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Q. I'm scared my 13-year-old is too advanced. She told her stepmom that she let her boyfriend touch her and she touched him. They broke up, then a few days later I heard her on the phone saying "I love you" to another boy. Can you suggest books for her about self-esteem and relationships?
A. Absolutely! Right now, my favorites are The Girls' Guide to Guys (Three Rivers Press) and The Blueprint for My Girls in Love (Fireside). Ideally, they'll be conversation starters. For example, you each read a chapter and then talk about it. Don't ask personal questions, which may make her freeze up. Instead try, "How realistic do you think the author is?" or "Do you see kids acting like the ones in the book?" Also remember that your goal isn't to make your daughter feel ashamed for wanting a boyfriend. What she needs is to understand why she's so pulled to have a relationship and how to maintain her boundaries while she's in one.
Q. Last night I discovered that my 15-year-old son had put pillows underneath his covers and left our house. (After driving around, my husband found him.) Now what?
A. Beyond letting him know how angry you are about the deception, you need him to understand how scary it is not knowing where he is or if he's in danger. It's important for kids to learn empathy for their parents and others, so explain in detail the panic you and his father felt. Then give him his punishment (losing a privilege and extra chores for a while) and make sure he understands that there is no possibility for parole for good behavior. Even if he's being charming and compliant two weeks into a monthlong sentence, stick to your plan so he'll know that sneaking out isn't worth the risk.
Q. Is the parents' group at my kid's school nuts or am I? I just attended a meeting where they discussed raising a whopping $35,000 needed for the senior prom next spring. What do you think?
A. I think those parents need to give their children the responsibility to take care of their own business. I know people want to do something special for the seniors before they leave high school, but the unfortunate reality is that too many parents can't be trusted. These things almost always become a competition for who can be the best (meaning, the most overinvolved and micromanaging) parent. So get your courage up and take a stand. Focus your argument on this being a priceless opportunity for the kids to work together and have ownership of one of their last high-school activities -- even if it ends up being a more modest event.Rosalind Recommends
If you have a tween daughter who loves to write, New Moon Girls magazine is a great resource. You'll love it for its empowering messages and she'll read it because it's written by and for girls her age. The magazine also has a sister Web site with a club where girls can ask questions and share experiences with peers in an adult-monitored environment.
Originally published in the December 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. The reason teens believe words like "bitch" don't mean anything is because kids hear them so often they seem normal. But just because something's common doesn't make it right. So I'd say to your daughter, "I get that you think I'm overreacting, but there's something you need to know. Historically, that word is used to silence a woman who is perceived to be too adamant about her opinions and rights. I doubt that you believe women should be shut down for demanding respect. Now that you know, I'm asking you to be a strong woman by taking responsibility for the words you say. That is what powerful women of character do."Q. My 9-year-old suddenly has very dark hair on her legs. Other girls have noticed, and she wants to shave. I think she's too young, but I don't want her to be teased either. What should we do?
A. This is a classic rite of passage for both of you. And I know it's tempting to say, "No way! Talk to me when you're 14!" But there are two things to keep in mind. One, most girls your daughter's age have absorbed cultural messages that tell them there are things "wrong" with their body that require fixing. Two, kids need all the help they can get navigating peer pressure. So explain to your daughter what's happening with her body because she's probably worried she's the only one going through it. Then discuss the pros and cons of shaving. Pro: She doesn't get teased. Con: She changes herself to please others. Your job is to help her realize when these decisions come at the price of her personal authenticity. If after all that, she still wants to, I'd compromise by letting her bleach her hair, and at 12 I'd let her shave. In the meantime, keep using body image issues like this one to teach her about making thoughtful choices.Q. I hate group projects! My fifth-grader was assigned one but says the other two boys fool around during class and aren't doing their share. How can we handle this?
