Written on May 17, 2013 at 10:51 am , by Paula Chin
Archie has been pretty quiet lately.
Archie is our magnificent 1897 Steinway upright, which I bought soon after my daughter started piano. Because I shared a sitter with a neighboring family, Nat would watch when their two kids had lessons; when she was 4, she asked if she could start them herself. I was delighted—I believe all kids should study piano and learn to read music, at least for a couple years. In elementary school, I took back-to-back piano and violin lessons (like Nat, it was my own choice; I didn’t have a Tiger Mom). And so it went—scales, chords, etudes, Ode to Joy, Fur Elise, Tarantella, Pachelbel, the standard child’s repertoire. Piano performances with other kids, where Nat and I sometimes played duets. I hadn’t touched the keys in decades, but once we got Archie I fell in love all over again (Chopin! Brahms! Beethoven! Joplin!) and connected with the joy and sorrow in the music in a way I never could as a tween.
It was hard work for Nat. It was also a wonderful process of discovery, accomplishment, pride. And it was fun. When we got the refurbished Steinway we learned the tradition was to name it after the model number—in our case, a Model R. We lived with it for a bit before we decided it was a He. But we couldn’t come up with a name that fit. The old guy wasn’t a Robert, Ricky, Raul, Reggie, Rocky or Rudy. Finally, one day in the car Nat piped up from the back seat. “I got it!” she said. “R-chie!” Brilliant, if I say so myself.
The pieces got longer and harder; so did Nat’s homework assignments. I had to cajole and nag her to play. Month after month, I could see her patience fading. She wanted to get practice over with rather than working on those difficult passages over and over until they flowed under her fingers. I gave her the option of quitting, no blame, no shame. She said no, but she never played on her own. So finally I made the decision for her, and after 7-plus years the lessons ended. Both of us were more than a little teary. We miss our wonderful teacher Elizabeth, (as do our cats, who would lay at her feet during lessons), but we are now dear friends and will stay in touch. I’m using the music money on concerts, plays and exhibits, exposing Nat to as much art as possible. And I’ve told her to take good care of dear old Archie after I’m gone, so he’ll be there for her kids—and for her to rediscover, just the way I did.
Written on May 16, 2013 at 2:29 pm , by jtaylor
There’s one location where the majority of my childhood memories take place. A specific space that encompasses most of the good times, heartfelt laughter, terse political debates and parental scoldings for broken curfews. It’s within the family room of my childhood home.
In that room, worn sofas and overstuffed chairs were shadowed by athletic trophies, posters and crooked school photos in cheap frames. Inside its wood-paneled walls, backpacks and briefcases rested on the floor as we checked in with each other after school, after work and after life-events. Even now when I return there, a step into our family room magically transports me back to my past.
These days fewer kids may be enjoying all the experiences I had. Now, according a recent Wall Street Journal article, parents are hiring architects and spending huge amounts of money to create spaces for their teens to ‘hang-out’ at home. They are building fantasy rooms like teen lounges, offices for homework, sleepover spaces and recording studios.The irony is that although the kids may stay home more, the clear delineation of kid versus adult space can create more separation within the home. Isn’t the point of having your kids around you to create the opportunity to build family communication by sharing and creating memories?
A recent study indicated that parents maybe missing the mark. We assume that kids want their freedom, when in fact most teenagers want to talk to and spend more time with mom and dad. Time spent with parents and in particular fathers has been shown to increase self-esteem and social confidence in teenagers.
Maybe the point is this: Instead of putting up walls, we should tear them down around our tweens and teens. We should focus on communicating, listening and sharing in the same space. And we should put effort into creating long-lasting memories that can’t be designed but only experienced together in one room.
What do you think of creating teen ‘hang-outs’ in your home? Post a comment below and tell me.
Written on May 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm , by Christina-TynanWood
As summer gets closer– at least the part where the kids aren’t in school – my panic gets more intense. My two teens are looking forward to having “nothing” to do. And I feel for them. It’s been a long year of math, enforced reading, homework, and high-stakes tests.
But what about me?
