Dr John Mayer

School Counselors
A recent incident in the Chicagoland area has prompted me to write in support and appeal
for school counselors.
The Incident:
A public high school counselor and girls basketball coach in the suburban area of
Chicago was dismissed from his job upon the publication (self-published) of a book on
relationships. (sic) The book was sexist, chauvinistic, crude, prejudice, and in my
opinion, ignorant. What was shocking to me was that this individual, with these views on
human behavior, was allowed to influence the lives of young people and as a counselor
no less. Was no one watching the hen house? (Excuse the pun, but I can’t resist in light of
the nature of this ‘book’ he wrote.) Were his superiors reprimanded for not supervising
this man? Was he ever supervised? (A whole other discussion.)
I have been consulting with school counselors for 30 years and there is not a more noble
group of educators and care givers around. The demands placed on those who staff
counseling departments are enormous and typically with the least amount of support of
any department in a school. I find this paradoxical given that the social and behavioral
needs of our students are geometrically increasing every year. Strengthening our
counseling departments should be a top priority for prevention efforts. What better way
to prevent school violence than to have a strong, vibrant school counseling program
Further, in private schools, what a better way to attract and keep students than to
broadcast the excellence of your counseling department. The counseling department
should be the crown jewel of the school. After all, the local public school teaches read’n,
write’n and rithmetic’ too, but here’s what we do better. Think about it.
Pass this memo to parents, let’s get parents to rally around our counseling departments.
Maybe push legislators to provide funds for counseling departments. WE DON’T NEED
NEED MORE GREAT, QUALIFIED COUNSELORS for today’s student’s needs!
Make this a priority for fundraising—maybe a school angel can donate to bolster the
counseling department? Got a better cause?
And, as long as we’re at it. Take a look at the physical condition of your counseling
department. How inviting is it when it is relegated to the dingy most neglected part of the
school? Again, money better spent than some ineffective prevention dog and pony show
that we love to throw money at. Make the counseling department LOOK inviting, safe,
confidential, welcoming for students to bring their concerns. Let’s look professional.
Kids pick up on the symbolism of offices falling apart, no supplies, walls so thin you can
hear the conversations two offices away. No wonder kids are teeming with emotion
inside the school. They have nowhere to go once there.





Dr John Mayer

Mayer’s Memo Vol.25 No.8-Drug Testing

Drug Testing
Benefits and Misconceptions
This is a topic I am surprised I haven’t Memo’d about before. There are many misconceptions about drug testing students and I hope I can help muddle through some of these.
First, let me go on record to say I am an advocate of testing suspected young people. As readers will know, I am a strong supporter of making young people responsible. Additionally, drug testing is a way to let them know we are watching over them. Hey, that’s just good parenting/schooling, a message of safety for all kids.
Which brings me to one of the first misconceptions. Many schools and parents are using drug testing like reacting to the ups and downs of daily Edline postings. They will test a student and Bam! They must be a drug addict, so let’s rush them off to some form of treatment. Schools, would you advise a parent to buy tutoring for a consistently ‘B’ average student just because they failed a mid-term exam?? No, you would discover what was the cause of this failure and take steps to remediate. And, of course you would be monitoring this student on how they do on their next test. Take the same approach to drug testing. Investigate the reasons, put the child on notice/watch, give consequences, get professional advice if you are alarmed.
Which brings me to professional advice. (Do you hear the creaky lid of Pandora’s Box opening up?) Be careful here. Rushing off to the local drug treatment center should be thought out carefully. What do you think their existence is based on? Yep, getting clients. At one school I consult to, 25 out of 25 students referred for a drug evaluation at this well known facility were required to enter into one of their ‘treatment programs’ and at great cost to the families. Now, if the Center of Disease Control statistics say that, at the highest, 20% of our youth have a substance abuse problem, 25/25 just doesn’t make sense. (I can talk about semantics in a later Memo.) Look for a trusted, respected, and OBJECTIVE professional source to do an unbiased assessment of the potential problem.
A school I consult to does it right. They were one of the first schools in the country to mandate drug testing for every student at the school. They still conduct this testing to this day. (Here! Here!) But, if a student tests positive for an illegal substance, the school then sends the student to an impartial psychologist as a gatekeeper to assess whether the student and family should take the next step of getting some professional help. This psychologist donates their time for these evaluations so that the objectivity is maintained. In other words the psychologist can be completely fair because they are not getting paid, so they have no pressure to fill quotas or have other hidden agendas. (See my comments on treatment centers above.) This program is very successful in really helping students on the right path. And, by the way, of the students sent to the impartial psychologist in the last two years, 15% were recommended for further treatment. Right in line with the CDC statistics. Interesting, heh?
In sum, a positive drug test is not an end all and be all, it is an indication that the student needs a further behavioral evaluation and to be observed. It’s not a diagnosis or label.
Last note for this Memo: Teenage Drinking, our #1 drug problem in youth, it is a myth to think we can play cops and robbers with our students in schools over drinking. Alcohol doesn’t stay in the blood stream (About 3 detectable hours.) long enough to reliably test for it, so unless you are catching the teen right in the act, there is not much we can do on the testing of alcohol. Now, it does happen that we do catch teens coming to school after drinking or at school events, etc. But, our most reliable indicators for teenage drinking are social/behavioral/familial signs of a problem. Maybe I should write about these signs next time.





