Category Archives: Case of the Terrible Tweens

My version of the ‘You’re Grounded’ Points List

Naughty boy2
I recently became enamored with a Points List that a mother used when her kid got grounded. Basically, the mother created a list of things her child could do to get off groundation, each task attached to a certain number of points. Once the child reached 500 points, they were done being grounded.

I think this parenting hack is brilliant, mostly because it puts the length of the grounding into the child’s hands, and they’re learning several things in the process:
– How to strategically rack up the points to finish faster (hint: the larger items aren’t always the best way to get there)
– Motivation to do lots of chores without procrastinating
– That getting in trouble really isn’t worth it

My son has had his Xbox taken away for pretty much the whole school year because his grades slipped past the point of being acceptable. The rule was he could get them back as soon as he brought his grades back up. However, today is the last day of school, and his grades never budged.

I’ll be honest – I hate punishing my kid. And with summertime here and no way of him getting his grades back up until school started, I really wanted a way to give him back his game system. However, he still needed to earn those grades back.

In came the Points List (click to enlarge).

On the list, there are a few items to take note of.

The first is the one 50-point item: deep cleaning his room. My son’s room is a disaster area, and it will probably take him a full day to get the job done. This is why it has so many points attached to it. And while every other item on the list is stuff he can choose between to do, this is the one item I have made mandatory.

The second is “G-rated Lucas.” Like most 13-year-old boys, my son finds humor in some of the grossest or inappropriate things. 24 hours of no potty-talk is totally worth 15 points to me.

Third is the large list of 5-point items, particularly the letter writing items. He can probably whip up every single one of those items in one day, which will add up to a lot in a very short time. But I thought it would be a nice touch for his grandparents to get a nice note from him. Also, Ella is a little girl we know who is working very hard on her reading. How awesome would it be to receive a letter from a 13-year-old friend?

Fourth is the 20 points for reading Forever Thirteen and writing a book report. Yes, I am shamelessly enticing my son to read the book I wrote through a points system.

Fifth are the negative points. While the majority of the list are items that can help him earn his Xbox back, there are a few things that will keep him from earning it back as fast. This was my chance to try and turn around a few of his pesky bad habits – like sneaking food in his room or borrowing without asking.

And there you have it. If you’d like to download a copy of your own Points List, here is a link to mine in a Word Doc so that you can change it as you see fit: Wine Country Mom Chores Points List

Keeping kids entertained

This article will be published in the Press Democrat on Friday, February 8.

A friend of mine had to teach a group of teenagers about how seeds travel so they can germinate. Her challenge: how to teach about the topic and also keep these technology driven kids interested for more than an hour.

As a crafts teacher for younger children, her natural talents were geared towards more artistic activities. So my friend utilized her skills and had the teens decorate “seeds,” or in this case, wine corks that would represent seeds. You should have seen how fast those teens grabbed at stickers, paint daubers and colorful pens to decorate their corks.

Then my friend took the teens to the local creek. The teens were instructed to throw their corks in the water and watch as they got closer and closer to the finish line/collection point my friend had put at the end of the race, where the corks could be retrieved. The teens got really into it, following their “seeds” as some corks flowed downstream easily while others got stuck behind rocks. In the process, all of the kids not only learned something new but were entertained beyond their smartphones, MP3 players and video games.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of creativity to “trick” youngsters into having fun away from their electronic toys.

One of the hardest parts of raising kids is knowing how to keep them entertained. It’s easy to let them sit in front of the TV for hours on end. But to get them up and moving, or to exercise their mind? Finding ideas to occupy them when they’ve run out of things to do can be a real challenge.

For Robert Correa of Novato, the answer to keeping kids occupied is as easy as giving them a list of things to do every time they say they’re bored.

“Housekeeping, lawn mowing, dog walking, baby-sitting, reading, dishwashing,” Correa listed off the top of his head. He suggested that older kids would find enjoyment in being taught how to cook, and any kid can fly a kite, paint a picture, ride their bike, or skate. He also noted that kids should call their grandparents when they find they have “nothing to do,” just to tell their grandma and grandpa they are loved. And, of course, there is nothing like throwing an impromptu dance party in the privacy of your own living room.
“Put on some of your old records or CDs and dance together or sing together,” Correa said.

Elizabeth Dalton of Santa Rosa has three boys, ages 6 and 4 years old, and 20 months, and knows all too well the importance of having something fun up her sleeve to keep her sons entertained. One activity she discovered is called geocaching, otherwise known as a good old-fashioned treasure hunt. But in Dalton’s case, she gives the activity a prehistoric theme.

“I bury dinosaur toys outside and have the kids dig them out,” she said.

Jessica Snowden of Santa Rosa has a different kind of treasure hunt she suggests for quick entertainment.

“Make a list of age appropriate items,” she suggested, like telling younger kids to find something tall or red, and older kids to find something horizontal or bigger than a foot. As they find each item, then can check them off their pre-made list. “I have done this treasure hunt in teams for birthday parties or sleepovers,” Snowden said. “I have also done it with cameras,” she added, noting that cellphones and handheld video game systems worked well for this activity, allowing kids to capture their treasure through a photo instead of collecting the actual item.