A. This is a great opportunity to teach a social competence lesson -- which your son will probably hate. If you're convinced the other two kids really aren't doing their part, then you need to help him prepare how and when he articulates the lay of the land (as my mom always said). These are his options: He can say nothing, do all the work, and let them get the grade he alone deserves. This will inevitably leave him resentful toward them and irritated at himself. Or, he can confront the slackers about what he doesn't like and what he wants to change, while there's still time for them to redeem themselves. If things don't improve, then he can go to the teacher and explain what's going on. Just make sure he doesn't wait until the project is over because the teacher can't do much after the fact.Rosalind Recommends
I love Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope, by Olivia Gardner, and Emily and Sarah Buder (Harper Paperbacks). In 2007, teen sisters Emily and Sarah learned how Olivia had been mistreated at school, and they started a letter writing campaign to raise her spirits. The heartfelt messages from victims, bystanders, and ex-bullies make it clear that kids who are bullied aren't to blame, and that with the support of others, they can overcome the experience.
Originally published in the October 17, 2008, issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. Your son needs to explain exactly what he means by "terrible" and describe specifically what's so problematic about the class. Then he should set up a meeting with the teacher where he can respectfully express his frustrations. If the problems continue, that's when you should talk with the teacher. Only after both of those meetings have occurred are you within your rights to go over the instructor's head and contact an administrator. I really mean that. Contacting the school should be the last thing you do -- not the first.Q. What can I do to help my 13-year-old? She suddenly stopped talking to her best friend and won't say why.
A. This is one of those times when you can earn your child's trust by backing off. Tell her, "Look, I'm not going to lie. I'd really like to know what happened. But I realize you're getting older and I need to give you space. If you want to talk to me about it, I'm always available." Then walk away or switch the topic so you leave her with the feeling that it's up to her to make the first move. In my experience, when you recognize a teen's need for privacy, she becomes much more willing to share.Q. My daughter wants to take a small group of her friends to a pricey concert for her 16th birthday. But she's worried the kids she can't invite will feel bad. How do you recommend we handle this?
A. By not buying the tickets in the first place. Even if you could afford to take all of her friends, you shouldn't be giving away things she can use to increase her social status or hang over other people's heads. Maybe you can't imagine your child ever playing up this event for those reasons, but I have seen the nicest kids become tyrants at the drop of an invitation. And don't think you have to go through with it because you promised. You, as the parent, have the prerogative to change your mind when you see you've made a mistake, no matter how much your child complains. Just don't do it all the time or you'll lose credibility with her.Q. Is it normal for my 17-year-old son to have a different girlfriend every few months?
A. Sure it's normal, but that doesn't mean you should ignore it. The world needs more boys who believe that real men are never careless about others' feelings and dignity. Obviously parents are the ones most likely to make that happen. So be involved to the extent that both you and his father are beyond clear that you expect him to be respectful (in person, online, or while texting) toward anyone he dates. He must also insist on being treated the same way. Most important is for him to see how his parents interact. If you aren't showing him how people should respect each other in intimate relationships, it's hard to ask the same of him.Rosalind Recommends
Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty has a great Web site for moms, teachers, and mentors who are helping girls deal with body image. I like it because there are tons of free resources like videos, training guides, and interactive media to help generate a dialogue with young women about the way our culture teaches us to scrutinize our bodies. Check it out at campaignforrealbeauty.com.
Originally published in the September 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. I wish we lived in a world where we would tell our kids "Don't drive with your friends," and they'd always abide by our rules. But I wouldn't be much of an advice columnist if I believed that. So what to do? Make your guidelines clear: "You can get a ride from your friends after practice but not to or from a party. If someone is driving and talking on her cell phone or changing songs on her iPod, tell her to stop talking or volunteer to look for the song. And I know you know this, but the second you get in the car, your seat belt is on."Q. How can I talk my 12-year-old daughter into attending a neighborhood pool party? She's refusing to go because her friends are more developed than she is.
A. Can we give her a break just this once and let her skip the party? It's not like there won't be a slew of other situations like it in her future. I think 12 is such a tender time, when girls are constantly comparing themselves with one another. When you add bathing suits, boys, and a pool party to the mix, it's that much worse. Instead of forcing her to go, give her credit for talking to you about her feelings and let her stay home.Q. My grandson is almost 14 years old and has a best friend who doesn't let him have any other friends. Is there anything we can do?