Dr John Mayer

Mayer’s Memo Vol.25 No. 7-Racism

Racism is Still Here

It struck me as fitting that I am writing about racism on the day of remembrance for Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a subject that I have been thinking about a great deal this school year.

I feel the pulse of young people as I walk through schools and an observation concerned me this school year. I have seen adults express themselves toward racism with casualness when relating to young people. It is an interesting dynamic on how this arose and how it is expressed. It is my observation that for many adults the absurdity of racism has created permissiveness in regard to the issue. In our minds (adults) it is so outrageous that we could harbor a racist attitude it has made us careless in some of our humor, acceptance of offensive words, and sensibilities. Certain elements of our popular culture also contribute to this lackadaisical manner. Music with offensive lyrics has been accepted as culturally mainstream and movies such as Django Unchained with its heavy-handed use of negative racial slang may be contributing to this permissiveness. I don’t think it is a time to forget that racism is real, it hurts, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

In researching this topic I stumbled on a web site that is worth looking into. It is http://racismstillexists.tumblr.com/ . The contents of this web site may make for good classroom discussion, a good personal reminder of the pain racism causes, and a good tool for parents to help them at home.

The answer here: we need to be mindful and not casual about racism. We may know in our hearts and minds how absurd it is to think we are racist, but our actions are saying other things to young people. They can’t read our minds to capture our intent. They use our words and actions to determine our values. So keep in mind that these words and actions may be saying something that is not your value system. Be conscious of your words and actions and how they can be easily misinterpreted. It is here, in our casualness, where I believe this undercurrent seems to be festering again. Just be mindful. I know I am committed to being extra vigilant.





Dr John Mayer

Radio Show

I am hosting a new radio show starting January 28, 2013–details later.


Mayer’s Memo Vol.25 No. 5

The Newtown Tragedy—What to tell the kids
(This applies to young people age 5 thru 18)

Don’t Ignore the Incident
Not mentioning this national tragedy implies a message to them that you are afraid of it-therefore they are unsafe. I suggest a simple statement in the daily announcements stating your sympathy, ask for a moment of silence or if a religious based school, lead a prayer.

All Staff~~Don’t Spin Theories, Speculate or State Anything that isn’t FACT.
It is Ok to talk about this in the classrooms or your home, but instruct your staff to stick only to facts you may know. (Distribute this Memo to all of your staff.) Theories, speculations and exaggerations stir up emotions and lead to wild rumors that will spread fear, even in places far away from the incident. Safety and respect from young people comes more from saying, “I don’t have the facts on that.” than trying to be a pseudo expert on the tragedy.

Don’t Flood Your School with Outside Professionals~Counselors~Therapists, etc.
Unless you are in the immediate area of the incident, bringing in outside counselor teams stirs up more hysteria than calm. Your own counselors, faculty and staff are the most important agents of help. The only utility to ever bring in outside counselors, crisis teams, is when the number of students to attend to is so overwhelming that your staff can’t handle the numbers. Keeping all help coming from your school’s staff is the most therapeutic message of safety and calm that you can provide for your school. Keeping resources for the students internal is a strong message that this school is in control and safe, you can handle your own problems. This is a message of safety to the kids. If you staff needs supervision on how to conduct themselves, let outside professionals be advisors to your staff, but the faces your students should see should be the people they live and work with everyday. There are no better helpers. (I am also here to advise you and your staff. My email/phone is on this Memo.)