Lorna Brown, owner of My Gym Santa Rosa, is known for having fun things for younger kids to do. One game she plays with kids is to blow up balloons (not helium), and give one to each child.

“Give them indoor space to bop them around, encouraging them to keep them up in the air,” Brown instructed. “Let them know that if their balloon pops, then game over.” She suggested that when the kids need a break from so much play, they can stop and decorate their balloons with markers.

And every kid can benefit from an “I’m bored jar.” Take an afternoon to brainstorm 100 fun things to do. Add in things like making homemade playdough, taking a hike in the hills, building a fort in the living room, learning how to speak Pig Latin, writing an illustrated children’s book, trying to beat your own record of bouncing a ball on a tennis racket, blowing the biggest bubblegum bubble, or anything else you and the kids can think of. Every time the kids say, “I’m bored,” point them toward the jar and have them pick an activity at random.

Do you have any tricks to entertain your kids when they have nothing to do?

Sibling Rivalry, Sibling Bond

This last week, DQ was an only child. In a household that generally consists of three kids, she was gleeful in telling Mr. W and me that we were finally a “normal” family – one that was made up of just two parents and one adorably sarcastic 13 year old. Mr. W’s son was in Tahoe with his mother. And Taz was at the Ex’s house several hours away. DQ had decided to skip the visit with her dad this time around, and was anticipating a week of peace and quiet from her annoying little brother.

I was looking forward to it as well. Being cooped up in the same house all summer long, DQ and Taz were only inches from literally breaking each other’s necks. They were constantly bickering and purposefully teasing each other to add some excitement to their boredom. And in the end, I was the one that ended up getting annoyed long before either of them did, resulting in a permanent vein taking residence on my temple and a strain in my vocal chords. But they took great pleasure in teasing the holy heck out of each other. Let me tell you, having only one kid who had no one to fight with sounded like a heavenly vacation. I didn’t even mind that our kid-free week was no longer kid-free. With just my fairly well-behaved teen, it would still feel kid-free.

Except that DQ had no one to torment – EXCEPT US.

When the weekend ended, Mr. W and I had to go back to work. DQ was left to sleep in all morning long until she woke up to her quiet house. By the time we came home, she wouldn’t leave our side. Usually she would stay cooped up in her room or plugged into something (iPod, TV, computer – usually all at the same time) on the couch. But this time, it was like she couldn’t get enough of us. At first it was cute. Obviously she had been lonely in the house on her own. But soon, it became apparent what was going on.

She was trying to torture us!

We went to our room to change from our work clothes. Upon re-opening our bedroom door, there she was on the floor, her feet leaning against our door. She followed us down the stairs and ribbed us mercilessly. If we said anything, she turned it into some funny quip at our expense. Settling down for the evening to watch TV, she sat on the couch with us. “I’m not touching you,” she said as she poked her finger at my leg. And the sarcasm! While I generally think of DQ as the funniest person in the world, it was exhausting keeping up with her and her jabs at us. Neither Mr. W nor I were safe as she mercilessly ribbed us.

Towards the end of the week, the teasing and ribbing had ebbed a bit. It was still strange not to have the boys in the house. But the benefit was that the house stayed clean and calm. And DQ and I had enjoyed some much-needed girl time together. But the day finally came when I needed to pick Taz back up.

“Do you miss your brother?” I asked DQ, and she shook her head vehemently.

“No way!” she said. He ironically called a few minutes later and I chatted with him over the phone.

“DQ misses you,” I teased.

“Yeah right,” Taz said. “Fine, let me talk to her,” he said after I insisted it was true. I handed the phone to DQ who rolled her eyes as she took it from me.

“Hello,” she said in a bored voice. And before long, the two of them were catching up on everything that had happened throughout the week while they were away from each other. In fact, they talked for a full 30 minutes before hanging up the phone. And waking up the next day, the two spent the day playing together at the pool and planning some time to play with friends together the rest of the week.

Taz has been back for several days already, and they have been getting along famously ever since. I’m not sure how long it will last, but it’s sweet to see. Before this week, I would have sworn they hated each other. I always told them that one day they’ll be friends when they’re older. But even I had my doubts as they denied that would happen. However, seeing them get along the past few days, it made me aware of the deep bond the two of them share with each other. Their perspective on the events of our life are separate from mine. The divorce, sharing a home with their grandparents, moving into our own place, moving in with Mr. W, issues with their dad, growing up…

When I’m gone, they’ll still have each other. And they’ll be that common link to a family that once went through hell and back to get to the peaceful place we’re at now, and wherever that road leads in the future.

And they’ll be friends. I’m sure of it.

"Can I come home?"