A. When adults come to me with questions like this one, I need to know how they're getting their information. If your concerns are based on direct observation of the teen or he has approached you for advice, that's one thing. But if the info is from a secondhand source, go back to your grandson before you proceed. As the grandmother, you're in a unique position to give comfort and advice because you love him to death while being one step removed. First, ask him to list his friendship must-haves -- the characteristics he values most, like trust, loyalty, and honesty. Now have him describe his friend and compare his experiences with his requirements. If they align, then he's in good shape. If they don't, he needs to think about why he's in a friendship that goes against his needs and he has to decide what he wants to do about it. Throughout, you are his guide, posing questions and helping him develop thoughtful answers. Keep in mind he may not end an unhealthy friendship immediately after a single conversation with you. But having ongoing interactions like this empowers kids to make healthy decisions.Rosalind Recommends
I'm always encouraging parents of every faith to show their kids how their religious values translate into everyday life, which is why I'm a fan of the new magazine KidSpirit. It was created by and for 11- to 15-year-olds of all traditions. It challenges them to use spiritual concepts to examine their culture. View sample articles and subscribe at www.kidspiritmagazine.com.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. I think you can let go a little, especially because you (or another parent) will be providing transportation both ways. Just review with him commonsense safety issues like not becoming separated from the group or leaving the mall. In addition, be clear about unacceptable behavior (such as shoplifting, looking the other way when friends shoplift, trashing stores, and being rude to store owners). Remember, for most 13-year-olds, getting to hang out at the mall is just the kind of limited freedom they relish.Q. How do I get my daughter to have better role models? She's 14 and totally obsessed with celebrities.
A. Put a block on celebrity TV, stop talking about the people she's focused on, and take a broader view. What you're fighting is the glorification of mindless consumerism and idolizing famous people who aren't necessarily contributing to society. Build her awareness of the big sell by watching movies and TV with her, and having her point out how many times a celebrity promotes a product. Then redirect her interests. If her passion is fashion, sign her up for classes in design or photography. If she loves magazines, get her involved in a local paper. That way she'll learn useful skills and meet good role models.Q. My daughter's best friend sleeps over a lot and lately I've been wondering whether she's drunk or high. Both girls are 16. What should I do?
A. Whenever you have a gut feeling about a teen's behavior, trust it. Ask the girls if either one has been drinking or using drugs (yes, I'm including your daughter). Then tell them exactly why your "something isn't right here" alarm bells are going off. If you get a confession, thank them for being honest but state clearly that the behavior is against house rules. Your daughter will get the punishment you give her and the friend has to call her parents to say they must pick her up and why. Also, tell her she's welcome to return to your home provided that she's sober. If she denies using anything, explain that you still have to share your concerns with her parents. Just remember, your goal is to respond in an empathetic yet firm way.Rosalind Recommends
I'm keeping It's a Boy: Understanding Your Son's Development from Birth to Age 18, by Michael Thompson, PhD, and Teresa H. Barker (Ballantine Books) beside my bed until my sons go to college! I love how the book celebrates boys but still holds them responsible for their actions.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the July 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. On the off chance this boy is using your land line, keep the phone close by. When he calls, answer in your most intimidating parent way (meaning, don't threaten him but be very clear that he can't call after 9). If he's reaching your daughter on her cell, then she needs to surrender it to you (which, by the way, all teens should do when they go to bed). If her phone rings, answer it exactly the way I advised if he were calling the house. Be strict with this rule now, and you'll save yourself a lot of headaches as your kids get older -- by, say, intercepting that after-hours text message about the unsupervised party down the block.Q. My daughter wants a graduation party. I didn't have one for my son -- we couldn't afford it -- so I feel I shouldn't have one for her. What do you think?
A. You seem to have two issues. You want to be considerate of your older child -- always a good idea -- so make sure your son knows that having this party isn't favoritism. But I'm wondering also whether you think your daughter is asking for something excessive. If that's the case, don't give in! Over-the-top parties can encourage teens to feel entitled. If you decide to host the party, write up an agreement with your daughter about budget, number of invitees, and what you'll do if someone shows up drunk or brings alcohol or drugs.Q. I saw explicit lyrics my 17-year-old and his friends wrote for their garage band. How can I get him to write about other things?
