Parenting Teens & Tweens

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). 

 

Why Age Is Really Just a Number…at 21

Written on June 5, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

In a few weeks, the youngest of my four daughters will reach a milestone. She will officially be an adult, as there will be 21 candles on a very delicious cake. Yes, her ticket will be officially punched into adulthood.

Adulthood. It’s hard to believe that a birthday can mark critical issues like responsibility, employment security (if you have a job), housing status (What? You still live at home?) and the pressure to finally be in a serious relationship. In other words, there is a general emphasis on just pulling one’s life together.

Heavy stuff…but as a practicing adult I know that there is plenty of time to grow up. Growing up is a process that is not just marked by a numerical value. Growing up is a mindset.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the parameters of growing up were carded for, much like liquor sales? How cool would it be if delis and minimarts had a calendar marking the current date and the statement: “If you are still immature and born before this date ____, practice self-reflection or ask a real adult to share their experiences and most significant life lessons with you.”

What if the ritual of turning 21 was not focused on being able to drink legally but tapped into a person’s ability to help others, practice respect and goodwill, and simply focus on making the world a better place to live and coexist?

What if instead of honing in on a chronological age to symbolize the pinnacle of physical maturity and emotional growth, we understood that things like wisdom, self-understanding and self-acceptance are not easily quantifiable but can be gained throughout our life span with a willingness to do so?

In many ways, the over-celebration of adulthood or being “legal” minimizes the true benefit of simply growing older and growing up. The real benefit of growing up is being able to appreciate your own successes and failures, to find the silver lining in disappointment and to have gratitude for joyful experiences. Completeness does not arise from turning a certain age on a certain day. Happiness and self-satisfaction can be present throughout our life span.

If we provide our young adults with an accurate representation of growing old and the recognition that aging is not a disease state but a normal process that holds both real beauty and potential at every age, as well as a blueprint for finding them, then perhaps every 21-year-old will have much more to truly celebrate.

What emotional accomplishments do you hope your child will have achieved by the age of 21? Post a comment and share.

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.

 

When Your Kid Isn’t Ready for College

Written on June 2, 2014 at 1:12 pm , by

Pressure to get into the right college peaks in junior year. SATs are taken and retaken, colleges are visited, applications are filed and the waiting begins.

Except when your kid, like mine, isn’t ready for college.

We knew before she did that she wasn’t ready. When people hear your kid isn’t going to college right away, they want to believe her grades are bad or that she’s a troublemaker. They don’t want to know she made honor roll every single marking period, that she was captain of the volleyball team and has several AP classes on her transcript. There’s a stigma to not going to college immediately upon graduation, and if your well-qualified student isn’t going, it’s possible that theirs might not either.

The fact is that many high school seniors are entering college blindly. It’s expected of them, and their parents are paying for it. The students take out loans to make up the difference in what their parents can’t pay. Many of them have no idea what they want to major in, or else they want to major in something that will not get them a job that will enable them to pay back that student loan.

I took an informal survey of the newer people showing up in my work circles and found that it was not unusual to have $100,000 in student loan debt. I don’t work in a cutting-edge hospital where you might expect high med-school loans; I work in a theater.

My husband and I are in the midst of paying off a debt that size that has nothing to do with student loans and everything to do with getting custody of these (his) kids. I know exactly how hard it is for us to work through this mess with two incomes. People right out of school are still getting their foot in the door in our business; I have no idea how they’re making loan payments.

With our current debt, we can’t take on loans, nor do we have much of anything to contribute. Our kids know that before any college decisions are made, they need to have a plan.

If you could reduce our parenting to one motto, it would be: Take responsibility for your life. We are willing to suggest, help, guide, even cajole, but it must be the child’s plan because it’s his or her life.

In effect, each of them must answer the question, What do you want to do with your life? The plan can always change, but what is it for now?