At 10 years old, he had been on many sleepovers without me there to keep watch over him. And he just got back from a week with his dad and never even called me once while he was gone. So it wasn’t like he didn’t know how to be away from me. But still, camp was different. It’s easier for a kid to get lost in the shuffle, being surrounded by so many other campers. I didn’t worry about whether he would mind the rules. It was pretty much guaranteed the pool would be his bathtub, and gunk would have to be chiseled off his teeth when I picked him up at the end of the week. I didn’t even stress about whether he would eat enough, as my boy is not one to skip a meal. But I did worry if he would make friends, or talk to anyone during the day. While the Taz has many friends at school, the awkward age he’s at now makes it difficult to leave his self-consciousness and meet someone new.

With so many kids around, it’s easy to find a friend. But it’s also easy to not say a word throughout the day, and spend time sitting all alone at meals.

I visited camp mid-week to help out and, yes, because I knew I’d miss the kids too much not to. Both of them were happy to see me, even my teen, DQ. But it was the Taz whose face lit up when he caught sight of me after three days away. Just moments before, his face held no emotion as he walked without energy towards the dining area for lunch. But when I called his name, he immediately lit up at the sound of something familiar, searching to find my face. And his energy returned as he ran up the steps to greet me.

He promised me he had made a bunch of friends. He named them off one by one when I asked, and I was pleased to know he was doing so well. But when I glanced over to him as I ate, I was dismayed to find that he was sitting alone. He sat near me after lunch to show me the letters he received from home, and I encouraged him to go play with some boys at the basketball court.

“I don’t know them,” he said shyly. “And they probably won’t play with me.”

This wasn’t like the Taz at home. Before we had even moved in with Mr. W, he had made good friends with the kids down the street. At school he seemed to have plenty of friends. But here? His confidence was gone and he was all alone. While he still went off on his own while I was there at camp, I saw he was happiest when he knew I was around. We played ping pong together, and then I watched him jump off the diving board at the pool.

And at least a dozen times, he asked if he could just come home with me when it was time to go.

I refused, of course. He only had two days left, and this was good for him. It was good for me too. I needed to not run to his side every time I felt he was uncomfortable. I really wanted to introduce him to some kids, find a way they could all play together, and create some friendships for him so I could leave knowing he was having a good time. But that wasn’t my job, it was his. And so I stayed out of it.

It was late in the afternoon when the radio in the dining hall was turned on as loud as the teens could make it without blasting us out of the forest. Without direction, kids made their way to the tables and stomped their feet in time with the beat. The music surrounded all of us. A group of girls led a line dance on several of the tables, dancing country to the hip-hop groove. On another table, a group of kids jumped and laughed. And in the back, my son was in the center of a bunch of kids, showing off his dance moves effortlessly. Dancing was something he loved to do, and would do without abandon. And darned if my kid isn’t a brilliant dancer! Yet, he was neither center of attention or totally ignored. Instead, he was one of the crowd, a part of this movement and energy that invited more and more to join in. And soon almost the whole camp was there, dancing away in a spontaneous dance party until it really was time to turn the music off and get ready for dinner.

“Can I come home with you?” the Taz asked me one more time that evening. It was mere minutes before campfire was over. The camp was going to go on a night hike. I was going to drive back down the hill and go home. I smiled at him and shook my head no.

“You’ll be fine,” I told him, kissing his head as I got ready to leave.

And I knew that he would. He might not be having the same experience as I did. He might be stuck a bit in his awkwardness. There would be times when he would be alone, and that would feel uncomfortable. Heck, it’s uncomfortable for all of us – from being a self-conscious tween to an insecure adult. But there would also be times when everyone banded together and he would feel like he belonged.

And who was I to take that away from him?

This awkwardness, it will pass. He’ll survive it. After all, it’s just a part of growing up. And in all this, I think I’m growing up too.

I taught my daughter how to drink

Yesterday morning, I came across the story of Takeimi Rao, the 14 year old girl who was found dead after a night of drinking at a slumber party in her own home, before I even got out of bed. As I read the story, all I could think of was the horror her mother must be going through, losing her daughter in the blink of an eye over something that could have easily have happened to any young teenager. I thought of her friends, who couldn’t possibly have known the outcome when they experimented with alcohol the night before. And I thought of my own daughter, now 13 years old, and the fear gripped me over the fact that I could easily lose her the same way.

Any of us could lose our teenager this way.

It was fortunate that my daughter needed to be driven to a friend’s house yesterday morning, so she was up early and sat next to me in the car as we drove. I shared with her the story of Takeimi.  It was shocking to her knowing that someone so young was suddenly gone, a real in-your-face brush with mortality. At this point, we had no idea what the girls had experimented with. It sounded like alcohol, but there was speculation that it may have been something worse. At any rate, I took the opportunity to talk with my daughter about the dangers of experimenting with unknown substances, and with mass amounts of alcohol.

I have talked to DQ and her brother many times before about drugs and alcohol. They have witnessed the effects firsthand as their father struggles with addiction. They know the choice of abstaining from alcohol by several family members who have given it up completely upon realization they lacked self-control. And they know that alcohol isn’t evil when it is enjoyed properly and in moderation. I have chosen to not make alcohol a mystery to them by always being open with them when I do enjoy a drink, and even allowing them to taste a sip when they ask.