A. You can't force your son to change what he writes. What's more important is what you mean by explicit. If your son, for example, is describing his frustrations about school, politics, or other issues with graphic images and bad words, it's probably a healthy outlet for him (though you still want to know why those issues are bothering him). But if he's singing about sexually degrading themes or violence, you need to talk to him. In addition, ask an adult male he respects to explain that a true man doesn't express himself by demeaning anyone else.Q. My son likes to share his problems, but then gets annoyed with my advice and rejects it. Can I be helpful without upsetting him?
A. When kids tell you things and then don't want your input, it's confusing and frustrating. But sometimes they just want to vent. The next time he unloads, say, "I'd like to help, but are you telling me this because you want me to just listen or do you want advice too? Either way is fine, but just let me know." Then sit back and let him tell you what he needs.Rosalind Recommends
We've all heard the news stories about cyberbullying. Instead of feeling powerless, read Generation MySpace, by Candice M. Kelsey (Marlowe and Company). The book helps parents set limits on kids' online behavior. Another good resource: adl.org/education/cyberbullying.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the June 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. A 15-year-old has the right to request that a friend join you, but she doesn't get to make the ultimate decision. That said, when I was growing up we often vacationed with other families who had kids my age, with a few days set aside for family time only. Even during my most difficult teen years I looked forward to those vacations because of the time I'd spend around the people I loved. So if it's logistically possible, I'd compromise and have the friend join you for part of the time. Or plan a weekend getaway and invite her then.Q. My son, a high school sophomore, doodles violent cartoons in his notebooks. I don't think they mean anything, but I worry the school will get on his case. Should I ask him to stop?
A. There are only two things you should assume: that your son's drawings reflect the way he sees the world and that he wants others to know that. While it's common for some boys to draw violent pictures, what you're describing could indicate that your son is in great emotional distress. Before the school becomes involved, ask him what he's trying to express with his drawings, and why he's willing to risk getting into trouble for them. And no matter what he says, have him talk to a therapist who specializes in adolescent boys to make sure he isn't a danger to himself or others.Q. Our family is pretty strict about healthy eating, and I recently found junk food wrappers in my 10-year-old daughter's room. What do you advise?
A. Junk food isn't the issue here. The problem is she feels she has to conceal it. When kids sneak food it means you've got a control war -- always a no-win situation. So say to your daughter: "I found a bunch of wrappers in your closet. I don't want you to feel you have to hide food. What's going on?" Then listen and reach a compromise. Maybe you and your daughter can find more appealing (to her) recipes to prepare together. And consider lightening up a little -- high-quality chocolate eaten in moderation can be one of life's great joys.Q. My 17-year-old wants to buy his new girlfriend an expensive necklace, which seems extravagant to me. Should I say something?
A. At 17 a boy is old enough to purchase pricey gifts for his girlfriend (with his own money) but not mature enough to realize he'll feel like a fool if she breaks his heart afterward. Your job? Notice whether the gift is a one-time thing or part of a pattern of buying love. If it's the latter, ask him how the relationship's going, then bring up your concerns.Rosalind Recommends
I'm a big fan of the Girls' Leadership Institute, founded by Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out (Harcourt). GLI runs in-school programs, workshops, and a two-week summer program, all focused on building tween and teen girls' leadership skills and confidence. Go to girlsleadershipinstitute.org.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the May 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. Sounds to me like you're right. But your daughter probably believes she has a good reason -- maybe she doesn't like changing in front of her peers, or she's not good at sports and the gym teacher teases her or puts her down. Tell her what you're thinking, and then ask her what's really going on. She should talk with the gym teacher, stating the problem and what she'd like to see happen. You go along as backup. Tell your daughter, "If you feel you're losing your words, I'll talk, but if I'm not getting it right, you can talk over me."Q. In order to graduate, my 15-year-old has to do some volunteering. He thinks of it as a chore; how do I get him excited about it?