I don’t want to spend my summer chasing kids away from screens and worrying that they are rapidly forgetting all the math and science they worked so hard to cram into their brains. I am picturing the wet blanket I am about to become — tossing around pat phrases like, “Turn that thing off and go outside!” “Why don’t you read a book instead 144 texts that all say LOL?” — and I don’t like the image.
So I’m hatching a series of anti-wasted-summer schemes. Here are a few I’m considering.
Apple Camp is a free three-day session held at the Apple Store. If they are set on sitting in front of computers, at least they could learn some STEM skills and meet some other kids, right? These camps are for kids ages 8–12, though, so mine are too old. But maybe yours would like to work with Apple Store employees to shoot footage, create an original song in GarageBand on an iPad, and learn the ins and outs of iMovie to put it all together in a film on a Mac. At the end of the three days there is an Apple Camp Film Festival where campers debut their masterpieces. Move fast though. These are free and fill up fast. In fact, why not sign up to be notified when registration opens here. Registration opens in June and camp sessions will be held in July and August.
A Tablet Loaded with Learning
I know I will cave in to my teenagers relentless badgering for screen time eventually. So I’m grabbing a tablet and installing the YouTube app on the front page. It’s the first thing they they tap when they look at that screen. But I will subscribe to Steve Spangler Science, (see video above) MinutePhysics, and few other smart channels that specializing in entertaining learning from EDU YouTube. That way, at least some of the time they spend in front of a screen will make them smarter.
Let the Machine do the Nagging
Computers excel at marking time. Teens? Not so much. So I plan to offload some of the pestering to the machines. That way, when two hours – or whatever my kids and I have negotiated – is up, the computer will do the nagging and enforcing. I don’t have to use any of my classic wet-rag phrases or deal with the inevitable argument that follows. So, today, while the kids were at school doing their high-stakes testing, I installed the free Norton Family on all our laptops. Now, I can log on from any computer, tablet, or smart phone I have and set a limit on how long that laptop will let my kids stare at the Internet. If I’m worried about what they are up to online, I can also use it to monitor and block specific sites or categories.
Take Control of the Internet
I also use Linksys Smart Wi-Fi app on my phone to control when they can go online and what sites they visit – at least if they do it through my wireless router. Controlling access this way requires a bit more set up and the right router but it’s a great way to set a bedtime – or a designated outside time. And it gives me so much power! When I say, “Shut that thing off and go outside!” and receive, for my trouble, an argument or whining, I just pull my smart phone out of my pocket and kill the machine – or at least everything that’s interesting on that machine – with a couple of taps. And, just like that, everyone is doing what Mom wants — even if that means going outside to “do nothing” – just to I’ll turn it back on.
Written on May 9, 2013 at 6:58 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Age, as they say, is just a number. Yet so many of us still believe that once we register to vote, get married or buy a house, we’re magically teleported beyond the messy social situations of middle school. Not so. Case in point: two women who wrote to me with stories of grown-ups behaving like little kids—or if we’re being truthful, less mature than children.
Mom #1: I offended another mom with a joking comment on Facebook. I apologized twice via FB message, but never received a response and she unfriended me. Now when I see her, she ignores me. I don’t have to be friends with her. We weren’t really to begin with. But I am frustrated she won’t accept my sincere apology. What to do?
Mom #2: I play Bunko with some other mothers who always make plans for their families to hang out together but never invite me. When my kids are in similar situations, I tell them: “You can’t be invited to everything.” But I am really mad at these moms and have no idea what to do.
No matter what, it’s really helpful as a parent to have these moments to remember what it’s like to be excluded and how hard it is to confront people. But the silent treatment? The cold shoulder of the cool clique? What’s next? Arguments over buying the same prom dress?
So let’s get something straight: maturity, no matter how old you are, is about self-reflection. It’s about knowing how you contributed to a problem and being able to speak out when you don’t like something—all while treating yourself and others with dignity. And, as in the cases above, it’s natural to have the feelings these women are having.
