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Archive for the ‘teens’ Category

graduate2

Malia Obama, oldest daughter of President Barack Obama, is in her senior year of high school, and she has been accepted to attend Harvard University as her college of choice. However, before the first daughter attends her very first college class, she will be taking a year off—otherwise known as a “gap year.”

Big in Europe and Australia, and just now catching on in the US, a gap year is when students decide to delay their entry to college to either catch their breath after high school, or to gather some life or work experiences before embarking on their college career.

For Malia, the decision to take a gap year makes sense. Her father is in his last year of presidency, and there will be a lot of changes as the family adjusts to life after the White House. So, it doesn’t really seem like a big surprise that she isn’t jumping right into college after she graduates from high school.

For me, however, a gap year was not my parents’ favorite decision that I made. I wanted to move out with my boyfriend and begin working full-time right away. They wanted me to go away to college and pursue the classes I need toward the writing or teaching career I had often talked about.

In the end, I won out. I moved out the day after high school, increased my hours at work, and gained some real life experience. A year later, and I still wasn’t going to college. More than that, we were broke, and had accidentally started a family. Whoops.

My education took an alternative turn from the traditional route of college. I was lucky in that my experiences still led me to where I wanted to be in life. But because of the hardships I also faced from this life decision, I don’t heartily recommend taking a gap year.

Finally, my daughter—the one we started our family with—is graduating from high school this year. I’m proud to say that she’s not taking a gap year, as she will be starting classes at Sonoma State University in the fall.

With all that said, I still recognize that there are many students who are disciplined enough to take a year off after high school, and still sign up for college courses a year later. If that is your choice (or your child’s choice), here are 10 things you can do in that break between high school and college.

1. Travel
Trust me when I say this, there will never be a more perfect time for you to journey someplace new and live out of a suitcase. Later on, you will have a career, a family, obligations, responsibilities…. There will be so many things that will chain you where you are, making it difficult to just get up and go. Take a road trip to a new state. Or grab your passport and get on a plane. Peruse Groupon or Travelocity for deals, or split the tab with a few good friends.

2. Get a job….and save!
Work experience is worth its weight in gold. Future employers want to know about your past jobs, and they want to know you’ll be a good employee. This is a great time to pad your resume with a few small-time jobs, and even work your way up the ladder. Plus, a portion of that money can go toward next year’s college tuition, saving you money in the long run.

3. Join the Peace Corps
This is an opportunity for you to do something great for mankind, and to also see the world in the least expensive way possible. There is an application process and a few requirements involved, but if you’re approved, you will find yourself in a new part of the world, making new friends, and aiding others who are relying on your help.

4. Cross a few things off your bucket list
I know you have one. Perhaps it’s seeing the Grand Canyon. Maybe it’s running a marathon. Whatever it is, this is a great time for you to create a few memories, do all the things you’ve always wanted to do, and give you a few new stories you’ll tell your grandkids one day.

5. Hike the PCT.
You know, like Cheryl Strayed did (and told about in her memoir, “Wild”). Or just do a week-long backpacking trip like my friend, Inga Aksamit, did (and told about in her own memoir, “Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail“).  Make sure you have a pair of sturdy shoes!

6. Learn something new
Take a sail-boating class. Learn how to bone a fish. Discover how tie every knot there is. Learn how to sew your own outfit, or how to knit a scarf. Practice putting up a tent on your own, and then how to tear it down. Take a dance class, a yoga class, a jujitsu class, or a singing class. Learn how to ride a horse. Learn how to do a back flip. Learn to speak a new language. Take all the fun classes you can now. The possibilities are endless.

7. Write a book
You know you have one in you. Might as well use this time to jot it down. Who knows? It could become the next bestseller.

8. Learn some life skills
You know good ol’ Mom and Dad? They actually have a few tricks up their sleeve. They can balance a checkbook in the blink of an eye. They can whip up a meal for five in 30 minutes. They can change the oil on the car, or switch out the windshield wipers. They can budget their finances with a few bucks leftover. Use this next year to learn everything you can from these wise people you call parents.

9. Do nice things for others
If you love animals, the local animal shelter would probably love your help. Enjoy farm work? See if any of the local farms need a hand. Have a neighbor with an overgrown lawn? Grab your dad’s lawnmower and mow their lawn. During this next year, look for ways you can add brightness to someone else’s life through random kind gestures.

