Written on October 9, 2013 at 2:20 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Over the years, I’ve thought a lot about young people’s reluctance to reach out to their parents when they need them. Ever heard a kid say the following? “I don’t want to tell my mom (or dad) when something’s wrong because they’ll flip out.” Kids and teens say this to me so often and it always worries me. But after an unfortunate experience I had a few days ago, I’ve been thinking about it a lot more.
Elijah, my older son, started playing middle-school football this fall. My husband was adamantly against it at first, so Elijah campaigned for months. After a lot of family discussion, we allowed him to play and one of the main reasons was we had heard incredibly positive things about the coach. He has that combination of toughness and supportiveness that middle-school boys crave.
Last weekend they played against an unbeaten team and finished the game tied—after three overtimes. The boys were devastated, but after the game, as the parents all stayed behind and listened to the coach rally the boys, I was so grateful that my son was having that experience. He was being told he’d worked hard and should be proud of what his team had accomplished, and to focus on what they all needed to do better next time.
That makes what happened next even stranger. As I walked down the field to put my folding chairs in their bags, one of the boy’s mothers verbally attacked the coach right in front of her son, my son and another player. By the time I got back to where my son was standing, the mother had walked away but her child was standing next to his father in tears.
I don’t want to focus on the details of what the mom said and whether it was right or wrong. What I do want to focus on is the serious impact of “flipping out” in front of our kids—especially when we parents think we’re acting on behalf of our child. I’d bet any amount of money that the mother who yelled felt she was being the “momma bear.” She believed she was protecting her child and only doing what was right. But beyond the negative impact of her behavior on the coach (this a common reason great coaches give up teaching our kids), she is guaranteeing that her child will never go to her when he needs someone’s help.
It’s ironic. When we think we’re most strongly advocating for our children, we assume that they’ll see our behavior as being on their side. Using that logic, it’s natural that a parent would miss the obvious: Overreaction in any area of parenting (a problem with school, on a team, with friends) only convinces the child that their parent can’t be trusted to think through a problem calmly and strategically. What’s more, the child has good reason to believe that if the parent finds out about a problem, their involvement will only make the situation worse.
Probably every parent has had a moment when they’ve blown things out of proportion. I know I have. So what can we do? When we’ve gone over the top, we need to acknowledge it, first to ourselves, then to our children. We need to work on managing ourselves so that when we get worked up—no matter how justified we believe we are—we think through how we are going to communicate our feelings in a manner that gives the other person the best chance of hearing what we’re saying.
The mom at the game may have had a legitimate complaint, but because she conducted herself so poorly, the content of her words was lost. Her method of delivery was so inappropriate. If we think we’re losing control, let’s say it. As in, “Look, I’m clearly really upset right now, so I need a few minutes to get myself together.”
When we do things like that, take a “time-out” for ourselves, admit we made a mistake and tell our children that we’re sorry for overreacting, we’re going to do better and our kids will come to us. Why does this matter? Because we’re role modeling exactly what our kids need and want to see. When you make a mistake, you can talk about it. When you come forward and share a problem with someone you love, you’re a better person for it and your relationship is strengthened as well.
Have you ever “lost it” in front of your kid? Post a comment and tell me what happened.
Written on August 22, 2013 at 8:44 am , by Janet Taylor
When was the last time you told your teen to just go to sleep? Better yet, what is the bedtime mandate you’ve given to your teenager? I can hear the chuckles already. I know. Communicating with your moody kid is difficult enough behind closed doors, under headphones and while competing with the glare of a screen. But rest is crucial for the teenage brain, and parents need to talk about sleep and enforce bedtime rules.
When I was a teen, going to sleep really wasn’t a problem. My bedroom was just where I slept, did homework and only sometimes talked on the telephone. Most of my life we had two main phones, one in the kitchen and the other in my parents’ bedroom. Telephone conversations were usually whispered by me or spoken in code. The point being that they were usually public and hence short. Now kids huddle under the covers texting, typing and corresponding all night. As parents, we have very little control over the digital communication that is keeping our teens awake—or do we?
As we ease into back-to-school mode, monitoring and enforcing lights-out takes on an incredible amount of importance. Sleep shortages or insufficient sleep in teens (which is less than 8 to 9 hours per night) account for mood changes like depression, increased fatigue, cognitive deficits, inattention, poor grades, substance use and car crashes.