It takes a certain level of maturity to answer that question, which is where everything broke down with kid number 2. It wasn’t just about the finances, it was emotional. She’d gone through a lot before she came to live with us; it takes time to process that. We suggested she apply to college but defer for a year. Take any job and explore some options for what she might like to do. She could take flying lessons, EMT training in the Rockies—cool experiences that could translate into marketable skills. Everything we suggested she immediately shot down. She remained frozen in a state of panic.

Finally she took to heart the idea of deferring. The emotional weight visibly lifted from her. But then she went too far the other way. By November of senior year, she still hadn’t applied anywhere. We reminded her that she wasn’t going to sit in the basement and play video games after graduation.

Midway through December we had to threaten to take away Christmas to get her to finish the Common App. At a time when most kids in her school had their acceptances, she was just beginning the process.

But as she got more wins, she gained confidence. She was accepted everywhere she applied. She received some academic awards, a couple of scholarships and consistently the highest grade in her physics class.

We continued to talk about her plan. She continued to clam up. My husband and I worried about how we could possibly get her moving. One morning in the car, I chanced bringing it up. The car is usually a good place for uncomfortable conversations (just make sure your teen isn’t the one driving). She didn’t realize she had a plan until she spoke it out loud. She had picked a school, worked out living arrangements and decided that she would work and save every dime possible until a year from September. We had no idea.

“That’s a good plan,” I said.

“It is?”

“Well, yeah, don’t you think so?”

“I didn’t think it was a plan, really. Because I don’t know where I’ll work and I’m not positive what I want to study yet.”

“You don’t have to have it all figured out to start moving in that direction. Once you take a step, the next steps get clearer to you. That’s how it works.”

I snuck a glance at her and was treated to the rare sight of a smile.

“So now you just need to defer officially,” I said.

“Oh, I did that last week.”

We had been expecting to have to force that action by threatening to take away graduation. As she shared her plan with others, she found only support. Many adults chimed in about how much more valuable she will be to employers after taking this year to work and gain life experience.

I would love it if all my kids ended up graduating from college with zero debt and marketable skills that are so in demand they’re writing their own ticket in a career they are passionate about. Wouldn’t we all?

But what is absolutely essential for them to understand is that they must go into this whole college thing with their eyes open. No parent wants their kids graduating from college with $100,000 in debt, a worthless degree and no earthly idea what they want to do with their lives. Sadly, blindly going for the college experience without putting mindful thought into it will lead to exactly that.

Most likely my kids will end up somewhere between those two extremes. Wherever they go, they’re going to own the decisions that led them there. That already puts them ahead on the path of taking responsibility for their own lives.

 

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

6 Ways Parents Can Discuss Sex Before Prom Night and Graduation

Written on May 28, 2014 at 3:31 pm , by

By Leslie Kantor, vice president of education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Prom and graduation season is an excellent time to have conversations with our teens about sex—what they anticipate happening, what their date or friends might envision, and how to handle the potent mix of alcohol, drugs and sexual pressure that is likely in the mix.

Studies show that teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to make healthy choices like waiting until they are older to have sex, and using birth control and condoms when they do decide to. You can empower your teens to make smart, safe choices by discussing the importance of having good communication with partners and using condoms and contraception. Proms and graduations should be very positive events in a teenager’s life, and with your help, they’ll be prepared and able to focus on enjoying themselves.

Keep the lines of communication open.
Talking with your teenager about sex may be awkward and uncomfortable at first, and owning up to that can help relieve tension. You can try saying something like, “It’s totally normal that this feels awkward, but I love you and care about you so we need to talk about important things like this.” In time and with practice, it will get easier. The key is to keep the conversation open and ongoing.

Discuss expectations.
If you’re allowing your teen to spend the night outside the home or stay out later than usual, talk about what you expect of them and help them think about how to handle peer pressure or difficult situations.