Define Terms that Kids will Hear in the Media
Young people will be hearing terms thrown around in the media such as Psychopathic, Asperger’s, Autism, Dissociative Disorder, Sociopathic, etc. You can help kids by explaining these terms and again not speculating or stating anything but the facts. There are students in you schools that have been labeled with these terms it can be devastating to be compared to a murderer.

Keep up with Normal School and Home Activities
Departing from normal activities shouts that there is something wrong = unsafe.

Make Sure You Announce that Your Counseling Office is Available to Students
Students should be allowed to visit the counseling offices when they need, but be patient. Young people defend themselves from pain and anxiety by our old friend~Denial~and that’s Ok. If your student body doesn’t talk about this, don’t increase the visits to the counselors, don’t press them to talk and face fears. Poorly trained, inexperienced advisors will try to tell you that kids “need to talk about this.” That is advice is wrong as long as you are doing all of the above.

Need Advice
Need advice contact me. I’ll help direct your efforts as you face the kids.

Pass this Memo along to Parents, it not only applies, but lets them know you are prepared.

Mayer’s Memo Vol.25 No.3

 I’m Not Nagging But…There’s More to say Here.

   Last Memo I took up the gauntlet about the age-old issue of Nagging. I attempted to outline why this common household and classroom behavior just doesn’t work. Now, let me put some more teeth into the discussion.

Nagging begins with three fundamental false assumptions by adults: 1- The child/teen/young person is going to act responsibly. 2- The young person is going to act responsibly on your time schedule. 3- The young person is going to perform this action exactly how you would. 97.532% of the time. None of these assumptions will prove true and when they don’t…that’s when the nagging begins.

That brings us to Step 1 in our anti-nagging rehab: Eliminate your expectations.

Explaining Step 1 leads to rehab Step 2: Young people need clear, specific, and supervised rules. You can use the terms, ‘structure’ or even ‘chores’ interchangeably with ‘rules.’ Don’t leave performance up to “expectations” you may have for your child or your household. (**See note below.) Step 3: Your rules always need consequences attached and these consequences are for compliance with the rules/structure and for lack of compliance. Consequence for compliance = reward and consequence for non-compliance = punishment. Rehab Step 4: Shorten your communications about rules. Nagging easily becomes a habit in most people and obtains a life of its own long after the need has vanished. This bad habit is the cause of tremendous relationship irritation and defiance. If you are practicing steps 1 thru 3, then practice keeping your words to a minimum about rules. You have made them clear, they are specific, and you are supervising the performance of the rules. Words are not needed. BTW, this leaves your words between you and the young person to be about more important things such as common interests, current events, upcoming needs, what’s for dinner and the weather. (If you live in Iowa.)  Rehab Step 5: Parenting/Educating young people is frustrating. Nagging Words are often just you expressing frustration. Instead of planting these words on the young person (**) contact your Nagging Rehab Sponsor—which could be your spouse, a fellow parent, a fellow teacher, a co-worker, boss, etc. Discharge those words on them until they exclaim: “Call someone else to Bit…h to!” Then find a new sponsor.

So, how do we know you have successfully completed your nagging rehab? Easy, the young person (**) performs the duties/rules to satisfaction with less and less direct supervision by you. And voila’ this is a clear sign they are maturing. A side benefit!

Final note: Another cause of the Nagging Fight is that the young person (**) will beg for leniency on the time when they will perform the duty. You know what? I think that is Ok as long as they then follow-through with the duty at the time they negotiated. Keep in mind; as in rehab Step #1 above, your agenda/expectation is not their agenda. Halo level 6 is more important to them than the smelly fish in the garbage. Understand this and eliminate the fights. Remember from last Memo:

                                  YELLING IS A SIGN YOU’VE ALREADY LOST

**FYI all of these tips work for spouses, employees and co-workers as well as young people.




















Mayer’s Memo Vol.25 No.4

Holiday Stories

When we help young people our results are often not immediately seen.
In the last few weeks a number of young people contacted me that I had seen years earlier. Here’s three examples of the six cases that are returning for help.