What’s not OK (i.e. you’re now acting like you’re 12) is to allow those feelings to control your reactions. So here’s what I advise Mom #1 to do. Apologizing after she realized her mistake was exactly on point. But after the first apology on Facebook, she should have gone up to the woman in person and apologized again. So now, if she wants, she can apologize one more time in person to this woman. If the other mom really is an adult Queen Bee, she will pretend that she doesn’t even know what Mom #1 is talking about or offer a fake smiletell her don’t worry about it, and not mean a word of it. If she’s not an adult Queen Been, then she’ll genuinely thank her and both of them can move on.
But if Mom #1 does offer an in-person apology, no matter what, she knows she did her best and it’ll be easier for her to put this behind her. That’s because managing social conflicts online almost always makes the situation worse and at the least isn’t as satisfying.
Mom #2 has two options. She can decide she wants to talk to the women about it, but then she has to be prepared for the outcome she really may not want: they now invite her to their social activities. She has to ask herself if she even wants to hang out with these people. If she doesn’t then her options are to focus on playing Bunko or leave the group entirely. And this, by far, is one of the great benefits of being an adult. It’s not like when you’re in 7th grade and you have to go to school with these kids all day. You can pick up your stuff, turn on your heels and just leave.
What do you think about how these women should handle the middle-school situations they’ve become a part of? Post a comment and tell me.
Written on May 8, 2013 at 5:44 pm , by Christina-TynanWood
Mother’s Day is coming at us fast. And that means your kids will be buying or making presents for you! That’s wonderful. We all love to get handmade cards or flowers stolen from our own garden. But according to an annual TechBargains.com survey, 73% of mothers would prefer an iPad to flowers. I am squarely in that 73%. But more interesting (since it’s pretty common knowledge that I’m a geek) is that my mother is, too. And she is …well…quite a bit older than I am and not a geek at all. (Telling you her age would only get me into trouble.)
I recently gave her a Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 ($179) and it brought with it a surprising side-benefit: It brought us a smidgen closer together. She is having a blast discovering things she likes (Audible, Skype, sending photos to Facebook, NextIssue for magazines, Netflix.com, financial apps, etc.), some of which I installed before giving her the tablet. She likes to go home and explore where no one is watching. And when she’s ready, she comes back for more advice on apps and resources she might like.
Before the tablet, she would come by on a Sunday “for a chat.” It was good to see her but uncomfortable because I didn’t really have time to sit around talking about nothing. Now she brings her tablet, pulls me onto the couch and shares things she has discovered (she is not too old for LOL cat videos) and I share things I like. And it turns out, I have plenty of time to enjoy a good laugh with her. She recently pulled my daughter into one of these laugh fests and the three of us crammed together on the couch to look at silly videos on Grandma’s tablet. My daughter won – hands-down – when it came to knowing where all the wet-your-pants-funny videos were. So we had a pretty good, multi-generational time gathered around a touchscreen.
My point? Maybe asking the kids to help you – even if only with advice or moral support — you get into a tablet or a smart phone wouldn’t be a totally selfish act this Mother’s Day. In fact, maybe all they really need is to know you would like it – and want their advice on what to get. (Though you might want to go armed with some of my advice, too. Teenagers tend to want what other teenagers want. So unless you are a teenager….) Who knows? The tech might turn out to be a good way for you all to connect. (And will certainly make it easier for you to supervise them.)
And don’t underestimate your own mother. Maybe what she really wants is to not be treated like a lost relic of an earlier age.
I wouldn’t take that “iPad” ($499) response in that survey too literally, though. I’m sure you — or your Mom — would be thrilled to get the Galaxy Tab I gave my mother or — even better — a Garnet Red Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 ($219), an engraved iPad Mini ($329), or the ($199) Kobo Arc, an Android Tablet and eReader with an engaging Pinterest-like interface.
