Parenting Teens & Tweens

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.

 

 

Driver’s Ed 101: The Parent Edition

Written on July 1, 2014 at 7:30 am , by

Do you know any parents who love teaching their kids to drive? Me neither. Now that my husband and I are at our official halfway point—midway through our third teen’s permit—I’ve finally reached a point of peace with it.

With the first new driver, I thought I’d be the cool, laid-back stepmom who wouldn’t stress out or raise her voice. This was before I fully grasped that the things that exasperate you about your kids around the house will exponentially exasperate you when they’re behind the wheel, because now those annoyances are dangerous and expensive.

You put your reasonably intelligent teens in the driver’s seat and it’s as if aliens have abducted them and left poorly functioning drones in their place. The girl who speaks fluent French gets the brake and gas pedals mixed up. The boy who does complex logarithmic equations in his head fails to notice when the car in front of him brakes. The volleyball star who anticipates the moves of every member of the opposing team can’t anticipate a single move by another driver.

Yet even when they lull you into a false sense of security by pretending to ignore you, it turns out your kids are always watching you.

At a four-way stop, our second teen driver stopped smoothly and took her turn in order.

 “How was that?” she asked.

 “Perfect!” I said.

 “You have the best stops out of everyone,” she explained. “You let up on the brake a little before you come to a complete stop, and then it doesn’t jerk at the end.”

That’s a habit I developed in my 20s, back when I smoked and drank coffee from an open mug while driving (stopping like that keeps the coffee from spilling). I didn’t mention this.

When the third kid got her permit, I looked back on previous experiences and accepted a few things that have made it easier:

1. The car’s going to get dinked up.

The first teen jumped the curb in our driveway, ripping off the entire undercarriage covering while her father and I watched. She then proceeded to tell us how it wasn’t her fault. The second one ignored, for three days, the fact that the car had been bombed by a pack of wild turkeys. When we demanded she wash the car, she used a steel wool pad. She’s hit the retaining wall so much that the bumper looks like it was attacked with an industrial cheese grater.

We’re in no rush to get nicer cars.

2. I will accomplish nothing by holding my Jesus handle and pressing my imaginary brake pedal.

It is far more effective to calmly point out facts:

You should brake now.
Accelerate, or you’ll get run over.
You missed the exit.

3. I will accomplish nothing good by imagining worst-case scenarios.

Instead, I bring myself back to the present moment by calmly asking questions:

What’s the speed limit here?
Are you trying to crawl up that guy’s tailpipe?

4. I will raise my voice at some point.

It’s okay to yell when they do something truly dangerous. They’re new enough to the whole driving thing that they may not understand immediate danger. Parental anger usually gets their attention.

On a recent drive, the third teen did beautifully and didn’t make a single error. But as we approached our driveway, she didn’t slow down. Before I could speak, she turned, too fast and not enough. The noise was loud and jarring. I couldn’t tell whether she hit the retaining wall or the power line pole. I tried to be angry—I pulled out the old standby, “What were you thinking!?!” but it felt as if I were playing a part. She knows what she did and she’s unlikely to make that same error again. Fortunately, she only hit the retaining wall.

Inspecting the damage, I realized I couldn’t tell new scratches from old ones, and laughed. Accepting that these things happen—and being desensitized by two previous drivers—made it suddenly funny to me.

But I didn’t laugh half as much as I’m going to when the fifth one finally gets his license and I don’t have to teach any more teens how to drive.

 

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand, and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

“Like a Girl” Ad Will Really Give Teen Girls Something to Think About

Written on June 30, 2014 at 5:16 pm , by

It’s not every day that an ad asks a thought-provoking question, but this Always ad sure does. The question: When did doing something “like a girl” become an insult?

A group of teens and younger children are instructed to complete certain actions—for example, running and fighting—like a girl. There’s an eye-opening difference in how the two groups respond. The teens all act “girly,” complete with flailing arms and concern about messing up their hair. The younger kids, however, run and fight fiercely.

