Category Archives: teens

Best gifts for teens

The most difficult group of people to buy gifts for? Teens. They’ve moved beyond the latest Elmo toys and those cute outfits we love to see them in, and have now developed a taste in style that is as separate from ours as they can get. Needless to say, this makes gift buying for them extremely difficult. Having several teens on my own gift-giving list this year (and knowing firsthand how horrendous the teen gift-buying experience can be), I’ve compiled a smorgasbord of items that your teen may actually crack a smile over….and utter something more than their usual grunt.

1. Video Games
These are a terribly personal gift, and it’s best if you know what titles your teen is asking for before buying, as well as what the games are about if you’re concerned about content. But if you’re looking to surprise your teen, here are a few titles topping the lists this year (with help from our game blogger, Eric Wittmershaus).
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” – A massive, open-world role-playing game full of magic, elves and dragons.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” – Cutthroat mulitplayer that puts players in the role of various manly men fighting World War III against a Russia run by a group of ultranationalist terrorists
“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” – The latest, and possibly greatest, chapter of the Zelda series that has Link tormented by dreams, and scouring the dreamy world of Skyloft for his princess Zelda.
“L.A. Noire” – Detective story set in a stunning re-creation of post-World War II Los Angeles.
“FIFA 12” – Sports gamers will appreciate the improvements in this latest version of the soccer game that features improved gameplay, competitive scenarios, and more.
For more video game titles, check out Eric’s blog at gamewit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.

2. iGifts
The iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone are topping the lists for technology this year, according to a Nielson survey. And truthfully, you can’t go wrong with these gifts. Not only do the offer tons of uses beyond just listening to music or scouring the internet, they offer plenty of other gift ideas to go with them – accessories, headphones, protective covers, iTunes gift cards… Your whole family will be set on what to get your teen. Thank you Steve Jobs.

3. eReaders
Teens still enjoy a good book, but eReaders give them the ease of being able to dive into a novel without lugging around something bulky and heavy. Those who enjoy reading several titles at once will especially love the ease a good eReader gives them. Topping the charts is the Kindle 3, followed closely by the Nook Simple Touch Reader. The eReader we recommend with the best memory options (though low battery life) would be the Nook Tablet.

4. Clothing
Tread lightly if you plan on buying your teen fashions. Many teens have a very specific (read: picky) sense of style, and will turn their nose up at most of the things you deem “cute”. If you don’t have a specific sense of what your teen likes to wear, it’s best just to take your kid pre-shopping and let them pick out what you’ll be wrapping up in terms of clothing. Or, just keep the receipts for a few inevitable returns.

5. Livescribe Pulse Smartpen
Possibly the coolest thing this self-described geek has ever seen, it’s a way to make note taking easier. The pen records audio and handwritten notes to make studying and organization so much easier. Drool…. Buy it at Amazon

6. Polaroid 300 Instant Camera
Sure, now everything is digital. But what about the retro coolness of the Polaroid camera? Photo buffs will go gaga over the vintage aspect of shaking out their instant photo for a new spin on picture taking. Comes in black and red at HSN.com.

Still strapped for ideas? Here are a few more:

Preppy teens:
Make-up
Hair accessories
Watch
Jewelry
Perfume or cologne
Locker accessories
Leather-bound journal

Sporty teens:
Carrying bags
Team wear
Athletic shoes
Heart monitor
MP3 player
Snow Goggle Camera

Geektastic teens:
Computer
Portable speakers
Eclectic alarm clocks
Gaming Chair
Gadget charging station
Laptop messenger bag
Gaming accessories

New Driver:
Personalized license plate
License plate cover
Fun bumper stickers
Antenna characters
Floor mats
Seat covers
Car speakers
GPS/Garmin

Teen Room decor:
Lava lamp
Beanbag
Room fridge
Glow in the dark decals
Random art
Wall clock
Artistic lamp

And more:
Headphones
Subscription to online streaming site like Hulu, Pandora, Netflix, or Spotify.
Retro style record players
Artist carrying case
Origami kit
Karaoke machine

Teen Stocking stuffers:
Cash
Personalized luggage tags
Keychain
Chocolate
Uniquely styled USB Flash Drives
Earbuds
Room freshener
Fingerless gloves

Teenage Secrets

DQ grimaced and rubbed her leg after lunging after the soccer ball in an epic save against the goal. She had stopped it from going in and expertly kicked it halfway across the field. But in the process she had been hit in the thigh. The twisted look on her face said more than she was willing to let on to her coach, but the pain wasn’t going away. And so I did what any mother would do when they see their kid hurt on the field – I let the coach know. As a result, the coach suited up another player to take over as goalie. I took a quick glance over at DQ who now wore a furious look on her face knowing she was about to be pulled from the game. At the next throw-in, the coach called DQ out and the new girl in. And DQ came off the field, loudly exclaiming that she was fine. And by her run, I saw that she really was fine. I immediately regretted opening my mouth.

