Trigger Warnings: Yes or No?

By Dr. Corinne Masur

For those of you who have children in middle school, Jr. High and High School, what do you think about trigger warnings?

Should kids be warned before they are assigned a book with content that might cause them some upset?

Or is it the role of schools (and colleges) to expose kids to all kinds of ideas and descriptions of all sorts of events?

And for that matter, is teaching the history of various wars worthy of a trigger warning (violence! death!) any less than teaching The Scarlet Letter or Madam Bovary (adultery!) or The Kite Runner (sexual violence!).

Is it the job of educational institutions to help kids to learn how to think about even upsetting subjects?

This brings us to the subject of trauma.  

Trauma is a word that is used carelessly these days. Almost anything can be called a trauma. But what trauma really is is an event that is utterly overwhelming to an individual, the effects of which can be lasting. 

So what do we do for kids who have been exposed to truly traumatic events in their own lives? Do we owe them a trigger warning so that they are not surprised – or triggered –  when material comes up in class or in an assignment that reminds them of their own experience? 

These are very difficult questions. 

And it is easy to see each side:

We do not want to intentionally re-traumatize kids.  

At the same time we DO want to teach them how to think about and talk about the upsetting things that have happened over the history of the world, that are written about in world literature and that are continuing to happen every day in our current world.

There are no trigger warnings in life, after all.

Recently, this issue was taken up by Cornell University when a group of students asked for trigger warnings to be routinely provided in class. The results of the debate may surprise you.

See below for an excellent article on the topic from The New York times:

Should College Come With Trigger Warnings? At Cornell, It’s a ‘Hard No.’

When the student assembly voted to require faculty to alert students to upsetting educational materials, administrators pushed back.

At Cornell University, the undergraduate student government wanted to require instructors to warn students about potentially traumatic course material. (Credit Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times)

By Katherine Rosman | April 12, 2023

Last month, a Cornell University sophomore, Claire Ting, was studying with friends when one of them became visibly upset and was unable to continue her work.

For a Korean American literature class, the woman was reading “The Surrendered,” a novel by Chang-rae Lee about a Korean girl orphaned by the Korean War that includes a graphic rape scene. Ms. Ting’s friend had recently testified at a campus hearing against a student who she said sexually assaulted her, the woman said in an interview. Reading the passage so soon afterward left her feeling unmoored.

Ms. Ting, a member of Cornell’s undergraduate student assembly, believed her friend deserved a heads-up about the upsetting material. That day, she drafted a resolution urging instructors to provide warnings on the syllabus about “traumatic content” that might be discussed in class, including sexual assault, self-harm and transphobic violence.

The resolution was unanimously approved by the assembly late last month. Less than a week after it was submitted to the administration for approval, Martha E. Pollack, the university president, vetoed it.

“We cannot accept this resolution as the actions it recommends would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education,” Ms. Pollack wrote in a letter with the university provost, Michael I. Kotlikoff.

To some, the conflict illustrates a stark divide in how different generations define free speech and how much value they place on its absolute protection, especially at a time of increased sensitivity toward mental health concerns.

After decades of university battles over tinderbox issues of students’ rights, speech codes and how best to grapple with unpopular speakers and ideas, proponents of free speech are lauding Ms. Pollack’s quick and unequivocal action. They characterize it as part of a larger national shift, marked by university leadership more forcefully pushing back against efforts to shut down speakers and topics that might offend.

“What was unique about the Cornell situation is they rapidly turned in a response that was a ‘hard no,’” said Alex Morey, the director of campus rights advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a nonpartisan organization focused on issues of free speech. “There was no level of kowtowing. It was a very firm defense of what it means to get an education.”

Martha E. Pollack, the president of Cornell University, said the student resolution concerned her because it could impinge upon the freedom of faculty to select material and present it as they think is most beneficial. (Credit Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times)

Ms. Morey called it the “Stanford Effect,” referring to a 10-page open letter written in March by Jenny Martinez, dean of Stanford University Law School, in which she affirmed her decision to apologize to Stuart Kyle Duncan, a Donald J. Trump-appointed federal appeals judge, after hecklers interrupted his speech.

Earlier this month, Neeli Bendapudi, the president of Pennsylvania State University, released a four-minute video explaining why she believed a public university like Penn State had a legal and moral obligation to host speakers who espouse views that many may find abhorrent. “For centuries, higher education has fought against censorship and for the principle that the best way to combat speech is with more speech,” she said.

The current free speech issue at Cornell is one that has been debated on campuses across the country. “Content warnings” or “trigger warnings” refer to verbal or written alerts that assigned material, including academic writing or artistic expression, may involve sensitive or upsetting themes or details that may cause a student to have an emotional response tied to a personal experience.

Professors on some campuses use such warnings, though mandates are rare.

At Cornell, the students’ proposal suggested that the warnings be issued when course readings and discussions involved topics “including but not limited to: sexual assault, domestic violence, self-harm, suicide, child abuse, racial hate crimes, transphobic violence, homophobic harassment, xenophobia.”

It stipulated that “students who choose to opt out of exposure to triggering content will not be penalized, contingent on their responsibility to make up any missed content.”

To Ms. Ting and other proponents of the measure, including the woman in the Korean American literature class, the administration’s swift rebuke was frustrating. “We have been characterized as triggered snowflakes,” said Shelby L. Williams, a sophomore who co-sponsored the resolution. “What we are asking for is greater context.”

