Parenting Teens & Tweens

Keep Your Naked Selfie Covered

Written on September 12, 2014 at 5:00 am , by

We’re used to hearing celebrities bare all in interviews and watching them bare all on movie screens. But this month, when news broke of hackers using the iCloud to leak nude photos of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, many were shocked. How did the hackers pull it off? What other information could be hacked into? Who’s at risk? Aside from the obvious concerns about such a privacy breach, however, another issue loomed. Why take a naked photo?

Maybe it’s because I don’t even like to pose for, much less share, a photo of myself in a bathing suit sans cover-up. So I can’t help but wonder why folks want naked selfies.

One group worth approaching to answer that question: teenagers. Most teens sext to maintain or ignite a relationship, or are pressured into the behavior. A recent study indicated that more than 50% of college students sent sexually explicit texts—with or without photos—as minors. (About a quarter admitted to sending sexually explicit photographs.) These numbers would indicate that among young people sexting is increasing in prevalence. In fact, it has tripled or quadrupled in some ages and categories of teens over the past five years. Boys and girls sext at the same rate, but boys forward more.

As moms and dads, we need to shift our focus to parenting in the digital age. We need to talk to our children and teens about sending pictures, receiving pictures and passing them on. We need to tell them that not everyone is doing it and cyberspace does not have a button for forgiveness. Images that are deleted can be retrieved, and pictures that are sent can be passed along.

The message to our children and teens should be clear and consistent. Do not ever post or send a naked or half-naked selfie to anyone. Ever. They should delete images that are sent to them and not forward them. I want to remind young people that there are many ways to feel good about yourself: practice kindness to others, volunteer in schools and communities, simply contribute to the common good. But keep your naked selfie covered.

Have you talked to your child about sexting? Do you think your son or daughter would ever do it? Post a comment and tell me.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

The Downside of Dress Codes

Written on September 11, 2014 at 5:36 pm , by

A few days before I started sixth grade at a private school, I went with my mother to get my uniforms. While she beamed, I remember miserably pulling the green-and-white-striped dress over my head. My mother, like many parents to this day, believed that uniforms were the answer to stopping social competition among students and contributed to an overall positive school atmosphere.

But here’s the problem: Way too often administrators and teachers enforce their school’s dress code by disrespecting and shaming their students, as with a recent incident involving a superintendent in Oklahoma. Not only is this unethical but it contributes to a school environment where the children don’t trust the adults to exercise their authority ethically. What should be a moment in the hall of “Please take off your hat” or “That skirt is a little short” becomes a humiliating power struggle where the child has no opportunity to learn whatever lesson the adult believes they are trying to teach.

Before I go on, let’s articulate the standard arguments to support school uniforms and dress codes. It is said that they:

1. Set a standard for students that learning environments should be given respect and prepares them for a professional environment as adults.

2. Contribute to students respecting themselves.

3. Decrease materialism and social competition.

4. Stop children from wearing clothes that are offensive or promote illegal or unhealthy substances like drugs and alcohol.

5. Contribute to school spirit and unity.

On the face of it, all these goals are entirely reasonable. Unfortunately, uniforms aren’t a magic bullet to stop “fashion show” competition between students. Kids know who has more money either because the student boasts about it (which is common) or other people talk about it. If it’s important to a student to show how rich their family is, they will figure out a way to do so, from donning $300 headphones to sporting $200 sneakers to bragging about what cars their parents have.

What’s more, no matter how great the school or how well-intentioned the rules are, a dress code and the way it is enforced can mask double standards and abuse of power. For example, the way boys and girls get in trouble for violating dress codes is different. Boys get in trouble for wearing clothes that are “disrespectful.” However they define that (sagging and baggy pants, wearing a hat inside), far too many adults start the interaction with boys by using their power as an adult to dominate them in public (by yelling at them in the hallway in front of their peers). And if the boy doesn’t immediately comply, his behavior is seen as defiant and requiring punishment. I am not excusing bad manners, but adults need to have common sense when they talk to people with adolescent brains. No one likes to be called out in public—especially teens—and when you do that, the teachable moment is lost.