10. Gain some perspective
What are your goals in life? What do you wish to accomplish by the time you’re 25, 30, 40 and more? What kind of career will make you happy? What are the values you wish to always take with you, and what are the bad habits you hope to shed? Use this next year to become clear on what you wish for your life, and to start mapping out your plan to make that happen!

What would you add to a gap year list? Did you take a gap year? What was your experience like?

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With a household of young adults aged 15-20, I am in the final years of my hands-on parenting stage, and the empty nest is getting closer and closer. If I think too hard about this fact, I am liable to burst into tears. However, sometimes this revelation is a light in a tunnel of teenage moodiness and rebellion.

Each stage of parenting has both pros and cons, and these later teen years are no exception. I love that my kids are so independent now. I no longer need to coordinate their every move, or ensure they are properly entertained. All of my kids are capable of jumping on a bus or driving a car downtown to go hang out with their friends, and they earn their own money to pay their way for non-essentials. They make many of their own meals and keep track of their own homework. And I thoroughly enjoy conversations with them, because they are at a level where we can discuss things from current events to their natural day-to-day.

However, their growing independence comes with a price. Being so close to total independence, my kids tend to believe they should have the kind of absolute freedom all adults have, even while they are still a dependent in our household. They fight certain rules and obligations, and the power struggle is real. They have reached an age when forcing them to do anything is no longer realistic, and I have to rely heavily on the ideals I’ve raised them with, and hope with all my might that these ideals possess some sort of pull in their current decision making.

There are many times when I feel like just throwing my hands up in the air, and maybe even giving them the house while I move to some deserted island. But just when I have reached my breaking point with these rebellious, stubborn teens, they do something to remind me that they are really just brilliant human beings that I cherish more than anything, and they are only testing their wings before they are ready to fly.

I came across an article I wrote when my daughter was 13. In it, I was going through an especially difficult time with her, and I was frustrated with how far our relationship had fallen in such a short amount of time. But then I put myself in her shoes, remembering what it was like when I was 13 years old. I ended up writing a letter to my 13-year-old self, telling my younger self all the things I would have loved to have known back then. You can read that letter here.

My daughter is now nearing her high school graduation, my son is finishing his first year of high school, and my stepson is figuring out his career goals after college. It’s so easy to place my adult ideals on their day-to-day actions, and grow frustrated when they don’t do things the way I would do them. However, if I look back at the person I was at their age, and remember what it was like as an older teen getting ready to leave the nest, I gain a bit of perspective about their role in life.

I also remember all the things I grappled with at their age.

So in favor of understanding my teens a bit better, I took a stroll down memory lane and wrote a new letter to myself from way back when. Here’s what I came up with:

Dear 18-year-old Crissi,

At this moment, you are preparing for high school prom, graduation, and the moment when you can pack your bags and leave your over-controlling parents and all of their ridiculous rules. I get it. You can’t wait for your freedom. These are exciting times. However, as your 38-year-old self, I feel it my duty to share a few things I’ve learned about us in the past 20 years. I hope you will take some of these things in consideration.

1. If you are given the choice between moving in with that exciting bad boy or getting a college education, CHOOSE EDUCATION. Trust me on this, it’s going to save you a lot of headaches. That being said, I know you’re not going to listen to me. See #8.

2. Smoking does not make you look cool. Just stop.

3. Pay attention to who your real friends are, and stop wishing you were hanging out with the “cool kids.” Years from now, those cool kids won’t even know who you are. But your real friends? They’ll still care for you 20 years after you graduate.

4. You don’t have to fall in love with every boy who pays attention to you.

5. YOU ARE NOT FAT.

6. Right now, you believe you are completely plain and forgettable. But years from now, you are going to find out from several people that they looked up to you, had a crush on you, or wished they had been better friends with you. You are not as invisible as you think you are. However, the biggest takeaway I want you to gain from this knowledge is that you should really be kinder to yourself. You’re kind of awesome.

7. You will have a daughter JUST LIKE YOU. Sorry. And congratulations.

8. That boy you’re dating is going to be the worst thing that ever happened to you. He is also going to be one of the best. Through him, you get to have two really awesome kids, and you are also going to gain a real life education.

9. You are going to be way too young when you start having kids. You are going to make countless mistakes. However, you will also learn so much as you all grow together. And when they are older, you will get to be the cool, “young” mom, and you will share a unique bond with your kids.

10. You will one day be friends with your parents. Right now, you don’t get why they are so strict, and why there are so many rules. You are even plotting all the ways you will be a much better parent than they are. Trust me, they actually know what they are doing—at least for the most part. One day, you will reach a point in your parenthood when you understand why they did things a certain way, especially when your own kids are being buttheads. You will also have many days when you want to call them and apologize.