And I thought about my own youth, when I was around the same age as these girls, mere days away from leaving the 9th grade.

One of my friends brought a water bottle to school, and passed it around to a bunch of us. We weren’t in the dark about what was in that bottle – pure vodka. It looked like water, making it easy to drink without any teacher knowing what was going on. And we all took sips, nervously giggling as we passed it around. The liquid burned going down. It tasted gross but it gave a warm feeling as it traveled to the pit of our stomachs. At that age, it was unclear how much it would take to get us drunk. And I seriously doubt any of us even drank enough to get to that point. At least I didn’t. But it felt good to be a part of something secret and so grown-up. That is, until one of the teachers discovered what was going on and gathered up every girl thought to be in on it. I was missed in that gathering, and escaped punishment. The other girls took the heat and were suspended the first week of our sophomore year.

The whole event was without incident. No one died, or even got sick. But easily, it could have been different. A young teenager who is unfamiliar with alcohol can easily think that all alcohols are the same. If you can drink a bottle of beer, why can’t you drink the same amount of vodka in one sitting?

All day yesterday, I sat at my desk as the whole newsroom gathered information about Takeimi and the events surrounding her untimely death. As the day wore on, it became apparent that she died from either alcohol poisoning or from choking on her own vomit. The mood around here was somber as several reporters pitched in to gather enough information about what happened. I read several comments from readers and from those who were a part of the story that revealed negative feelings about reporters being intrusive, and wondering why they couldn’t just leave those involved alone. But the truth is, this story became way more than a job. Many of us here are parents, and the news of a young girl dying so tragically hit all of us to the core. I know I was consumed by it all day, and my thoughts centered on all three of my kids – DQ, Taz, and Mr. W’s teenage son. Telling Takeimi’s story was way more than a news article to the reporters who covered her story. It was sending a message of awareness to both parents and teens. And it’s probable that many families, including ours, sat down for a discussion about experimentation with drugs or alcohol with their teens and preteens after reading about Takeimi.

If any time a news story is vital, this is it.

I picked up my daughter after work from her friend’s house. When I got there, I was still reeling from a day of hearing morbid details about Takeimi’s demise. And without apology, I talked with DQ and her two friends as the grandmother stood by.

“Don’t drink,” I told them firmly after I explained exactly how Takeimi had died. “But if you do, it only takes this much,” and I pinched my fingers a half inch apart, “to get you drunk.” DQ’s friends looked at each other amused.

“I can’t believe she just told us how to get drunk!” one of the kids laughed.

“No, I’m telling you not to drink,” I corrected him. “And you shouldn’t. But I’m also telling you this because drinking too much can actually kill you.”

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Who knows if any of this sunk in? Truth is, it takes more than one conversation to get a message across to a teenager. But even when they don’t want to talk about it, we should. Takeimi was not a bad girl with an alcohol problem. She was a young teenager who wanted to have fun with her friends. And now she is gone.

But maybe her story might just save the life of someone else’s son or daughter. Maybe her death might save YOUR child’s life.

Video Game Addict

The doctor told us we needed to limit the Taz’ screen time to help with some weighty issues we’re having.

“Really, he only needs 1-2 hours a day of TV, computer, or video games,” she noted, making sure to also include my iPhone, handheld devices, and anything else that was electronic and promoted staying seated.

I nodded in agreement, but my mind was swirling. As I racked up the amount of time the Taz could stay glued to his video games, I realized that it was sometimes more like 5 or 6 hours a good weekend day, sometimes even more. And that seems like a lot, but it really did wonders in keeping my house super clean without the Taz spreading the remnants of his room and everything he ate for lunch all over the living room floor and beyond. And the backyard has been virtually silent without him taking his nicest clothes and sitting in the dirt, scooting across the yard in what could only be described as an effort to give me more challenging laundry to do.

But obviously, 5 or 6 hours is a lot of game time for any kid. So the Taz and I talked in the car ride home and agreed we would start with limiting his game and computer time before even touching the TV time in an effort to promote more play time outside.

Of course, everything works so perfectly in theory, right?

The very first day with newly set limits, the Taz woke up early to play. And when it was time to get off, I let him know.

“I just have few more minutes till I’m done with this round, Mom. Can I finish it, and then get off?” he asked. And I agreed. Except multiply this conversation by about 10, and watch my answer vary each time – from compromise to threats to walking in the room and unplugging the dang machine and carrying it into my room.

“I was just getting off!” the Taz screamed from his room nearly 30 minutes after my first request to get off. And when I explained this to him, the conversation escalated to the borderline of me implementing the firehouse kid-giveaway rule because of some serious backtalk. And when I furthered the punishment to losing the games for an entire week, he promptly went outside where Mr. W was tending the yard and informed him that there was no point in living any longer because his video games were taken away.