As parents, we have the opportunity to discuss and plan a bedtime with our teens, take away their cell phones and educate them about the importance of getting enough rest. A sleep-deprived teen can be an unhappy and potentially unhealthy child. Will you take the time to decide right now that you’ll start the school year off right? Post a comment and let me know you’re committed. Need ideas for getting your teen to hit the sack? Try these smart solutions.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on August 15, 2013 at 8:00 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
Last week I posted a mother’s question about her daughter’s struggles to maintain friendships with other girls. Today I’m responding to some of the reader comments made in reaction to my advice.
While I certainly don’t have the one and only answer to this mother’s question, I want to show you what I think are the most important aspects of her story and, as a result, why I answered as I did. I also want to take this situation as an opportunity to challenge all of us about the advice we give our kids.
From my perspective, here’s what was different about her daughter’s situation—and, thus, more complicated.
- This mother described a pattern where her daughter would become friends with a group of girls and then be rejected by them.
- This rejection took place in and outside of school. (In an extended email from the mom, she mentions summer friends and swim team friends).
- She never knew why and, understandably, her daughter didn’t want to talk to her mother about it.
I suggested that this girl at some point prepare to ask one of the girls why they had rejected her. I said it wouldn’t be easy and, yes, the girls could simply be jealous. But if there was a chance that there was something this girl was doing that was off-putting to the other girls, it was important to know that.
Some readers really disagreed with me because they felt I was setting the girl up for more rejection. My response to that is: The girl is being rejected anyway. Being continually rejected but taking no steps to figure out what is going on and doing nothing to advocate for herself takes all power away from the daughter.
In fact, the goal here is to face a situation that is difficult and intimidating. If she prepares with support, she will be proud of how she handles herself—no matter how the other girl acts. True self-esteem only comes from facing challenges that are unpleasant and sometimes intimidating. If we don’t build up our children to be able to face difficult social situations, they will not be able to handle them. It’s not easy and they need support every step of the way. But they have to face these kinds of problems. If they don’t, we are setting our kids up for social incompetence.
Another reader said “any discerning mom would know” if the girl had social skills problems that were causing the rejection. The implication being that because this mom hadn’t identified her daughter as having social skills deficits, her daughter didn’t have them. I strenuously disagree with this statement. Not only because I have seen so many well-meaning parents be blind to the social skills deficits of their children but also because we, as parents, aren’t around to see how our teen children act around their peers. We may think we know, based on how our children act around us. But that is making a huge assumption that I have found time and time again is wrong. Our children often act differently around their peers than they do around us.
Another reader commented: “I used to remind my daughter that Girl World is not the Real World so that it doesn’t matter if she’s popular/accepted or not because she will never have to see any of these people again.” With all due respect, this is missing the point. Girl World—where conflicts are inevitable and some people abuse social power over others—is the Real World. Again, our children need to build social skills and you only build them by understanding and preparing for the inevitable—getting into a conflict with another person. No, you don’t have to be friends with everyone. Popularity isn’t the goal. The goal is maintaining a sense of self in the midst of a group.
Here’s a comment I really agreed with: “If she complained of feeling rejected, I would help her recall her social successes and what felt ‘right’ about them. I would encourage her to seek friendships that give her those feelings, and to provide the same in return to her friends. I might also remind her that she herself has rejected some people, by not inviting every child to her birthday parties, for example.” Here is a parent giving a daughter a concrete skill—checking in with herself about how she feels around her peers.
What’s most important to me is that as parents we really stop (me included) to hear each other and listen to our children when they are going through the inevitable but still really challenging and sometimes-painful conflicts they get into with their peers. I believe so strongly that our children are able to handle the messiness of these situations—including social rejection—if we support them behind the scenes.
What do you think about whether this daughter should confront a former friend? Post a comment and let me know.
Written on August 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Recently, a mom wrote to me with the following problem:
“I have a 14-year-old daughter who is starting high school in the fall. Since she was a toddler, she’s always been confident and outgoing with lots of friends. She is beautiful, multi-talented and very smart. In the fall of 7th grade, her elementary school friends turned on her and she has not been able to find new ones since. Every time she makes friends, they eventually blow her off—making up excuses for not getting together or ignoring her when they see her—again and again. She ends up excluded, alone and blaming herself for somehow being ‘annoying.’ She gets defensive and angry if I talk about my experiences a zillion years ago or challenge her assumption that she is a loser. How can I help her?”