“I was fine!” she huffed as she sat on my blanket next to me. “Why’d she have to take me out?” I admitted to her it was my fault, that I had said something because it looked like she was in pain.

“Just take a breather and then she’ll put you back in,” I told her.

“But there’s only a few minutes left,” she scowled, and went over to the bench and sat their angrily. When she’d cooled off some, the coach did put her in. And DQ had time to make one more save before the game ended with three shrill bleets of the ref’s whistle. She’d missed out on playing goalie the whole half, and the team had lost bitterly to boot.

Her mood remained sour for much longer than I thought necessary as we made our way home, and I started to explain my position of preferring to be wrong over how hurt she was by pulling her out than having her be severely hurt and keeping her in. But she stopped me before I could.

“I’m sorry Mom. It doesn’t really have anything to do with this. I’ve just had a really rough day.” And she slunk down in her chair. I was about to ask her why when she interrupted again. “You haven’t, by any chance, talked to my principal, have you?” I’ve known her principal for years, having been close friends with her sister for more than half my life.

“No…. Are you in trouble?” I asked her. It didn’t seem likely, since DQ, while mouthy, is not one to necessarily stir up mischief.

“No, no trouble. I just talked with her about some stuff.”

“Do you want to talk with me about it?” I asked her.

“No, not really.”

That was all she would say about it, even when I pressed her. And when I finally asked her why she wouldn’t share with me, she told me, “Mom, I share more things with you than most kids would share with their moms. But I’d rather not discuss this with you.” And with that, the conversation was over.

Why was I having such a problem with this? I knew the day would come when I was no longer the person she came to about things close to her heart. There were countless things I had kept from my own mother – not because I thought I’d be in trouble, but because I felt like she just wouldn’t understand. Regardless if I knew I could handle most anything DQ told me, it was inevitable there would be things she’d rather not discuss with me.

“You and your daughter have shared a special bond for a long time, Crissi,” Mr. W told me as I broke down over this. “Of course this hurts.” I felt silly to lose tears over something that was as natural as a teen asserting her independence. Even knowing it would come, and all the signs had been pointing this way for awhile now, it still didn’t seem real. But there was something bigger that I still couldn’t pinpoint regarding what the heck was eating me up so hard over this.

I went to bed mulling this over, and woke up the next morning with it fresh on my mind. I was embarrassed that I had even continued to press the issue with her, even after she had laid out her boundaries that this was off limits from me. I even went so far as to email my friend, the principal. I didn’t go so far as to ask her what was going on, but asked her if there was something I should be concerned about. Outwardly, I was just being a dedicated parent who wanted to be sure her daughter was OK and not in over her head over something. But inside, I was hoping to get the scoop on whatever DQ couldn’t tell me, but could confide in her principal.

And that’s when it hit me. It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t tell me something. It was more that she trusted another adult over me to confide in.

Of course it’s natural that my daughter would want to confide in someone else besides me regarding some things. And the truth is, I always wondered if there were people in our lives that she could go to should something be too deep to share with me.  But now that she had found someone to fit that role, I was forgetting that this was actually a good thing.

DQ came in my room that morning. While I was still curious over what was eating her up, I told her I would respect her space on this. I admitted my email to her principal, and her eyes narrowed. But I relayed the email I received back, assuring her that the principal had revealed nothing, only telling me that DQ was just “being a teenager”, and that she’d check in with her Monday morning.

I still don’t know what’s up. And I’m not going to lie, my curiosity hasn’t died out. But I don’t feel the need to press my daughter on this. Maybe she’ll tell me in her own time. Maybe I’ll never know. Regardless, there’s one thing that I almost missed that is more important than all of this – and that’s the fact that my daughter knew to come to someone who could help with an issue that was plaguing her. And as sucky as it it, that person doesn’t always have to be me.

