Dear Straight Talk: A dear friend struggling with single parenting called to tell me that his daughter said, "F– you," to him at dinner. She is 14. I burst out laughing and told him welcome to raising teenagers. He is still mad at me. What should I have said? Isn't this behavior typical of teens? — Cheryl, Santa Rosa, Calif.
Editor's Note: Don't believe me? It works. And at least one high school principal is seeing astronomical decreases in negative behavior by responding with genuine concern when someone is sent to his office for saying "F– you" to a teacher (for instance, and since we're on that topic), rather than giving that student automatic suspensions like he used to do.
This principal, Jim Sporleder, is at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Wash., one of the toughest schools anywhere. He heard about how stress from adverse experiences (usually at home, it turns out), is actually toxic to a child's developing brain, making it physiologically impossible to learn. A realization exploded in his own brain that a kid's acting out was signaling his need for someone in authority to express concern about him, not get in his face and add more adversity.
I learned about Sporleder through ACES Too High. An "ACE" is an "adverse childhood experience," and the higher your ACE "score," the more you will have social-emotional problems such as addictions, acting out, violence, high-risk behavior, depression, isolation, suicidal thoughts, etc. The 17,000-person ACE study, done by the Center for Disease Control, is the largest and most important health study ever done. It is a breakthrough for understanding and responding to children who are experiencing toxic stress — and for showing how these same adverse childhood experiences, if left unhealed, lead to common diseases in adulthood.
I invite you to take the simple 10-question ACE test at www.acestoohigh.com and see what your ACE score is. Even a score of 1 is toxic and those with scores of 4 or higher, top the charts for at-risk behavior. Take the test, you'll get the picture — and, I hope, become a pattern breaker. We really can raise children with ACE scores of 0. And with kindness, we can bring healing to those with higher scores. To evolve and thrive as humans, this is a must, folks. —Lauren
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