While this is not an unusual problem, the answer to it is pretty complex. But first let’s address the easier issue of this mother’s well-intentioned reaction to talk to her daughter about her own experiences and assure her daughter she’s not a loser. Both, in this case, are counter-productive for the following reasons. First, talking to the daughter about her past experiences probably comes across as if she thinks they’re the same and the daughter understandably doesn’t agree.
Second, instead of assuring her that she’s not a loser, a parent in this situation is better off saying something like: “If you really are feeling this badly about yourself, then we need to think through how you can feel better. You’re old enough that I know you want to figure this on your own but I’m asking that you trust me enough that we work on this together.”
Now, on to the more complicated issues. Girls in her position often learn to either hate other girls or turn themselves inside out trying to please the girls who are rejecting them. Not good. But here’s the hard thing to think about. Since this is a pattern of behavior, the big question is does this girl (and maybe by extension the mom) really want to know what the other girls think is the reason/explanation for their behavior? Because sometimes figuring out the reason for something can be pretty painful. In case either one of them do, here’s what I think are the most likely possibilities.
The girl really is as beautiful, multi-talented and smart as the mother says she is. As much as any parent loves having a child like this, it can easily cause friction with other kids. There are girls who are alienated because they’re good at something, intelligent, pretty and have a good body. (A girl can be pretty or have a good body without girls being jealous. If she has both, chances are good that they’ll either exclude her or worship her.)
Many parents, in reaction would say, “Those girls are all jealous and you can’t let them get you down.” This response is a way too simplistic soundbite. Jealousy is a complicated emotion and it often rages in the best of kids. Also there’s a very, very good chance that even if they were jealous, these other girls would never admit it to anyone—including themselves. Instead they would come up with reasons, that they absolutely believe, that justify their anger and rejection. Usually, the “reason” is that the girl is always trying to get attention or she thinks she’s better than the other girls because she’s always doing “x.” But that explanation doesn’t give any guidance about how the girl should manage herself so she feels better about how she’s handling the situation.
As a parent of a girl who is starting high school, this is the time for the daughter to figure out what’s going on—which means talking to some of the girls who have excluded her in the past. Here’s a suggestion for what she can say.
I know we aren’t friends anymore and I’m not calling you so things can go back to the way we were before. I’m calling because I really don’t know why you stopped wanting to hang out with me. I know this may sound strange but I want to know why. Maybe there’s something I need to hear and it may be hard for me to know but it’s important.
There’s a chance that the other girl will unleash on her. Or do the opposite by saying “No!” Or even say, “You promise you won’t get mad at me?” If that’s the case, the daughter can say, “I’m asking you to be honest but I hope you realize it may be hard for me.”
The big challenge here is separating the other girls’ baggage (jealousy, and insecurity) with the possibility there is something your daughter is doing that is pushing the other girls away: like not giving them enough space or not picking up small ways people communicate when they’re asking someone to stop doing something that’s irritating.
Bottom line is she shouldn’t apologize for her accomplishments or her natural characteristics. But if there’s behavior that she needs to self-reflect on, this is where she’ll learn to get difficult feedback from other people and uncover what she may need to change about how she conducts herself.
Remember I said be careful about the questions you ask because you may not really want the answer? Sometimes, even though it’s difficult and unpleasant, this is the way a girl can develop strong friendships she can depend on.
What would you advise this mom to do? Post a comment and tell me.
Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
Written on May 23, 2013 at 5:31 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
There aren’t many times when I feel like “Never do X” is the right thing to say to your child. But last week I came across one. I posted on my Facebook page: “Never tell your son or daughter: ‘They’re bothering/teasing/hitting you because they like you.’” I don’t approve of that explanation because it makes it seem as if the adult condones this as an acceptable way to show affection and attraction. And obviously it’s not.
But after that post, I realized I was guilty of doing something I’m always reminding teens not to do: criticizing without making suggestions for how to make things better. So I’m going to use some of the online responses I got from readers to frame the way I think about this very common problem.
One reader wrote about emotional intelligence.
What do we say?! I always struggle with this! I try to say something like, “Sometimes people don’t know how to talk to people and are feeling lonely.” I need words!