Always found that girls experience a drop in confidence around puberty. The company partnered with the filmmaker and director of this video, Lauren Greenfield, to redefine the phrase “like a girl” so that it means something awesome.

Wait till you see how the teens react when they rethink what that phrase should mean.

Coding While Female: Getting Our Girls on the Technology Bandwagon

Written on June 30, 2014 at 2:21 pm , by

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about coding in the news lately, and perhaps wondered what it is. Simply put, coding is the act of writing a program using a programming language. This is what makes it possible for us to create things like websites, apps and computer software, but I recently discovered that coding is so much more. It basically opens the gate to an array of exciting creative careers, but unfortunately, women aren’t getting as involved as we ought to be.

According to the National Science Board, women make up a mere 26% of computer science and mathematics professionals in the United States. Female participation in computer science has actually declined to 18% from its peak of 37% in the mid-1980s. This is disquieting because STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math) are expected to grow by 17% from 2008 through 2018, compared to 9.8% for non-STEM jobs. There are some incredible opportunities out there, and women are severely underrepresented. We have to change that, starting with our daughters.

Personally, I’ve been bugging my 14-year-old for the past year. “Look at these crazy stats! Don’t you want to learn to code?” Her response: “No, Mom, it’s not me.” Argh. This conversation went on and off. I didn’t want to push her if she felt it wasn’t her passion, but I wasn’t quite convinced that she understood all that coding encompasses or all that you can do with it, because quite frankly, I didn’t either. Well, Google to the rescue.

Mindy Kaling speaks on stage at the “Google’s Made With Code” launch event to inspire girls to code.

Last Thursday we were lucky enough to attend Google’s Made w/ Code launch here in New York, and it turned out to be a game changer for both mother and daughter. Host Mindy Kaling, special guest Chelsea Clinton and an outrageously talented and diverse group of women who code made a roomful of young women understand the endless possibilities. Danielle Feinberg, director of photography for Pixar, talked about her work on Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and Brave; Miral Kotb, creator and CEO of iLuminate, discussed marrying her two passions, tech and dance, in her choreography; and Erica Kochi, cofounder of UNICEF Innovation, shared how she helped spearhead the development of technology that does things like track the distribution of 63 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Africa.

It was pretty exhilarating.

These dynamic women managed to make coding not only more accessible as a concept but fun, and my daughter and I were finally able to grasp all that coding can do. Now I’m scrambling to find her a coding class (nothing like trying to make last-minute summer arrangements!), but I don’t mind because she is open to learning a whole new set of skills that could possibly guide her toward a fascinating, ever-evolving career.

Perhaps Kochi put it best: “Coding is not some random numbers running across a screen; it’s a powerful tool that you can use to build the world you want to see.” Start building, ladies.

 

 

 

 

Turn a Boring Summer Day into a $10,000 College Fund!

Written on June 25, 2014 at 11:31 am , by

By Robb Riedel

The rev of a lawn mower. The chirping of crickets. The hypnotic melody of an ice cream truck. It’s official: Summer has finally arrived! Which means the three words mothers dread the most can’t be far behind: “Mom, I’m bored.” It seems by the time school’s been out for a mere week, there’s already nothing to do.

But boredom isn’t necessarily a negative, especially when it could result in winning some cold, hard cash for college. All your child has to do is invent the winning outdoor activity in the Clif Kid Backyard Game of the Year contest. Relish a rare moment of tranquillity by charging your kid with the task of inventing a new, fun fresh-air activity that doesn’t promote violence and can be played by children ages 6 to 12. Your kid might get inspiration from your own childhood, when unstructured time meant heading outside to play tag, build a fort or ride a bike through the neighborhood. Kids can also check out previous finalists’ creations, which include creative games like Tortoise & the Hare Ball and Sidewalk Chalk Adventure.