Either my son is incredibly dramatic or he needs a 12-step program to get him off the tech-sauce. Or both.

At any rate, the week passed rather quickly. My son did end up surviving without video games, despite his insistence that it would be impossible. And in efforts to get the video games back quicker, he was as pleasant as pie – remembering his manners, asking to help with chores, and being the perfect child. He even took extra efforts to get off his duff and go outside, practicing his batting skills or spending the afternoon at a friend’s house. Of course, I was eating all this up. So there was no way I was going to stop it any time soon by giving back the video games early. But I had to give in when the week was up, as he had definitely held up his end of the bargain.

I think it was only 2 hours later when I had to take them away again.

Yesterday he got them back once more, and was adamant that he would not mess up this time.

“There’s no way I’m going to lose my video games, Mom,” he swore. And it was apparent he had learned his lesson. I was charging my phone at that point, getting ready to take my evening run. The Taz had already used up his video game time and was now chilling on the couch as he watched me get ready. “Are you going for a run?” he asked me. I nodded yes, that I was just waiting for my phone to get a few more battery bars so that I had some music to listen to. “How many does it have now?” he asked.

“Still only 30%, not enough yet,” I sighed as I waited.

“Oh, how long do you run for?” he asked.

“30 minutes,” I told him. I encouraged him to come with me on his bike, but he said he was done for the day. My phone was finally charged up enough to last for a 30 minute run, and I unplugged it.

“Is it ready now?” he asked.

“Yup,” I told him. He wished me well and I closed the door behind me. 30 minutes later, I walked in the door hot and sweating, earning my right to sit on the couch for the rest of the night.

“Mom, I’m sorry,” the Taz said immediately as I walked in the living room. “I played on the video games when you left, and it’s ok if you take them away for the week,” he told me with a very serious look on his face. I was shocked at his admission. But his brutal honesty became clearer when Mr. W filled me in later. Apparently he had been so interested in my run, how long it was and everything, so that he knew just how long he had to play video games without getting caught. The thing he didn’t factor in was that there was another adult in the house, and that Mr. W was very aware of the time he was allowed video games. And the Taz had been caught red-handed.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m going about this all the wrong way. Maybe if I just let him keep the stupid video games forever he’ll be too distracted to try and get away with worse addictions – like drugs or alcohol. However, in his efforts to constantly try to win back the games, he’s really a sweet kid. And his game time average for the week is around 2 hours since I keep taking them away.

I think that means I win.

Talking puberty with tweens

I was talking with a friend the other day, and the subject of his 5th grade daughter’s impending Sex Ed class came up.  At his daughter’s school, the parents were invited to view the video their children prior to the official viewing.  And so my friend and his wife attended.  They learned that Sex Ed at this age actually has more to do with an adolescent’s changing body – helping the 5th graders become more familiar with their body parts, as well as the body parts of the opposite sex.  And my friend was able to sit back comfortably for the most part as the video played…well, almost.

“My daughter is never going to look at the world in the same way,” my friend said wistfully as he described a part of the movie that showed an animation of a penis becoming erect.

And it isn’t because he didn’t want her to learn these things.  Of course she needed to know about the human body, about the changes she was going to go through, and even the changes that boys were going through too.  But it mirrored the feelings of many parents as their child is suddenly let in on the fact that their body holds more secrets than they ever knew about – and so does the bodies of their friends and classmates.

In a matter of one video, my friend’s daughter was about to lose her sandbox innocence.

In 5th grade, Sex Ed is introduced in a class about the changes a tween is about to go through: hormones, sweat glands, body odor, menstruation, nighttime secretions, growth spurts, voice changes, and all of the other things that come along with puberty.  Sexual intercourse isn’t discussed yet in this class.  However, what they cover in this short class opens the door to at least a dozen more questions that aren’t answered – and are encouraged to be asked at home.  These questions might be about the different feelings going on inside, feeling abnormal because everything is growing at different rates, even questions that may lead up to the actual Sex Talk, and all that comes along with it.

The impending arrival of these conversations leaves many parents nervous about how and when to bring the topic of sex up.  No one wants their kid to be the only one still believing in the stork by the time they hit high school.  And let me assure you, thanks to their classmates, they won’t.  However, telling your child “Hey buddy, I’d like to talk about sex with you” can illicit an immediate shutdown from your teen who would rather go to the dentist for a root canal than talk about “the deed” with dear old mom and dad. 

So what to do?

There’s no right or wrong way to bring up the subject, as every family is different.  But it is important to pay attention to cues, jumping through when a door has opened up on the subject. 

Bring up their Sex Ed class at school.  This is the easiest time to talk about puberty and sex.  Ask them what they’ve learned.  Open the dialogue up for any questions they have.  Be as honest as you can with them.  If they ask something personal that you don’t feel comfortable answering, like about your own past or present sex life, don’t be afraid to tell them you’d rather keep that personal.  But whatever you do, don’t lie. 