You might also like many of the tech goodies I covered (with my husband Dan) in the Dads and Grads Gift Guide in the June issue of Family Circle. In particular, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 is a great tool to help busy moms — or grandparents who can’t be bothered to own a computer — stay connected and organized. The screen is big (like a pocket tablet) and the built-in pen allows for some old-school-but-digital note taking (with pen and screen) and photo marking.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Written on May 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm , by Celia Shatzman
It’s been almost a decade since my first-born came home and announced she’d be going to the middle school dance, my baptism into the strange “new” world of dating. Now that I’ve crossed almost all the way over (she’s 21 now, the youngest is 19, and they tell me very little about their college romances) I wish I could skip back in time and give myself some of the good advice I came across while reporting Young Love. “Shut up, Sarah,” I’d say. “Talk less. Listen more.”
But back when my kids were entering middle school, I was still fooling myself that my job was to teach them things. How to find what X equals, write a thank you note and even find lessons in the awkward rituals of very young love: What does it mean if he calls and texts? Texts but doesn’t call? Or doesn’t text at all? I kidded myself that I actually played a role in shaping them, spouting well-researched lectures about sex and responsibility and kindness and respect.
In the bumpy teen years that followed, I’ve learned I was wrong. In hindsight, I was pure spectator. Parents don’t shape kids; they simply help them unfold. My kids were learning the hard lessons about hormones and romance in school cafeterias, on Facebook and Skype, and at friends’ houses, giving me just the occasional glimpse into what was happening. The heart of a teen—and yes, even a tween—is a very private place. If they show you even an inch of what’s there, accept it as a minor miracle. Pull up a chair. Listen, don’t preach.
The hardest thing has been watching them get hurt. Nothing prepares you for the night your child cries about being dumped, dissed or just ignored. I never came up with anything better than the hollow phrase my mother always had for me: “This too shall pass.”
But you know what? It’s not hollow, it’s true. It works for teen heartbreak. And for those of us in the stands, watching our kids grow from “OMG, he’s so CUTE” to real love, real commitments, and real life? Watching it pass is one of the greatest shows on earth.
Written on May 7, 2013 at 5:16 pm , by Lynya Floyd
Chances are your handbag is better equipped to deal with a broken nail than a heart attack, according to a new survey. But actress Vanessa Williams says a simple addition could—and should—change all that. She’s teamed up with Bayer HealthCare and WomenHeart to launch Handbags & Hearts, a national campaign to encourage women to stash aspirin in their purse in case of a sudden heart attack. We caught up with Williams, a mom of four, while she was taking a break from her Tony-nominated Broadway show The Trip To Bountiful. Here, she shares five ways we can all make heart health a priority.
1. Know Your Family History
“Both my grandmothers died of heart issues,” reveals Williams. “My mom’s mother died at 64, but my dad’s mother died at 28 of a heart attack. We’ve been hyperaware of heart issues my entire life.” Williams values the importance of family and makes sure to stay close even if she’s all the way across the country. “My children always know that I’m present and available,” says the actress, author and singer whose youngest, Sasha, is 13 years old. “That’s the wonderful thing about FaceTime and texting. If there’s a question, they can see my face, hear my voice, read my words. I’m always available.”
2. Squeeze In A Good Workout
Heart attacks take the lives of 250,000 women each year. “You’ve got to make time for exercise,” says Williams who says showing up for a class at a gym helps keep her accountable. “Or try getting up an hour early for your workout. Or if you want to watch TV, jump on a treadmill while you’re doing it.” Mixing things up also makes her passionate about moving. Right now she’s is all about cardio-kickboxing, a heavy-bag class, yoga and dance.
3. Say Goodbye to Stress
“You can alleviate stress by staying fit, meditating and relaxing, but it’s also a mindset,” says Williams who co-wrote You Have No Idea with her mother, Helen Williams. “If you want to get stressed out, you will. When you feel like you’re losing control of your balance, you have to remember to breathe.” One of her favorite ways to unwind: music.
4. Don’t Buy The Bad Stuff
It’s the easiest way to avoid telling your kids to not eat that candy or that they’ve had too much soda. “If you don’t have it in the house, the temptation is gone,” says Williams. “It takes extra effort to indulge if it’s not as close as the kitchen.” One thing in particular she hopes moms will pass on buying more often: processed foods. “They’re the easiest to prepare, but not the best,” she says. “Instead have the right basics in your refrigerator so you don’t have to reach for processed foods.”