Go to clifkidbackyardgame.com to enter the name of your child’s game, a description and a photo. The kid who creates the best activity will win a bike and helmet, a special block party for family and friends and, most important, a $10,000 educational scholarship!

There’s no better reason to send kids outside to play! The contest ends July 3, so there’s ample time for them to perfect their game’s rules and submit photos. For more information, visit clifkidbackyardgame.com.

What Dr. Janet Wants You to Do for 20 Seconds to Feel Better Now

Written on June 18, 2014 at 6:11 pm , by

How many times have you been hugged today? Chances are even if you’re lucky enough to have been enveloped in the arms of someone you love, you still haven’t been hugged enough. That’s because the more embraces you have, the better it is for your health. Eight, in fact, is ideal. Here’s why:

Hugs are a power boost for our immune system. They decrease stress levels, help fight fatigue, promote well-being, lower blood pressure, improve our cardiovascular system and benefit aging muscles. Plus, there is nothing like a hug to make you feel up when you are down or safe when you are searching.

The science behind the embrace helping to heal both your head and your heart can be summed up in one word: oxytocin. Oxytocin is a chemical that’s released from your brain during the act of hugging, breast-feeding and, yes, sex. Think about the billions of dollars spent on self-help books, vitamins and little blue pills when one of nature’s most potent resources is free and can be plentiful! A 20-second hug, multiple times during the day (as I mentioned earlier, eight is best), is all it takes.

The challenge is to actually do it. Here are some suggestions to get your daily doses in.

1)   Unplug. Make eye contact and just go for it.

2)   Pay attention. Watch how others are feeling. We get so caught up in our own issues that we miss cues from people that we care about showing us they need to be held.

3)   Keep count. When you track and measure a goal, it increases your likelihood of obtaining it.

4)   Don’t be shy. If you have a teenager who avoids embraces, do it anyway.

5)    Draw everyone in. Get your whole family involved. Encourage group hugs.

6)    Press the men. Many dads stop demonstrating affection to their sons as they get older. Don’t let that be the case in your house.

Happy hugging!

Who are you going to hug today? Post a comment and tell me here.

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.

 

Dealing With Bullies (When You Disagree With Your Partner)

Written on June 18, 2014 at 5:41 pm , by

The only thing harder than helping your kid handle bullies at school is helping your kid do so when you and your spouse aren’t on the same page. Our parenting expert, Rosalind Wiseman, received a letter from a woman struggling with just that situation. She has a picked-on kid and a hands-off ex who disagrees with her tactics. Here’s what happened and what you can do to handle similar situations within your family.

Q. “When my son, Nick, told me he was being bullied at school, I immediately called a meeting with my ex-husband, the principal, a counselor and my child. But my ex doesn’t think our son is being bullied. He thinks I just don’t understand “boy world.” The principal was glad the situation was brought to his attention but mentioned that Nick needs to “loosen up” because he doesn’t like to make mistakes and he’s rigid when around other boys. Nick is very upset that I called the school meeting; he also said that even though the bullying subsided for a few days, it has started again. He has begged me not to discuss it again with school officials or with his father. Most recently he asked if he could have liposuction near his armpits because the boys are saying he’s fat. I’ve spoken with my son about bullies. I’ve also talked about the power a bully gets from provoking a desired reaction. Nick clams up and doesn’t want to hear my suggestions. I’m so afraid the bullying will escalate that I’m considering signing him up for a martial arts class, and I even showed him how to physically defend himself last night.”

A: Your parenting dynamic is pretty common, but it makes it much more difficult for your son. The dad wants his son to stop complaining and deal with the other kids (the Boy World thing he wants you to understand), and you want to comfort your child. Both of you are right. Your son, as you and the school agree, is socially inflexible and that makes it harder for him to get along with his peers. But that doesn’t justify the other boys bullying him. He needs social skills and emotional support, and he needs parents who recognize the value of each. But as long as you and your ex have judgments about the other’s point of view (to put words in both of your mouths, he thinks you coddle him and you think he’s callous), your parenting dynamic will make it much harder for your son to learn what he needs to in this situation.