Use the media (and you thought TV was just for zoning out).  Turns out that all you have to do is turn on the Boob Tube, and you’ve got an instant example for sex education.  And believe me, there’s plenty.  Scenarios in different sitcoms, stories on the news, even some commercials can induce a topic on sex education.  Pay attention, and use these examples whenever you can.  Take the opportunity to discuss what could have happened if the person on TV had made a different decision.  Point out instances and consequences that aren’t in line with what would have happened had it occurred in real life.  Discuss the cause and effect someone’s choice created for them. 

Have a safe place for deeper conversations.  For my family, it’s the car.  There’s no one to overhear, making each kid feel more comfortable to share or listen about things of a more personal nature.  And since we’re on the road a lot, I have 20 minutes or more of their undivided attention (read: they have nowhere to escape) as we chat about bigger topics.  Sex is one of those.  This is when I ask them what they already know, answering any questions or correcting anything that might be incorrect or slightly off-base.  And I do my best to make it a two-way conversation rather than a lecture that might get tuned out. 

Gather books, pamphlets, or other educational material on bodies and/or about sex.  However, don’t let the pamphlets or the books do all the talking (as I know many of your own parents did).  Let these merely be the conversation opener.  Sit down with your child after they’ve had the chance to read them (even if they choose not to) and talk about what’s covered in the material.  Of course, that also means you need to read whatever you are passing on to your child.  But then you can tell your kids “You know, I actually found this to be of interest” when referencing a certain section of the book.  And let me tell you, there are actually some really great books out there about growing bodies, many that are made to be interesting to the younger generation.  For my son, I got “The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up YOU”, by Kelli Dunham and Steven Bjorkman.  For my daughter I got “Girl Stuff: A Survival Guide to Growing Up” by Margaret Blackstone and Elissa Haden Guest.  Both books covered not only the physical changes, but talked about hygiene, tips on day-to-day life and interests, as well as touching on emotions that are going on inside.  And while both kids groaned when I handed the books to them, I know for a fact that they have each opened them and at least thumbed through them.  And it helped to introduce a bit of conversation about their bodies.

Use your own experiences.  How did you feel when you suddenly needed to go shopping for a bra with your mom?  Were you embarrassed the first time you got an erection?  Was there a learning curve when it came to knowing how or when to change your pad during your period?  How did you go about disguising zits when they appeared overnight?  Did you ever feel like the most awkward kid at school?  If your child is able see you as the gangly, imperfect tween that you were, they’ll feel more comfortable sharing their own insecurities, fears, questions, or concerns about growing up.

And understand that, by no means, is the Sex Talk a one-time conversation.  Rather, it’s a series of conversations to keep having as they grow older and are in need of more information.  The info you share with them in 5th grade is going to be way different than the conversations about sex you have with them as a teenager.  You don’t have to tell them everything you know the first time you talk – that’s going to either make them tune out, or totally creep them out.  But do know that, if the dialogue is kept open right from the beginning, it will feel way more natural and easy to discuss by the time the harder conversations need to be brought up.

Is your child going through Sex Ed right now?  How’s it going – for them and for you?

P.S. I’ve been nominated in the 25 Best Blogs on Single Parenting over at Circle of Moms, and there is a week left to vote.  So far I’m in 12th place!  But I won’t stay there without continued votes.  Will you take a moment to visit the site and vote?  You can vote for more than one blog (and there are some other really great blogs there!), and you can vote every single day.  Thank you so much!

Letter to Your Younger Self

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?

The other day I was lamenting the whole 13 year old thing. It was before the recent post about Middle School Madness had been published, and a whole different entry had sat in its place as a draft article. It was full of frustrations and negativity regarding my daughter who just wasn’t getting it. I was at my wit’s end with her, and still had no idea how to get past the current wall that we were battling – let alone any of the next thousand battles we were bound to go through in her teenage years.

On this particular day, my son had baseball practice. This means my daughter and I have an hour and a half to kill before we have to pick him up again. As tradition has it, I drop my daughter off at the bookstore and I take advantage of the extra free time by going for a run before joining her. When I got back from my run, I looked all over the bookstore but couldn’t find her. I figured she was upstairs, and headed that way. But a book on display right next to the stairs made me stop in my tracks. It was the latest Chicken Soup book: “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School: 101 Stories of Life, Love, and Learning for Younger Teens”, by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Madeline Clapps, and Valerie Howlett.

The timing of this discovery was incredibly ironic.

I opened it up and read the first story, a letter by A.C. Gaughen to her younger self. She had just received a letter from her 13 year old self to her 23 year old self, and was struck by her innocence back then. And it also brought her back to all those memories of what it was like to be 13, and what she would have loved to have been able to tell her younger self – giving her encouragement that things really do get better.

And just reading that brought me out of my adult world and catapulted me into my daughter’s 13 year old world – and my own 13 year old world that seems just like yesterday while also feeling so very far away. It helped me to see things from my daughter’s perspective and gave a bit more peace where peace was drastically needed.

I was also inspired to dust off all those archives from my former self, and think about what I would have loved to have told my 13 year old self.