In contrast, girls get in trouble more often for violating the dress code and are usually accused of presenting themselves in sexually inappropriate ways. Girls who go through puberty earlier and/or are more voluptuous are also disproportionately targeted (which also disproportionately impacts African American and Latina girls). Yes, a girl with a voluptuous body can be distracting, but that doesn’t mean the male students around her should be held to such a low standard that they aren’t expected to treat her respectfully. Teaching girls to respect themselves should focus on being proud of who they are—not shaming them for looking sexually promiscuous. This is a teachable moment about your hopes for your girl.

If your kid’s school has a dress code, it’s critical to instruct your child how to accept the responsibility they have as a member of the school community while recognizing that sometimes the way the code is applied is unfair.

Whether you have a son or a daughter, here’s what you can say:

If someone talks to you about being out of dress code, do what they say. If you feel that they have been rude to you, I still want you to do what they say but then tell me and/or tell the administrator you trust the most. But if you’re genuinely confused about why you’re out of dress code, or what you’re wearing is important to you and it’s not communicating something rude or degrading about someone else, you have the right to respectfully ask why you are in violation. If you feel strongly about this, you can research your rights about freedom of expression in school and bring that to the administration. You may not get what you want, but it’s important to know your rights and I will support that.

 

Here’s what you should say specifically to your daughter:

This is difficult to speak about with you, but it’s important to me that I do. Your school has a dress code. For girls, that often means not presenting yourself in a sexual manner. I want you to be proud of your body and I never want you to be ashamed of it. But way more important to me than the dress code is you. You are a smart young woman with a lot to contribute to this world. Like all young women, you’re growing up in a world that dismisses your opinions and rights by trying to convince you that the most important thing about you is your physical appearance. Obviously, you are so much more than that. I want you to be proud and comfortable with how you look. But I also want you to be proud and comfortable about who you are beyond that. So I’d like you to think about that when you get dressed for school. Can you put the clothes you like and that are within the dress code on one side of your closet and the ones that are not on the other side? 

If administrators at your school are shaming girls, you need to speak out against it. Schools can have standards. They can even have standards that you disagree with but need to learn to live with. What you should not tolerate are adults who are responsible for the safety and education of your children to think enforcing the dress code gives them the right to shame and disrespect children.

How do you feel about dress codes at school? Post a comment and tell me below.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

 

Moms Aren’t the Only Ones Trying to Juggle It All

Written on September 4, 2014 at 11:10 am , by

This August, software mogul Max Schireson announced that he was stepping down as CEO of a billion-dollar company. It was scandalous—but not for the reasons you might think. News that the hardworking former child prodigy was leaving his high-ranking position was met with shock and awe because he was leaning back, if you will, to spend more time with his family. Schireson will still work at his company, but in a lesser role.

Some critics responded with venom, stating that other men would love to do the same but would be left with financial woes. However, most of the response was supportive and highlighted the increasing number of men who choose to be homemakers.

The number of dads in the U.S. who don’t work outside the home hit 2 million in 2012, and there’s a myriad of reasons why these fathers remain in-house. When explaining his decision, Schireson used the B-word: balance. He felt like his life was out of balance and wanted to realign it in favor of his family. Of note is the fact that his wife is a well-respected clinician and professor of medicine at Stanford University who has managed the seesaw of motherhood and a demanding career in academia.

So what gives? Should it be newsworthy when a high-powered male makes an apparent sacrifice to spend time with his children when women do it all the time?

Well, yeah…

Our kids and families need to have fathers who are on active duty throughout their lives. The way that men play with their children can teach them independence and fearlessness. When fathers ask about school and attend parent-teacher conferences, our children do better in school. It takes both parents to help teens navigate their adolescent years. Discussing paternal attitudes and experiences with difficult topics like sex and drug usage has been shown to delay inappropriate activity.

When fathers like Max Schireson make a conscious decision to be more involved in the day-to-day activities of the their children’s lives and support their partners, they are not stepping down but stepping up. I applaud his decision and hope it inspires other fathers to do the same.