And this is why your situation is so applicable to so many families. The fact is all children are going to experience conflict with their peers. How the adults in the child’s life guide him through the process of responding to conflict is often the invisible force that either increases the child’s emotional resilience and strengthens the family, or decreases the child’s emotional fortitude, makes him more vulnerable to abuse by his peers, causes him to feel ashamed that he is a target, and makes him resistant to asking for help. All that happens while he’s still desperate for the bullying to stop and caught between his parents’ opposing opinions.

Helping your kid navigate his way through dangerous territory doesn’t mean leading him by the hand.

For your son’s emotional well-being and physical safety, you first need to say something to him about your family situation. Something like:

Your dad and I both love you—we just have different opinions about how to help you. That’s one of the reasons why we need to have someone at school help us think through what you need to feel more in control of the situation. But I also want you to know two things: You are always entitled to your feelings. If you’re upset about something, you have the right to be upset. What we want to do is help you decide how to pick your battles. For example, kids putting you down about your body or saying you don’t belong is wrong and needs to stop. But when you’re playing a game with your classmates and you get upset about a rule being broken we need to find different strategies so that you can talk to the other kids in a more effective way, one that doesn’t come across as rigid. That’s what your father and I want.

It’s a hard balance for you—for any parent in your situation. You have to simultaneously give Nick confidence that he can face kids’ cruelty and/or allow him to feel the consequences of his inflexibility (kids reacting negatively to him) so he has the internal motivation and confidence to make things better for himself. And you have to do this all while feeling incredibly anxious and powerless to make it better for him.

Until this becomes a reality, here’s how you can help your child deal with conflicts at school.

Unless you have experiences with the school that demonstrate incompetence or unprofessionalism, have faith in the counselor and the administrator, but don’t hesitate to demand what you need. Ask the counselor (or whomever you’re talking to) to help you come up with three responses you can say when Nick complains about the mean things his peers are saying (like the weight comments). What I say to kids in Nick’s situation (being bullied, but they don’t want to report it) is this:

I’m really sorry this is happening and I wish I could make the problem disappear, but you know I can’t. What I can do is listen to you and help you come up with the smartest strategy for dealing with those kids. We won’t be able to make 100% of the problem go away, but if we can make the problem go down even by 20%, hopefully you’ll feel better and more confident about how you’re handling it. Once that happens, those kids have less power over you.

It’s also time for you to back off from being so visibly involved because your efforts to comfort him can easily come across as coddling. Not only is that embarrassing to your son but it also sends the message that you don’t feel confident that he can handle his problems.

You mentioned wanting him to learn martial arts. So let him research what style he likes. Let him check out a class and decide if he likes the teacher. He needs to start building good relationships with adults anyway. Encourage him to join a class that he likes and let him learn from that teacher. One thing to note: Unless you have martial arts experience, I would avoid teaching him self-defense. Even if you do, I’d still think twice. My husband and I have black belts in multiple styles of martial arts, but when our oldest son was bullied (he was around the same age as Nick, as well as the tallest kid in his class) we didn’t teach him ourselves. Well, we tried a few times, but it always ended in tears and frustration. We trusted in his karate teachers and school counselor, and I credit both for why he is in a better place today.

I am not telling you to stop comforting him. He needs to know he can always go to you. But I am saying, often the most comforting thing a mother can do is to show your confidence that your son has the strength to face these problems with conviction and with the support of capable adults around him.

Have you had child-rearing disagreements with your husband? Post a comment and tell me about it 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.

#RealDadMoments: This Father’s Day Ad Is a Real Tearjerker

Written on June 11, 2014 at 4:12 pm , by

Warning: Have a tissue handy when you watch this video.