This mother is trying to teach her child empathy—a worthy goal. While that’s fine as part of what a parent should say, it shouldn’t be the only thing. This doesn’t assure your child that they have the right to not like how the other kid is treating them. Also, it’s critical to stop yourself from making any assumptions about what’s going on and ask your child for details. Say something like:
“Thanks for telling me and I’m really sorry you’re dealing with this. Can you share a little more specifically what the child is doing so I can get a better idea of what’s going on?”
For younger kids you’ll probably want to add this:
“If the kid is doing something inappropriate or embarrassing and it’s hard to tell me, do the best you can. You won’t get in trouble for saying bad words right now because you’re telling me what’s happening to you.”
Another reader wrote about self-expression.
Some little girls were bothering my son (they are fifth-graders) and they don’t seem to have the maturity or social skills that make them understand it’s not okay. He did complain, though, and it stopped. I just wish an adult could help to come up with alternative ways to show someone they like them.
This is an example of how hard it can be to “teach” these skills to kids. The teacher is much more likely to see these dynamics but will understandably feel uncomfortable telling kids how to behave when they have a crush on someone. But the parent, who may feel more comfortable talking to their child, wouldn’t usually see this going on. It’d be easy to not realize they should talk to their child specifically about how you show someone you like them—unless it gets intense enough that someone complains to the school, like the boy above. These issues usually come up the most between third and fifth grade.
As a parent, have a two-minute conversation with your child that goes something like this:
“Sometimes in your grade people get crushes on other people. When a person gets a crush, they can be nervous around the person they like. But sometimes, and this can seem weird, they can show their feelings by bothering the person and even teasing or hitting them. Just because someone likes you doesn’t mean it’s okay for them to treat you like that. So if that ever happens to you or anyone else, I want you to remember that. And you can tell me and we can figure out what’s the best thing to do.”
A final reader wrote about ongoing problems.
My 12-year-old beautiful daughter has had a problem for many years of boys teasing her or “bothering” her to get her attention. So, what do you recommend we say or do instead?
As kids get into middle school, there really is a possibility of inappropriate sexual behavior and harassment, but it will be seen as liking the person. Again, it’s absolutely critical to ask your child the details so you and your child can distinguish what kind of behavior is going on and then decide what is the best way to proceed. But if I were the mother of the 12-year-old girl above, I’d say to her:
“I want to talk to you for three minutes about the way boys are treating you. How do you feel about what the boys are doing? If you don’t like it, can you tell them to stop and they do?”
If she is too embarrassed to tell you, tell her you understand why it’d be hard to tell you but you just want her to know that if she doesn’t like it she has the right to not like the attention, and she has the right to tell them to stop and have that request respected.
If she does open up to you, suggest that she say one-on-one (or by text or email, i.e., not in front of other kids) to the boy who is bothering her the most one short sentence that states exactly what she wants stopped. If she says she doesn’t want to be “mean,” this is a great opportunity to teach her that communicating her personal boundaries—in a clear and civil manner—isn’t mean.
What advice do you give your kids when they encounter situations like this? Post a comment and tell me!
Written on April 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
My husband and I have relentlessly taught our children to hold doors for people. We’ve told them they need to ask to be excused from the dinner table and they’re aware they should write “Thank You” notes for gifts. Trouble is, my boys haven’t exactly internalized those lessons. Over the years, I’ve seen that I needed reinforcements. Enter: Cotillion prep.
And yet I came to an awkward realization when a friend recently asked me why in the world I’d send my sons to cotillion. Aloud, I explained to her that the classes were simply basic manners and dance. In my head, I suddenly became aware that if I’d had a daughter instead of sons I’d never have thought to enroll her in anything close to cotillion.
If I’d had a daughter, I wouldn’t have wanted her learning the gender baggage that goes along with programs like this. As gleeful as I was to get my boys into suits and ties, I’d never have pressured a girl into a dress with white gloves. And I wasn’t alone. In my kids’ classes, many more parents of boys signed up their sons. There was even a last minute campaign to recruit girls.
Why were parents of boys so eager and parents of girls so reluctant? I think it’s because the drawbacks of sending a girl to cotillion are more obvious to all of us. Sending girls to a manners class where boys “choose” them to dance or they learn how to set a table sends the message that they’re expected to grow up to be perfect hostesses. It doesn’t matter that the boys are learning the same domestic skills alongside the girls. If we teach these things to girls, it feels like we’re betraying them.