The concept of trigger warnings first entered the cultural dialogue in the post-Vietnam War era, after post-traumatic stress distress disorder became a recognized health condition. PTSD episodes, which include rage and anxiety, are generally triggered by places, people, sounds or smells reminiscent of a traumatic experience, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Integrating trigger warnings into academia first took root in the 1990s but gained urgency after the #MeToo movement opened a dialogue about trauma. A study published in 2019 in the Journal of American College Health said 70 percent of college students report that they have been exposed to at least one traumatic event.

Students with diagnosed PTSD are entitled to care from universities and should be treated by trained professionals, said Amna Khalid, a professor of history at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., who has been writing and speaking about campus culture since 2016.

But, Professor Khalid said, addressing students’ mental health issues through trigger warnings is ineffective. It disempowers people by reducing their identities to traumatic events and “infantilizes” students whom professors should be preparing for adult life, she said.

“Life happens to you while you are driving, while you are walking, while you are in the supermarket,” she said. “The most challenging moments in life rarely come with warning.”

Professor Khalid called trigger-warning mandates an infringement on the academic freedom of professors whose role is to help students develop critical thinking skills.

“Sometimes that requires surprising them and challenging them in ways that are uncomfortable,” she said. “It diminishes the learning experience for students if professors hedge themselves.”

Some professors support the use of trigger warnings. “When used correctly,” said Connor Strobel, a professor of social sciences at the University of Chicago, “trigger warnings can open up a conversation” with students, enabling professors to alert them to available resources.

Professor Strobel recently asked students to read “The Second Sex,” by Simone de Beauvoir, and alerted them that the book included themes of “menstruation and menopause, and things that women are shamed for,” he said.

One student approached him and said that because of a family issue, she was concerned about reading it. He was willing to create an alternate assignment for her but first encouraged her to start the book and see if she found it more compelling than upsetting. “She found it very salient,” he said, and completed the assignment.

“At a university, there is no topic that should be off the table, but trigger warnings are a preview of coming attractions that treat students with humanity,” he added.

When Professor Strobel was a graduate student at University of California Irvine in 2016, he wrote a proposal asking a faculty government association to endorse the use of trigger warnings on campus.

That document became an inspiration for Ms. Ting’s Cornell resolution.

The Cornell measure was publicized by The Cornell Daily Sun, the student newspaper, and kicked up a conversation on Twitter. Normally, Ms. Pollack, the university president, takes about a month to weigh in on student assembly proposals. But in this case, she responded in just a few days.

The resolution concerned her, she said in an interview, because it could impinge upon the freedom of faculty to select material and present it as they think is most beneficial.

She also believes a rule that codifies the avoidance of upsetting topics runs contrary to the role of a university.

“Our students are coming at this with good intentions,” Ms. Pollack said, “but I think it’s a critical part of higher education to learn how to engage with challenging and difficult ideas. It teaches you to listen, compromise and advocate.”

It was the first assembly measure of more than 30 this academic year that the president has rejected.

Lee Humphreys, chair of the communication department at Cornell, was pleased by Ms. Pollack’s response.

In the past, she has presented her classes with violent, sexual and distasteful content to push students to consider who might be drawn to the programming and who might financially benefit from it.

“If I was really concerned about making sure I was covering all of my bases in terms of trigger warnings, it would make my life easier to not show the kind of content in the class that I would otherwise show, just in case there was something that I was overlooking,” Professor Humphreys said. “I think that’s doing a disservice to the class and the students, to avoid things that are difficult.”

Professor Humphreys often previews for students what is to come in a lesson, as a part of “reinforcing pedagogical goals,” she said, and aims to be sensitive to students.

“Just because you don’t support a mandate doesn’t mean that you don’t support an inclusive learning environment,” she said.

Students had a mixed reaction to the resolution, with the conservative student newspaper, The Cornell Review, calling it “an embarrassment” in an editorial published last week. “Hiding from ideas is no less than intellectual cowardice. It’s exactly the opposite of what this country needs,” the paper said.

Cullen O’Hara, a Cornell University senior, is the co-editor-in-chief of the Cornell Review, a conservative student paper, which has editorialized against the content warning proposal. (Credit Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times)

Cullen O’Hara, co-editor-in-chief of The Review, said that the editorial board did not believe the student assembly represented a majority of students and saw the resolution as endemic of broader free speech issues.

“We are very opposed to trigger warnings which we think would chill the discussion in classrooms, which we already believe are one-sided,” said Mr. O’Hara, a senior.

The student assembly will discuss the trigger-warning resolution with the administration on Thursday, at a previously scheduled meeting between Ms. Pollack and the assembly.

“I think the response is purposeful in focusing on the wrong part of the resolution,” said Valeria Valencia, a senior and the Cornell University Student Assembly president, “turning it into an issue of academic freedom and not one of protecting students, when both things can coexist.”

Valeria Valencia, a Cornell University senior and president of the student assembly, supported the resolution on content warnings. (Credit Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times)

Ms. Ting, the writer of the resolution, said she is considering amending the proposal. “But first I want to do more due diligence and reach out to faculty and administration to see how we can find the right balance,” she said.

Fragmented Attention

By Dr. Corinne Masur

“Spending the majority of your day with fragmented attention can permanently affect your ability to sustain concentration.”

This is something that Cal Newport, Associate Professor at Georgetown University, said in a Ted Talk about why he has never had a social media account and why he turns off his notifications while he’s working on a project.

He talks and writes about the impact that social media and multiple sources of information have on our work habits, productivity and ability to concentrate. His premise is that jumping from email to Facebook to Slack feed, whether at work or at home, impairs our ability to actually do what we need to do in an efficient way as well as affecting our overall ability to sustain attention.