If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what would you say?

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I have a 12-year-old son who is a 7th grader this year. Like most 7th grade boys, my son’s actions don’t necessarily involve a lot of thought. Just this week alone, he decided that buying and consuming a Monster energy drink right before bed was a good idea, skipping his chores and lying about them being done was perfectly acceptable, yelling at his stepdad would have no repercussions, and leaving the house and not coming back until after 8 p.m. (with no cell phone or note) was okay.

And in the past month or so, he has also pointed his fingers at other cars while I’ve been driving, pretending to shoot at them.

replica gunYesterday, our county was rocked by the news that a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed by the police in a southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood. The first reports spoke of a man carrying assault weapons who was shot down. But the developing story evolved, and it became clear that no would-be murderer was killed – it was just a boy, carrying “toy” guns, or rather, replicas of real guns.

I can’t comment on who is at fault in this situation. There just isn’t enough information yet about what went down in the time when this kid was spotted, and when he was fired upon. But I do know that nerves are rattled at the recent news of a boy the same age who brought a gun to his Nevada school, injuring two students and killing a teacher before turning the gun on himself. I know that there are news stories all over the nation of kids who are capable of heinous crimes. And I know that a boy around the age of 13 would think nothing of carrying around a toy gun that looked exactly like the real thing – because they’d WANT it to look like the real thing.

This morning, I sat down with my son and told him about this 13-year-old boy’s death and his family’s tragedy. I took the opportunity to discuss how there is nothing funny about pretend violence – how it can actually lead to something tragic like this. And I laid out some firm guidelines for him:

– Never go out in public carrying anything that might look like a real weapon. Nerf guns are one thing – their bright colors and odd shape makes them apparent they’re just a toy. But anything that is supposed to look real can be mistaken for the real thing, and could get you injured or killed.

– Never point your fingers at anyone else to look like a gun. You don’t know who you’re pointing at, and it could have the real thing pointed back at you in return.

– Always, ALWAYS respect the law and those employed to enforce it.

This boy’s death is a tragedy for his family, and for our community. There are no words to describe the sorrow I feel for everyone involved in this devastating event. Yes, there was a time when a kid wouldn’t get shot for carrying something that is only meant to look like a weapon. But times have changed. Even “just playing around” can be deemed unsafe.

I urge all parents to take a moment and speak with your kids about the importance of weapon safety – even if that “weapon” is just pretend.

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School has been in for about 4 weeks now, and the reality of middle school is finally hitting the fan for my 7th grade son. With 6 classes and homework assigned in each, my organization-challenged son has been fumbling a bit with the amount of work he still has to do once the school bell has rang. Last week was especially hard for him since he was sick on Monday, and then tried to play catch-up all week long.

Friday morning he came to me in tears because his homework wasn’t done for his hardest class. Of course, he’d had plenty of time the day before to use up his videogame time and play with his friends in the evening. And when asked if his work was finished, he swore that it was. Obviously that wasn’t true.

Looks like we’re in for a few changes in our household.

I’ve had to come up with a new plan to hopefully encourage success this 7th grade year, and maybe help him take on a few better habits before the year is up. To help out other parents of struggling middle schoolers, here are a few things I’ve incorporated to help him gain control over his school work.

Get them a daily planner.
Most schools now require these. If not, get one for your child anyway. Have them write down their homework DAILY, and then check it every day to make sure their homework is done. If necessary, ask each teacher to partner with you on this to ensure your child knows their homework assignments. After all, your child’s teachers want your child to succeed.

Write down your expectations.
Your child is 12 or older. They’re not little kids anymore. However, some kids this age are going through such information overload, they can’t keep two thoughts straight. Create a checklist of what you expect them to do so they won’t forget. If it’s an unchanging list, you can even laminate it. Trust me, many kids will actually appreciate this.

No electronics until work is done.
That means no TV, no computer, no videogames, no phone…no nothing. If they need to use the internet for their homework, have them do it in a common room (if possible) and stay close enough that you can check to make sure it’s actually homework and not social media they’re working on.

Enforce appropriate restrictions.
If your child isn’t capable of pulling a B in his class because the work is too hard, don’t punish him. However, if your child’s grade is affected by not turning in homework, by all means, start taking privileges away! And be firm – don’t give them back until progress is made. Nothing works like a little incentive.