I completely understand these concerns. But what’s amazing to me is that parents of boys (like me) so rarely think about how these gender expectations impact their sons. There are two reasons why. First, these gender rules don’t seem so bad for boys. A suit doesn’t seem as constraining as a party dress. Second, we’re desperate to civilize them. There’s an everyday reality that our boys can come across as loud, inconsiderate and sloppy. I’ll share what it’s like for me:
1. My sons move fast – and in doing so they can be blind to people around them. They literally have closed the door in the face of an elderly person. In spite of making them stand for fifteen minutes and open doors as a “teachable moment” (after doing this to that older woman), they still need more opportunities to slow down.
2. Last year, we moved to Boulder, Colorado from Washington D.C. Dressing up in Boulder means wearing darker jeans and a new flannel shirt. I’m sorry but my East Coast self just can’t handle that. Different situations demand different attire.
3. I strongly believe that personal style shows how a person wants to present himself to the world. That is entirely different than my son picking up the sweat pants he dropped on the floor last night and putting them back on because he can’t be bothered to open the clothes drawer. Honestly, I’d much rather have a kid who spiked his hair into a huge Mohawk and wore black skinny jeans than one who wears dirty sweatpants with holes in them – my boys’ go-to outfit.
4. Everyone needs practice dealing with horribly awkward social situations. And what’s more excruciatingly awkward than a school dance? By the time my boys walk into their first “Under the Sea”-themed 8th grade dance, they’ll feel a little more experienced and at ease with the whole thing.
But the question of gender baggage is important. I don’t want my children thinking that they should be polite to girls because they’re delicate or that boys fit into a “boy box” and girls fit into a “girl box.” Or that anyone who doesn’t fit or doesn’t want to fit into those boxes is somehow less worthy. So, while my husband and I talk to them about that in countless ways, this process has made me link these conversations and values to these classes. And yes, they’re rolling their eyes, and sighing as they say, “I know mom” but that’s totally fine.
The bottom line is I want them learning basic manners, giving up their seats and opening doors for anyone because they need to look out for and be considerate of other people. But there’s another thing. Last month, at my aunt’s birthday party, my older son asked my mom to dance. As I watched them, you can imagine how I felt. I may have to sign them up again next year.
Written on April 23, 2013 at 8:30 am , by Lynya Floyd
Last week, Family Circle interviewed actress Holly Robinson Peete about issues that were on our mind. This week, we interviewed her to get answers to what’s on your mind. That’s right, all these insightful questions came to us via our Twitter and Facebook accounts. Read about how a gluten-free diet affected RJ (Holly’s 15-year-old son with autism), ways to get employers to hire adults with autism and more.
Q. There has been such a surge in the number of autism diagnoses lately and many of us are looking for answers. @REALMOMMA2155 is curious if you think genetically modified organisms (GMOs) contribute to the diagnosis.
A. I’m not a doctor or scientist. I’m just a mom. But I do think there’s a genetic predisposition and there are environmental triggers. I feel like that combination, in my child’s case, is what resulted in autism. I also feel strongly that we’re not looking at environmental triggers. We’re not looking at each kid as a separate, genetic being. We line them up and say: ‘All kids should do this, eat that, get this.’ It’s important that we look harder.
Q. Speaking of what kids eat, Janeen Marie wanted to know if you tried putting RJ on a gluten free diet.
A. Yes. One of the best tips I got from another mom was to hurry and get him tested for allergies and food sensitivities. He tested off the charts for gluten and wheat. It was more difficult for him to connect when he was eating pizza and birthday cake. He functioned much higher when he was not on any gluten products. But that’s just my kid. Every parent should know what their kid is sensitive to food-wise.
Q. What about sleep? Kim Luallen was curious if your son is a non-sleeper and if you had any suggestions.
My son does have trouble falling asleep and like any teenager he needs his sleep. We use melatonin. I never recommend anything, but that’s worked for us. We use it in very low doses and we find it gives him that little window to fall asleep. I know they’re still doing studies, but for our kid it has been a miracle.
Q. Donna Willis Coghlan wrote in asking about education: “How can we get schools to focus on the strengths of these kids? Many have unique skills that could be enhanced to give them an occupation someday, but instead they’re continually forced to be like ‘typical’ kids,” she says.