What do you think of Max Schireson’s decision? Post a comment and tell me.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Talking to Your Kids About Michael Brown

Written on August 28, 2014 at 5:20 pm , by

As it is for many moms, early mornings are my favorite time of day. It’s peaceful, and the only time I can think quietly without interruption. A few days ago, as the sun rose, I sat with a cup of tea and couldn’t stop thinking about Michael Brown’s mother. She would bury her son on this day. The same day I was getting my boys ready for their first day of school. As I stared at my tea all I could think of was how to talk to my boys about the funeral, how another unarmed young man of color was killed by a police officer, and about the photos of heavily armed police pointing automatic weapons at and using tear gas on protesters, and how a member of that police department boasted at a public speech about killing minorities.

As a white mother with teen sons, living in Boulder, Colorado, I am far away from Ferguson, Missouri, in many ways. Boulder is a lovely place to live. As in many towns like it, people here pride themselves on being “progressive” and would never see themselves as supporting racial discrimination. But there are very few people of color living in Boulder. Yet they are here and, not surprisingly, my children have reported the often ignorant, and sometimes malicious, racist comments their white classmates make about African Americans and Mexicans.

Last year one of my sons told me that there was a group of wealthy white boys at his school taunting Hispanic students, calling them “beaners.” I told him I wanted him to say something to those white kids. He didn’t want to. The next time it happened, I talked to him about the relative privilege he has at that school because he is an athlete. I also wanted him to realize, if it was hard for him to speak up, how much more difficult it may be for someone with less social power. My son is starting eighth grade. I have no doubt there will be many opportunities for him to practice speaking out, and I hope one day he does.

Teaching your children to speak out against bigotry is an ongoing process. We can’t just tell them from time to time, “Racism is wrong.” Or, “All people are equal regardless of the color of their skin.” It is about knowing that no community is immune from racism and bigotry—including mine and yours. It is knowing that it’s common that “nice” kids make racist jokes and comments. It is knowing that your own children can make hurtful comments about other people or stay silent when someone else does. We have a responsibility to teach our children to effectively and unflinchingly realize that they have an obligation to make the world a more just place for all, and then give them the skills to make it happen.

Boulder isn’t unique. My consistent experience working throughout the country is that self-identified progressive communities believe they are above the racism they see, read and hear about in the media. The vast majority of parents within these communities can’t imagine their children degrading their peers because of the color of their skin. They can’t imagine their child making a racist or sexist  joke. They’ve told their children that racism is wrong, so there’s nothing more to say.

But there’s a lot more to say. Many white parents I’ve talked to don’t want to bring up something so unpleasant and ugly with their kids. Here’s the deal: It is ugly. It is unjust. But race privilege means you have the choice to avoid it. African American, Hispanic and other minority parents don’t have that choice. It’s our responsibility to take care of one another. And that means taking the blinders off.

Being a parent means educating your children and having hard conversations with them about how messed up the world is. It’s about allowing them to get upset about it, angry about it and then challenging them to make it better. It’s about reading and watching with your child the reports coming out of Ferguson, going back to the reports about Trayvon Martin, printing out and reading what people are saying about these issues (Ta-Nehisi Coates has been my go-to writer this year).

We need our children to understand that the democracy they study in school is messy. It has an ugly history of how it has treated many minorities in this country and that legacy profoundly affects all of us to this day. If we don’t educate our kids, we sentence them to ignorance and not developing the skills and courage to stand by their peers for the collective and individual dignity of all. So sit down and watch Michael’s funeral service with your teens. Ask your child what it feels like to bear witness to this community’s anger and grief. Just be still for a moment and then vow to do something to make it better.

More Than Just a Crush

Written on August 21, 2014 at 1:33 pm , by

“Back to school” is about getting back into the groove of a more structured life. It’s about buying supplies in time—not for the first day of classes but before they’re out of stock. It’s about what teachers your kid got and if they’re loved or hated.

But guess what it’s also about for a lot of kids? Crushes. The horribly awesome, terrifying, nerve-racking experience of seeing someone for the first time and falling for them hard. It could be their hair, the way they say hello, their cool red jacket, whatever—doesn’t matter. In an instant, the world will never be the same. And even if they don’t have a crush on someone, chances are good they’re going to have a friend who does and that will upend their world too.

