Category Archives: Character

Dear Daughter Letter

After watching Miley Cyrus disgusting performance on the VMAs, angry mom Kim Keller wrote an open letter to her 13-year-old daughter to turn this ugly display into a teaching moment.  I loved her letter so much, I read it on air, and am posting it below.

Kim just sent in this follow-up email which I wanted to share with you:

Thank you from Roadkill Goldfish, the author of “Dear Daughter”. I am the mom who wrote that viral letter about my commitment to parent my child. I wanted to thank you for reading it on the air. The feedback from parents has been OVERWHELMINGLY positive.

Dr. Laura, YOU are the reason I am my kids’ mom. I used to listen to your show on my commute. I was on a corporate fast-track, and I had every intention of going back to my full-time job after my daughter’s birth, but when the doctor handed me the sweet pink bundle I knew I couldn’t let anyone else raise her.

I would absolutely hug your neck if I had the opportunity, and I am so honored to have had you read my words. Thank you for being bold. Thank you for looking out for children.

Best regards,

Kim Keller
The Roadkill Goldfish

Here is Kim’s “Dear Daughter” letter:

“Dear daughter, let Miley Cyrus be a lesson to you.

Yes, this is what happens when you constantly hear everything you do is awesome. This is what happens when people fawn over your every Tweet and Instagram photo. This is what happens when no responsible adult has ever said the word ‘no,’ made you change your clothes before leaving the house, or never spanked your butt for deliberate defiance.

If you ever even consider doing something like that, I promise you that I will run up and twerk so you will see how ridiculous twerking looks. I will duct tape your mouth shut so your tongue doesn’t hangout like an overheated hound dog. I will smack any male whom you decide to smash against his pelvis – after I first knock you on your butt for forgetting how a lady acts in public.

Why would I do that? Because I love you and I want you to respect yourself. Miley Cyrus is not edgy or cool or sexy. She’s a desperate girl screaming for attention: Notice me. Tell me I’m pretty. See how hot I am. I know all the guys want me. All the girls want to be me.

You probably know girls who will emulate this behavior at the next school dance. Don’t do it with them. You are far too valuable to sell yourself so cheaply. Walk away. Let the boys gawk and know in your heart that they see only a body that can be used for their pleasure and then forgotten.

I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt sad because I haven’t gushed over everything you’ve done. My role is to praise when praise is due, but also to offer constructive criticism and correction when it is needed as well. I’m sorry if you’ve ever felt demoralized because your Instagram following isn’t in the thousands, and I’m sorry those ‘selfies’ can never capture how amazingly beautiful you truly are. I’m sorry if you’ve ever wished you had a friend instead of a mom, and I promise you that I will probably get worse when you hit high school.

Dear daughter, I am going to fight or die trying to keep you from becoming like the Miley Cyruses of the world.

You can thank me later.”

How Can I Make Them (or Myself) Change?

The type of call I’m least fond of on my show is “How do I change my sister-mother-cousin-uncle-father-friend-husband-wife-kid?”  People don’t change because YOU want them to.  They may not even change if THEY want to.

People need three things in order to change (and you’ll notice that your name is NOT among them):

1. Willingness 
2. Desire 
3. Courage

Let’s break them down…

Willingness 

A change that somebody else requests only gets made about 0.0001 percent of the time.  It usually takes a crisis or a really bad situation before someone willingly accepts that they need to change. They spend their energy rationalizing, justifying, making excuses, and explaining why they don’t have to.  In order to change, they have to be willing to make mistakes, look and feel stupid, be scared, and admit to others that they need to change.

Desire 

Desire is different from willingness. It’s the logical need to initiate the change. Desire is saying, “I really need to make this change because if I don’t, I’ll lose my marriage/health/life or limb.” The kinds of payoffs that inspire change are things the person values a lot.  Without their heart really being in it, they are never going to change.

Courage 

Courage is the most important of all the factors, and it’s the area where most people fail.  They may have the intellectual notion that they should do something better with their lives to be happier or more successful, but that’s not enough. True change requires guts.

When I first started on radio 30-plus years ago, I was so concerned with how smart I was going to sound that I had trouble tapping into what callers were saying and getting inside their heads. However, one day I just said to myself, “Look, it doesn’t matter how you sound. You’re supposed to be there to help people, and if you come across as stupid for one call or several calls, so be it.” It was at that point that I really started to be able to hear what callers were saying.  I could open up with them because I had gotten myself out of the way.