A. It’s very difficult when schools fall into the cookie cutter mode. There are so many gifts that kids with autism have that need to be nurtured. Most times, that’s something you have to do on your own or enlist after school help for. Also, get connected with other parents who are experiencing what you’re going through. I know it’s easier said than done, but I know families that have moved to other neighborhoods or cities that are a little more autism- and special needs-friendly than where they were. It’s all about being an advocate, staying online and looking in your community for help.
Q. Kathleen Stuart wanted to know about outlooks for adult life: “If your child is fairly high functioning – but needs assistance – there isn’t much out there in the way of adult programs or job assistance,” she says.
Yes, there isn’t much out there. The unemployment rate for adults on the autism spectrum is hovering around 90%. It’s high and that’s another message we have to get out. These people can not only be great employees but they can be your best employees. They’re loyal, have a sense of purpose, want to be somewhere every day, love routine.
I always find out very specifically about corporations who hire special needs adults. At my agency there are several. I always say I’ll be a great patron if you hire these adults because they need this and you need them. We’re getting a database for the HollyRod Foundation site of companies that work hard to employ adults with autism. We also have a tremendous amount of excitement about the fact that we’re going to be opening a compassionate care center in another year and will have a restaurant run by adults with autism there.
Q. On top of your foundation work, you’ve also co-authored the children’s book My Brother Charlie with RJ’s twin sister, Ryan. @Patti_pmbelo tweeted us wanting to know if you plan on writing another children’s book on autism.
A. Yes. Ryan and I are writing a follow-up to My Brother Charlie about autism and adolescence. We’re writing about the struggles people don’t talk enough about, the difficulties children have when they cross over into adolescence, the surge of hormones, puberty. It’s a different set of challenges when they’re on the autism spectrum. In some ways it’s like getting the diagnosis again. You have to come up with a new game plan. We’re hoping for a April 2014 publishing date.
Written on April 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm , by Jonna Gallo
I’m just going to put it out there: I hate standardized tests, and as a mom I can’t freaking wait until they’re over at the end of this month.
When I was a student, standardized tests never bothered me that I recall, especially not in elementary school. They didn’t unnerve me, and I didn’t feel like my fate was somehow riding on them. The school year definitely did not revolve around them. We were not issued separate workbooks to lug back and forth specifically to prep for them. Standardized tests were not, to put it bluntly, a “lifestyle.” Now they are. So next week my son, a third grader, will take New York State standardized tests in English and Math for the first time. All the hours of classroom time spent prepping, all the homework pages I compelled him do when he would MUCH rather have been playing, because he is an 8-year-old boy, after all, will boil down to six test sessions. Tests based on the heavily-hyped Common Core, which very well could be good for students in the long run, but was implemented far too quickly in New York City by the chronically overwhelmed and underfunded Department of Education. And tests that were originally meant to assess student learning and provide useful feedback to teachers and parents about a kid’s progress and areas to work on, will instead be used to “rank” schools and “rate” teacher competence. To say that I cannot wait for April to be over and done with would be the understatement of the year so far.
So, do tell – are your kids stressing over standardized tests? Are you?
Written on April 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
She came out singing, smiling, holding her head high. Like everyone else around her she was dressed in black, rocking and clapping as she walked. I tentatively reached out to hold my twelve-year-old son, Elijah’s, hand. But I didn’t look at him. The hand holding thing was risky. But I knew it would be way too much to see me cry and I could feel the tears starting. Elijah’s religious experience thus far was one year of Jewish religious school and a few Episcopalian and Catholic services with family. Now we were sitting in Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco listening to my best friend Trina sing in the church choir.
Everyone is welcome. Everyone belongs here, the pastor said. Elijah’s eyes scanned the crowd and I could see what he was taking in as Trina and the rest of the choir backed up the pastor. Twenty-five-year-old gay men stood next to eighty-year-old black women . . . next to transgender men with long flowing hair . . . next to a white couple who looked like they belonged in my new and very white community of Boulder, Colorado.
I couldn’t stop my tears. My friend, Trina, is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at 37, six years ago. Like so many people who have stood next to a loved one who is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, in an instant I was transformed by fear. I did the things you do with someone you love battling cancer. I prayed she’d make it out healthy. We shopped for hats and looked at wigs. We even laughed together after her surgery when she had to lecture her doctor. (He made the mistake of telling her what kind of breasts were best for her after she’d explicitly told him she didn’t need larger boobs than she had already.) But I will never forget the feeling of free falling when the news was bad . . . before it got better.
The choir continued to sing and I was overwhelmed.