Here are a few of the shareable pieces of advice:

1. The hot pink lip gloss looks pretty and shiny in the bottle. It does not look good on your lips. But since you love it, carry on.  And you might as well try out the blue eye shadow. When you’re an adult and know better, you’ll only be stuck with boring neutrals so you don’t scare your officemates.

2. That boy you have been in love with since the 4th grade? You know, the one that doesn’t notice you? He’s not the only boy in school. In fact, you’re missing out on all the boys who are noticing you – the ones who would actually be more interested in what you say than how many friends you have.

3. I know you feel lost right now since your best friend just moved away. You’ll still know her for the rest of your life. And you’re about to be opened up to a whole bunch of new friendships you may not have had otherwise, some of which will remain really good friends in your adult years.

4. The internet is going to keep you in contact with just about everyone you’ve ever met in your entire life. That is both a good thing and a bad thing.

5. Pearl Jam comes out with a bunch more albums. But they never do anything better than “Ten”. Carry on listening to it over and over.

6. Yeah, all that reading in your room isn’t quite making you the most popular girl right now. But it is giving you a love for writing. In high school you’ll really come to terms with that passion. And it definitely pays off in your adult years.

7. Everyone in school is too concerned about their own flaws to really notice yours.

8. There will come a day when you won’t be jealous of your middle sister, but simply appreciate her for who she is – and appreciate YOU for who you are in the process.

9. Your youngest sister won’t always be getting into your stuff. In fact, she will one day have cooler toys than you do.  You’ll be tempted to thumb through every time you visit her. And she’ll be way cooler about it than you ever were to her.

10. You know how your mom is always telling you she hopes you have a daughter just like you? It’s both a curse AND a blessing. You do. She looks just like you. And she’s absolutely gorgeous.

11. I know you’re embarrassed about it, but it’s kind of cute that you were so nervous after your first Jr. High dance that you threw up afterwards. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

12. YOU ARE NOT FAT.

13. Start getting rid of some of those “sentimental” items you have holed up in a box under your bed. If you don’t, I’m going to end up moving them from house to house in a box because I can’t bear to get rid of them. At the same time, do NOT burn your old diaries. You’ll miss hearing your 13 year old voice when you have a hard time understanding your own 13 year old daughter.

If you could write a letter to your younger self, what would you say?

P.S. I’m entered in the Circle of Moms contest for Top 25 Blogs on Single Parenting. I hope you’ll take a moment and vote for me by CLICKING HERE. You can vote every day until May 23rd, or just once if you want. I’d be honored for your vote, either way. Thank you!

Middle School Madness

"Sometimes you put walls up not to keep people out, but to see who cares enough to break them down."

My daughter’s door was closed to me, a barrier that couldn’t possibly have been thicker than the wall that was already wedged between us. It had not been a good morning. Words had been spoken and spilled to the floor without any way to sweep them all up. We were afraid to say anything more should it add to the already hurtful things that lay between us. So we parted ways and avoided each other at all costs. And that door remained closed for the better part of the day.

Raising a 13 year old has proven to be a really hard job. It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong. But it’s challenging as well. Here’s this brilliant person you’ve raised since the beginning. And over time they are changing because that’s what happens when kids grow up. Soon, they are thrust into the in-between world of Middle School, surrounded by other in-betweeners who are all growing at different rates and reasons. Put them together, and suddenly a world of Awkwardness is created.

And the biggest disease caught from this rampant pool of hormonal teenage-dom is Embarrassment.

There is no cure for Embarrassment except for Time. And even that could take about 10 or 15 years before being tackled. In some cases it never fully goes away, leading to painful years of self-consciousness that stem from these earlier days of being a Middle School teen. In the meantime, this Embarrassment causes mean and rude things to fall out of their mouths, keeps them from hugging you goodbye as they leave for school, causes their eyes to repeatedly roll towards the ceiling, and prevents them from admitting they’re even related to you or the rest of the family – as if they just popped up one day out of the ground. Most of the time they won’t even speak real words, but have resorted to grunting and nodding, or worse – not speaking at all in their efforts to will you out of the room and out of their lives forever.

But inside, there is a multitude of feelings and emotions that, at times, feel bigger than their body. This is why they lock themselves in their room with notebooks of paper to write down their deepest, darkest desires and feelings. And they keep it all secret from us because we couldn’t possibly understand what they are going through. Sure, we parents have been there before. Remember how awful Middle School was? No, you don’t. And that’s because it was SO awful that you’ve likely blocked most of those memories out to distance yourself from a truly horrendous period of time. And I think many of us can agree that we NEVER want to go through those days again.

But my daughter, and other 13 year olds just like her, is going through this horrendous period of time NOW. There are the kids who make fun of every blemish they see, the ones who spread vicious rumors about the picked-on kid of the week, the fair-weather friends, the feelings of never belonging, the Awkwardness, the Embarrassment…. When we drop our kids off at Middle School, we are abandoning them to the pack of teenage wolves that chew them up and spit them out (and repeat) for the duration of the school day. And if they don’t attempt to blend in, they become the one who stands out – and the perfect victim. You see, to a Middle School student, deflection becomes key in keeping all negative attention at bay. What better way to avoid being picked on than to heap negative attention on someone else?