Practice things to say and ways to handle different situations.
As parents, we can help our teens by warning them about the lines they might hear and situations they may find themselves in. We can help them practice assertive responses that feel right to them, from saying no to sex to setting boundaries about what they want and don’t want to do. For teens that are going to engage in sex, making sure they are prepared with condoms is essential, as is what constitutes consensual sex so that teens are clear that when someone is drunk, they can’t actually consent to sex.

Talk with them about preventing pregnancy and STDs.
The reality is that 63% of high school seniors have had sex. Even if you want your teen to wait until they are out of high school or much older to have sex, it’s still important that they know how to protect themselves from STDs and getting pregnant before they head off to college, or start jobs that will inevitably force them to face sexual decisions and pressures.

Make sure they’re prepared.
You might want to make sure they have condoms with them on prom night and consider having your teen get a method of birth control as well. Chances are that that first year away at college or working, opportunities for sex will arise, so it’s better that he or she is prepared.

Get more information.
If the thought of helping your teen navigate these decisions feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Many college health centers provide condoms and birth control, and you and your teen can always visit a Planned Parenthood health center for information and care. They can also check out Planned Parenthood’s mybirthcontrolapp.org, which is designed to help older teens find methods that will work well for them, which they can then discuss with a health care provider.

For more information and resources on talking to teens about sex and sexuality, check out plannedparenthood.org/parents. Read more of Leslie’s work, here

Follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieKantor.

 

 

Parent Shaming: Should We Criticize Will and Jada Smith for Their Parenting Skills?

Written on May 23, 2014 at 1:16 pm , by

 

Here we go with the latest episode of Celebrity Family Antics…

Over the past few years, the unconventional parenting choices of Hollywood power couple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith have been under a microscope: their decision to let their children Jaden and Willow “self-govern,” allowing a then 12-year-old Willow to shave her head, permitting Jaden to unleash his views about the “evils” of education on Twitter, and their general belief in a no-punishment-zone for their teens.

However, when their latest drama, an Instagram photograph featuring 13-year-old Willow languishing on a bed with shirtless 20-year-old actor and family friend Moises Arias blew up on social media, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services took notice. They have launched an investigation on the Smith family.

Have you seen the photograph? I like to think of myself as a very open-minded person, and an open-minded parent. I lean toward a live-and-let-live philosophy, and it takes quite a bit to ruffle my feathers about other people’s choice. But I have to admit, that image did indeed ruffle them; it just didn’t look right, no matter which way I flipped it. I am not a prude, nor do I think I have a particularly dirty mind, but I tried to envision a scenario in which I would feel comfortable seeing my 14-year-old on a bed, draped at the feet of a half-naked young man, even a good friend of the family’s, and I really couldn’t.

Apparently, the couple has no issue with the photo; Pinkett-Smith has lashed out, saying that the image is not sexual in nature, and she has accused the media of acting like a bunch of pedophiles. I can’t image the authorities removing those kids from the house, but a thorough investigation is happening. I’m not sure if the situation merits such close attention. Although I am not  fully comfortable with what I saw, there is chance that a photo is a photo. Willow just hanging out with a family friend. I queried my kids for a reality check. My 21-year-old son, who tends to be the more conservative of the two, did not like what he saw, and even my 14-year-old, who didn’t immediately think it was wrong, understood how it would upset people.

I think all the uproar has, in part, to do with the fact that for so long the Smiths were seen as a golden couple who could do no wrong. Glimpses of their kids acting out a bit in the past few years have made them more human, and put a little chink in their dazzling armor. Who wants that kind of scrutiny?

Parenting is the great equalizer: You will be judged whether you live in a trailer or a mansion. I would never pretend to tell others how to raise their children, because I certainly don’t want to be told how to raise mine. As parents we all make choices that are seen, at one time or another, as unsatisfactory to other parents. For the record, I am not “parent-shaming” the Smiths, but I am scratching my head and having a bit of a what-the-heck moment with this latest conflama.