I glanced at Elijah, who at 5’11’’ looks like he’s 16. My Elijah, who even at such a young age, has struggled. By the time he was in 5th grade, he hated school and generally believed that teachers and administrators were clueless. After going to a charter school where the teachers ignored him because he wasn’t academically struggling but was being bullied by other kids much smaller than him, we transferred him to a “progressive” private school. There the teachers treated “traditional” boys (loud boys who liked gross things, fart jokes and wrestling with each other) as if there was something pathologically wrong with them. By 5th grade my son had cultivated a troublemaker reputation so he could sit in the principal’s office and explain why her policies and punishments made no sense. Not only had he developed a hatred for school, but he thought most adults were hypocrites.
Last year we moved to Boulder. Elijah is happier now. Happier then he’s ever been. It’s ironic, because Boulder has such a hippy reputation. His middle school doesn’t tolerate disrespectful behavior but it doesn’t demonize boys either. His teachers allow him to write gory stories of zombies in creative writing and share, when appropriate, his extensive knowledge of battles. He is thriving. I have a happy child who respects his elders for the right reasons.
After the service, I asked him what was most surprising about it. Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, They said everyone was welcome here. But at first I didn’t believe it because that’s what people always say. But then I looked around and I could see it was true. That was good.
What I realized in that moment is that Elijah has had so many experiences of not being accepted for who he is by the people who are supposed to. Like so many of the people in that church, he understood how essentially important it is to be accepted and he knew that my friend had brought us all to that place.
There are moments in life of pure gratitude. That morning at Glide was one of them. My friend and my son, there together. In the place they should be.
Written on October 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
At the beginning of the school year, I sat my 16-year-old down at his computer and taught him to use the OneNote program in Microsoft Office to take better notes in class, keep track of assignments, and generally get himself organized so he could stop missing assignments and get better grades.
OneNote is like a digital three-ring binder. Haven’t tried it? You can take the preview of the latest version of Office for a spin for free here.
He doesn’t bring a laptop to class, but he does bring his smartphone (and some of his teachers are fine with that). But even if a teacher won’t let him bring out his phone in class, he can still jot notes during the day while the assignments and lectures are fresh in his mind. And he can snap photos of the blackboard and notes he jotted on paper and drop those in his OneNote notebooks. (He tends to lose paper.) His smartphone syncs with his computer (read on for more on that) so all the notes he takes on the run are waiting for him on his laptop when he gets home. This is helping him to keep it all together. And his grades are much better since we started this. (Microsoft asked me explain how this all works, in hands-on detail and with screen shots, at the OneNote blog. So check that out if you’d like more detail on how we set this up.)
Today I am going to tell you about the “Evil Mom” part of this plan. (Bwaa haaa haaa!) When we started out on this, I set up his class notebooks – one for each class; just like in a three-ring binder — by way of showing him how it would all work. Then I “shared” those notebook with him using SkyDrive.com so he could access them from his phone or computer. But, since I set them up from my computer and my SkyDrive account, I can still access those notebooks myself. (I could have just as easily asked him to share his notebooks with me, though, if he had set them up.)
Why would I want to read his American History notes? I don’t. But here’s what I do want to do: Drop notes into his notebooks about deadlines, missing assignments I see on the school’s parent assist website, and anything else I want to remind him about relative to each of those classes. In fact, I drop a picture of his online progress report in each class every week so he gets frequent status reports on his grades. This way he can’t pretend he is doing fine when he isn’t.
Here’s how my routine works.
I’m in my office, working. He’s at school. I see a note in my calendar saying he has a project due in history in a few days. I know he’s about as organized as a 16-year-old boy so, as his mother, I feel the need to remind him of this deadline. Instead of waiting till we are both home to mention it to him, I open his history notebook and make a note right there. I can see he has only sketchy notes on this project. So I can foresee the procrastination-followed-by-last-minute-scrambling that is in his near future even if he can’t. So I drop in a copy of the original teacher-issued assignment in there–I’m a super-organized dork and know where to find that–and a few Internet sources I think will be useful. OneNote comes with a handy web clipper so all I have to do is grab a snippet from a website and tell OneNote where to put it. It remembers the source and who put the note there for him. It’s a little like sending notes in class. Except I don’t have to be in the class to do it.