Being aware of crushes falls into the parenting gray zone. You don’t want to stalk the school hallways or wait for your child to come home and immediately ask them about their or anyone else’s love life. Really…you don’t. Even though you may want to. But you do need to be aware of crushes as the possible source of your child’s weird mood swings. Or the potential reason behind a sudden increase in the amount of time spent texting. (They’re discussing with a friend exactly how the crush said “Hi” or how the crush affects social dynamics between your child and his or her friends.)

It’s really important to remember that crushes and puppy love aren’t insignificant. Just because kids are only holding hands or simply staring at each other doesn’t mean the feelings they have are meaningless. Take a minute to remember your first crush and how you felt around that person. See? Not meaningless. So don’t say things in front of your child about how fleeting crushes are or how they don’t really matter.

And just because I said no stalking, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your child. Sometime when it’s calm and quiet, like at the end of the day, you can say something like this.

YOU: Now that you’re in sixth grade, you might notice that people can get crushes on each other or really like each other.

YOUR KID: Mom…I really don’t want to talk about this.

YOU: This is going to be brief but it’s important to me that you hear this. Having a crush can feel great. It can also feel terrible. And it can feel both at the same time. Sometimes friends can get involved and make the whole thing even weirder. Feelings can be confusing. You don’t have to talk to me about any of this but you can if you want. Regardless, here are four things I want you to keep in mind.

1. Friends shouldn’t be mean to you or deliberately embarrass you about your crush. If your friend has a crush, the same rules apply about what you say to them.

2. If you have a crush and you get rejected it’s not going to be easy, but you can’t be rude or mean in person or online. If your friend has a crush and they get rejected, I don’t want you to join in if they start going after the person either.

3. Friends don’t have to agree with why the crush is so crush-worthy. If your friend thinks that the crush isn’t cute, that’s okay. Friends can disagree. What’s not cool is if a friend makes fun of liking the crush or embarrasses you in front of other people.

4. Sometimes friends, even really close friends, can have a crush on the same person. Covert operations to make the competition look bad almost always backfire and destroy the friendship.

Remember, these experiences are important, so if you ever do want to talk about it, I hope you can talk to me or someone else about them. Okay, I’m done unless there’s anything you want to ask. 

Then don’t wait around with an intense mom or dad expression on your face that signals to your child that you expect to have a deep, meaningful conversation. Just walk away. I promise that if you do, they are much more likely to come to you when they want to get something off their chest.

On the flip side, if your child is the loved one, it can feel great—or really awkward, depending on how they feel about the person who likes them. What’s most important: no humiliating the other person if they don’t like them.

And I have one pet peeve: If your child tells you that a kid of the opposite sex hits them at school or teases them, please don’t say with a grin on your face, “I think they like you.” And definitely don’t say, “You know why they’re probably doing that? Because they have a crush on you!” (See my previous post, “7 Words You Shouldn’t Say to Your Kid.”)

We don’t want to teach our children that an acceptable way to show you like someone is to be mean to them. Plus, we weren’t there. Maybe the other child doesn’t like your kid and now you’re enabling your kid to read the situation wrong. Maybe other children were teasing the child about liking your son or daughter, so they felt forced to be mean to them to make the matchmaking and teasing stop. If our children tell us these things, we can say:

That’s too bad. Maybe I can ask you some questions to help you think it through. Did it feel playful or mean? Did they do it around other people?

Let’s use this as an opportunity to teach our kids how to tell when someone likes them, how to be respectful when the feelings aren’t mutual, and how to be a good friend through it all. Handling all this is tricky stuff. We have to be ready to ask thoughtful questions so our kids can navigate this really rocky terrain—and then do their homework, their sports activities, their chores…It’s a lot.

Character Counts

Written on August 12, 2014 at 8:27 am , by

                                      

 Parents should always be proud of their children’s academic success, but we also need to acknowledge achievements that can’t be captured on a report card. Beyond smarts lies wisdom. It’s harder to instill but worth the effort and arguably a more important quality.