If you allow yourself to get in the way, keep obsessing over how you sound or look, or continuously worry about who is going to approve, you can’t do what you are meant to be doing.  I like to think that we are all meant to do something on this earth. However, so many of you don’t do what you may desire to try because you can’t stand the interim period of looking stupid to someone else.  But sometimes you have to look like an idiot today in order to be better tomorrow.

When you’re faced with a conflict or the possibility of looking stupid, you lose your good intentions and the gumption to sustain a change. This is why you have to be able to speak the truth and accept that you’re not perfect.  One thing I think everyone should do is get up in the morning and say the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Knowing what you can and cannot change is probably the most important piece of information you can get into your head at the beginning of the day. If you say it out loud, it will have a lot less power over you.

Finally, you can’t beat yourself up when you try and things don’t go perfectly. There’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism.  Healthy perfectionism means that you use your drive to learn and challenge yourself. It is unhealthy to beat yourself up when you make mistakes – that’s something ALL humans do. Otherwise, your life will be a total retreat.

Have you ever shot pool, played golf, or done any other type of sport where you have to control a part of your body to move something else? No matter how much training you’ve had, when you’re stressed, nervous, scared or challenged, you tend to revert back to old familiar habits. This happens to me when I play tennis. When I’m feeling stressed or pressured, I tend to bring my elbow in and do a chop shot. The way I recover is by saying in my brain, “It doesn’t matter if you miss the ball. What matters is that you continue to do the right swing, and eventually, you’ll be hitting all the balls correctly.”  This may seem like a silly example, but the same mindset applies to all aspects of your life.

Has Courtship Jumped the Shark?

Courtship, for the most part, doesn’t exist anymore.  Men today are either very crass in how they treat women, or they have been completely emasculated.  I’m so frustrated by the lack of masculinity in our society, which, in my opinion, was ripped away by the feminist movement.  Feminism taught women that they needed men for nothing – holding a door or pulling out a chair became unacceptable, let alone providing and protecting.

As a result, men no longer think women should be placed on pedestals.  Instead, they only consider how fast they can get them on their backs with their knees up.  That’s what feminism has done for women: it’s made them target practice for penises.

The decline of courtship has been a total disaster.  Individuals forever avoid becoming adults or lack any sense of well-being in their lives.  Life has absolutely zero meaning if you’re not living for someone else.  In addition, our children suffer.  We used to think motherhood was as American as apple pie, but not anymore.  Women drop their responsibilities as mothers and put their kids in day care for the sake of being equal and doing it all.

Leon R. Kass wrote a very brilliant essay titled, “The End of Courtship,” which is as critical and despondent about what has happened as I am.  Read it here.

 

How to Make Healthy Choices

A woman recently called my program wanting to know why she couldn’t maintain a diet and exercise regime.  I asked her, “Do you know the difference between you and a person who doesn’t stop?”  “No,” she responded.  “They don’t stop,” I said.

There are two ways we make choices.  The first way is reflective.  In the moment, we are consciously aware of our actions and motivations, and we make a choice with a goal in mind.  The other is reflexive.  Similar to lower animals, we don’t change our behavior because of the consequences; we don’t stop to think at all really, we just do it like some kind of machine.  For example, many people sit down with a plate of food and don’t make choices about what’s on the plate or how much of each thing they’re eating – they just eat.

Routine behaviors are very hard to control.  However, the more you make things reflective and consciously parallel your behavior with your goals, the easier it will be for you to achieve them.

Last year, a man called my show who was struggling with pornography.  Wherever he was – in his office, car, etc. – his reflex was to look at porn and masturbate.  I told him to photocopy pictures of his wife and kids and put them on his cell phone, the visor of his car, and every computer he owned.  I then said, “The next time you’re preparing to masturbate to porn, look at the pictures of your family and make a choice.  Do you want to have dignity as a husband and father, or do you want to do that?”

He called me back a week later saying that when he reflected on it, he chose not to do it.  When he didn’t reflect on his actions, he grabbed for the porn and his parts.  Taking the behavior from automatic to conscious was all about reflecting on the behavior and making a choice.

Unfortunately, a lot of people want immediate gratification and do most things without thinking. More than half of deaths worldwide are due to four big diseases: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease.  The main causes are smoking, overeating, excessive alcohol consumption, and sedentary lifestyles. It’s estimated that 75 percent of diabetes and heart disease cases and 40 percent of cancers would be prevented by changing the behaviors that cause them. 

