I’ve Quazed friends before.
I’ve Quazed family members before.
I’ve Quazed one of my musical idols, I’ve Quazed a Nazi, I’ve Quazed my high school tormentor, I’ve Quazed a guy whose name is Wildstar and a woman whose name is Venus. I’ve Quazed people with tons of tattoos, people with addictions to video games, people with two presidents as relatives.
I’ve Quazed 320 times before today.
But this is different.
This is personal.
Catherine Pearlman is the most decent human I know, which works out quite well because, hey, we’re married. She’s compassionate, she’s big-hearted, she’s devoted her life to assisting others—be it as a director in a youth homeless shelter, as the head of a summer camp for disadvantaged kids, as a family coach who goes into homes and helps mothers and fathers solve their parenting difficulties. She also happens to be the best parent I’ve seen, which helps explain this week’s arrival of her first book, “Ignore It: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction.”
I know … I know—I’m biased. No doubt. But if you’re a mother or father, and you need to figure out how to raise your children while simultaneously maintaining sanity, Catherine’s work is biblical. Again, I’m not speaking solely as a reader. I’m speaking as a daily witness.
Anyhow, today Catherine (aka: The Family Coach) explains why ignoring our children is wise, why iPhone management is key and why (preach!) Dr. Drew is little more than a fraud.
Catherine Pearlman—mother of my kids—you’re the 321st Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN.: You have a book coming out called “Ignore It!” And it’s great and wonderful and I love it. But, because we’re married and I’m the father to your two kids, I know there are occasions when you haven’t ignored it. So, in that regard, would you say ignoring it is easier said (or written) than done? Is it REALLY possible to perfectly adhere to your advice?
CATHERINE PEARLMAN: Ha! Ignoring children who are pushing our buttons is the hardest thing to do. I’m not a perfect parent, and I don’t believe anyone is. I am human with feelings and, at times, I’m tired, frustrated and upset. It’s during those times I’m not at my best as a parent. I engage when I shouldn’t or I get angrier than is necessary. But being a good parent means learning as you go. I try to learn from my mistakes so the next time my child pushes that very same button I have the wherewithal to ignore it.
In Ignore It! I advise parents to think of their triggers, the times when their kids get the best of them. I also recommend for parents to think about what part of their day is the most difficult for them. It is possible to learn how to ignore someone calling you names or whining and complaining. It takes practice. But once kids see that none of their tactics will give them what they desire, they quickly decide to give it up. And when parents see this change in their kids they gain more strength to continue to Ignore It! in the future.
J.P.: Our son enters sixth grade next year, and he’ll have a phone. And it’ll likely be an iPhone of some sort. And while I understand this, I also think—from a purely logical standpoint—it’s insane. He’ll be 11, with access to pretty much everything and anything. I mean, forget just porn and violent film clips. I’m talking neo-Nazi websites, ISIS recruiting videos, on and on and on. So why is this OK? And how, as a country, has this become acceptable parenting turf?
C.P.: Our son will not have access to anything and everything on the Internet from his phone. He will have restrictions and parental controls. Also, even if our son watched a Nazi or ISIS recruiting videos he isn’t going to become a terrorist. I feel confident on this one.
Nowadays, there really is nothing stopping middle school children from Googling whatever they want. If we put all sorts of restrictions on our son’s phone or even if we don’t give him one, he will likely have access on one of his friend’s phones. I can’t guarantee that other parents will be as conscientious as we are. Furthermore, nothing creates greater interest than banning something. Look at what happened recently with 13 Reasons Why. I believe we have to teach kids Internet responsibility at a young age. I’ve explained to both our kids that anything they view online cannot be unseen or unlearned. They need to use caution and common sense. We’ve also made it clear that they can, and should, come to us when they see something disturbing or if they have questions about anything. They won’t be in trouble for looking something up. It’s better to open the communication than punish them for their curiosity.
J.P.: You don’t think of yourself as a writer. You’ve never written a book, you have no journalism background. So why do this? I mean, writing is torturous and hellish and not all that fun. So, eh, why? And how did you feel about the process in and of itself? Sitting down, putting words on page?
C.P.: I consider myself a social worker who now writes. It might be a long time until I see myself as a writer, even though I’ve written a book and am a weekly columnist. My mission in my practice and writing is to help parents enjoy their children and parenting experience more. I hate seeing parents beaten down by the job. After working with hundreds of families I found myself giving one piece of advice to every parent no matter the reason for the consultation. Parents are dealing with a plethora of unpleasant behavior and one small piece of advice can make a huge improvement. I wanted to be able to share the Ignore It! philosophy with more parents so I decided to write it all down in the book.