To help our kids claim that higher learning, we must talk to them about making decisions that are reflective, not impulsive. When 14-year-old Hunter Gandee’s mother shared a dream she had in which Hunter was carrying his younger brother, the teen came up with an idea. He wanted to effect real change for the nearly 800,000 children and adults in the U.S. struggling with cerebral palsy, which his younger sibling has. So he strapped his 50-pound brother, who uses a walker, to his back and toted him for 40 miles in an effort to gain attention for the disease. The two-day hike was reported on national TV and in print.

Another way to guide children toward wisdom is with lessons in self-compassion. They must learn how to be kind to themselves by accepting their failures as well as their successes. That’s what 7-year-old Cameron Thompson learned after he was caught teasing another second-grade boy who brought a Barbie doll to show-and-tell. Cameron still felt bad weeks after apologizing to the boy and asked his mother if he could start an anti-bullying club at school to help teach his classmates how to be kinder. More than 75 kids showed up to the first meeting. With his parents’ help, he also posted a “Confessions of a Bully” video on YouTube. It’s been viewed at least 70,000 times.

Character, they say, is what you do when no one is watching. These kids managed to do the right thing when they were out of sight and when all eyes were on them: undeniable proof that wisdom is achievable at every age.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts hereGot a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

               

Waiting for Abby

Written on August 11, 2014 at 4:19 pm , by

By Gwen Moran

On the floor of my home office, Chloe, a 90-pound Labrador retriever, is lying on my foot, snoring. For most of the morning, she’s been staring accusingly at me and sighing loudly. I have a choice: move and wake her—and risk her resuming that reproachful look—or endure the growing pins-and-needles sensation. Then I think about her sad eyes. Pins and needles it is. Nearby, I also hear our two cats, Whiskers and Ranger, meowing, in searching mode, carefully scanning every corner of the house for her.

This warm September morning, my menagerie’s favorite human—a fair- skinned, blue-eyed 11-year- old girl named Abby— grabbed her backpack and kissed each of them goodbye. They don’t know she climbed aboard a big yellow bus heading for her first day of middle school; they only know that their playmate and companion is gone. And they’re not alone in wandering around, feeling a little lost. I can’t help but miss her too, wondering how her day’s going.

I finally wiggle my foot free from under our slumbering dog and walk softly to the kitchen. I see Whiskers knocking around a cloth mouse—the one Abby usually throws to him. With no one to toss it back, he gives up and walks away. It’s less fun to play alone. Ranger’s lying on the laundry room floor, curled up on one of Abby’s old T-shirts. The house itself feels emptier without our singing, soccer- playing tween to keep us all entertained. During summer’s lazy days, Abby has more time to dote on her furry companions. When she skips rope on the patio, Chloe lies in the grass nearby while the indoor- only cats stare from the patio door. When we head to the park, our pup’s tail and tongue dance happily as she follows her girl’s every move. When Abby returns indoors to read a book or watch television, the cats curl up on her lap with the dog lounging at her feet, forming a content “pack.”

The pets always miss her presence the most. Abby has raised each of them since they were babies, so it’s not surprising they love her best. The kittens, abandoned in our yard at barely one month old by their sick feral mother, spent weeks in Abby’s bathroom, where she dutifully fed them from a plastic syringe every four hours around the clock. The day we visited the farm where Chloe was born, the eight-week-old pup ran to my daughter and chewed on her long hair, practically claiming her.

Now Chloe’s awake from her nap and her head snaps to the door at every passing noise that might signal Abby’s return. I wish there were a way to tell her she’ll burst through the door— precisely at 3:09—sharing tales of her first day before they all settle down in the dining room while she does her homework. Soon enough the four of us will adjust to our new daytime routine. But for now, we’ll be waiting until she returns home so we can have her all to ourselves again.

 

Gwen Moran is an award-winning writer and creator of Biziversity.com.

What’s So Bad About Being a Trust Fund Kid?

Written on July 24, 2014 at 11:42 am , by

To the best of my recollection, I have never met a trust fund kid. I’m sure there are benefits to having a friend who never has to worry about working, paying rent or facing the dreaded “I’m sorry, do you have another card?’ from an ambivalent waitress. He or she might offer to foot your bill or pay for trips and would never squeeze you for cash. Sounds convenient, right?