He calls shifting from doing a task at work to looking at an email a “context shift”. And in an interview in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday (1/29/23), he said that “even minor context shifts are poison” – by which he meant, that if you are writing a report at work and you stop to check a message, there will be a cost to your productivity. You will have to exert a large amount of mental energy to go from that message back to the report you were writing. And if you do this multiple times while writing the report, you will take longer and have to work harder to finish it.

Cal Newport advocates turning off your notifications and doing one thing at a time.

Old fashioned?  

Sure – 

but also, according to him, more efficient and more productive.

So what does that have to do with parenting?

Well, I would be remiss if I advised you to try to get your children to turn off THEIR notifications or if I suggested that you could actually get them to stop looking at their phones all the time. They won’t listen, they will argue, they will get angry – and we all know this.

BUT – there are a couple of things you CAN do.

First, you can start to adopt some of these habits yourself. And then you can talk about having done so IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN.  You can talk about whether or not this has helped you. 

There are numerous benefits to you here – you may actually find that you ARE more productive, and you may find that you feel less stressed.  Constantly trying to pay attention to several sources of communication and information all day long is stressful and anxiety provoking.

Second, while your children are young, you can insist that they put their cell phones (if they have them) in a basket while they do homework and at family meal time.  You can probably get away with this through junior high – or, if you are really good, through high school.  It will be hard, but if you persist, your children just might develop some good work habits that are more productive and less stressful for them.

Cal Newport’s Website:

Cal Newport’d Book:

The Herd

We humans are social beings.  We need others, not just to thrive, but to survive.  Whether we are older people, living alone, or single parents living with our children, whether our spouses travel a great deal or whether we ourselves travel for work and spend time alone in hotel rooms, whether we feel alone, lying in a hospital bed, or actually are alone after a separation or divorce, we all suffer when we lack community, support and human touch.

Below is a beautiful article on this subject which appeared in the New York Times this past Sunday:


I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My Herd

A single mother, alone with a toddler in a foreign country, finds community during Covid — and then creates one for others.

Photo by Brian Rea

Seven mothers in a row crouching protectively over their small children.

By Betsy Cornwell | Jan. 20, 2023

My ex was a bad husband but a good horse trainer. When we met, he had just bought a pony for 50 euros that the seller swore was unbreakable. Three months later, he sold it for 10 times that price as a child’s Christmas present.

He was kinder to horses than he was to me. He had better luck training them, too. His attempts to break me were easy to brush off at first, but they grew more forceful after our son was born. On our baby’s first birthday, he told me that if I didn’t obey him, he would have me deported back to America and keep our son in Ireland.

I reacted the way any threatened animal mother would: I took my baby and ran.

After a brief brush with homelessness, we moved to a rural cottage I could barely afford even with multiple jobs. In a field across the road was a skinny dun mare, her mane falling out and her hide raw where she had bitten off her own fur. You could always see the whites of her eyes.

One of the many things my ex taught me about horses is that a horse kept alone in a field will never thrive. It won’t sleep, will go off its feed, will even start pulling out its own hair. But if you put any other herd animal in with it (doesn’t have to be another horse — could be a sheep, goat or donkey), they’ll get on fine.

That’s because in a herd, animals take turns being the lookout. One animal keeps watch while the others rest and eat. A herd animal by itself, or alone with its baby, is always watching for danger; it won’t lower its head long enough to eat much or feel safe enough to sleep deeply.

I felt for that horse. I felt like her, too.

I didn’t know my neighbors — and after learning to fear my spouse, I had become afraid of everyone else, too. I kept my door locked and curtains drawn. Even after the long days of working single parenthood were done and my child was in bed, I watched the windows for unexpected shadows, predator eyes.

I had a safety order, the Irish version of a restraining order, but my animal brain knew that wasn’t the same as real safety. I barely ate and I slept fitfully, half my brain alert for danger. Congratulations on my weight loss made me want to scream.

By then it was April 2020, and Ireland was enduring the longest lockdown in Europe. I might have been alone with a toddler, but everyone else was alone in their fields, too. Logging on for Zoom reunions with family and friends I hadn’t caught up with in years, I felt less isolated than I had before lockdown. Apart from the creeping sense of Covid doom, I kind of didn’t want it to end.

It was in that disembodied space that I felt safe enough to start opening up to people again. Online I talked about my grief over my divorce, the hardships of single parenting, my financial struggles. I lived in fear of eviction and of separation from my child if my ex were to succeed in having me deported. Online, I didn’t have to explain my weight loss or the way I kept flinching at unexpected touch.

I connected with people who had been through similar things, but more important, I learned how many people are willing to reach out in kindness just for the sake of it. College friends from the States crowd-funded my rent and grocery money one month when I couldn’t make it; they paid for my parental visa application, too.

Old friends from every era of my life — as well as people I had never met — reached out to help me survive. Their generosity revived my faith in myself and in others and helped me imagine a better future — one where I might be able to offer that same help to other single parents who felt alone in their fields.

At night, when my baby or my anxiety woke me, I soothed myself to sleep by reading real estate listings, dreaming of a home not just for us but for other single parents, a childcare-inclusive residency space where we could take turns being the lookout. I longed to give other single parents the thing I most needed myself: a respite from the hyper vigilance of loneliness.

One sleepless night, I found a place that I thought could work, an old knitting factory on Ireland’s west coast, priced low because it had been on the market for years. The seller agreed to a rent-to-own scheme but said I needed to give him a whole year’s rent up front.

I barely had one month’s worth. I got ready for bed that night full of longing that was close to despair. But I told my online communities about my idea and did something they had with their love taught me to do — I asked for help. Then I went to sleep.

