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What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?

Negative consequences, timeouts, and punishment just make bad behavior worse. But a new approach really works.

This article was published by Mother Jones on Tuesday, July 7, 2015.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

LEIGH ROBINSON WAS out for a lunchtime walk one brisk day during the spring of 2013 when a call came from the principal at her school. Will, a third-grader with a history of acting up in class, was flipping out on the playground. He'd taken off his belt and was flailing it around and grunting. The recess staff was worried he might hurt someone. Robinson, who was Will's educational aide, raced back to the schoolyard.

Will was "that kid." Every school has a few of them: that kid who's always getting into trouble, if not causing it. That kid who can't stay in his seat and has angry outbursts and can make a teacher's life hell. That kid the other kids blame for a recess tussle. Will knew he was that kid too. Ever since first grade, he'd been coming to school anxious, defensive, and braced for the next confrontation with a classmate or teacher.

The expression "school-to-prison pipeline" was coined to describe how America's public schools fail kids like Will. A first-grader whose unruly behavior goes uncorrected can become the fifth-grader with multiple suspensions, the eighth-grader who self-medicates, the high school dropout, and the 17-year-old convict. Yet even though today's teachers are trained to be sensitive to "social-emotional development" and schools are committed to mainstreaming children with cognitive or developmental issues into regular classrooms, those advances in psychology often go out the window once a difficult kid starts acting out. Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.

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Coming to a workplace near you: Fines for being fat?

When it comes to obesity -- a stubborn condition that the sharpest medical minds can't reliably treat -- is it fair to penalize an employee for staying heavy?

This article was originally published by on Monday, April 15, 2013.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis FORTUNE -- CVS Caremark (CVS) recently made headlines for rolling out a $600 penalty on workers who fail to report biometric data such as weight, body fat, blood sugar, and cholesterol in an annual screening. The controversial move is likely just the start of a new wave of workplace programs that aim to encourage healthier employee behavior through targeted incentives.

"You're going to see over the next three to five years lots of employers rewarding employees for successfully improving their health risk," says Jim Winkler, chief innovation officer for HR consultancy AON Hewitt, which found that 58% of the nearly 800 employers it surveyed plan to penalize workers who fail to take appropriate actions to improve their health.

Companies are expanding their wellness programs in the face of climbing health insurance costs, which in 2013 are expected to reach an average of $11,188 per employee, up from $7,874 in 2007, according to AON Hewitt. And many are switching from solely offering carrots -- rewards for making healthy choices -- to include sticks.

Of the $2.7 trillion spent each year on health care, about 50% to 60% relates to conditions that could be improved through changes in diet, exercise, and stress management, says Adam Bosworth, co-founder of online wellness company Keas and former head of Google Health.

The recently passed Affordable Care Act clarified employers' ability to financially penalize employees for unhealthy behavior. The act raised the allowed penalty, or reward, to 30% of health care premiums, from 20%. The federal health care reform package also cast a spotlight on the effectiveness of using payments and fines to influence employees' behavior -- regardless of whether they are weighted more on punishment or rewards.

"These programs, when it comes to obesity and weight management, are simply not very effective. All the studies have shown a very marginal weight loss over 12 months," says Morgan Downey, editor and publisher of The Downey Obesity Report, which covers science and public policy on obesity. "The best scientists and clinicians in the world have trouble getting these conditions under control. Why do we think HR can do it?" 

Making It Work: Special Report on Hourly Workers

Predictable schedules, paid time off and health insurance help these companies hold on to their valuable nonexempt workers.

This article was originally published by Working Mother in April 2013.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

When DeAna Jimenez’s 6-year-old daughter, Serenity, caught the flu and whooping cough last December, DeAna, 38, stayed home with her, missing out on four days of pay and bonuses in the lucrative pre-Christmas period. “I easily lost out on $250,” recalls the single mom, who works full-time as a store team leader at a specialty foods company in Denver but receives no paid leave. “That’s a light bill; it’s a week’s worth of groceries.”

At least she didn’t lose her job—a result that isn’t uncommon among hourly-working moms forced to choose between their families and their work. Such stories are familiar to Linda Meric, executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, a grassroots advocacy group for low-income women. “Especially in these tough economic times, no worker can afford to lose pay or a job because they have to care for their own or a family member’s health,” Meric says. “And yet there are far too many hourly workers who are faced with exactly that dilemma. The ways in which some employers cheat and mistreat their workers are numerous and varied.”

From erratic scheduling and low wages to no health insurance or paid time off, the nonsalaried employees who help us at the fast-food restaurant, store or hospital too often face the toughest work life challenges. That’s why Working Mother honors the 2013 Best Companies for Hourly Workers, which have found solutions to these problems and strive to provide opportunities for nonexempt employees to advance into salaried and management roles. These 12 Best Companies have been judged on more than 300 questions, ranging from benefits and training to flexibility and paid time off, and include retailers, hospitals and manufacturers. These varied employers have one thing in common: All know that treating hourly workers right is not only the right thing to do, it’s also good for business—a positive culture is a competitive advantage in an economy that increasingly requires highly trained workers at all levels.

Planning Ahead

One of the most basic stress points for hourly workers is their weekly, or even daily, schedule. While many salaried working mothers long for flexible weeks or reduced hours, hourly-working moms wish for more predictable schedules that include enough work time to pay for their families’ needs. The retail and restaurant industries, in particular, have been known to ramp employees’ hours up and down, often at the last minute, as sophisticated staffing software gets better at predicting the minute-to-minute demand for smoothies or buy-one-get-one-free apparel.

