What a great question—one I’ve struggled with for a long time, and continue to do so—and the answer is anything but simple. As a parent, I think it’s incredibly important to teach our children about tolerance and diversity and to discourage them from making blanket statements about large groups of people who have similar characteristics, whether those characteristics are based on gender, politics, personal beliefs, sexual orientation, geography, religion, or anything else. At the same time, I firmly believe that it’s impossible to deal with a problem unless we honestly acknowledge what it is. And here’s where things get tough.

There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Most are undoubtedly peace-loving people who have no desire to kill anyone. But how do we make sense of the fact that so many of the world’s conflicts, involve Islamic armies and terrorist groups? How do we make sense of the nearly daily murderous attacks proudly acknowledged by people who claim that their particular brand of Islam gives them the right to kill Christians, Jews, atheists, other Muslims, or anyone else who doesn’t believe what they do? And how do we keep from stereotyping Muslim countries or groups where people hand out candy and celebrate terrorist acts, openly advocate murdering “infidels,” or name streets and parks after suicide bombers who kill innocent civilians?

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Unmarried Dads Have Rights Too


60Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is pregnant and we’re having some major relationship problems. I don’t think we’re going to make it. I’ve been very open about wanting to be a big part of our child’s life no matter what, but she has already started excluding me. She doesn’t tell me when her doctor visits are and refuses to take a labor and delivery class with me. I’m worried that she’ll keep excluding me after the baby arrives. What can I do? Do I have any rights here?

A: Over the years, I’ve interviewed a number of attorneys about this exact subject and many of them have told me the same thing: that dads—even if they’re not married to their child’s mother—have almost as many rights as mothers. But they almost always add that courts are generally more likely to enforce mothers’ rights than dads’.

Before you do anything else, I suggest that you talk with a lawyer. If you’re worried about the money, there are a lot of organizations that offer free or low-cost advice, as well as help filling out all the papers and getting them to the right places at the right time. It’s essential that you do this now: mistakes made in the early stages of a custody issue can lead to all sorts of problems later. Be aware that many legal clinics are reluctant to help fathers.

Once you’ve got that process started, take a few minutes and think about what may be going on in your soon-to-be-ex’s mind. To start with, all those pregnancy-related hormonal ups and downs can affect her behavior. Besides that, being a single mother isn’t easy and she’s probably concerned about making ends meet, daycare, where she’s going to live, and how she’s going to be able to raise a child by herself.

You have three goals: first, to show her that you understand what she’s going through; second, to show her that you really want to be involved in your child’s life; and third, to make sure that involvement actually becomes a reality. Something as simple as telling her that you’ll be available to care for the baby when she goes back to work (assuming that’s true)—will help you achieve all of those goals.

There’s also a fourth goal, although this one’s harder to accomplish: to educate her about the many ways your involvement will benefit the baby and the mom (besides providing support, which, of course, you’re legally and ethically obligated to do). For example, your involvement during the pregnancy reduces the risk that the baby will be born prematurely and that the mom will suffer from post-partum depression.

If the two of you can’t have a civil discussion—or at least a rational one—see if you can find someone you both trust to make your case.

Hopefully, her current, unreasonable attitude will turn out to be temporary. Once the baby is born and she has the time to recover, her thinking might be less guided by emotions and more by the desire to raise the child in the best possible conditions, that is, with the presence of a loving and supportive father.

If she doesn’t reach that conclusion on her own, talk to your lawyer about what you need to do to ensure that your rights (and your child’s) are protected. And don’t forget about your responsibilities. Putting money aside for your child (starting now) and documenting everything you do to fight for your right to see him or her will show a judge that you’re committed to being an involved dad.

Cheating Childhood

ask mr - cheating kid mug shot

ask mr - cheating kid mug shotDear Mr. Dad: My six-year-old daughter has suddenly begun telling lies—right to my face—and she’s started cheating at games too. My wife and I can’t figure out where this is coming from. We’re a very religious family and we see lying and cheating as serious moral flaws. What can we do to stop our daughter’s behavior?

A: Unfortunately, at age six, your child may have a theoretical grasp of the concepts of honesty and integrity, but right now, she’s too busy conducting an important—and completely normal—social experiment to care.

Until now, she’s looked at the world in a rather naïve, black-and-white way, believing that everyone sees and experiences things in the same way and that everyone knows the same things. But in a great developmental leap forward, she’s now discovering what psychologists call the Theory of Mind. That’s when kids (usually around six) figure out that different people can see the same situation in very different ways, that they don’t always know what’s going on inside other people’s head, and that no one will know what’s truly going on in hers unless she tells them.

This is a perfect good-news-bad-news development. On the good-news side, there’s empathy—the understanding that someone else might feel something different than she does. Being able to put herself into another person’s metaphorical shoes will help her better understand diversity and start developing rudimentary conflict-resolution skills.

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Netflix’s Halloween Scream Team

the 6th sense

the omenDisclaimer: I’m part of the Netflix #StreamTeam, but I’ve been a Netflix power user for years and it would take a lot more than a few free movies to influence my opinions.