The writing process was arduous and great at the same time. Writing for hours a day, every day, is draining. It’s really hard day after day to keep focused. By the end I was exhausted. But I was also insanely proud of myself. I wrote a book that came mostly from my brain. I didn’t do a ton of research or interviewing to write this book. I wrote what I know and teach every day so in some ways this was an easier book to write. All in all, though, the experience was incredibly satisfying.
J.P.: When we met you ran a youth homeless shelter in New York City. You were this very short, very young-and-innocent-looking person dealing with kids from all sorts of tough backgrounds with all sorts of pasts; troubles; complications. How did you land that gig? What made you qualified—I don’t mean simply on paper, but temperament, judgment, wisdom, demeanor? And what’s your best story from the experience?
C.P.: Growing up I planned on being a doctor because I wanted to help people. As a child I was never exposed to a social worker so I didn’t even know of the profession. When I went to college I majored in History of Medicine and took the pre-med track. But I struggled with the mess and gore of medicine, and I wasn’t enjoying biology or physics much. In one of my sociology classes I was exposed to social work, and I never looked back. Social work is about improving the well-being of all people with a special emphasis on the most marginalized, vulnerable and poor among us. Social workers aim to end discrimination, poverty and social injustice. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. I applied to a master’s program during my senior year, was accepted and graduated with a MSW two years later.
After graduation I worked for 10 months as an office temp while applying to hundreds of jobs. Eventually I was hired in the Rites of Passage program at Covenant House, a homeless shelter for youth. My job was to manage a unit of 18-to-21-year-old young men. I was only 24 at the time. While some of these guys were gang members, drug users or hardened from years on the streets, they were still people who deserved their dignity and my respect. I learned in that job how to de-escalate a crises and how to keep my calm at all times.
Today, with the excess of police violence, I often think of my time at Covenant House. Most of those guys outweighed me by 100+ pounds. My only weapons were my body language and my words. Those often very angry guys were able to see that I cared about them. Sadly, for some, it was the first time in their lives where someone actually cared about them, asked them about their day, helped them find a job or obtain training. I showed them empathy, I listened and I cared. Those qualities can’t be taught in a school. You have them or you don’t.
I did learn a lot of skills in social work school. But it was the on-the-job training and my ability to look at my actions to constantly improve my work that made me qualified. I’ve been working in the field for 20-plus years, and I’m still learning, analyzing myself and growing as a professional. Being qualified is a life-long process. I hope I’m never finished.
J.P.: We live in Southern California, where youth sports—in my opinion—reign in an unhealthy way. They’re the everything of everything; the obsessions of many; the killers of family togetherness. So, well, what should we do? If my kid loves baseball, and he wants to play 24/7, isn’t that OK? Or if my daughter has unbelievable hoops talent, and we think she can get a DI scholarship, why shouldn’t it be pushed as far and hard as possible?
C.P.: When children devote all of their out-of-school time to one endeavor (sports, music, dance), there is an opportunity cost. That means that while the child is busy enjoying intense activity in one area, another area is being unexplored. I think parents forget that childhood comes only once. Kids have one opportunity to discover what they enjoy and sometimes I wonder if it’s wasted on the singlemindedness of the current obsession. I only know I love camping and sailing and water skiing because I had a chance to do those activities at an all-around camp. I grew up playing the piano and loved it. I still do. But I didn’t spend hours upon hours practicing. I played, enjoyed it, and also did other activities I enjoyed like volleyball, tennis and art. Of course there are prodigies and children whose talents will become a career someday. I don’t believe most children fit into this category. Parents are living out their hopes and aspirations through their children and the children are the ones who end up on the losing end of that proposition. And all of the time spent “playing” is taking time away from families spending time together. I absolutely cherish the dinners and weekends our family is all together. When the sports schedule has 10-year olds playing until 8 pm and high schoolers spending more than three hours on the field every day I think a vital aspect of family life is lost.
Getting a college scholarship is important for many children. However, the vast majority of parents who are signing their kids up for three leagues at once, hiring private coaches, training all year round and creating the 24/7 mentality would be better off putting their money in a savings account to be used for a college in the future. Additionally, I have grave concerns about what the intensity of youth sports is doing to children’s bodies. Damage done in childhood is often not seen until adulthood. Pitching too many games, six-day-a-week practices with pads in football, micro concussions, running programs that have 11-year olds doing marathons all concern me.