Will this make him start on his project sooner? No. But at least he won’t be running around looking for a copy of the assignment when he does get around to starting. And my few notes on sources will hopefully get him past the dreaded blank page and into the actual work. He will still require 16 reminders and threats from me and despite all that will wait till it’s too late to start. But, at the very least, his last minute will be more productive.
Does he mind me poking my nose into his school notebooks? Not so far. He actually seems to appreciate it since it is helping him get to a point where his grades reflect what he knows. I also think he is learning to appreciate the results of organization by seeing its effects. So I’m hoping we are in a training-wheel phase and that by next year, he’ll need less prodding. Hopefully by the time he gets to college, he’ll be well on his way to being a super-organized dork, too. (Hey, a Mom can dream, right?)
Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com. Follow her on Twitter: @xtinatynanwood.
Written on October 9, 2012 at 10:50 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
Q. I’m a 12-year-old girl who doesn’t like her new school. People aren’t open to helping me, there are so few kids to make friends with and I’m getting frustrated. Is there a way to make things better?
A. That’s terrible! You’d hope everyone would realize how hard it is for you as a new kid. It’s time to take matters into your own hands. First, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you can make one or two friends by spring break, I’d consider that a win. It’s possible the kids in your class have grown up together and that can be really intimidating, but the work you do as a team will give you opportunities to strengthen bonds. Are there any group projects coming up? Things you’re interested in at school that other kids are into as well? If so, invite a group over to your house to work or hang together. Friendships will develop from there.
Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to email@example.com.
Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.
Written on September 7, 2012 at 11:45 am , by Christina Tynan-Wood
My son studies with Facebook open on his laptop. I have tried fighting this. But this year, I decided to make peace with it. I insist he do his homework in the family room while I work or cook dinner so I can redirect his attention if Facebook (or YouTube) becomes too distracting. With this oversight, I’ve decided his current group of friends are helping him enjoy school so they are welcome to stop by for a virtual study group.
Facebook gives him a little company as he works. He can ask a friend from class if they understood the math or if he has the homework right. He can share a joke and make the homework hour more fun. (And YouTube is where he goes to watch a math lesson from Sal Khan at the Khan Academy, which is why he is getting good grades in math.) To make peace with the things that worry me, I added, “Talk about/Clean up Facebook” to my to-do list for back to school. I figure if Facebook has become part of school, we will do it right. So before I got down to the cleaning up the virtual house (see below) for the school year, I decided we needed to talk about appropriate online behavior.
Saying bad things about teachers on social media, for example, can get you into a lot of trouble. I shared a story I’d heard over dinner about a local teacher expelling a student for slanderous comments made on Twitter. We talked about cyber-bullying and how to avoid being either bullied or bully. I discovered that both of my kids wanted to know the rules so they could avoid accidentally breaking them. In fact, they seemed a little confused about what they could say face-to-face versus online.
Essentially I was explaining something that’s obvious to those of us who grew up before the Internet but is apparently not clear to those who have grown up having as much social interaction online as off. Facebook is a form of publishing. What you post there can have a very long life and get shared with people you didn’t intend to share it with. It is safest when it’s used for sharing happy statements (things you “like” rather than those you don’t), profound observations, and statements you don’t mind people associating with your identity. If you are angry and need to blow off steam, pick up the phone and talk to someone. Save the Facebook commentary for comments you are willing to share with everyone , including the thing or person you are talking about.
After our chat, it was time to spiff up their Facebook pages so they could be proud to share them with friends and teachers at school. As it happens, Facebook recently sent me some tips on this. I love getting tips from the pros. So here they are:
- Say Cheese: Make a great first impression by filling the wide open space at the top of your timeline with a unique image that represents you best (a great summer trip, your dog or a favorite photo with you and your friends) and shows off your creativity or interests. It’s the first thing people see when they visit your timeline. Make it memorable.
- Share Memories: Share and highlight your most memorable posts, photos and life events on your timeline, what camp you went to this summer, a few classes you may be excited for this fall and any of the milestones you may have hit since school ended a few months ago. Use your timeline to share your life story from beginning to now with friends and family. Highlight or star photos you specifically want friends to see so they appear bigger on your timeline. Edit posts to make them visible to only you or a select group of friends.
- Curate: Go through your activity log, scroll through every story and adjust the settings on photos or posts from your timeline so all your friends (or just certain groups of friends, family, close friends, coworkers), can see them. Sometimes not everyone (especially your teachers) need to see everything that happened over the summer.