I’ve got to admit that Halloween—at least the costume part—has never been my favorite holiday. Oh, I used to get dressed up and take the kids out to Trick-or-Treat, and I’ve been told that I really rock a mini-skirt. But it’s hard to get excited about being someone else when I still haven’t figured out what I want to be when I grow up.

the othersIt’s entirely possible that my parents are responsible for my ho-hum attitude about costumes. When my sisters and I were little, the punishment for any mid-October-or-later infraction was that on Halloween we had to go door to door, not dressed up and asking for candy, but wearing regular clothes and collecting money in a little orange box for Unicef.

teh flyMy kids seem to have inherited my distaste for Halloween. The older two, both of whom are living on their own in New York, don’t do much in the way of late-Octover wardrobe makeovers. And the little has zero interest in anything but the candy.

rosemary's babyOne Halloween-related thing we do, though, is snuggle up together (whoever happens to be in town) and watch movies. We used to have to plan way ahead and rent actual DVDs. But now, we leave it up to Netflix.


the 6th senseSo on Halloween, we’ll turn off every light in the house, put a big bowl of candy on the porch, and start making our way through our list. Here’s what’s on it:




buffy the vampire slayer

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • The Fly (the origina, with Vincent Price)
  • The Omen (the 1976 original)
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968 original)
  • Scary Movie (the whole series)
  • Silence of the Lambs
  • The Sixth Sense


scary movie 5

Spanking Gets Results: But All the Wrong Kinds

mrdad - spanking - wikicommons

mrdad - spanking - wikicommonsDear Mr. Dad: I was over at a friend’s house and was surprised to see her spanking her 4-year old. I’ve never hit any of my kids and don’t have any plans to do so. But after taking an informal poll of other parents I know, I was surprised to find that I’m actually in the minority. Should I rethink my no-spanking policy?

 A: Please don’t. There’s some debate about whether an actual majority of parents spank their children. For example, one study found that while 62 percent of parents in the South admit to having spanked their children, only 41 percent of parents in the rest of the country have. And according to a recent study done by researchers at Columbia University, 57 percent of moms and 40 percent of dads engaged in spanking when their children were three years old, and 52 percent of moms and 33 percent of dads were still spanking when their kids were five. But let’s not quibble over semantics. The point is that way, way too many parents are hitting their children—and it needs to stop.

I know I’m going to hear from a lot of readers who will swear up and down that spanking works. And they’re right. Spanking definitely gets the child’s attention and will usually get him or her to immediately do what you say. That’s great in the moment, but what about future moments?

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OMG, Can’t You Smell That? When Teens Don’t Bathe…

when teens don't bathe

when teens don't batheDear Mr. Dad: My 12-year-old daughter won’t shower, she won’t brush her teeth, and she wears the same clothes every day—and sometimes even sleeps in them. Honestly, she’s not very pleasant to be around. Is this normal? Either way, how can I motivate her to be a little cleaner?

This probably won’t help you feel any better—and it certainly won’t do anything about the smell emanating from your sweet daughter—but what you’re describing is very common among pre-teens. Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix.

There are a number of possible explanations. First, disregarding personal hygiene is sometimes a symptom of depression. Think about other areas of her life: Does she seem withdrawn socially? Have her friendships changed? Are her grades dropping? Have her diet or sleep patterns changed? If any of those are true, call her pediatrician. He or she will know whether to call in the mental heal professionals. Plus, a few words about showering from a non-family member might make a difference.

Second, she may be too busy—at least in her mind. From your perspective, she probably spends way too much time on her computer or her phone—time that might be better spent with a bar of soap. From her perspective, she’s just staying in touch with her friends.

Third, she may be trying to get your attention. Clearly, she has.

Fourth, this could be a power play. At 12, your daughter is relatively powerless. You may get her involved in family decisions and you may give her choices, but the final decisions are yours. Not bathing, brushing teeth, or wearing clean clothes might be your daughter’s way of exerting some control. The same dynamic is common among kids who are obese or who have eating disorders. Forcing a child to eat, stop eating, or get in the shower is nearly impossible. As a parent who’s been exactly where you are, I’d much rather be worrying about a hygiene problem than a potentially life-threatening eating disorder.

Here’s what you can do to help.

  • One common pre-teen and teen refrain is “you just don’t understand me!” There’s some truth there. Pre-teens have a lot going on in their head and we rarely ask about it. A few non-judgmental questions will show her that you care and might help you get to know her better.
  • Adolescence is a time when kids want to be liked and fit in. It’s also prime time for bullying and teasing. Nobody gets picked on, bullied, or socially excluded more than kids who are visibly or olifactorily different. Explaining to your daughter that she may be jeopardizing her social life might make a difference.
  • Do nothing. Actually being excluded or teased by her peers will get the point across more effectively than anything you say.
  • Have her read the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle story, “The Radish Cure.” The fictional Mrs. Piggle Wiggle comes up with delightfully creative solutions to parenting problems. In this story, she recommends to the parents of a child who refuses to bathe that they wait until their little darling is covered by half an inch of dirt, then, when she’s asleep, plant radish seeds. Seeing the sprouts was all it took to drive the child into the bath.
  • Don’t make threats. Threatening to take away her phone or Internet time may make the problem worse. If you absolutely must make a threat, be sure you can follow through. In a moment of frustration, I told one of my daughters that I wouldn’t take her to school the next day unless she showered and brushed her teeth. Dumb move on my part.