When I woke, I found that a herd of friends and strangers had kept watch over my son and me while we slept. There was several months’ rent funded already, and within days the whole year was covered.

After my baby and I moved in, I spent the next two years crowdfunding the knitting factory’s purchase and renovating it to receive guests. I hacked through brambles, erected fencing, scrubbed musty old walls, cleared away cobwebs. And every day I talked online about my dream of a family home that could care for other families, and more strangers and friends joined in support.

I finally closed on the building in spring 2022, having raised the entire purchase price. My herd had kept my baby and me safe, and it was time for me to offer that safety to someone else.

Last summer, I hosted my first single mother resident, a remarkable woman named Tawasul who came to Ireland as a refugee from Sudan with her two young children. In the knitting factory’s sunny kitchen, we shared strong Irish tea and cardamom-spiced Sudanese coffee while we talked about domestic abuse and immigration and the strange sadness of watching your children grow up in a different culture.

To fund the residencies, I also began to offer the space on Airbnb. A few years ago, locking the door every night against my ex-husband and neighbors alike, I never could have fathomed being brave enough to share my home with strangers.

But the funny thing is, those strangers have made me feel safer. The backpackers who stay up late keep a vigil without even knowing it. The retirees who wake up early for the ferry take the morning shift. I barely talk with most of them, but their presence helps me breathe easier because I know there would be witnesses if my ex did show, especially now that my safety order has expired. But really, the feeling of safety I get is more primal.

I used to fantasize about putting a sheep or donkey in the field across from my rented cottage to keep that dun mare company. I settled for visiting her myself when I could, picking long grass for her, letting my baby pet her rough velvet nose. Often, she would nod off while we sat there.

A few weeks before we left for the knitting factory, I saw another horse with her. They didn’t bond right away, mostly remaining in their field’s opposite corners. But by moving day, the mare’s fur was already growing back in.

It’s not like every person who stays at the knitting factory is a kindred spirit either. But their presence soothes my animal body in a more profound way than I ever expected.

Since we bought the house, I have started getting to know my neighbors, too. It took me those two years to get brave enough, but the rewards of that bravery are many: My son runs to greet his classmates at the playground, and I share custody of a sweet gray cat with the couple across the road.

And last week, an elderly neighbor brought us an unexpected gift: a goat.

I thanked him but thought, “Oh god, what am I going to do with her?” Or rather, them: I knew that I would have to get her a friend.

Until our goat’s companion came, my son and I stayed outside with her for hours, feeding her porridge oats, stroking her while she regarded us with her mild letterbox eyes. “I’m sorry we’re not goats,” I wanted to say. “But I promise — we’re herd animals too.”

Best Parenting Books 2022

Here’s a round up of the top five best parenting books that were released in 2022. Happy reading!

Best New Books:

1) Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids by Mona Delahooke

“Based on years of clinical experience, this book offers a new approach to parenting that considers and centers the essential role of the entire nervous system, which controls children’s feelings and behaviors, in how to raise children.”

2) Peaceful Discipline: Story Teaching, Brain Science & Better Behavior by Sarah R. Moore

“A reflection on the body-brain connection in behavior and why our concept of “consequences don’t work for children, and what to do, within a positive framework, instead.”

3) Raising Antiracist Children: A Practical Parenting Guide by Britt Hawthorne

“An essential guide to raising inclusive, antiracist children from educator and advocate, Britt Hawthorne.”

4) LGBTQ Family Building: A Guide for Prospective Parents by Abbie E. Goldberg

“This easy to read guide offers a comprehensive overview of parenting with regard to the specific complexities, joys, and nuances of being an LGBTQ+ person and parent.”

5) Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Dr. Becky Kennedy 

“A comprehensive resource offering new techniques for modern parenting and how to raise kids to feel confident and resilient.”

And a few oldies but goodies:

(These are a few recommendations but this series continues all the way up to adolescence!)

Coming Home to New Traditions

By Victoria Cano

I was never a cooking kid. Despite the many invitations into their separate kitchens I always refused my parents offers to help cook. I never made paprikash csirke with my mom or baked ziti with my dad. The kitchen and all its mysteries was the domain of parents. Except on Christmas. Because on Christmas we didn’t cook. We baked. 

Cooking, to me, was the Wild West. Full of strange ingredients, relying on instinct and secret troves of knowledge. Baking was different. There were a key set of players that could be rearranged into a thousand different delicious things. There were steps, there was order, there was control. And as a kid, in that, I found magic. 

For the past seven years I have missed those baking Christmases. I wasn’t with EITHER parent – both because I lived abroad and because of the pandemic. 

For many people, like me, this will literally be the first holiday season they have together with family in years.

And while that is so so wonderful. It presents a challenge many of us weren’t expecting. In the absence of our routines, in a world turned topsy turvey, traditions were rearranged. Adapted. Transformed. As were relationships and rituals. 

Right before the pandemic my mother had gone on a few dates with a guy, I barely remembered his name. Now I know him as Peter, my stepfather, and the man who made her feel loved enough she decided to move in with him after twenty years living on her own. The era of going to my grandmother’s house for the holiday too has ended (she’s moving in with my mom.) And my father, who, over the 25 years of their divorce only ever lived down the road, is moving the day after Christmas to Albany, 3.5 hours away.

There is a part of me that just wants to yell ‘Stop! Hang on a second! Let me catch up.”

At first, I felt like that little kid being invited back into my parents kitchen to cook.I don’t understand. Where is everything as I left it? Where is it all going? 

I’m a thirty year old kid and having these questions, these before bedtime fears. So too may many of your little ones. Routine and ritual can be so beneficial and comforting to a child. 