A. Some kids are born wanting to help others. Some aren't. But all kids need to give back. Have him contact a local community foundation for a nonprofit he's at least a little bit interested in. He can get a state-by-state list of opportunities at the Council on Foundations' Web site, cof.org. Ideally -- and here I'm having flashbacks to my own teen years at a certain nursing home -- even if he finds it annoying at first, he'll soon value the new relationships and feel the rewards of helping others. If he doesn't, he'll still learn that as a member society, he has to get off his butt.Q. My 16-year-old daughter spends a lot of time at her boyfriend's house. I just found out that his parents allow them to watch movies in his room with the door closed. Should I confront his parents?
A. Yes! Just confirm the "facts" with them first. While it's important to have a mutually respectful relationship with them, it's more important to set clear guidelines for your daughter and her boyfriend, such as, "The bedroom door must always be open." And don't hesitate to tell the other parents your rules!
Now you may be thinking, "No way I'm telling them what to allow under their roof." But you have to communicate your rules to other parents so you can present a united front. If they disagree with you, have a mature face-to-face conversation about it -- before your kids have been caught doing something they shouldn't. This is also the time to have another dialogue with your daughter about sex. A good resource: Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask), by Justin Richardson, MD, and Mark Schuster, MD, PhD (Three Rivers Press).Rosalind Recommends
I can't wait to get my sons involved in Boys Advocacy and Mentoring. BAM groups help middle school boys build relationship skills and self-esteem using boys' learning styles (i.e., moving around before deep talks) instead of seeing them as negatives (i.e., forcing them to sit the whole session). Go to bamgroups.com.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the April 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
A. Serious for a 10-year-old is a relative thing -- the chance that this girl is your future daughter-in-law is slim to none. But that doesn't mean you should pat your son on the head and send him on his way. Use this as an opportunity to validate his feelings while not necessarily agreeing with him, a skill that comes in handy with temperamental tweens and teens. Ask him to talk with you about why he likes this girl and to describe specific ways he and his friend are showing each other respect. Finish by reminding him of your rules for his conduct in all his relationships.Q. My friend and I decided to cohost a sweet 16 party for our daughters. We set a budget, but my friend is now adding expenses I never agreed to. How do I get her to rein it in?
A. If I had a dollar for every time a parent came to me with a similar problem, I could retire. Okay, here's the deal. Usually people in your situation either say nothing and end up resentfully forking over money they didn't agree to spend or they blow up about something that looks small to the other person (like the cost of the cake, which is now approaching the price of dinner for six). Either way, after the party the parents don't talk again.
Don't let this happen to you! Say to your cohost, "This is uncomfortable, but I need to talk to you about how much we're now spending. We agreed to spend 'X' amount. I feel you're making decisions that could send us way over our budget. Can we please review what we're spending so we can stay on target?" If your cohost says she'll "pay for the difference," be clear about what extras she's covering. Then confirm what she says by e-mail.Q. I trust my 14-year-old to take his own ADHD medication, but I'm pretty sure there are pills missing from the bottle, which makes me worry that he's giving them away or selling them. What should I do?
A. Not surprisingly, teens with ADHD aren't great at planning long term or thinking things through. So yes, your son may be giving or selling pills to other kids. Ask your son directly whether pills are missing, then confirm his story by counting them. If the math is off, take charge of his medication for the next 30 days. After that, return the bottle but have him show it to you every couple of weeks so you can check the count. Also, to keep your son on track, talk with his physician right away about replacing the missing pills. And ask the doctor, at the next visit, to explain to your son the consequences of misusing his prescription.Rosalind Recommends
If I had a daughter, I'd get her involved in the nonprofit organization Girls on the Run (girlsontherun.org). Trained community volunteers help girls get in shape and ready for a 5K race. The goal: Teach preteen girls to feel proud of their bodies for physical feats, not for how they look.
A. Let's hear it for parental sanity! I don't know why so many parents think having a good parent-child relationship means talking to each other all day. To my mind, cell phone use should be restricted to scheduling questions or life-threatening emergencies. Other conversations should take place in person without distractions like being in a meeting or trying to park your car. Of course you want your child to share things with you, but it's your job to impose some structure. Explain it to her like this: "I love talking to you but I need to limit the calls I get during the day when I'm working (or doing errands). I also want to concentrate on what you're telling me, so let's catch up face-to-face when we're home."Q. Should I get my 12-year-old son extra coaching? He loves sports, but he's not as skilled as most of his peers.