Limit after-school activities.
I’m sorry to all you sports families out there (we’re one of them, too), but if your child is struggling to get their homework done, then they may need to take a pass on Fall Ball or soccer. It seems ridiculous to be challenging your kid in sports, dance class, or any other extra activities if their school work is suffering.

Be available.
School is hard. Junior high is hard! I look at my kid’s homework, and I am grateful I don’t have to go to school anymore. But they do – and they need your help. You might not know everything they’re learning (which is a humbling realization), but you can at least be there for moral support, and to guide them in how to figure out the answer. Who knows, you might remember a thing or two from your Jr. High Algrebra class…

What are some ways you help your kid be successful in school?

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In the morning, I am usually the last one to leave the house.  I kind of like it that way, because it gives me a few moments of quiet in an empty house.  Of course, it also means that I am the one who is left with a sink full of dishes to fill the dishwasher with, and hungry cats that still need to be fed.

This morning was no exception.  In fact, the sink was filled with dishes, despite the fact that the dishwasher was close to empty.  This included a container from yesterday that still held the remnants of warm tuna.  Totally appetizing.  And to the right of me sat the stove with leftover food chunks from everyone’s breakfast makings.

I could have gotten mad.  Admittedly, I was a little irritated.  But honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal.

However, the appliances did not feel the same way.

Here’s the note the dishwasher left.

And the stove, not able to keep silent any longer, added its two cents as well.

I was concerned that perhaps my family might take offense to the appliance’s efforts to share their feelings.  But I didn’t want to stifle their voice either.  After all, everyone is entitled to their feelings.  So I left for work and went on with my day.

When I got home, however, apparently the loaf pans and my husband had a heart to heart while I was gone.  My husband heard I had made banana bread while he was away on a business trip, and none was saved for him.  The loaf pan felt bad about this, and felt the need to share its own feelings:

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And then, the calendar – who I keep forgetting to put the dang month on – decided enough was enough.  My daughter keeps reminding me to do my usual artistic month title, but I keep forgetting.  Guess the calendar felt a little slighted.

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I think my house has gone mad….

P.S. The teenagers in the house decided humorous notes totally beat out ordering them around.  When I came home, the stove was totally clean, and all the dishes were put away.

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When you think of Easter baskets, you probably think of young toddlers running out to see what the Easter Bunny has left for them. You may have visions of tiny toys and plastic eggs filled with jellybeans. There’s magic in those grass filled baskets, and it’s not wasted on toddlers who will marvel at every single surprise they discover Easter morning.

But what about the teenagers?

When I was growing up, my mom made it a point to never take away the magic we felt at holidays when we were younger. Well into our adult years, we received a stocking full of small gifts at Christmas, a bunch of pink and red covered chocolate treats at Valentine’s Day, and an Easter basket full of trinkets and goodies at Easter. And now in my own house, I am continuing the tradition.

Thing is, however, it is much more difficult to find fun things to give teens at Easter when the majority of seasonal treats are geared towards kids under the age of 10. This year is even harder as we work to steer clear of all things sugary – i.e. anything that is traditional to give at Easter.

So with a little help from other parents and some searching on my own, I have put together my own list of things, edible and not, a teenager might want to discover in their basket Easter morning.

Happy Easter!

1. CDs
2. DVDs
3. Gift cards to their favorite store
4. Nostalgic kid toys (wind-up cars, Lego men, yoyos)
5. Pez dispenser
6. Gum
7. Themed baskets (nail spa, music list, hair, etc)
8. Movie tickets
9. Family coupons (for a later curfew, get out of chores free, etc)
10. Gas card
11. Nail polish
12. Lip gloss
13. Magazine (cars, beauty, or whatever their interest)
14. Poster of their favorite actor/band
15. iTunes gift card
16. Sunglasses
17. Perfume or cologne
18. Toothbrush
19. Water bottle
20. Travel coffee mug
21. Book
22. Phone accessories
23. Ear buds
24. Comic book
25. Disposable camera
26. Hair accessories
27. Flip flops
28. Beach towel
29. Sketch pad
30. Journal
31. Socks
32. Gel pens
33. Smelly pens
34. Glitter glue
35. Sharpies
36. Kite
37. Small package of cookies
38. Snapple
39. Crackers
40. Subway gift card
41. Keychain
42. Hat
43. Chapstick
44. Lotion
45. Flower seeds
46. Video game
47. Jewelry
48. Wallet
49. Purse
50. Dollar coins

What else?

Does the Easter Bunny still visit your teenager? What kind of treats do they give your teen?

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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?

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