Around Town: Cliques and other curious behavior

In the midst of one of our nation’s hardest weeks, just after the Boston Marathon the La Cañada Unified School District presented an uplifting program titled “Cliques, Conflicts, Connections: Empowering your daughter to navigate her social and emotional worlds.”

The evening started inauspiciously. As I walked across the Lanterman Auditorium parking lot on Cornishon, there were several near misses as one SUV after another barreled into the lot like a four-wheeled cloud of bats out of the nether regions, narrowly missing the pedestrians and other vehicles.

These fast drivers were all moms. Moms who multitask. Moms who love their kids. They have long hair, adrenaline-charged reaction times and a blatantly inaccurate perception of their vehicle’s speed.

Things got better inside the LCUSD boardroom. Way better. For the next two hours, 80 of us were treated to facts, strategies, cookies and mindfulness exercises by Melissa Johnson Ph.D., of the Pasadena Psychological Institute for Girls’ Development.

There were about 17 dads, but most in the audience were moms. Most are parents of elementary school girls, but some had kids in pre-school or high school.

The crowd was more diverse than back in my day. More working moms. A slightly broader ethnic range. Our family would have fit right in.

Some of the moms took notes. Copious notes. I remember those days, that’s why I was glad that Johnson was low key and reassuring.

She cited studies that show that at an early age, girls have a greater social awareness than boys. This allows girls to interfere with social relationships of others as a substitute for physical aggression. Johnson called this behavior “social aggression.” When our kids struggle, it can evoke emotions in the parents stemming from their own childhood friendships and social relationships. When our girls face social problems, it can activate our third-grade self or our seventh-grade self, she said.

She cautioned against “parent cliques” because our children model our behavior.

Johnson said that conflict is one of the great gifts of friendship because it teaches a girl how to figure things out on her own, how to apologize, how to repair a problem and how to go on.

The moms asked about social media and cell phones. Johnson referenced a kid who sleeps with her cell phone under her pillow, anxious to read the next text, post or tweet. She will want to text back as soon as possible, even if it is 2 or 3 a.m. It’s important to take the phone away, to set boundaries. Even girls have undeveloped pre-frontal cortexes, according to Johnson.

She gave us strategies, exercises and reference materials.

It was impressive to see a large turnout of concerned and loving parents on a weeknight. It's hard work being a parent. Very challenging. We are all fortunate to live in this community.

Johnson talked about strategies for coping with stress. We did a few diaphragmatic breathing exercises, where the belly moves with each breath.

The exercises must have relaxed the SUV moms. On the way out of the parking lot, they seemed to drive slower. Or maybe it was me? Maybe I wasn’t as scared of them.

The Prius moms never were a problem. No torque.

For more information about Johnson’s program, see www.instituteforgirlsdevelopment.com or call (626) 585-8075 Ext. 108.

ANITA SUSAN BRENNER is a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident and an attorney with Law Offices of Torres and Brenner in Pasadena. Email her at anitasusan.brenner@yahoo.com and follow her on Twitter @anitabrenner.¿

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