Parenting in the college years

So they've graduated. Now what?

Our family is getting closer to the college years. My kids still have a little ways to go, being in 5th and 8th grades. But Mr. W’s son is staring down the barrel having just entered his junior year of high school. And while we’re all relatively calm about this reality, the stress of this is surfacing ever so slightly every day we creep towards mailing off the college and scholarship applications.

Of interest, I came across an article on a new book for parents of kids in college this weekend. Appropriately enough, it’s called “Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money“, by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller. And while I haven’t read the book, I can already tell it’s one I should be picking up.

“As a faculty member, parents call me when their children are dissatisfied with grades, and it’s become all too common to find parents editing students’ papers,” said Christine Schelhas-Miller, co-author of the book. “The risk is having children who graduate without the skills to make decisions, solve problems and take responsibility for their own lives.”

Basically, this book is the how-to regarding cutting the apron strings – a guide for encouraging your kids to not depend on mommy and daddy in the years they should be exercising their freedom. It’s how to NOT call them every day. It’s how to keep from knowing all the trouble they’re getting into on their own. And it’s how to NOT come to their rescue when they’ve run out of money, their laundry’s piling up, they aren’t sleeping well, and they’re behind on their studies. Basically, by not helping them, you are actually HELPING them. And you’re ensuring that your kids won’t be included in the boomerang statistic because they won’t be running back home when things get tight. Instead, they’ll learn by default how to take care of themselves and become a responsible adult in society.

A few tips for parents of college-age students, as suggested by the book:

– Start detaching from kids in their sophomore year of high school. Let them take the lead in things like their college application, getting a job, doing their own laundry, etc. Ease them into becoming more independent so it’s not such a shock three years later.

– Understand the needs of a “Stress Dump”. You can listen. You can let them get it out. But you are not obligated to save them from their troubles. Sometimes ‘pain’ is necessary. And sometimes doing nothing is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing to help them. Of course, suggestions like “talk to your professor” or questions about what they’re hoping to accomplish can also help. But don’t be afraid to let them figure it out on their own too.

Have you survived your child’s college years? Or are you just getting started? What would be your advice to parents about to enter the college years with their child?

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.

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.

Teens could be expelled for sexting

Thanks to Anthony Weiner, the topic of sexting has (hopefully) become regular dinner table talk among family members across the nation. However, the problems of sexting are not segregated to just the Weiner household. It doesn’t take much more than a click of a button for a nude or sexually explicit photo to be sent via text message. But the results of such an action leaves that photo out there for more than must the recipient to be able to see. Those photos can be passed around friends, and even sent to strangers. And a nude photo that is sent to another person’s cell phone can circulate for, well, forever, and can ruin a person’s life.

Our state of California is especially concerned with the rising epidemic of sexting that is going on between middle school and high school students. It has been reported that one in five California teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures and video online. While most adults are aware that sending a photo of a naked body part will surely end up on the internet or circulated among friends, teens aren’t concerned about such dangers, or even understand what the aftermath of such an action would be like. And now, beyond the embarrassment of sending a nude text photo, a teen could become expelled from school.

Senator Ted Leiu introduced bill SB919 that unanimously passed on the Senate floor that will enforce expulsion if any student is caught sending or receiving a text with a sexually explicit or nude photo or video. However, it isn’t clear whether a student will be expelled for sexting photos that are not their own, or where the sexting occurred (as in on or off school grounds).

I’m not so sure I agree with the idea of expulsion across the board for sexting. If it’s true that one in 5 students are guilty of sending or receiving nude photos, than expulsion would have 20% of our teens kicked out of school. How will this be enforced if, say, 20 people pass around the same photo? Will all of them be expelled? While I do agree that some sort of punishment needs to be put in place for those who are targeting someone by sending their nude or semi-nude photo around, there are just too many shades of gray. And while malice does surely take place in some instances of sexting, the biggest culprit in a video or photo placed in public hands is generally from lack of common sense – more a reason to educate rather than punish.

