Book Notes for the week of Feb. 23

But I’m almost 13!

By: Dr. Joan Ruddiman
   Ken Ginsburg is a medical doctor in Philadelphia whose specialty is caring for teens. One might think he has a degree in psychology. But what he has, in addition to his M.D., is a master’s degree in education.
   Dr. Ginsburg cares for kids of high-powered professionals, is the doctor of record for social agencies in Philadelphia and generally sees a host of preteens and teenagers from the inner city to the suburbs. Several years ago, Dr. Ginsburg realized he was treating the same problems, regardless of each teen’s background.
   He writes, "The overwhelming majority of adolescent health problems result form behaviors — especially those involving alcohol, drugs, unsafe sex, reckless driving, and violence — or emotional problems such as sadness, anxiety and depression."
   Frustrated with treating the effects of risky teen behaviors, Dr. Ginsburg decided to address the cause.
   "But I’m Almost 13!" is co-authored with Martha M. Jablow and is intended for parents and teachers who make up the audiences for Dr. Ginsburg’s workshop presentations. Dr. Ginsburg, who stays more than busy with his day job, willingly moonlights as a dynamic lecturer in his second career as a teacher where he works for what he calls "the prevention of risk."
   "But I’m Almost 13!" is structured much like Dr. Ginsburg’s workshops. He uses anecdotes, a lot of humor and limits the scare tactics in order to build skills that provide adults the means to help their teens negotiate the decisions and dangers they confront daily. The book should not be read in one sitting — though it is at first glance an easy read. Rather, Dr. Ginsburg asks the reader over time to think about and digest the techniques suggested. After all, this whole parenting thing is a work in process.
   He begins with the good news. "Parents are the most important people in their children’s lives," he writes. Major research supports this assertion.
   The bad news is that teens too often really don’t know what they are doing as the rational part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) is not fully developed until well into the 20s. Brain research fully backs this declaration.
   However, the good outweighs the bad as "good judgment can be taught and practiced," Dr. Ginsburg claims and, again, lots of research backs him up.
   From the perspective of a parent on the other side of the teen years, I found Dr. Ginsburg’s workshop and his book right on target. There were moments in both when the "shoulda, woulda, coulda" thoughts played out in my head — and heart. Overall, the tricks we learned along the way that worked well are the techniques Dr. Ginsburg shares. He is big on building trust and fostering open communication in order to guide rather than push a teen to that "Aha!" moment.
   One terrific tip is the family code word to be used in any situation where the teen is uncomfortable or feels at risk. For example, a visit to a friend’s house turns into a house party when the parents leave for the evening. A keg comes in, some drugs appear and your daughter really wants to leave but does not want to look like a wimp in front of her friends.
   She calls. Her friends hear — with a lot of attitude — "No, I didn’t walk the dog. Well, geez, if it is that big a deal… "
   You hear, "Come get me right now."
   "I didn’t walk the dog" is the code for "Help me out of this!" You are on your way to "haul her home" as she tells her friends. You, however, may get a grateful hug when you pull away.
   One of the best pieces of advice any parent can hear is "Be willing to be the bad guy." My now-adult children tell me that more than once they used the line, "My dad would kill me if I did… " Be their excuse to say no to all kinds of risky behavior.
   It helps to raise kids in a neighborhood where people do know who they are and the threat of a parent-to-parent snitch is always out there. Rather than being resentful, however, Dr. Ginsburg confirms that kids are really grateful that caring adults are watching.
   How do you handle friendships that you are really not comfortable seeing develop? How do you say "no" and really mean it? How do you trust that other adult in their life who they seem to like more than you? How do you maintain a neutral tone when you are seething? How can you use cell phones to your advantage?
   Dr. Ginsburg covers all these questions and more. Though he is a young guy and the father of not-yet-preteen girls, his experience with caring for thousands of teens and — he acknowledges — the good parenting he himself had allow him to address universal concerns with confidence.
   It really is the universal experience. Even those really, really good kids get very weird when they hit 12 or 13. But, sadly, most of us just learn on the job and make mistakes that could be avoided. The mission of Dr. Ginsburg the teacher is to "offer skills and strategies to develop solid relationships with your preteens, to prevent adolescent problems, and to make your parenting style as strong and effective as possible for the sake of everyone in your family."
   Because the real universal truth is that "you have more influence on your children than anyone else, probably more than you even realize."
   "But I’m Almost 13! An Action Plan for Raising a Responsible Adolescent" by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D., M.S. Ed. with Martha M. Jablow is available from Contemporary Books a division of McGraw-Hill. Visit for more information.
   Dr. Joan Ruddiman, Ed.D., is a teacher and friend of the Allentown Public Library.