Much to the chagrin of mothers around the world, “Da-da” (or some variation of it) is the first word many of us utter. And yet the role of dads can be somewhat overlooked in the larger world of parenting. But that doesn’t stop us from calling out to dad when we need help as seen in this Dove ad (the male equivalent of the company’s viral “Real Beauty” campaign).  The heartwarming video captures #Realdadmoments that fathers play in their kids’ everyday lives.

Wishing the father (and father figures) in your life a happy Father’s Day!

Too Sexy, Too Soon: You’re Wearing That?

Written on June 10, 2014 at 11:07 am , by

By Bruce Feiler

My girls are barely in their tweens, but the wardrobe wars have already begun. I can’t win every battle over clothes that are too skimpy, clingy or cheeky, but that’s okay. I’m learning to make peace—well, sort of—with their fashion sense.

It first happened to me last year. My twin daughters, who had just turned 8, came bounding into the room to show off the new outfits they would be wearing to an extended-family gathering. My eyes bulged. The dresses drooped provocatively off the shoulder and offered other peekaboos of their bodies. Sure, I figured I would one day face clothing battles with my children. Politicians aren’t the only ones who draw red lines. But so soon?

As a father, I find these conversations particularly challenging. On the one hand, I’ve internalized all the messages that I should not criticize my daughters’ bodies, compliment them merely for their looks, or in any way stifle their emerging sexuality. On the other hand, I don’t want them to leave the house dressed as pole dancers.

For years, I had what I thought was a sly way of handling this issue. Whenever my daughters modeled a new piece of clothing, I would say: “I don’t care what you wear. I care who you are.” Recently they’ve begun throwing my line back at me: “But I thought you didn’t care what we wear!”

Time to get some new lines.

The issue of appropriate clothing for girls has been the subject of increasing academic and popular scrutiny, fed by the likes of skimpy panties printed with “Dive In.” Abercrombie & Fitch (whose CEO got in hot water recently for saying he wanted to sell clothing only to cool, attractive kids) was forced to back down after marketing “padded” and “push-up” bras to little girls. Walmart bowed to parental pressure and yanked girls’ underwear that was printed with the words “Who needs credit cards…” on the front and “When you’ve got Santa” on the back.

While it’s easy to put the blame on stores, the real issue lies at home. I feel as if I’m constantly struggling with where and when to draw the boundary line. Is this worth picking a fight over? How about that? According to Sarah Murnen, PhD, a professor of psychology at Kenyon College, parents today face greater challenges than in the past because girls’ clothing has become more revealing. Her survey of popular shopping sites shows that a third of items were “sexualized,” including more than half of dresses and two-thirds of swimsuits. This trend is particularly alarming because her research indicates that when adults see girls dressed in sexualized clothing, they take them less seriously. “Teachers might be looking at these girls and assuming they aren’t intelligent,” she says. Still, it’s impossible for kids to withstand sophisticated efforts by corporations that prey on their desire to be popular, says Joyce McFadden, a psychoanalyst and the author of Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women. Parents can sometimes compound the problem. “We’re so afraid to talk honestly with our daughters about their sexuality that we end up leaving them out in the cold,” she says.

My wife, who selects the bulk of our daughters’ clothes in consultation with them, admits that she’s less concerned with what a particular dress or T-shirt says about the girls than with what the girls say for themselves. “My goal is to make them feel good when they go to school, so they can focus on what they have to say in class,” she explains. To do that, she prefers to let them pick out clothes they like, even if they’re a bit tight-fitting or short. About those outfits that set off alarm bells (not only with me, by the way, but with my mother- and sister-in-law too), she says, “My line might be drawn slightly differently from yours. I found those dresses to be a little mall rat, perhaps, but not risqué.”

But we agreed that we need to be more prepared for these battles in the future. So I came up with a few typical tween-teen retorts and then asked for expert advice on how to reply.

“Everybody does it.”