Kids love baking. 

So how do we talk to our children, both little and big, about life, the holidays as they now are, about a world where traditions sometimes have to change and rearrange?

Every year as I was growing up, my mother and I celebrated advent (the entire December month long lead up to Christmas.) Since I was 18 and moved away, we haven’t had much of a chance to spend that time together. I haven’t gotten to read to her her favorite Christmas Story (A Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.) 

This year I have. And when I sit on the couch to do so, my grandmother is there too. And before we begin, Peter lights the Chanukah candles and sings Maoz Tzur. Later tonight I’ll help my father finish packing, moving for the first time to a place that is his and no one else’s. As I sit and read, I can see the advent candles flickering side by side with our menorah. 

It is indeed a strange new world. And that can scare kids and their grownups (and grownup kids) alike. But in the strangeness, new beauty and new wonders can be found. And as I sit and read, looking at the glowing world around me, I am reassured that everything is going to be fine, that the kids are going to be alright. Because they’ll learn that old traditions mesh with new ones, and you can make something together, in which everyone is involved. And, from where I’m sitting, that’s a wonderful thing. 

After I finish reading, I’ll watch the candles go out, wrap my dad his presents to open in his new house, and later I’ll help with the cooking (and the baking!)

Rethinking Thanksgiving

By Dr. Corinne Masur

Now that the Thanksgiving rush is over, the turkey is eaten and we have all returned to our own homes, perhaps we need to rethink this holiday.

Recently I listened to an interesting show on NPR about Thanksgiving from the Native American perspective.

It summarized what we all know by now: that the Thanksgiving story taught to most of us was a largely made up, highly romanticized version of the colonial — Native American relationship.

The show offered the Wompanoag perspective on what happened between the Colonists and the Native people — and it was NOT what any of us heard about in elementary school.

The author of a beautiful children’s book on the subject (see below for link) spoke about her people’s perspective. And if you go to the website that describes her book, this is what it says:


A New Thanksgiving Story for a 21st Century America

Many Americans see Thanksgiving as a holiday rooted in our nation’s birth, celebrating a harvest feast. They imagine tables laden with turkey and its accompaniments, surrounded by brave Pilgrims and their newfound “Indian” friends. These ideas are reinforced every year in America’s classrooms, on televisions and at annual parades as the big day arrives.

Unfortunately, these ideas are based on a myth born at the height of the Civil War. Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential magazine editor who wrote the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” fervently campaigned for a national day of thanks. She envisioned a Thanksgiving holiday to celebrate peace and unite a divided country. In September 1863, Hale wrote to President Lincoln, urging him to create a national holiday, and he agreed. Thanksgiving, as we know it, was born.

Images of Pilgrims, “Indians” and turkeys embedded themselves into our nation’s conscience in the decades that followed–all at the expense of the true Thanksgiving story and the Wampanoag peoples who saved the Pilgrims. European historical records and Wampanoag accounts present a very different story.

In September 1620, a group of settlers left Plymouth to start new lives in the colony of Virginia. A storm blew them off course and they found themselves moored off the lands of the Wampanoag people in present-day Massachusetts. The newcomers explored their new world and stole food and provisions from Wampanoag homes. They created a new settlement, named Plymouth, on the site of a Wampanoag village devastated by disease and warfare caused in large part by earlier visits by European traders.

Nearly half of the settlers died that winter, largely due to exposure. When spring came, Wampanoag sachems (leaders), helped the newcomers and taught them how to raise local crops known as the “Three Sisters”: Corn, beans and squash. In November 1621, the settlers celebrated their first harvest. When they heard the gunfire, over 90 Wampanoag warriors and others joined the nearly 50 settlers and feasted as well. This was Keepunumuk, one of many harvest festivals celebrated by the Wampanoag people each year.

Unfortunately, the celebrations — and the newcomers’ thanks — did not last long. Fifty-five years later, in 1676, the settlers killed the son of the Wampanoag sachem who saved them. This was not new. European, and later American, settlers regularly attacked and exploited the Native people they met. This left Native Americans fighting foreign diseases, illegal occupation and removal from their homelands. The American government also created boarding schools that punished Native Americans who dared to speak their language or practice their culture.


This is a painful part of American history — and one that is difficult to know how to approach with our children.

So what is a modern American family to do about this holiday? What can we rightfully celebrate? And what should we emphasize next year?

Many of us love the tradition of Thanksgiving — the turkey, the side dishes, the gathering of family and/or friends, the pies, (most of all the pies).

Or maybe we are vegetarian or vegan or come from elsewhere in the world and do not entirely own this holiday as our own — or maybe we choose not to gather or make a big deal of the day — but most of us have the day off as do our children —

So, how about if we make our own tradition? How about if between now and next year, we think about what kind of holiday ritual makes sense to us?

I suggest, as did the cross-cultural panel of guests on NPR, that we all find ways to celebrate what we have, that we celebrate our gratitude for whatever it is that makes each one of us feel grateful, and that with our children, we make this explicit and spoken.

We can still have a Thanksgiving feast — whether it features turkey or not — and we can still offer toasts or we can go around the table and say what we are grateful for — or we can respect the shy people at our table and just talk about our gratitude more casually — or we can take a hike out in nature and be grateful for the beauty we find there — or we can serve food at a communal kitchen — or we can spend a normal day at home. 

But how about spending the day being grateful — and perhaps also make sure to have the children’s book below on hand to read to our children.

For children:

For adults:

NPR show:

The real history of the first Thanksgiving
In-depth analysis and commentary on today’s biggest news stories as only the BBC can deliver. BBC “Newshour” covers…

or read:

The Reincarnation Story

Tejal Toprani, MSW

Misra is a psychotherapist in part-time private practice and a most-time stay at home mom. She lives in California with her spouse and two young sons.