With all the information out there, you wouldn’t think so many people would make such poor health choices.  And yet, they do.  Remember the ads with the woman smoking through a hole in her trachea?  Remember the “this is your brain on drugs” commercials with the egg frying in the pan?  Well, even after seeing these, people are still smoking and doing drugs.  Personalizing the threat isn’t enough.

One time I asked a waitress in a restaurant if she thought the calorie counts printed on the menu affected people’s decisions about what they ate.  She candidly responded, “To fit people, yes.  But to overweight people, the calorie count means nothing.”

The reason people don’t make healthy choices simply comes down to the fact that they don’t reflect on their decisions.  Information by itself means nothing if you don’t care.  That’s one explanation for why there are so many diet books on The New York Times best-seller list: people buy the books thinking that simply reading them will get them to change and when they don’t, they move on to the next one.

So the next time you sit down for a meal, reflect, “Is this what I should be eating? How much should I be eating? Which things on my plate should I toss?”   Make a conscious effort to cut your portion size in half, and eventually, it will become habit to put less on your plate.  As I have said time and again, it’s all about character.  Some people use theirs and others don’t.

What will you choose to do?

When Your Teen Dresses Like a Slut

A couple months ago, I was in a clothing store looking for a pair of jeans when I saw a man shopping with his 12-year-old daughter.  I assumed he was divorced because he wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.  His daughter went in to the dressing room and when she came out, she was wearing something that would have revealed her pubic hair if she had any.  I just looked at him and said, “You have got to be kidding.  Is this how you want boys to see your daughter?!”  He didn’t respond, and I walked away.
   
Another time, I was at the movies with my husband and I saw this really attractive, voluptuous 17-year-old girl who was the walking stereotype of a bombshell blonde.  She was wearing pants that barely stayed above her waist and a tight shirt that dipped down just over her nipples and exposed her midriff.  She was surrounded by about five boys who were chatting and laughing with her.  My husband – who knows me far too well – whispered to me, “Please don’t say anything,” but I just couldn’t resist.  As we walked by, I stopped, got her attention, and said, “They are all talking to you because they think you’re intelligent.”  Then I walked away.
 
There has been enough research to show that teenage girls who wear sexualized outfits are judged as less capable, competent, determined, and intelligent than girls who dress modestly.  Men in particular look down on them because they see them as sex objects.
 
Furthermore, girls who dress like sluts have lower self-esteem.  By objectifying their bodies and monitoring themselves in terms of how they look, these girls increase their risk of becoming depressed and/or developing eating disorders.
 
The reason why teen girls want to dress this way is two-fold.  First, kids face a great deal of pressure to fit in.  As a result, they take cues from pop culture on how to dress “cool.”  Secondly, there isn’t a whole lot of parenting going on these days.  A lot of parents are too busy with their love lives or work lives to give a damn about their kids.
 
Personally, I agree with the more religious notion that “modest is hottest.”  I also believe you should only send your kids to schools that have a dress code.  That way they are always wearing the same boring outfit, and it’s all about what’s on the inside that matters.
 
So, the next time you take your daughter shopping, tell her to go pick out three outfits, and then have her show them to you so you can give her the final “yes” or “no.”  By doing this, she’ll get something that both she likes and you approve.
 
And while you’re shopping, remember this: No guy is going to turn down a girl who’s presenting herself as a whore.

Why Bad Decisions Are Made

If I had to pick one phrase I’ve heard more than any other over the years (other than “I don’t know”), it’d be some variation of “I didn’t make a good decision.”  If I could charge everyone a dollar each time they said that, I would have zillions by now.  And although people admit to making a bad decision after the fact, I am convinced that most of them know the decision was not a good one at the time, but did it anyway.
 
I don’t think people who tend to make bad decisions are really stupid or uninformed.  Usually if they say they were uninformed, it’s just denial. Bad decision-makers typically know they’re making poor choices, and they make them because they want something in the moment.  They don’t project into the future or think, “When I look back on what I’m about to do, will I be proud of it.”

About 25 years ago when I was on the radio at night, I remember a young man in his 20s calling in to my show.  His parents had just died in a car crash, and he was left to take care of his little sister.  He told me, “I’m in my mid-to-late 20s and it’s time I started my life, but on the other hand, I feel guilty [that's the way people phrase it] about not taking care of my little sister.  There are no other relatives to do it.”  After listening to him, I responded by saying, “OK, by the power vested in me, I am projecting you 20 years into the future.  You are now looking back at yourself right now.  What would you like to see yourself doing that would make you proud?” 