So if a Middle Schooler didn’t already feel awkward enough, they are fighting a daily battle to not be noticed and to be cool all at the same time. Therefore, everything around them they once accepted as a part of their life – their family, their home, the car they’re driven in, and more – becomes a potential for mortification. Thus, they become rude, thoughtless, and fight about the stupidest things. They hold on to their opinion out of sheer will – not just because they believe they’re right, but because they believe YOU’RE WRONG.

My daughter and I eventually did make up, just like usual. But this time, “I’m sorry” just seemed like such a forced thing to say. Instead, she silently apologized by quietly working alongside me as we cleaned up the kitchen. And I silently apologized with careful glances and small smiles. And when it was clear that the worst was over, I reached over and put my arms around her in a hug.

“I love you,” I whispered to her out of anyone else’s earshot.

“I love you too, Mom,” she told me, allowing herself to be hugged.

I’m told that it gets worse before it gets better. Let’s hope I survive this. Let’s hope she does too.

What was the worst part about Middle School for you? And how’s your kid doing with Middle School now?

P.S. I’m entered in the Circle of Moms contest for Top 25 Blogs on Single Parenting. I hope you’ll take a moment and vote for me by CLICKING HERE. You can vote every day until May 23rd, or just once if you want. I’d be honored for your vote, either way. Thank you!

Push-up bikinis for tweens

Abercrombie Kids is marketing push-up bikini tops for tweens. Being that the clothing company makes clothes for ages 7-14, it has caused quite the uproar among parents of 7 year olds who don’t have much there to actually push-up – and are too young to be putting their chest out there front and center anyways. But never fear. Being that the smallest size is for girls 56 to 58 inches tall with a 27.5 to 28.5 bust, the tops are actually too big for a 7 year old, and are more for girls  who are 11 or 12 year old or older.

But even that raises some eyebrows. 12 years olds in a push-up bikini? Are we allowing our tweens to be oversexualized too early?

A mom sent me an article the other day regarding this very issue, about how tops have gotten more lowcut and skirts have raised the hem – and how it is OUR cash that is paying for our teens and tweens to dress a lot more promiscuously than should be appropriate.

As for the girls themselves, if you ask them why they dress the way they do, they’ll say (roughly) the same things I said to my mother: “What’s the big deal?” “But it’s the style.” “Could you be any more out of it?” What teenage girl doesn’t want to be attractive, sought-after and popular?
And what mom doesn’t want to help that cause? In my own case, when I see my daughter in drop-dead gorgeous mode, I experience something akin to a thrill—especially since I myself am somewhat past the age to turn heads.
(Read more HERE.)

But Jeanne Sager of Café Stir has a different take on what a push-up bikini top is for a tween. It’s less about being oversexualized and more about giving a tween confidence. For those in the “barely there” club, a little extra oomph when all your peers are boasting mini-cleavage on the beach can be the difference between hiding on a towel covered by a shirt or running around in a swimsuit without worries of being compared to a pancake.

A little push-up can go a long way toward making them feel like their top won’t fall off on the beach (because there’s nothing to HOLD IT THERE). So is it sexualization to make kids comfortable? Not really.

A commenter agreed with Jeanne, giving her own experience:

“…I about said I wouldn’t on a 12 year old then i stopped and remembered what it was like for me at 12 with really no chest to speak of and being horribly self conscious about it. I would have done anything to add a couple extra inches onto my bust just to look normal. However for those parents who are about to yell at you they just need to stop and remember that they are the parent and all they have to do is just not buy it if they feel that strongly about it.”

For me, I remember doing everything I could at the age of 12 to hide my body on the beach.  Bikini?  Uh, no thank you.  It wasn’t that I was overdeveloped or underdeveloped, it was that showing that much skin when I was accustomed to hiding under jeans and a baggy sweatshirt was mortifying.  And at 13, my own daughter has yet to graduate from her comfy choice of swim trunks to a regular bathing suit.  And we’re not alone in this.  Plenty of girls are less comfortable in the string bikinis with a slight push-up that Abercrombie has on their racks, and more comfortable in something a little less revealing. 

And knowing all that, it actually makes me get the whole “confidence in a push-up” thing.  And I can’t say that I would turn my daughter away if she wanted to wear a bikini to the beach that allowed her to move around a bit more comfortably, escaping the awkwardness that goes along with the age – at least for a little while.  But at the same time, that very concept makes me cringe a little….because it also seems that the message we are giving girls is that their confidence lies in the size of their breasts, and that being just 12 isn’t good enough.

What do you think? Are we allowing our tweens to grow up too fast, encouraging them to find their sexuality sooner than ever? Or is a push-up bikini top for a 12 year old more about allowing an older tween to feel more confident in a body they normally feel awkward in?