J.P.: What’s the absolutely craziest thing you’ve seen in your career as a social worker? The moment/action/whatever that blew your mind?
C.P.: I have seen so many amazing moments in my career but also incredibly sad moments, too. I don’t think anything blew my mind though. Being a social worker often means meeting people in their worst moments, the day they hit rock bottom, the day they become homeless, the day their child is removed from their home, the moment they realize they need Hospice. It’s painful to witness so much pain. Often there isn’t a moment where you get to see how it all works out for clients. They come into your life, they stay as long as they want or a program allows, and then they are gone. There isn’t always a goodbye or a happy departure. Sometimes life for clients becomes a lot worse before it gets better. But we don’t get to see their success. So whenever I do have a chance to see someone’s moment of improvement, big or small, I cherish those memories.
I’ve seen a young girl whose father raped her and gave her HIV obtain a job and move into her own home. I’ve seen a young man with schizophrenia, depression and drug addiction work incredibly hard to stay on his medication and safe. I’ve been able to witness hundreds of nontraditional college students graduate with their social work degree after battling poverty, illness, family issues, taking care of relatives while also working full time jobs. I’ve seen incredible resilience on the front lines, and I’m grateful to those people for always reminding me that truly anything is possible with the right support and determination.
J.P.: Your book is based around a philosophy—“ignore.” But is there truly a such thing as an original philosophy? I mean, you can’t possibly be the first family coach/social worker to advise people to ignore bad behavior. So what makes you unique? What makes this advice yours, per se?
C.P.: That fact that Ignore It! isn’t an original idea gives me great peace of mind. It’s based on many high-quality research studies performed by a variety of researchers. As a social worker it is important to me to have veracity in my advice. I have to know something is going to help or at least is backed by evidence-based practice.
One of my abilities as a family coach is to take research and break it down into practical bites of information for parents. That’s what I’ve done in Ignore It!. I’ve taken well-respected psychological concepts (extinction and reinforcement) and given them a modern practical twist. I added tons of anecdotes from parents who I’ve worked with to help moms and dads implement the advice. The voice in my book is mine. The way I write about the concepts and advise parents how to use them is all me. People who know me who have read an advanced copy say they hear my voice very clearly in the book. My personality, my sensibilities and philosophies and my advice is front and center in this book.
J.P.: You spent a summer working at a sleepaway camp for disadvantaged children—and it was an absolute shit show. What happened? What do you remember? And why did it bother you so much?
C.P.: Actually I spent several summers working at camps for disadvantaged youth. The first one was in England while a was a college student. That camp experience changed my life and afterward I changed my career from being a medical doctor to a social worker.
But one summer I worked at a camp for homeless children from New York City. I’ve worked at many types of camps, and I think camp can do a world of good for all children regardless of socioeconomic status. But the particular camp you mention upset me because it was dangerous and completely chaotic. The day before the start of camp the director quit. Days later the chef quit. The camp was left in the hands of a young and inexperienced assistant director. The nonprofit that ran the camp stopped paying bills so supplies like milk, food and laundry detergent stopped arriving. Imagine running a camp for 100 homeless kids without food and laundry. Some children didn’t have blankets after nighttime accidents and some never had pillows. Counselors quit every day because the conditions were deplorable. I refused to quit that awful job because I felt that these kids deserved my time even though the company didn’t. I ended being so upset about what was happening at the camp that I wrote a searing letter about the realities of camp life. Then you helped me overnight those letters to the homes of the board members. The very next day supplies and staff arrived. I made it through that summer, but it was one of the hardest of my career.
I was incensed and infuriated about that camp because homeless kids deserve more, not less. That camp was a throwaway, total crap. It was shocking that an organization that did so much for homeless families would run such a shoddy camp.
J.P.: You don’t like to get into politics too much, but I want to ask—you believe in decency, in setting examples, in positivity, etc. Yet we have a president who doesn’t exactly place decorum atop his priority list. Do you see this resulting in any genuine harm? Or are we making much to do about nothing?
C.P.: I’m not going to comment on the president because I prefer to stay apolitical in public forums. Life is full of hardship, struggle and moments of indecency. Parents should try to keep that from young children as much as possible. However, I do feel that news stories and politics should be shared with children on an age-appropriate level at times. Kids hear all kinds of information (sometimes inaccurate) on the playground at school. Parents should make sure to discuss public issues with children to help them understand and cope with current events. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to give their opinions on politics, but leave room for kids to find their own viewpoints and takes. Use these events are ways to open up dialog and communication but be mindful of giving kids more than they are ready to handle.