But perhaps actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was aware of something about trust fund children that I am not. His untimely death resulted in a large sum of money going directly to the mother of his three kids because he refused to put any cash into trusts for them. Reportedly, he told his accountant that he didn’t want them to be perceived as “trust fund” children.

Which begs the question…why?

His decision is not without precedent. Reportedly, Bill and Melinda Gates will leave their children only $10 million each. Warren Buffet allegedly will do the same. On the other hand, Oracle chief Larry Ellison famously began distributing the family fortune to his kids at the age of 18. He didn’t want them to “be afraid of money” but instead wanted them to learn about the ethical and social responsibility that access to a vast fortune entails. Although both dropped out of college, they are hardworking adults.

It’s pretty simple to understand why creating trust fund kids may not be optimal for some uber-wealthy families. The common perception is that money is a primary motivator for hard work. That’s a complete myth. In fact, leading motivators for hard work are caring about customers and clients, having a sense of purpose, passion, an alignment of values, wanting to achieve and just plain having fun.

What’s interesting is that Hoffman made a shrewd declaration of how society endorses the wealthy and privileged at the risk of alienating the lower classes. Perhaps he also wanted his children to learn the value of earning a dollar and, more important, character.

However, character does not come from a zip code. Parents with limited means raise responsible children and struggle with the same parenting issues as middle- and upper-income parents.

For my money, the underlying issue is not related to how much cash we give or leave for our kids, it’s the life lessons we teach them. What kind of role models are we as parents? What kind of respect do we exemplify toward others? How much do we show love to folks in our own households?

Money doesn’t buy happiness. I would guess that a trust fund doesn’t either.

Would you ever establish a trust fund for your child? Post a comment and let me know.


Janet Taylor, MD, MPH
, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.


What Happened After My Son Said, “Mom, I’m Going to Do Something Really Stupid”

Written on July 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm , by

 

Full disclosure: My boys have committed countless ridiculous, embarrassing, dangerous and stupid acts that I’ve never shared publicly. And it’s been tempting. After all, I’m a parenting expert and I have children who never seem to miss an opportunity to make me feel how ironic my professional title is. But I do honor my children’s privacy, and I do recognize that it may be especially irritating to have me as a mother. So I’ve kept the “mom” sharing to a minimum.

But two weeks ago, Elijah, my 13-year-old son, lit a smoke bomb not seven feet from me. In my living room. Just to be clear, “living room” means “inside my house.”

You light a bomb in my house, I get to tell the world.

The official reason I’m doing this is because my husband, James, and I thought a lot about how to use this experience as a teachable moment. It’s also an opportunity to practice what I preach. But the other reason is that it just makes me feel better to share with other people how mind-blowingly stupid my boys can be.

Here’s how the whole thing went down:
After spending the day playing in a basketball tournament, Elijah brought two teammates back to the house with him. A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the couch next to Elijah when Miller, an exceptionally nice kid, told me he needed to go downstairs because he “didn’t want to keep his mom waiting” when she picked him up. He really said that.

A few minutes later Elijah said to me, “Mom, I’m going to do something really stupid.” I immediately responded, “Whatever it is, don’t do it.”

But for some reason my radar was down so I didn’t pay attention when Elijah left the room shortly after making this declaration. When he returned a few minutes later, he nonchalantly walked by me and set off the smoke bomb. Immediately, blue smoke filled the room, and then the house; which caused all the smoke alarms to go off. At that exact moment, Miller’s very nice father and his two adorable younger sisters rang the doorbell.

First, I focused on damage control. Turn off the alarms, get the nice family out of the house, and then deal with the real problems at hand. I still had Jackson, Elijah’s other friend, in the house. I didn’t want to lose it in front of him because he’d already seen me truly rage—a few months before, at 3 a.m., in my bathrobe, no less (due to another mind-blowingly stupid thing my younger son, Roane, did involving a rug and salsa, but I digress). Determined to keep myself under control, I calmly asked Jackson to walk home and brought Elijah into our room—where James was trying to calm himself down—for sentencing.

Here’s the challenge. In these moments, when emotions are at their highest—

  • embarrassment because of the nice family at the door
  • fury at your child, and
  • the glaring realization that you might possibly live with the world’s worst roommate, who might burn your house down if you stop paying attention for five minutes

—it’s really hard to think clearly and act maturely. But you have to if you want any chance of getting through to your child and keeping your sanity.