What are your feelings about it? Do you even care? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

One of these days, Alice—pow! Straight to the moon!

Written on May 22, 2014 at 4:17 pm , by

“One of these days, Alice—pow! Straight to the moon!”

I know, I know, the Jackie Gleason line dates me, but it kept running through my head last weekend when my 13-year-old and I were lucky enough to be invited on a two-day tour of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In a word, spectacular. We saw the launchpads and the ginormous vehicle assembly building. We witnessed an actual launch (unmanned), met and dined with astronauts (really nice guys), and peppered them with questions. (Nat’s comment afterward: “I will never forget this!”) We clambered through a model of the International Space Station, saw the Atlantis shuttle with its charred, atmosphere-reentry scars, and experienced the face-stretching g-force of the orbiter rocketing into space. We saw an amazing iMax movie about the last-ditch attempt to repair the Hubble telescope, with actual footage of space walks, and the impossibly awesome photos it captured of distant galaxies, mist-shrouded nebulae and dying stars. At times it was so moving I cried.

Plus we took an airboat ride along the St. John River with an outfit called Midway and saw gators up close! 

If you can get down to Orlando, don’t just head for Disney World and Universal Studios (though Nat was disappointed we didn’t have time to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter). Take a detour to Florida’s Space Coast and give your teen the best STEM lesson ever. My girl now wants to be an astronaut. One of these days, Nat…

Hey, Kids, Guess What: Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Written on May 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

In a town where the majority of third-graders have their own iPhone (not an exaggeration), my husband and I have had a challenging time teaching our kids the connection between work and money. As in: You get paid when you work, period.

In our house, there are chores everyone is expected to do because they’re part of the family, and then there are extra-money chores. The kids have all come to degrees of understanding about this. Of course, in a family of four girls and one boy, everyone has to find their own way to stand out…which brings us to number 4.

At 14, she is the youngest girl. This is the kid who will let her ice cream melt on the table because she’s on the couch and doesn’t want to exert the effort to get up and get it.

After we’d had the “We’re not buying you iPhones or paying for a data plan” conversation about nine times, the kids figured out that nearly everything they wanted to do could be done on an iPod touch and started saving their money. One by one, they hit their goal and bought iPods.

Number 4 didn’t work and save so much as she managed to hold on to her Christmas and birthday money (they’re three months apart). This was quite a feat for her, but she felt no emotional connection to that money. She just waited, and it turned into an iPod.

A month after she got it, she cracked the screen. It still worked, sort of. She discovered she could exchange it with $100 for a refurbished one. With ample opportunity to earn extra money, it still took her over six months to save up. Somehow she made no connection between working and earning.

When I took her to the store she learned about tax, which I covered (I’m not that wicked). And all went well…until she broke it again a few months later.

With the charger cable stretched within an inch of its life across the main entrance to the living room, the iPod balanced precariously on the arm of the loveseat. It fell when her 11-year-old brother predictably ran into the room and tripped over the cable. The iPod’s power input broke off and it could no longer be charged.

I came up with an aggressive four-week earning plan for her, hoping that this time it would take and she would finally know the rewards of a job well done.

We made a list of weekly chores with dollar amounts. There would be a bonus each week if she did all of them, and an extra bonus if she did all four weeks in a row. I added on a special, one-time-only chore of picking up some trash on the property adjacent to ours to cover the sales tax.

After the iPod, this would be her regular thing. She’d have her own money for her Starbucks habit and whatever else she wanted. She seemed all for it.

But she forgot about it for a few days, and then it snowed and the trash was buried. Her friends harassed her to do the chores because they were tired of not being able to group chat. Six weeks later, she finally began.

The week after she got her iPod replaced, when I reminded her she still could earn money if she did her chores she said, “Nah, I don’t want to work.”

Interesting thing about these chores: When they aren’t done for money on the weekend, they become mandatory chores done for free during the week.