5. Stock Your Pocketbook
“You can lessen the risk of major damage from a heart attack if you take aspirin immediately,” says Williams. But that aspirin has to be readily available and what better place than your purse? Check out the Handbags & Hearts site where you’ll also learn signs of a heart attack that are unique to women and mouse clicks can turn into up to $200,000 in donations for WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease Heart Disease.
Written on May 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm , by Family Circle
Looking for a challenging at-home workout? Well, look no further, it’s right here. You can bring the calorie-blasting benefits of Spinning class right to your living room, den or basement with this indoor cycle by NordicTrack (pictured below). One lucky winner chosen at random will get one for free (web price $1,299).
Just leave a comment below telling us about a workout you’d like to try—but just haven’t gotten around to yet. (Zumba? CrossFit? Water aerobics? A barre class? Running or training for a race? Spinning?) Entries must be submitted by 11:59p.m. ET on June 30, 2013. See official rules here.
And for the inside scoop on getting a great indoor cycling workout, check out our June story “Want to Try a Spinning Class?”
Written on May 3, 2013 at 2:15 pm , by Paula Chin
I spent the past couple months binge-watching Friday Night Lights—all 76 episodes of it. I’d heard how great it was, but c’mon—high testosterone teens playing football in Texas? Not my thing. But one cold winter night I called up the pilot on Netflix. I was smitten—with gruff, beleaguered coach Eric Taylor, his plucky, resilient wife Tami, the high school hijinks, the tragic accident at the big game. Never has small town life–in all its ordinariness and glory–been so wonderfully captured. FNL is about so many things—the bittersweetness of growing up, dreams fulfilled and shattered, the blessings and burdens of our loved ones, issues like class and race. It’s warm, funny, heartbreaking, exhilirating. Just like real life.
I felt only slightly guilty indulging myself night after night while my 12-year-old, Nat, slouched over her homework. Not that my addiction escaped her. One evening she asked what I was watching and why I loved it so much. Then, when I had finished the incredible 5th season finale (Kleenex pls!) she asked if I would rewatch it with her. We’re now finishing up the first magnificent season, and it’s been an amazing bonding experience. Not surprisingly, Nat’s big into the Taylor family drama. Mr. and Mrs. Coach bicker and fight, but their marriage is as solid as it gets. Daughter Julie is a smart, petulant 15-year-old in the throes of first love. No doubt Nat is watching Julie looking for clues and cues to her own future—and enviously eyeing Julie’s locker at Dillon High (Nat’s school doesn’t have them). Like me, she’s even grown to like football…well, kinda.
What shows have you and your tween bonded over? Do you have a huge crush on Coach, like me?
Written on May 2, 2013 at 11:30 am , by jtaylor
I will never forget letting go of my then-toddler daughter’s chubby hand to pick up a gorgeous Barbie doll at a toy store. With brown skin and cascading black hair, she looked radiant and regal in her cardboard home. But my daughter shook her head, excitedly and defiantly pointed at another doll. It happened to be white with blond hair.
“Oh no!” I thought—and said. Holding out my brown arm next to my original choice, I explained: “See, her skin is just like Mommy’s.”
She left the toy store with a board game. No doll. I left the store determined to only buy books and dolls that had faces, hair and skin color that reflected that of my four African-American daughters.
My thought process did not emerge from a negative worldview of other ethnic groups. It came from the realization that my daughters’ self-concept and sense of inner-beauty would be impacted by many factors—some under my control but many not.
That being said, I consciously avoided self-critical remarks about my own physical flaws and theirs. I was very fortunate because my four daughters were jocks who were certainly attuned to and influenced by popular culture but also had healthy body images of girls and women.
Flash forward to last week when I picked up a recent issue of People magazine. I saw it featured the “World’s Most Beautiful Woman” and I had the same sinking feeling that I did in that toy store years ago. It wasn’t anything personal against the choice, but once again reminded me of the importance of our daughters having a strong self-image and being aware of the significance of their own inner beauty. (Especially given the amount of criticism the cover subject received).