Supporting Your Teen's First Love

This article was originally published by Washington Parent in April 2013.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Suddenly, your 13-year-old son is getting phone calls, texts and even in-person visits from giggling teen girls. Or perhaps your 15-year-old daughter picks out a scandalously short skirt for the big party her friend is planning. Or your 12-year-old daughter announces over dinner that she's got a boyfriend now.

Prenatal baby classes never prepared you for this! Parents often freeze when it comes to topics related to love and sexuality. But your children need parental guidance here just as in any other arena of life.

"Your child is going to get a sex education and be sexually active; the only question is with whom and when," says Amy Miron, co-author with her husband, Charles Miron, of How to Talk with Teens About Love, Relationships, & S-E-X. "If you believe that sexual behavior should only occur in an emotionally committed relationship, you need to communicate that. . . . Inoculate your kids with your values."

Don't Lecture

But don't jump into lecture mode. Nothing closes a teenager's ears like a parent dumping a load of information, morals and instructions all at once. Instead, share your feelings and relevant factual information, and then listen while your child responds.

"It should be a dialogue, not a monologue," says Miron, a Baltimore-based sex therapist and educator certified by the American Association of Sexuality. "Listen to your teen and don't be horrified if your teen says something that's 180 degrees the opposite."

Marissa Mayer's brief maternity leave: Progress or workaholism?

Could the Yahoo CEO be setting unrealistic expectations for young women hoping to follow in her footsteps?

This article was originally published by on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will likely have the most scrutinized maternity leave and new motherhood in modern corporate history, which began on Sunday night with the birth of a healthy baby boy.

Mayer courted controversy by deciding to take just a week or two of leave and work from home throughout that time.

On one hand, it's a remarkable sign of gender progress that a new mother is now at the helm of a major corporation -- not to mention reassuring to Yahoo (YHOO) shareholders that the CEO's top priority is turning around the struggling Internet giant.

On the other hand, her decision seems emblematic of a workaholic culture that leaves too little time for family or even personal health, preventing either men or women from "having it all."

Could Mayer be setting unrealistic expectations for young women hoping to follow in her footsteps?

Maybe she's an outlier -- or making a mistake -- and shouldn't be held up as an example that mere mortals should emulate.

"She conveys the image of someone who's perfectly capable of combining her personal life and her public responsibilities without one derailing the other. That's a message we should applaud," says Kathleen Gerson, professor at New York University and author of The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work and Family. "It also suggests that somehow it's illegitimate for women -- and by implication for men as well -- to take some time off at critical moments in their own lives and the lives of their children. To that extent, it's a backward-looking message."

It's difficult to judge whether Mayer's abbreviated maternity leave plan will make it harder or easier for the millions of executive women who will follow her, certainly at this early stage. But there are three indisputable lessons that can be drawn from her situation.

Read the full article at

4 cardinal sins of work communication

With the variety of communication methods available, it's easy to grow frustrated by annoying associates or clueless clients. It's also easy to find yourself becoming a pest.

This article was originally published by on Thursday, July 19, 2012.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- Everybody knows a communications outlaw. Maybe it's the colleague who sends you three emails in the space of an hour, each with partially formed ideas about a project. Or the conference call host who lets the conversation ramble, without any thought of an agenda.

With the variety of communication methods available, it's easy to grow frustrated by annoying associates or clueless clients. But is it possible that your own behavior is bugging someone else?

Back to Work

This article was originally published by Bloomberg Businessweek on Thursday, May 31, 2012.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Unemployment is a closely watched statistic, and for 12.5 million Americans, a humbling reality. The percentage of people out of work peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, and while the rate hovers stubbornly at 8.2 percent, at least some of the long-term unemployed are beginning to find permanent jobs.

This spring, Bloomberg Businessweek assigned photographers to follow several people as they returned to the workplace after absences ranging from seven months to three and a half years. Each story is unique, yet there are common themes: feelings of uselessness, the disturbing ease with which one’s professional identity slips away, the humiliation of asking family or friends for a loan, and, finally, the rewards of adaptability and persistence.

Read the full article in Bloomberg Businessweek.

Recent college grads: They're not so bad at work

Employers that regularly hire workers in their early 20s find them to be just as diligent and competent as their generational predecessors.

This article was originally published by on Thursday, June 7, 2012.

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis, contributor

FORTUNE -- As waves of new college graduates flood into work­places, you may be bracing yourself for an onslaught of entitled youngsters who expect to be hand-held during training. After all, Millennials are the only generation that doesn't list "work ethic" as a defining trait, according to the Pew Research Center. Indeed, 75% of those Pew polled said that older people have a stronger work ethic than young adults.

But take heart, managers of America. Employers that regularly hire workers in their early 20s find them to be just as diligent and competent as previous generations. This year's crop of graduates, after all, entered college just as the worst recession since the 1930s took hold, so they're likely grateful simply to have a job -- and willing to work hard to keep it. Keep an open mind, and you may find that this year's recent grads defy the well-worn stereotype that Gen-Y'ers are all ambition and little else. In fact, these new arrivals can contribute plenty to your workplace.

K Street

This article was published by GQ China in June 2012.

To read the full article in Chinese, visit my Flickr site. If I get an English translation, I will post it also.