A. If the passion is coming from him, then encourage him as much as time and budget allow. But be careful, because it could easily turn into your having to wake up early every day to drive him to special practices and teams. And I know I'm going to get a lot of negative mail for this, but I think that's insane. Before these sessions begin, be clear with your son about his responsibilities (such as showing up on time and having his gear with him), and then plan a check-in with each other in three months to see how it's working -- for both of you.Q. My daughter, a 17-year-old high-school senior, has a new best friend who has already received two speeding tickets and a citation for possessing alcohol. We want to tell our daughter she can't see this girl. But won't that make matters worse?
A. Probably. Instead, help her identify when this relationship is putting her in danger and teach her how to communicate boundaries in a way that keeps both girls' dignity intact. Start by telling her that you believe she has good judgment so there must be some redeeming qualities about this new friend -- and you'd like to know what they are.
Then you can ask the tougher questions. Like, is your daughter becoming this girl's go-to designated driver? Does this girl hang out with people who make your daughter uneasy? What's your daughter's plan for exiting an uncomfortable situation? Does this girl have larger problems that would be better solved by involving a caring adult? What you want to show her is that there's a fine line between being part of a friend's support system (notice I said part of) and being her caretaker, a job she's not equipped for.Rosalind Recommends
As a parent and a teacher, I'm always looking for ways to tell kids about the importance of working against discrimination and racism. One of my favorite resources is Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that offers free information (from e-newsletters to DVDs to lesson plans for schools) and news about community events through their Web site, facinghistory.org.
Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.
Q. My husband is stricter with our son than with our daughters. What can I say to make him be fair?
A. Forget trying to convince him that he's being unreasonable and instead ask him a couple of questions. Why does he think his son needs stricter rules? And does he think that the way he's articulating and enforcing these rules is working? Meaning, is your son developing self-discipline as a result or is there now a power struggle between them -- which is always counterproductive?
Then you and your husband need to discuss the possibility that the father-son conflict is affecting the whole family. While it's true that children may need to be disciplined differently (but not based on their gender), the situation you describe often leads to long-lasting resentments and tensions.
Q. My 11-year-old daughter is begging me to take her bra shopping, even though she doesn't need one yet. Should I do it anyway?
A. She may roll her eyes as you tell her that everyone grows at her own rate, but you need to remind her that this really is true. Then ask why she thinks she needs a bra. Is it because some of the other girls in the class are wearing one? Did her best friend just get one, so she's feeling left behind? Does the boy she has a huge crush on like a girl who's wearing a bra? Is your daughter feeling sensitive and private about her body because she has to change for gym? Any of the above are enough to lead to her request. Just having this kind of open conversation helps you get a better understanding of your daughter's underlying emotional needs. Plus, what's happening in her peer group is changing as the kids' bodies develop, and your daughter needs to process those dynamics with you.
Whatever your daughter's reasons for wanting a bra, don't shut her down because you think she's not physically ready for one. Just go to a store and help her pick out a few (that you feel are appropriate and within your budget) to try on. And don't hover around the fitting room -- mothers have a way of opening the door at the most embarrassing moments.
Q. Cell phones aren't allowed in my son's school, but it's important to me that I be able to reach him. Recently he was given detention when a teacher found his phone in his backpack. What should I do?
A. You should support the school. Although cell phones have become an ordinary part of kid (and adult) culture, there is a big downside. They can be a huge distraction in the classroom. And they're often used to send and receive malicious gossip and humiliating photographs, not to mention exam answers. So what looks like an easy way to keep tabs on your child actually contributes to a hostile school environment -- not a good trade-off.
If you're concerned about school security, support programs to prevent violence and bullying, including those that address the possible trouble kids face traveling to and from school. A good place to start: the Safe School Ambassadors Program at safeschoolambassadors.org or 707-823-6159.
Originally published in the January 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.