The guy instantly started tearing up.  “Taking care of my sister,” he said.  And that was the end of that.
 
A lot bad decisions usually come from wanting to feel good at that particular moment, and it all goes downhill from there (e.g. “I know he/she is not really for me, but I’m lonely”).  However, a lot of times people end up making poor choices because they’re overly self-critical.  Negative self-talk – “I’m useless,”  “I’m a loser,” “I’m a failure”) – results in people feeling like there’s no point in even trying to behave positively or solve problems because if they’re already “a loser” and “a failure,” how can they possibly be successful? Self-criticism and ruminating on the negative are things people just tend to do.  They go on and on and on about the negative, and it strips them of all their motivation to take any positive steps forward.  For example, if you’ve just spent an hour in therapy bitching about your life, your parents, your brother/sister, or your husband/wife, do you really think at the end of the hour you’re going to feel motivated to do anything positive about it?  No.  That’s why I ask people to be careful about how much time they spend “feeding the angry monster.”

Another reason a lot of you end up feeling sorry for yourselves is that you say “yes” to things you should say “no” to.  You spend time with people you don’t want to spend time with so they’ll be happy with you, allow others to treat you poorly, and live the life that others want you to live.  All of these are part and parcel of bad decisions, and they have to do with being cowardly.

Usually when I tell people that they are going to have to talk to the person they’re trying to please, they say, “Oh no!  I’d do anything to avoid that.”  However, unless the person has got a sawed-off shotgun or some other equally lethal weapon, you’re going to have to face your fearsTake responsibility for your decisions.  They are your decisions.  It does no good to make excuses or rationalize or pretend that you aren’t to blame.  If you want to move forward, you have to take responsibility for your choices, your actions, and the consequences of those actions. 

In addition, some people tend to get stuck in making bad choices simply because they want to stay stuck.  It gets them off the hook from having to take risks and working hard to apply themselves.  I’ve had a lot of people call my program over the years about their weight.  They always have a million excuses, or want to look back and see how their childhood has affected their eating habits.  But it’s today and tomorrow they should be looking at.  It doesn’t matter how they got there.  We can’t fix yesterday.  (F.Y.I., when I ask things about people’s childhoods, it’s to find out information and understand, not to blame.) 

So, now that you know why people make bad decisions, how can you ensure that you don’t make them yourself?

Whether it’s deciding on who you want to be in a relationship with or simply where you want to go to lunch, make it mechanical.  “Life is the sum of your choices” (remember your Camus from college?)  There could be times in your life where you make about 10 really bad choices in one week and then sit there thinking that there’s no way out.  However, what you need to do instead is say, “Oops!  I guess those were bad choices.  How do I find a way out of this?”  Frankly, there’s not always a way out.  Some things, unfortunately, can never be fixed.  Yet, even if your situation seems finite to two options, there’s probably some alternatives you’re overlooking.  If you’re thinking you can only decide between “A” and “B,” that’s wrong.  It may seem like only “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” and “E” are available, but you’re probably not considering “F” and “G.”  Brainstorm and make a list of your possible options, put down crazy ideas, and ask other people for suggestions.  No matter how dumb you think some of them sound, write them down anyway.

Now here’s the tough part.  For each one of those situations, think about whether the best possible outcome of making a particular decision outweighs the risk of the worst possible outcome?  When coming to a decision, go through the following steps: What’s the best possible outcome?  What’s the worst possible outcome?  Is the best outcome so valuable and so likely that it’s worth risking the worst outcome?  For example, “The best thing that can come out of this is I make a million dollars, and the worst thing that can come out of this is I damage my entire family for life.”  Of course I’m just making up a silly example, but it clearly illustrates the process.  Is the million dollars worth the possibility of damaging your whole family for life?  It’s a decision you have to make.  Be honest – is the answer “yes” or “no”?  Most of you would say “no,” moan and groan a little bit over what you could have done with the million dollars, and then move on.  Some of you would say “yes.”  Nevertheless, that’s how you make a decision, and then, you have to be willing to live with the outcome. 