As the mother of young women now, I am just as conscious of zingers in the world that may damage their self-esteem as I was in their formative years. The necessity of balancing media, peer and family influences on their sense of self will always be present.
In an ideal world, beauty would not be measured by external characteristics but internal character. Until that happens, maybe the Most Beautiful Person in the World wouldn’t be an actual picture of a person but simply a mirrored pane that reflects the image of the viewer.
Written on May 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm , by Christina-TynanWood
I recently took my daughter Ava and her friend on a mini-vacation to Colonial Williamsburg. Ever a multi-tasker, I asked them to help me try out some tracking tools while we were there. I wanted to let them run free in this safe environment. But I also wanted to keep an eye on them. So I managed to convince them they were helping me with my work. It was a clever ploy. And it worked well. Here are the tools I used.
Tracking the Cell Phone
I already use my cell carrier’s family tracking service ($10 a month for both kids). (Your carrier very likely offers something similar.) If I don’t know where she is, I only have to pull up an app on my smart phone, tap her name, and wait a minute and the app will show me approximately where she is (or at least where her phone is, which is never far from her) right now. It won’t tell me that she is sulking in her bedroom only that she is in or near our house.
But she had a friend in tow, a lovely innocent girl that I wanted to be no part of losing while we were so far from home. So I had brought an eZoom tracking device ($99 plus service plan) from SecurUs to try out. (The company makes a suite of tracking devices for pets, elders, and – this one – for kids and teens.) I came clean and said to my daughter, “I can already find you if I need to, so let’s get M. (her friend) to carry this. That way I can try it out and if she happens to get lost, we can find her.” The girls were both surprisingly easy to talk into this. They apparently wanted their freedom. But they also wanted to know I had their back.
“You are free to go,” I told them after we arrived and had eaten dinner together. They looked at each other, amazed at the unbridled freedom of a hotel stay, and left before I could change my mind.
A few minutes later I got a text from the eZoom telling me they were traveling at 1.5 miles per hour and offering me a very accurate address for their location – right outside our restaurant. “Wow,” I said to my husband. “I think they are running!” This was good news. Our daughter had recently developed an aversion to activities that get her heart rate up. Sure enough, they ran past the window a few seconds later.
We didn’t hear from them for a while after that. But I could see (with a glance at my phone) that they weren’t far away and were staying well within the safe and historic Revolutionary City area.
After we finished our meal, we went for a walk and back to our room. And then my phone rang. It was Ava and she was scared. “We are lost!” she screeched, completely losing her cool. “Can you look up where we are and tell us?
This took me only a minute. “You are on Ireland St. The hotel is on England Street. It isn’t far.” I gave her directions and she calmed down.
I saw this moment where she wanted to know where I was as an opportunity. I like the Glympse tracking app. It’s free, works on most smart phones, and only lets people know where you are for limited amounts of time. It’s great if you are walking or driving and want someone to keep tabs on you till you get home safely. I’d like it if she would use it but she has – so far – been unwilling, insisting I’m “stalking” her. (Isn’t that also called mothering?) I sent her a “Glympse” from the app so she could see where I was in relation to her. She used it to guide her and her friend to me. I’m hoping — now that she has tried it — she will be more willing next time I ask her to “Send me a Glympse.” before she walks somewhere.
The next day, my husband and I left the teens sleeping in the room and went out for coffee. I sent them both a text saying that they could find us simply by installing the free FourSquare app and accepting my invite. I would check in when we found a good place for breakfast and that way they would know where we were – and what was on the menu.
FourSquare is a location-aware app/game that makes it fun to find your friends in the real world. Whenever you check in, it updates your FourSquare friends on your location, shows tips previous visitors have left, and provides details about the establishment (menus etc,). Some merchants offer discounts to players who check in at their store or restaurant. (It doesn’t track where you are if you don’t check in.) It can be very dangerous if you overshare your location and accept friend invites from strangers, or if you constantly post your location to Facebook or other social networks where you may have no privacy or “friends” you don’t know well. So you may be wondering why I was encouraging my daughter to use it.