J.P.: You have a really big problem with folks like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew. Why? What’s your beef?
C.P.: Doctors, psychologists, social workers and therapists all have a code of ethics that is fundamental to the integrity of the work we do. Doing no harm to patients might be the most important principle to which all people in the helping professions must adhere. Because of an inherent power differential, doctors and therapists must also take great care not to take advantage of vulnerable people. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Dr. Drew all very clearly use defenseless and exposed people for their own gain. There is a horrific conflict of interest, and it disgusts me.
Here’s just one example. Last year, Dr. Phil interviewed the actress Shelly Duvall, who was in the middle of a psychotic episode. It was clear to anyone who works in the field. And yet, Dr. Phil paraded her on television under the guise of helping her get treatment. Why not just help her find treatment? Throughout the entire interview he repeatedly asked her if she wanted to consent to treatment. She could not provide that consent, which means she also couldn’t provide a credible consent to be on his show.
Dr. Oz peddles products that have no evidenced-based benefit. A study by the BMJ showed that only half of Dr. Oz’s recommendations have any scientific support and worse, some advice was actually against research of best practices. What’s the big deal? Well, people look up to these doctors and trust their advice. When the Dr. Ozs of the world recommend unproven remedies for serious conditions, viewers may not seek proper treatment or may distrust the advice of their own qualified doctors. These TV “doctors” are trusted and revered by millions of Americans. They aren’t just damaging the unlucky few who are guests on their shows. They are potentially damaging viewers in unknown ways with their poor medical and psychologist advice.
Dr. Drew might be the worst of the bunch. He is the most opportunistic professional I see on television. I cannot watch him without wanting to throw heavy objects within arm’s reach at the TV. His Celebrity Rehab show has had five former cast members die from drug-related causes. Sure, he takes people with an existing addiction and tries to help them. Some people might say he does his best with people who were already at risk. But that’s the point. People at risk shouldn’t be treated on television. No responsible psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker would recommend a person with drug addiction or debilitating mental illness join a reality program. The death toll shows these people needed real care, not to have their problems displayed for the world. The worst part is that Dr. Drew, Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil all get paid handsomely for acting like the lowest in their professions. What’s the lesson there?
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CATHERINE PEARLMAN:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): my crockpot chicken, Bill Parcells, Alison Cimmet, Guns n Roses, Woodmere, N.Y., Petco Park, The Moth, Mookie Wilson, Pollo Loco, “Captain Fantastic,” Diamond Jamboree: Alison Cimmet (by a mile), Diamond Jamboree, The Moth, Mookie Wilson, “Captain Fantastic”, your crockpot chicken (you beat Pollo Loco. But if you said Pollo Tropical you would have been out of luck), Woodmere, NY, El Pollo Loco, Guns n Roses, Petco Park, Bill Parcells
• You never go in the swimming pool. Why?: I do swim but only if it’s 90+ degrees and the pool is heated. I don’t like be cold.
• One question you would ask Cameron Diaz were she here right now?: Would you like to join us on Sunday for dinner?
• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Snooki? What’s the result?: I’d actually like to see that fight. Well, I was going to give it to Snooki because she’s 16 years younger than I am. But she’s a mere 4-foot-8. I’ll go with Pearlman for the win in six embarrassing rounds.
• Your maiden name is Guggenheimer. Give me all the ways that nightmare was misspelled: I loved the name Guggenheimer and was always proud of my family’s pickle legacy. But I hated people mispronouncing my name more than misspelling it. To this day it’s important for me to say someone’s name correctly.
• Five reasons one should make New Rochelle, N.Y. his/her next vacation destination: 1. 30 minutes on the train to the greatest city in the world (Yes, I am totally biased.); 2. Incredible people from the most diverse backgrounds. It’s truly a melting pot and a special place; 3. The Pain to Paine half marathon on the Leatherstocking Trail; 4. See where E.L. Doctorow wrote Ragtime, Norman Rockwell and Lou Gehrig lived briefly and find Mariano Rivera hanging out at the local Starbucks; 5. Visit the cutest children’s library in America.
• In exactly 17 words, make an argument for that classic Elton John song, “Made in England.”: There can be no argument but it’s crazy he said the words “made in England” eighteen times.
• Four advantages to being just 5-feet tall?: 1. I can scrunch up and sit comfortably in an airplane or train; 2. My clothes are small, and I can fit more in a suitcase; 3. I look up to everyone; 4. People mistake being short for being young so often people think I’m much younger than I am.
• The president after Donald Trump will be …: Better.