In the 4th grade I had two best friends with whom I played at the back of the playground during recess.  

One Monday, my Korean Christian “best friend” asked me what I did on Sunday. I don’t remember what my answer was but it did not involve church.

“Why?” She asked. 

“Because I’m not Christian.” 

Eleven year old me was raised Hindu and I still am. 

We can break here for a quick religious education: For those of you who don’t know, Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion and the third largest religion behind Christianity and Islam. Hindus believe that God exists and that all human beings are divine. Hindus also believe in the importance of religious harmony among all things. Our religious place of worship is called a Temple and the word for “temple” is different depending on what your native Indian language is. 

Okay, back to the story: It’s Monday and I am at recess and my “best friend’s” response to my recollection of my Sunday was “You didn’t go to Church?” and I say “No I’m not Christian, I’m Hindu.” To which my “friend” replied, “If you’re not a Christian, you’re going to go to hell!” 

Eleven-year-old me was shocked. 

How could someone so affirmatively declare what was going to happen to ME in the after life? Who died and made her Queen? 

But all my eleven year-old self could blurt out was “Nooo I’m not!!!” Being told I was going to go to hell felt isolating and hurtful. I didn’t know what to do with this information. Our other best friend stood by listening. 

So when I went home that day I asked my Dad if we were going to hell when we die.

It bears mentioning that my Dad is the opposite of Mr. Rogers when it comes to explaining things to children. 

But hindsight is 20/20. 

My sweet, well intentioned Dad said that as Hindus, we don’t believe in hell. 


What a relief!

Now I can take this information back to Janet (oops!) and be exempt from any “Hell” she thought I was going to for not worshiping the same god as she did.

My bad! 

But my Dad didn’t stop there. He proceeded to tell me that Hindus believe that heaven and hell are all here on earth. Hindus serve out their karma for good and bad deeds here in cycles of reincarnation. He said, “When each life ends our souls come back in other living things like a spider, a cockroach or …. a warthog.” 

Eleven-year-old Tejal was freaking the F out! 

My Dad sensed my fear and tried to walk backwards away from this landmine by saying “Maybe you will come back as a bird.” 

To my parents credit there wasn’t a blueprint on how to handle these questions.. The great immigration cycle of Indians from India started in 1965, less than a 100 years ago. Up until recently there weren’t any childrens’ books or regular temple activities to teach young Indian American children like me about their culture and religion. 

I wish I had had the chutzpah to explain my background when my Christian “best friend” told me I was going to “Hell.” I didn’t have a rebuttal or an experience of my own to share with her.

As a result, the experience really shaped me. It empowered me to learn more about my culture and religion. It then informed me to figure out how I was to educate my children on Hinduism. Even though I’m still afraid of coming back as a warthog in my next life, I’m writing the blueprint that works for me and our family.


Dr. Corinne Masur

Following up on my last post where I talked about intensive parenting, I would like to talk a little more about the subject.  

But this time I want to talk about one of the things that makes parenting intensive these days and one way to reduce the workload.

And to help, I want to quote Dawn Staley, former Temple University Women’s basketball coach, Olympic gold medallist, and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer who was interviewed recently by Terry Gross on Fresh Air.

Dawn Staley made some interesting observations about parenting. 

She said that parents these days often cannot stand to see their children feel uncomfortable.  She said that the parents of her players often want to protect them from frustration or failure … or even minor discomfort. 

This takes A LOT of work on the parents’ part and is a questionable strategy for raising resilient, independent children.

She said:

“I find that just through my life, being uncomfortable, I found a way to grow. And I give that to our players. … I’ll give you an example. Most of the players that I coach, their parents, they don’t want them to hurt. Like, they don’t want them to be unhappy. They don’t want them to go through life hurting or failing… bad game, bad grade, just – break up with your (partner). Like, their parents don’t want them to go through that.

And I am the direct opposite of their parents. Like, I want them to do that. I want you to break up, have a breakup. I want you to have a bad game. I want you to fail the test because from those moments, growth is taking place. You find a way to not have those repeat performances in … your life. So sometimes my players – they struggle with me because I don’t treat them like their parents treat them.”

This is so profound – Coach Staley is suggesting that in her own life she grew from the times when she was uncomfortable – and she thinks her players can do the same.

This may sound sensible – and yet it is so hard to institute a similar policy with our own children – so hard to tolerate our own children’s frustration or pain. 

Letting children fail or fall or have a bad break up without rushing in to prevent it or to fix it is hard for parents.  We want our children to be happy and comfortable.  We want their lives to be smooth and easy.

But is this the best thing for our children?  And is it the best thing for us parents?

Will our children learn what they need to live their lives independently, and to survive frustrations and disappointments – if we don’t let them experience difficulty as they grow up?

I have written about this in other posts and no doubt I will write about it again.  But I think it is worth thinking about the answer it to these questions.

And I think it is likely that protecting our children too much is not a good parenting strategy – not only for our children but for us. 

Trying to cushion every fall (metaphorical or real) is a full time job even if you just have one child. And if you have more than one?  Well, that is total overload.

And taking this approach to child raising leaves very little time to be an adult outside of work, to talk to our partner, to be with our friends, to relax, to read, etc. 

To be good parents, we need time to refuel, including in the presence of our children – not just on nights out.

We need to do this partly for ourselves, and partly to show children that being an adult is not just one never ending string of chores and responsibilities. 