Here’s why: My daughter is a social girl who likes Facebook. I wanted to talk to her about location-aware social media. I find she listens to me better if I know what I’m talking about. And since I already use FourSquare — it’s fun! – I thought I’d pull her into my network so I could play the game with her and explain the safety rules while I was at it.
When the girls found us in the restaurant, they pointed out that there were some “specials.” (Using the app to check in also nets you deals in the form of “specials.”) So I made them listen to a few rules, we discussed what might go wrong if someone untrusted or creepy could locate you through the app, and how you would avoid “oversharing.” A smart pair, they were clear on the dangers and how to avoid them before our food arrived.
I don’t track my kids very often and I always tell them I’m doing it. But I do like knowing that if she gets in a car (eZoom will text me if my daughter is suddenly traveling faster than she can walk), I will know about it immediately. I also like to – when my Spidey Sense tells me something is wrong – check that my son – who is driving — is actually where he says he is. So far, though they accuse me of stalking, they don’t really seem to mind. I think they like feeling safe and watched over even when I’m nowhere in sight.
Written on May 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm , by Family Circle
On this National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, guest blogger Michelle Edelman shares the surprisingly early sex talk she had to have with her 3rd-grader and where other moms can get help finding the right words to say.
I remember learning about sex from a Judy Blume novel that was covertly passed around my class in the corner of the public library. Later that year, my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Briggin sat us all in a circle and gave us a very matter-of-fact, anatomical explanation of sex. One of my classmates was so overcome with emotion during the discussion that she stabbed my leg with her #2 pencil. I then became secretly worried that I would die of lead poisoning and missed a good bit of what Mrs. Briggin said after that point!
Chances are you first learned about sex in some shrouded, fragmented way too. You probably also found yourself unprepared for the inevitable social situations at the intersection of Hormone Street and Sheer Panic Avenue. It’s likely the little threads of facts about “what goes where” left you woefully inadequate when it came to the real issues: Are you ready for this emotionally and physically? Are you prepared to take care of yourself? Do you even know this person? What do you expect to get out of this experience?
Now is a scary time to be raising tweens and teens. I have two daughters, ages 11 and 15. The pressure to be sexualized at a young age is everywhere. It has always been present in music and pop culture influences. But now with mobile phones and other digital devices, these influences are constant. Forbes Magazine reported that the average age a kid first sees a porn image is 11. “Sex” and “porn” are the #4 and #6 most popular searches on Google performed by kids. But they’ll see all sorts of images anyway, as they are preparing book reports or looking for Club Penguin because the images are so prevalent across the Internet.
When my youngest was 9, she asked me to buy her a book from the American Girl Company called The Care and Keeping of You. I heard “American Girl” and blindly ordered this book on Amazon. This is a company I respect. They taught our kids bits of history through the eyes of fictional girls with integrity and great values. So I didn’t think twice. Until our daughter announced that she thought her “hormonies” were not working. It was then I found out that she was reading a full-on manual about teen bodies, complete with drawings!
This was only a surprise because I had not prepared myself for my then-3rd grader to be so ready to have frank talks about her body and sex. But I’ve come to realize that healthy sexuality—especially the decision-making around intimacy—starts with healthy conversations at our homes. It will never be comfortable for people who are parents right now to relate to the world of our “digital native” kids. Fortunately there are tools out there that will help us facilitate conversation. It’s National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the folks at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy have decided to bail us parents out. Check out this quiz for your teen.
These questions get to the heart of the matter for kids. No matter how much “fact” our children accumulate, nothing can take the place of open conversation about what might happen when those facts are put to the test by peer pressure and the random chaos that is created by kids and technology.
You might not be in control of what and when your kids learn about the facts of the sexual experience, but you can provide an open environment where it’s OK to share and talk about the pressures of being a teen. And those discussions can make all the difference.
How did you first learn about sex? And what have you passed on to your kids? Post a comment below and tell us!
Michelle Edelman is the CEO and Director of Strategy of NYCA, a San Diego-based advertising agency.