I saw Derek* when he was a freshman in high school. A tough, angry boy who was failing in every subject. I met with him several times over the course of his first semester trying to help him and understand what was keeping him from at least trying in school. I knew something emotional was underneath his failing performance, but he wasn’t going to let me inside his head no matter what I did. Realizing that fact, I made the goal of our meetings to create a supportive and welcoming place for him to feel safe to possibly share in the future what was troubling him. Derek failed out of school and because of that his parents saw no need for him to continue seeing me, even though our meetings were infrequent. (Because of his lack of sharing and to make him feel not pressured I spread our appointments out.) Dial up to 2012. I received a call from Derek himself, now a senior in high school, to make an appointment. At that appointment he flooded me with feelings and facts on why he was hurting and why he had closed off the world. It was serious traumatic incidents inflicted upon him since childhood and now he wanted to “fix things.” He is coming in regularly and works hard in each session to purge himself of these demons. It’s important for young people to take ownership of the help you offer.

Tina* is now a young woman of 22. I initially saw her for a substance abuse evaluation mandated by her high school. I recommended her to continue with substance abuse treatment. She and her parents refused any further help at that time. Now an adult, she admits to a bad drinking problem and contacted me to conduct a re-evaluation and to get advice on where to go for help. She refused to see any professional but me. She had to be ready to get help and again take ownership of her problems.

James* was a severely depressed, angry young man of 16. He saw me for many sessions to help him with the depression stemming from a verbally abusive and neglectful father. James fought with me continually throughout his therapy with me. When I would suggest coping mechanisms to help his feelings, he would do them but yell at me, “This won’t help! I need something stronger!” He found relief from his depression while seeing me, but abruptly ended his sessions in a huff again, yelling, “This isn’t working, this isn’t working.” Yet, his grades were greatly improved, school reported he was very engaged with friends, often seen laughing and playful. Clearly, the depression was better. Was he done with therapy, no, but again, I didn’t pressure him to continue since he was telling me he didn’t want my help. As I write this, late last night I saw James for an appointment after not seeing him for 2 years. He had his mother call me because he is feeling the pressures of senior year of high school and college choices, etc. He came in my office as a smiling, confident young man. We had a great meeting and he left relieved and with tools to cope with his pressures. Sometimes the way teens communicate with us is not socially appropriate like James’ hostile nature when I first saw him, remember they are not finished products~don’t match their hostility with yours.
*No names used here are real names.

Mayer’s Memo Vol.25 No.2

 To Nag or Not to Nag, That is the Question

Should Teachers/parents Repeat needs to kids over and over?


The word ‘nag’ is derived from the Scandinavian word ‘nagga’ which translates in English as, ‘to gnaw.’ (Wikipedia entry) Many adults gnaw at young people unconsciously but most kids feel the gnawing immediately. Nagging a young person  results in: destroyed communication; ruins relationships; leads to yelling and arguments; and plain just doesn’t work to get young people to obey.


The plain and simple of it is that nagging just doesn’t have any power. A common scenario in the home is the parent yelling from two rooms away for the child to do something, the parent returns to whatever they were engaged in, then later repeats the yelling louder and more aggressive because the child didn’t obey. This cycle is repeated until the parent loses control and physically confronts the child. Then the proverbial ‘all hell breaks loose.”


In the classroom, the scene is similar. A teacher raises their voice at a student with a command to stop a behavior. The teacher turns their attention to something else (Like that pesky lesson plan for the other 28 students that always gets in the way of good classroom discipline techniques.) returns their attention to the recalcitrant student and yells/nags over again and we are off the races like the household example.


Here’s the problem in both examples: the flaw is found in the basic principle of reinforcement. The adult nagging has no real incentive value for the young person. The child knows that the nag (yell/threats) will be repeated over and over until the adult finally ‘gets in the child’s/student’s face’ and with the adult’s physical presence demands the corrective behavior to be performed. So, the child wins. They have delayed their obedience to the adult command, continued their activity (which is their priority) until they absolutely have to obey. In the mean time, the adult has turned 6 shades of red, raised their blood pressure and wasted a great deal of time. In the mean time #2, the child has trained the adult that this is going to be the future of their relationship together.


So, what do we do different to get better results? I advise to completely reverse the typical strategy. If you want a young person (any age) to obey a command, you stop what you are doing, get directly in the physical space of the child, do not become upset, and LEAD the child into the desired behavior. Sure, this interrupts what you were doing, but review the examples above. The few moments out of your time to do this first saves you 10 x’s the time that the nagging cost you and with less aggravation to you!

























Better, Easier Test Taking and Retention

Right in Time for Finals

As we approach yet another final exam season I want to pass on some research on the best techniques for students to learn and study for a test. Students in a study published last January in the journal Science performed 50% better on tests taken one week later after they read the assigned materials and then immediately spent 20 minutes writing down what they recalled from their reading.


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