“Ooh, that’s a rough one,” McFadden says, “because it’s the precursor to ‘Well, Johnny is freebasing’ or ‘So-and-so gets to stay out until 4 in the morning.’ ” A little pushback—as in, “Well, in our family we do things differently”—is called for here. The critical step is for parents to make sure they are on the same page before approaching their children. Even so, “you’re going to have to compromise on some pieces of clothing,” says McFadden. “I had to give in on push-up bras with my tween. But don’t let these items take over her wardrobe.”

“It’s the only thing they sell.”

According to Sharon Lamb, EdD, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston and co-author of Packaging Girlhood, children who make that observation actually have a point. “Still, it’s important to state your values,” she advises. “Say something like, ‘I don’t want to see you and your friends buying into these marketers’ schemes to sell teenage stuff to younger and younger kids. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The marketers are the body snatchers, and I’m going to fight them!’ ”

“You’re such a square.”

Maybe, but parents need to embrace their old-fashioned standards, Murnen insists. “I told my daughter that I hope she develops a wonderful body image and a healthy sexuality but I don’t think that’s what sexy clothes are doing,” she says. Murnen went a step further and adjusted her own fashion choices. “I’m not a conservative person and I like attractive clothing,” she says. “But I’m careful not to wear styles with sexualizing characteristics because I do feel like I need to be a role model.”

“Mom wears these things, why not me?”

The smart answer is to point out to girls that as they get older, they will have more freedom to make their own decisions. But you’ve got to put your foot down for now. “This generation of parents are such sissies when it comes to setting boundaries,” says McFadden. “They concede to their children’s whims to make them happy, but those children have no internal compass. Limits are what make healthy, happy adults possible.”

“Fine, but I’m just going to change as soon as I get to school.”

When your daughters threaten to peel off layers once they leave the house, it’s time to redirect the conversation. “I would say, ‘I’m not interested in controlling what you wear, but I am interested in getting you thinking about what it means to be an attractive person,’ ” Lamb suggests. In fact, she often tells her college students that the species would die out if boys only wanted to have sex with girls who looked like Victoria’s Secret models. “We’re built to be attracted to people with different looks, personalities, talents, senses of humor and lots of wonderful things, she says.

So back to that family gathering and those barely-there dresses. Our girls were clearly flashing their approaching tweendom, and my wife quickly heeded the message. Shawls were procured, and their outfits instantly became more age- appropriate. A few weeks later, the three of them did a little hunting and located some websites that sold attractive clothing with more modest yet trendy-enough slogans: “I Love Music” and “Bee-You-Tiful” with a bumblebee.

Still, as we’ve been warned, the big battles are yet to come. McFadden encouraged me to stay strong. “Remember, you’re raising two young girls who are going to live a whole life,” she says. “Just because one episode doesn’t go well doesn’t mean an accumulation of similar messages won’t somehow trickle down. Be brave. Let them have the freedom they deserve, but still set guidelines that represent your values.”

When I first became a dad, I figured I would decide on a few core principles, state them firmly, and my children would know how to apply them. Now I realize I was wrong. I have to constantly find new, subtler ways to remind them what’s really important. Sexuality may be the most vivid example of this change. When I was growing up, parents thought the topic could be dispensed with by a single awkward sit-down about the birds and the bees. But these days, sexuality is everywhere. As a result, it’s no longer “The Talk” for parents; it’s a series of talks. It’s a conversation. And it can’t begin when the kids turn 12. By then, it’s too late. Our kids are already tuning us out.

In that way, I’m happy I had this first showdown with my daughters while they were still young enough to listen to me. If nothing else, we got
to practice what’s already becoming our little opera of daily life. They say, “I’m becoming a woman, Dad, hear me roar!” I say, “I’m a square, girls, but I can roar too!” And every now and then, I can even get them to smile, as long as I don’t rub it in that I can still make them laugh.

 

Bruce Feiler is a columnist for The New York Times and the author of the best-selling book The Secrets of Happy Families (William Morrow).