Recently, a man called into my show with a situation that you’ve all heard many times before: he’d knocked up a girl he wasn’t married to.  They had the kid, and while he was off in the military she found another guy and got knocked up again, except this time, this guy married her.  Our original guy got all angry and upset that some other guy was going to be Daddy.  Do you want to know what my answer was?  “I hope the new guy is cool, nice, loving, and a good dad.  I really don’t care about your feelings.  Sorry.”  He didn’t care about the risk of bringing a new person into the world that he wasn’t going to take care of.  He was willing to risk the life and well-being of a child for instant gratification and sex.  It was a poor decision and there were consequences.  He needed to just accept responsibility for his misbehavior and not be angry with this woman and the other guy.  He was the one who caused the problem. 
  
Everyone needs to think through their decisions because down the line, there are huge prices to pay.  Be prepared to accept responsibility for every outcome of your decisions.  And when you do make a bad decision, don’t just sit there feeling sorry for yourself.

What Makes Someone a Hero?

“Hero” is a word that’s misused all the time.  People who hit baseballs, throw footballs, or lob tennis balls are frequently labeled “heroes,” but they are really just paid athletes – not heroes.  It would be heroic if an athlete gave up a kidney for someone who needed it knowing that he or she would probably never play ball again without it.  You can’t be a hero without sacrifice. 

If benefiting somebody else results in no cost to you, you’re not being heroic.  “Hero” is a very special term.  For example, although he was damn courageous, Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (the pilot who landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River and saved the lives of all 155 passengers and crew aboard) was not a hero.  Yes, he ensured that the airplane didn’t hit any buildings and he saved a lot of people’s lives, but there was nothing for him to sacrifice because he was going down with everyone else.  Although he was courageous and kept his head while those around him were losing theirs, the term “hero” should not be applied.

By the same token, a person dealing with treatments for serious medical issues is not a hero either.  As brave as a person needs to be when going through something like that, they don’t have a choice.  There is no sacrifice involved on the behalf of another person.

I was recently watching the movie Act of Valor, which used real military guys to create a dramatic representation of a true story.  In one scene, the soldiers are clearing rooms in a building, and one of the guys goes into a room looking left and right, but he forgets to look up.  A bad guy perched on the scaffolding pulls the pin out of a grenade and tosses it into the room.  The soldier turns around to run out, but he sees his buddies entering that same room.  He has a choice to make: He can either run and see how far he can make it before the grenade explodes, or he can stay and protect his fellow soldiers.  To my shock and horror, he threw his body on the grenade, thereby taking the full force with his body.  It wasn’t pretty.  His buddies then shot the bad guy. 

That was the part of the movie I remember most.  This guy had a choice to make a sacrifice, and he did.  That was a heroic act.  He could have tried to run or throw himself behind something and let the other guys sink or swim on their own, but he chose to sacrifice himself. 

I remember back when our country first entered Iraq, a young soldier did the same thing.  He was clearing a room, saw a grenade, and threw his body down on it.  I remember being so incredibly upset because I was identifying with his mother, knowing and worrying that my kid might be in that same circumstance.  It was just terrifying.  But I knew his act was heroic – a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.  That “Band of Brothers” mentality which ennobles a person enough to sacrifice themselves for their buddies is a mind-blower. 

In my opinion, some of the most blatant acts of heroism ever known were performed by “The Righteous Gentiles.”  That’s what Israel called people who protected Jews from the German “Final Solution” during World War II.  These were folks who knew they could die and their children could be tortured and hung in the street as a message to others for what they did, but they risked everything and did it anyway.  When you read or see interviews with any of these people, they all say the exact same simple, humble thing: “It was the right thing to do.” 

I believe “doing the right thing” has a lot to do with how people are brought up.  For example, when my boy was growing up, I told him that I didn’t care about the zero-violence nonsense at school.  I said, “If somebody hits you, or even more importantly, threatens or hits somebody else, I expect you to intervene and we will deal with the principal later.” 

One day, he came home in trouble.  A boy had been picking on another boy at school, and my son punched the bully.  I took my son out to dinner and sent my husband to go deal with the principal.

In short, heroism is about making a personal sacrifice for the benefit of others.  It’s serving others at a cost to you.  When those firemen, police officers and other folks looked up and saw the burning buildings on 9/11 with debris falling everywhere and smoke filling every breath, they made the decision to go into the buildings knowing full well that they may never come out again (and a lot of them didn’t).  That is heroism – not a guy who gets paid a lot of money to make field goals for people’s entertainment.