I just read a wonderful comedic memoir called, “Did Ye Hear Mammy Died” by Seamus O’Reilly.  In this book O’Reilly describes how his father raised him – and his ten siblings – after their mother died.

His father had eleven children. He raised them without help.  He never remarried.  But he did expect the older ones to watch the younger ones and perhaps, most importantly, he did expect them all to amuse themselves.

The author describes hours and days and weeks of boredom.  And he also describes all the reading and other activities he and his siblings dreamed up to do.

Their father did not sit on the floor to play with them.  He did not see it as his job to entertain them, except, perhaps on the occasional vacation. But he did keep an enormous library of books and videos (movies) in the house and he did insist that they spend time with each other and he also made sure that they knew what they were supposed to do and when they were supposed to do it.  He did wake them all up every morning and he did chauffeur them to their various clubs and choirs and classes and performances.  He made sure they got where they needed to be and he did have someone to clean up the house after them. But again, he did not feel it was his job to sit on the floor with them or to entertain them. He had his own interests and hobbies and activities that are well described in the book.

This is a fascinating story for so many reasons, not the least of which has to do with parenting.  

Reading this book, and listening to Dawn Staley gives us pause to think – and these two tremendous adults make clear how all encompassing AND how limited our current view of parenting is.

Parents’ lives today are arduous, in part because we have a hard time discriminating what our jobs are with our children and what we need to leave up to our children to do on their own. 

When our 16 year old gets a ticket, if we contact our friend who has an inside track on cancelling that parking or speeding ticket, will that teenager learn that it’s better not to speed or to park in an illegal spot?  

Or, if we pay the fine for them, again, will they learn anything from the experience?

The answer is obvious.

And the same goes for what will happen if we always jump in to help them to finish the school projects they have left to the last moment or when we write the college essay for them.  

We may feel the stakes are too high to let our child experience consequences.  If he doesn’t get a good grade in 6th grade, he won’t get into the higher level classes in middle school.  If she doesn’t write a good essay, she won’t get into the college she wants.

But we have to ask ourselves, how will our child learn to do what they need to do in life if they DON’T suffer the consequences when they fail to do these things? And why we are so worried about our child’s project or college essay or problem with a girlfriend/boyfriend/partner in the first place? 

We have to ask ourselves why we don’t think our children can sort these things out and what our children will miss out on learning if we sort everything out FOR them.

And then we need to think carefully about when and where we step in to help – and when and where we sit back, do our own thing, and let our children figure things out for themselves.

Is parenting too intensive? 

YES.  But perhaps we can do something about SOME of the load by looking at our own behavior.

And for the Dawn Staley interview, here it is in its entirety:


Recently while talking to Dr. Pauline Boss (author of Ambiguous Loss and The Myth of Closure), she said something remarkable. Although we were not really talking about parenting, as an aside, she said, “I think parenting, the way it’s done today, is unsustainable”.

And then, just today I saw an article in The Atlantic on the same topic (copied below because it’s important to read in its entirety).

Parenting today is SO intensive that it is exhausting parents and making them feel ever guilty that they are not doing enough. And it is not necessarily benefitting children.

I noticed a trend in the parent-baby groups I run, starting about twenty years ago.  Parents were suddenly feeling that they had to make their own baby food, they had to be “present” with their babies and children at all times, they had to get down on the floor and play as often as possible and they had to sign their children up for music and language classes starting in early toddlerhood.

But why?

In previous generations, parents were too busy to get down on the floor to play – children were sent outside to play or expected to play on their own in the house. One meal was made for breakfast, lunch and dinner and children were expected to eat it.  

You know what I’m talking about here – every child was not the focus of attention every minute. 

But somehow the demands of parenting have escalated exponentially.  To consider themselves good parents, parents now have to exhaust themselves all day, every day, meeting every need of every child.

And this IS unsustainable. 

Read the below and see what YOU think.

From The Atlantic:

How to Quit Intensive Parenting

It’s the prevailing American child-rearing model across class lines. But there’s a better way.

By Elliot Haspel, May 10, 2022

A girl sitting on branch of a large tree
Luca Zordan / Gallery Stock

Intensive parenting—the dominant model of modern American child-rearing—is a bit like smoking: The evidence shows that it’s unhealthy, yet the addiction can be hard to kick. I’d like to suggest strategies that could help society quit overparenting, and they require parents, policy makers, and even the childless to pitch in. But first, we need to understand why intensive parenting—whereby mothers and fathers overextend their time and money curating their child’s life in hopes of maximizing the child’s future success—prevails.

Often used interchangeably with more derisive terms such as helicopter parentingbulldozer parenting, and snowplow parenting, intensive parenting has its appeals. Scholars suggest that it first arose among middle-class families in the mid-to-late 20th century, amid shrinking manufacturing jobs, globalization, growing wealth inequality, a sense that children were both “vulnerable and moldable,” and a general feeling that American triumphalism was perhaps not a guarantee. In response to this anxiety, parents started pushing harder to ensure their kids’ future stability. Throughout the 2010s, as precarity continued to increase, the intensive-parenting ideology stretched its tendrils across class lines.

Rafts of research prove that intensive parenting mainly serves to burn out parents while harming children’s competence and mental health. But the facts are losing. In a 2018 survey, 75 percent of respondents rated various intensive-parenting scenarios as “very good” or “excellent,” and less than 40 percent said the same about scenarios showing a non-intensive approach. (An example that respondents grappled with: When a child says they’re bored, should a parent find an activity to sign them up for or suggest they go outside and play?)

