Saturday, April 30, 2011

Getting To Calm: Cool-headed strategies for parenting tweens and teens By Laura S. Kastner, Ph.D., and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D.

2009, 304 pages
Before I had kids, I knew I am going to be a perfect parent. My kids will behave wonderfully, they will love each other, they will be very happy, and of course, they will adore me.
Not that things were anything like perfect at any time, but there’s nothing like the teen years to show the huge gap between fantasy and reality.
This book talks about the aspects of raising teens from a scientific point of view. It quotes recent studies about the structure and development of the brain, and explains the processes that cause our teens to behave the way they do. It helps somewhat to know that it’s all in the neurological system in their brain, and not because the parents did something wrong. It helps staying calm and reasonable while dealing with very difficult situation, and by the book, staying calm, reasonable and the adult in the room, is the key to handling these situations, surviving the teen years, and helping the teens to learn and grow from these tough situations, and become adults, with the full meaning of the word.
One thing puzzled me with this explanation. Until about a century ago girls used to get married and have kids when they were teens. How could they do things so complicated and demanding like raising babies and handle a household if their brain was undergoing these massive changes and could not fully function? I wonder if maybe, if forced by circumstances, teen can function rationally and responsibly. I know of some teens who didn’t have the luxury of a “normal” house with adult loving parents they could scream at that they hate them and blame them for ruining their lives, and they had no choice but to behave responsibly. I wonder if the fact that teens behave like brain science claims they should behave, mean that they were given the luxury of supportive home and adult responsible parents, or maybe more challenging circumstances is what teens need to overcome the biological difficulties and behave responsibly. Not that anyone would want to give his teen challenging circumstances in purpose.
In addition to scientific explanations, the book talks about common issues concerning teens, with suggested techniques and method for handling them. It gives examples to both ineffective conversations and effective conversations, with what is said, and what goes on underneath during the conversation. The “bad” conversations look so convincing and familiar (did they hide a recording device at my house?) and it is very clear why they didn’t work and only worsened the situation. On the other hand, the “good” conversation don’t always look so realistic, sometimes they didn’t seem to work in the real world, and other times it seemed like the parents are expected to be inhuman, with endless patience and ability to stay calm and reasonable in very emotional and tough situations, and I wished the book had some solutions to the human parents too. But all in all, I found this book very enlightening, giving some comfort in understanding what is going on, and gives some very good techniques and advices in handling these situations. I would recommend it to every parent after his bigger child has celebrated his tenth birthday, just to be ready.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Zeitoun - Dave Eggers

2009, 359 pages
In 2005 the hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. After the storm the levies broke and the city, built mostly below sea level, got flooded, in one of the biggest disasters in the US history, with more than a thousand dead and damage of billions. After the storm anarchy ruled the city with group of criminals looting the abandoned houses and businesses. The Bush administration got a lot of criticism for the way it handled the storm and its damages.
The book tells the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant to the US who lives in New Orleans with his wife Cathy, and American who converted to Islam, and their kids. He works as a painting and construction contractor and manages some properties he rents. He decides he cannot leave his business and has to stay in town during the storm. He is not afraid. He is well equipped, his house is high and the second floor will be safe even in the case of a flood, and he already went through some other storms with no problem.
After the flooding he spends his days rowing his second-hand canoe through the city streets, rescuing people and feeding abandoned dogs. His family members around the world see the horrific pictures from the city in the news and urge him to leave town. (His sister that stayed in Syria says: in what kind of country do you leave? You have to come back living in Syria!) Will he survive the chaos in the city?
The book gives a fascinating view from personal experience on the events in the city during this time. It also sheds a light on the life of Muslims in the US, both American born and immigrants from Muslim countries, the Islamic community with its care of each other that could be seen during these hard times, and the attitude from the surrounding and the authorities. The book raises hard questions about dealing with such hard situations, both locally with what happened after the storm in New Orleans and in general with what happened after 9/11 and fighting terror. The question is asked – how much violating human rights is justified when the intent is to protect the public, and what is the personal responsibility of the cops and soldiers executing the commands. I don’t think there is a simple answer to these questions, and the book does not give them, but tells the personal story of the characters of the book.
I think it is very much worth reading.
All income from the book goes to the Zeitoun foundation dedicated to rebuilding New Orleans and protect human rights in United States.