This is why, more than expulsion, we need to teach kids about the implications of sending nude photos to other people. But how does a parent bring this up to their teens? An easy way is to talk about the issues going on in the news. Discuss the shame that Anthony Weiner is now facing in his career, let alone how it has affected his marriage. Talk about how the video Paris Hilton created with her ex-boyfriend is now all over the internet, and how she now regrets it amid legal action concerning the tape, as well as feeling betrayed by someone who once loved her. Talk about how Brett Favre is now paying for the nude photos he repeatedly sent of himself to a NY Jets reporter – how many will always remember him for those photos rather than his football career. Have an open discussion about what these public figures are facing now that those photos and videos have circulated for everyone else to see, and the embarrassment they are surely feeling now. And have your kids think about what it would be like if their teachers came across those photos, their parents or grandparents, people they don’t know at school, or even those they DO know.

What’s your take? Would it actually be better if schools crack down even more heavily on those caught sexting?

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.

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!

For the love of coffee

I had my first cup of coffee when I was probably 13. It was loaded with cream, and had more sugar than should be consumed in a 24 hour period. But it gave me a powerful surge of energy.

And it was how I realized that I loved coffee.

I experimented with my coffee palate some over my teen years. That plain coffee turned to mochas – my grown-up version of a hot chocolate. And sometimes, just to be even more “mature”, I’d add a couple more shots of espresso and be bouncing off the walls by late morning. And then I discovered vanilla lattes, the already sweetened coffee drink that held the perfect amount of milk to foam ratio. And this became my signature drink in high school whenever I hit up the local coffee shop.

While I definitely loved those fancy coffee shop drinks, they didn’t hold a candle to the coffee I drank first thing in the morning when everyone except my dad was asleep. It wasn’t flavored with vanilla or chocolate. It wasn’t served in a paper cup with an accompanying croissant. It wasn’t fancy at all. But it was the moment that made it special. Together, Dad and I would pour a cup and sit over the newspaper, taking turns reading it. (It’s interesting, when I got older I envisioned my perfect man as someone I could share the newspaper and a cup of coffee with. And I believe it was these early morning rituals that cemented that desire in me – just another piece of proof about how much impact parents have on their kids.) This was at a time when my dad and I didn’t have much to talk about. I was a surly, headstrong teen who hated school and loved her tatted boyfriend. He was a nose-to-the-grindstone worker who was never private about his expectations for all his daughters, and when we were falling short. He hated my lifestyle and wished better things for me. I just wanted to do my own thing and have my dad accept that. We couldn’t see eye to eye. And many times we’d go days without speaking because neither of us were willing to give in. But whenever our bond was severed by some trivial matter (usually a defiance on my part), it was over one of these morning coffees that it would be resolved. It may have been because I wasn’t fully awake enough to come up with a sound rebuttal. Or perhaps it was because there was no one else around to see me let my guard down. But I think it was really because this had become our moment of the day when we actually connected and were able to be honest with each other. Somehow, things that we’d avoided saying were blurted all over the table, scooped into neat piles, and then categorized until we were able to put them away with ways to solve them. Most of the time, my tough exterior was riddled with tears – tiny droplets that started out angry, but eventually weakened to apologies and need for a bit of love. And my dad never failed to react appropriately with a bear hug and an “I love you”, and sometimes even an apology of his own.

It’s not uncommon to see teens today walking out of coffee shops with a cup of joe. It’s become the social drink of the ages as we find more and more coffee shops popping up everywhere. It’s argued that caffeine isn’t healthy for the younger generation, and I agree. Too much caffeine from coffee (and yes, sodas too) can get in the way of sleep and take away from water consumption. And the desired effect of coffee can lead to even more caffeine consumption through energy drinks or boosters with not only caffeine, but stimulants like guarana and taurine that can affect different people in different ways, can decrease attention spans, and lead to high blood pressure.  And large amounts of caffeine can be dangerous to kids with ADHD, diabetes, sleep issues and eating disorders.

But remembering my own childhood and what that cup of coffee meant to me in terms of connecting with my dad, I don’t stop my own daughter from reaching for the coffee pot every so often as we’re both waking up. My coffee nowadays is rid of all sugar, thanks to a metabolism that holds on to every calorie I consume, while my daughter’s is reminiscent of my past sugary teenage brew.

And I don’t stop her from drinking it.

For in that simple cup of warmth is a magical bonding ingredient, allowing for a connection to be bridged even as every other aspect of our relationship strains in her beginning years of teenage independence.  And even if she doesn’t say it, I know it means just as much to her now as it did to me way back when…and as much as it means to me now as I sit on the parent side of the breakfast table with a cup of coffee and a partially read newspaper.