What parents need, then, is not another bromide against micromanaging their kids, but pragmatic steps to alter course and still feel good about it. This is where the idea of “good enough” parenting comes in. The phrase was coined in 1953 by the British pediatrician and psychologist Donald Winnicott, and we can now update his work. Winnicott pushed back strongly against the idea that children require perfection from their parents, or that children should be perfectible. “There is room for all kinds of [parents] in the world,” Winnicott wrote. “And some will be good at one thing, and some good at another. Or shall I say, some will be bad at one thing, and some bad at another.” He added another idea too: That no one-size-fits-all parenting model exists. “You are specialists in this particular matter of the care of your own children. I want to encourage you to keep and defend this specialist knowledge. It cannot be taught.”

“Good enough” does not mean mediocre or apathetic (the not-good-enough parent is real), but requires acknowledging the point beyond which attempts at further optimization cause more harm than good. Given reasonable conditions and plenty of love, there are many ways in which kids can have happy childhoods and emerge as healthy, conscientious, successful adults. The developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik likens this approach to gardening. Where intensive parents are carpenters, hammering children into a particular shape one stroke at a time, gardening parents pour their labor into creating preconditions of “love, safety, and stability” for their kids to grow in potentially unpredictable ways.

So how do we move away from the cult of intensive parenting? Very carefully and intentionally. We have to start thinking of parenting not as a set of instructions but as several dials. Research suggests that certain dials, such as “display love,” “validate feelings,” and “set aside some regular quality time,” should absolutely be turned up to 10. Others, such as “solve your child’s (nonserious) problem for them,” should be pretty low. And many, such as “provide educational support” and “offer enrichment activities,” should be somewhere in the center. Your exact dial settings will depend on your values and your family situation, of course. All 10s and all ones are almost always a bad idea.

We can’t calibrate those dials correctly, however, without unraveling some societal myths that perpetuate intensive parenting. For instance, many parents overestimate the extent to which their day-to-day parenting choices influence child development, fueling unnecessary pressure. Similarly, the perception that kids face enormous physical dangers outside the home, which is often not reflective of reality, influences limits on many children’s autonomy. And perhaps no myth has done more damage than the idea that one must attend an elite college to secure financial stability. Matt Feeney, the author of the book Little Platoons: A Defense of Family in a Competitive Age, has called the college-admissions process “truly one of the most influential forces for the steering of human behaviors and the formation of human attitudes in the United States.”

The “wage premium” for those who graduate college versus those who don’t continues to be very real (although it has narrowed in recent years, and elite-college access remains hugely inequitable). But the differences among college-completers are much more modest, particularly if the goal is middle-class security as opposed to extreme wealth. The Harvard economist Raj Chetty found that by age 33, people of any income bracket who attended Ivy League and other top schools ended up earning more, on average, than nearly 80 percent of their birth-year peers. Yet those who attended non-elite four-year colleges still ended up earning more than nearly 70 percent of their similarly aged peers. In other words, parents should be reassured—and reassuring one another—that their kid attending a mid-tier university instead of an Ivy, or even taking a track toward a well-paying trade, is an equal cause for celebration.

Moving away from intensive parenting will also require a culture in which parents’ needs outweigh child optimizations. We need to normalize not adding more extracurriculars (and all the attendant time and money) to our schedule; not spending hours completing our children’s homework with (or for) them. To be sure, parental intervention is necessary at times—securing a tutor for a struggling reader, ensuring college financial-aid applications are completed—but those times are limited in scope and merely require attentive, rather than intensive, efforts.

At the same time, we need to normalize saying yes to prioritizing adult friendships and an adequate amount of sleep. We need to reassure one another—explicitly, publicly—that being a whole person is being a good parent. Generally, content parents are less prone to conflict and more prone to listening, and the opposite also holds true. Small, everyday parenting decisions may not have a massive impact on kids, but the causal link between parental well-being and child well-being is quite strong. Anxiety-driven intensive parenting has even been implicated as one factor in the rising youth mental-health crisis. Freedom from intensive methods provides both parents and their children with the ability to fashion a healthier life.

This is neither a purely individual problem nor an endeavor for parents alone: American public policy encourages intensive parenting. The United States lacks affordable child care and paid family leave, tolerates massive income inequality, and enshrines few employee protections, such as fair workweek laws. This setup generates tremendous stress and insecurity, and many parents respond by clenching tighter around their children’s lives. The “free-market family” system, as the author Maxine Eichner fashions it—in which families are largely on their own to meet child-rearing needs with limited public options—leaves parents competing against one another for resources kept artificially scarce. Those same competitive forces that isolate and exhaust parents are a barrier to them rallying together and demanding that lawmakers pass pro-family policies. A conscious effort will be necessary to see that, as Dana Suskind and Lydia Denworth put it in Parent Nation, “the fate of each child, no matter how well nurtured, is, ultimately, intimately intertwined with the fates of all children.”

Changing the nation’s dominant parenting model might feel daunting. But in seeking a replacement for intensive parenting, we shouldn’t harken back to a mythical yesteryear: Steven Mintz, the author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhoodwrites that “there has never been a time when the overwhelming majority of American children were well cared for and their experiences idyllic.” Instead, we need a model that meets the current context while rejecting false premises. Intensive parenting, for now, has the momentum of a surging river. By replacing mindsets and policies of scarcity with mindsets and policies of abundance, carpentry with gardening, competition with solidarity, we can erect a dam. And a new, healthier way forward can emerge: not more, not perfect, but good enough.

Our hearts go out to the grieving parents, children and community of the Robb School in Uvalde, Texas, a town we would not have known much about were it not for an 18 year old gunman. It is time to work toward better gun control laws in the U. S. to protect our children and to make all of us safer.