In the five minutes between getting everyone out of the house and talking to Elijah, here’s what James and I decided were the most important things we needed to communicate.

  • We both accept that our children are fascinated with fire and what happens when things explode. That is why we have educated both of them on fire safety and fireworks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into good judgment on their part.
  • We recognize that we can’t leave Elijah unsupervised in the house until he can prove he has better judgment. That will take time—which is annoying but true.
  • Because Elijah demonstrated disregard for the safety of our home, he will be responsible for the majority of its upkeep in the hope that he’ll appreciate to some extent how hard it is to maintain a house and what a colossally bad idea it is to burn one down.

I know Elijah respects us. I know he has a degree of fear of us. But he has yet to experience the horror you feel when something you’ve done goes terribly wrong. Not all 13-year-olds are like this, but he is a supremely confident man-child who has never been able to just take someone’s word for it. Since he was 2½ and stuck a metal shower ring into the heating system and short-circuited the electrical system of our house, he has been an “experimental learner.” So my goal is to get Elijah to connect his higher processing with his let’s-see-what-happens-if-I-do-this thinking. That’s going to be one of the main objectives of his adolescent development.

But it’s going to be a long road. I kid you not, today—not two weeks later—Elijah woke James from his Saturday afternoon nap and asked, “Dad….Dad…Dad…Do we have any flammable liquids in the house?”

Would You Leave Your Kid Alone in a Car?

Written on July 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm , by

Imagine this scenario: You’re pulling into a parking space so you can pick up Chinese food for dinner. As you glance into the backseat, you can see that your adorable (but extremely energetic) 3-year-old twins are finally asleep and safely strapped into their snuggly car seats. And you wonder: Should you wake them up and bring them into the restaurant with you, or dash inside for just a minute, leaving the kids inside the car alone? You’re parked right in front of the restaurant’s door. What do you do?

The truth is, if we haven’t all made the dash inside, we’ve at least thought about it for more than a second. However, many parents don’t understand the cause for concern until it’s too late and they’ve received a reprimand from a concerned citizen, been handed a summons from an unforgiving police officer, or experienced a tragedy that will be hard to forgive themselves for.

While the specific laws and age limits for leaving a child alone vary from state to state, I imagine some parents are thinking: “I know my kid” or “No one can tell me what to do with my own children.” Actually, communities and institutions can and in my opinion should. Some parents need care instructions for their kids. Common sense and parenting skills are not a given. If legislation or consequences keep one child safer at the expense of another parent’s inconvenience, so be it.

Now here’s my confession: Years ago, I left the motor running and my twins strapped into the backseat of my cool minivan on a hot summer day. Pulling right up to the front door of a local Chinese restaurant, I quickly ran in to pick up my order. It took a minute for me to find out the food wasn’t ready. Then I pushed open the front door to see my now moving minivan rolling past me with one of my 3-year-olds at the wheel.

I panicked, crushing my shinbone as I swung open the door and put my foot on the brake. The car went from neutral to park. In shock, I said to my daughters, “Girls, what happened?” My level-headed, still-strapped-in daughter, Taylor, said, “Erin drive.” Erin, my sweet and funny aspiring daredevil, just smiled. I was dying inside but so grateful that a tragedy had been averted. And I have never left a child of mine in a car or unsupervised since.

While it’s true that parenting skills and styles are very individual, there is always one constant: the responsibility we have to protect our children and not expose them to potentially dangerous situations. You may believe that they’ll be just fine in your absence, but—speaking from personal experience—in lieu of a crystal ball, think safety instead.

Turn Off to Turn On: Make Time to Really Connect

Written on July 8, 2014 at 9:38 am , by

 

Truly connecting with your spouse, your kids or even a coworker isn’t a high-speed endeavor. Meaningful relationships can’t be jump-started by hitting send, condensed into 140 characters or easily deleted. They’re about a lingering glance, a tight hug or a pat on the back.