Once the snow melted, her little brother asked if he could pick up the trash for extra money. He filled five trash bags in half an hour and earned $15. He invested half in supplies for a lemonade stand for when it gets warmer, bought some candy and held on to the rest.

Last week, number 4 walked into my room holding her iPod with a brand-new set of cracks running up the screen.

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

Six Demands Parents Should Make of Their Kids

Written on May 15, 2014 at 9:30 am , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the first time I’d spoken at a high school graduation and I was nervous. The senior class—a group of young women I’d worked with off and on over the last two years—had invited me. In the weeks before, I had rewritten the speech countless times. I wanted it to be inspirational but not superficial.

Graduation day was beautiful, but even more wonderful was watching these incredible young women walk past their beaming families as they joined me on the stage. I stood up and walked to the podium. I looked out again at the parents and then turned to the students. Overcome by the moment, I put my speech notes down and spoke from my heart—as a teacher and a parent. This is what I said:

I demand great things of you. Not that you go to the “best” schools, make a lot of money or grow up to have perfect-looking lives. I demand that you have the courage to ask yourself and others hard questions that make you uncomfortable. I demand that you do so with an unshakable commitment to civil dialogue in every aspect of your life.

I demand that whenever possible, you collaborate with smart, passionate, capable people who don’t take themselves too seriously and have a good sense of humor. Keep people close who will tell you when you messed up but say it with love and care. As a special bonus, if you have complementary skills you can work together to accomplish great things.

I demand that in your jobs, families and community you look for ways to address social, political and economic injustice.

I demand that you always remember that your dignity and the dignity of others is not negotiable—ever.

I demand that you remember that your dignity and the dignity of others matters the most when it’s hard. Like when you see someone being taken advantage of, when you are so angry with someone and all you want to do is get revenge, or when you face someone who believes that their truth trumps all others.

I demand that when you are in a group of people, you be aware of whose voices in the room are being dismissed. When you notice this silence, support that person’s right to speak and be heard.

When it gets hard, and it probably will, the people who love you and care for you will be on your side. That is our obligation to you.

I could barely get through the speech because it was in that moment that I truly remembered why I love and value working with young people so much.

As my sons get older and I’m yelling at them about picking up their dirty socks off the living room floor and could they please take their headphones off before I throw them in the trash, I easily forget what I remembered so clearly on that podium with those girls. And then, I take a breath and it all comes back.

What’s the number one demand that you make of your child? Post a comment and tell us 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.

Louis C.K. Hates the Common Core and Standardized Testing, and So Do I

Written on May 13, 2014 at 5:29 pm , by

I’m a Louis C.K. fan—and now an even bigger one after his Twitter rant blasting the confounding math homework his third-grader was bringing home, and bashing Common Core and standardized testing to boot. “The teachers are great. But it’s changed in recent years, ” he tweeted. “It’s all about these tests. It feels like a dark time.”

It is. My daughter’s in seventh grade, which, as any New York City parent can tell you, is a fraught year. She just finished the state math and language arts tests that will determine what high school she gets into come 2015. But wait, there’s more. There are eight so-called specialized high schools requiring their own admission test (SHSAT) in October (they ignore the state exams). My buddy Lisa, whose son went through the ordeal last year, just informed me that if Nat is gonna take the SHSAT, she’s gotta do test prep, mainly because everybody else is and she’ll get blown out of the water otherwise. So she just started weekly two-hour sessions with five other 13-year-olds, half this spring, the rest in the fall.

Ouch. And I’m not just talking about my pocketbook. We all want the best for our kids, and I don’t want her excluded from a great school when she’s plenty smart just because she didn’t keep up with the test-prep Joneses. But I’m a huge believer in public schools and equal opportunity, and I feel like a hypocrite for shelling out beaucoup bucks to boost her scores. It sucks. Or, as Louis put it, schooling and testing have become a “massive stressball.” You agree?