Unfortunately, high touch is being taken over by high tech. I’ve painfully witnessed couples more engrossed in their smartphones than in each other, fathers reacting faster to the ping of a text message than to their kids yelling “Dad!” and moms spending more time uploading family photos to Facebook than letting their kids download with them.

I know, I know, your teen is probably so obsessed with her Instagram account that she’s not paying attention to you either. But it’s hard to ask a teen to turn off a smartphone when you’re not paying attention yourself. My suggestion: Aim for as much real face time as you can. Create mini media blackouts by using a basket to collect electronics for a distraction-free dinner or having a family night devoted to offline entertainment like board games. Most important, teach your children when to pick up the telephone to reach out to someone by modeling that behavior. Our kids need to develop the keys to love and trust that come from a human touch-not a touchscreen.

 

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.


A Summer Code of Conduct for Your Kids

Written on July 3, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

 

Since I moved to Colorado from Washington, D.C., almost two years ago, I have grown to love summer. First off, there’s no humidity. As a native Washingtonion, I thought living in the wet, moldy sponge that is D.C. from June through September was normal. What’s more, every day here is beautiful, there aren’t annoying bugs everywhere, ice cream is plentiful and people are in a good mood. The only complaint I have: The school ends the third week of May. That is just way too early.

To be fair, no matter how hard we parents work all year, for our kids, summer should be a time to sleep in late, relax, roam around, and hang out with friends. But in order for parents to not get really irritated and start walking around the house muttering about how lazy and slovenly their children are, we have to have an agreement about how summer is going to go down.

So three weeks into their vacation, I told my boys: “I want you to relax and have fun and neither of us want me constantly nagging you or raging at you (“raging” is the word my boys use to describe my very calm requests). So here is how I think we have the best chance of accomplishing these very important goals.” Then I shared with them my “Summer Code of Conduct.” Perhaps these rules to relax by will help you preserve your sanity this season.

1. If you want to kick back. . . don’t leave cups and dishes around the house. This is especially true if you have eaten cereal and/or drank chocolate milk with an inch of chocolate sludge at the bottom and left it wherever you finished it. This is also true with clothes (dirty or clean), technology accessories like ear buds or headphones, new or used tissue paper, sports equipment, art projects and any small pets. You won’t be able to relax because all of these actions will automatically result in your parent flipping out—as in making you clean everything you have spread around the house and nagging you as you do it).

2. To be left alone. . . you must read a book of your choosing, outside if possible, and enjoy it. Your parents will leave you in peace while you read—unless they see that you are hiding a handheld device behind the book. If you are, we get to make you do additional chores around the house such as loading the dishwasher (see #1), folding laundry, taking out garbage and more.

3. When hanging out indoors with your friends. . . know the house rules. If you’re hanging out at another person’s house, you are expected to follow the other family’s policies without argument. Likewise, your friends are expected to follow our family rules when they are at our house. If not, your parent will make it clear to your friends what the family rules are.

4. When hanging out outdoors with friends . . . respect the freedom we give you. Summer is time to spontaneously hang out with buddies. But that will happen much more easily if you check in with your parents on a consistent basis. So when your parents ask you by any method where you are and when you will be home you need to answer concretely. For example, “Soon” and “In a little while” are not appropriate answers to a parents’ text message about when you will be returning home.

5. While improving your video game or tech skills . . . Watch the clock. I know video games aren’t all bad. They just can’t take over your life or be a major source of conflict between siblings. So each child can have ninety minutes per day on the device of their choosing for fun. Basic necessities must be taken care of before engaging any technology, which are defined but not limited to putting on clothes, brushing teeth and hair, and taking care of any pet needs. All technology activity must end an hour before bed (to assure a good night rest) and devices be charged in parent’s bedroom. Other projects involving technology are excluded from the ninety minute limit.

6. If you want to impress me. . . . tell me how you plan on giving back this summer. A couple times a month over the summer, the family and whatever friends want to join in, will do community service together. Examples are making dinner for a children’s or teen shelter, painting a family homeless center, gardening, mowing lawns or getting groceries for an older person. When I know you’re up to some good, I can kick back and enjoy summer too.

Have you laid down some rules of the road for your kids this summer? Post a comment and tell me what they are below.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice, here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.