Category Archives: teens

Guest Blogger: Surviving Finals Week

Many students are entering finals week in the weeks to come.  Dr. David Sortino has offered up some great suggestions for parents and students to get through this week.  So I am turning this blog over to him.  Thanks David! 

And Remember, It’s Only a Test!
by Dr. David Sortino

With finals week approaching for most middle and high school students, here are some suggestions about how students can improve their test taking skills or strategies. We need to realize that doing well on a test is not based solely on the student’s ability to recall information, but also on his/her knowledge about test preparation.

For example, the obvious and one of the most important strategies is to review regularly course content from beginning to end. This is critical. The earlier you review, the less you forget. Moreover, studies about learning and memory show that you will remember most information at the beginning and end and forget the middle. Reviewing the material will keep beginnings, middles, and ends current. Also, ask your brain how it likes to remember and it will probably say “review and review and review.”

Another important strategy is to learn the material in chunks or what learning specialists call “chunking.” And always remember the brain responds best to organization and “chunking” supports good organizational skills.

The next obvious point is to think about what your teacher considers most important. We all know teachers have certain interests; therefore, their particular interests could be on the test.

Know vocabulary, special terms, or formulas for the type of test you expect. You would not expect to prepare a meal without knowing the recipe’s language, so learn the test’s language.

Form questions about the test and see if you can answer them. The more you practice, the more you are duplicating the test situation, which could eliminate test anxiety and/or performance anxiety. Professional athletes do this all the time — it is called visualization. Further, it helps if you close your eyes and visualize the test questions and answers. Try and see yourself going through all the emotions of taking the test.

Study end-of-chapter questions. This will reinforce the theory of beginnings, middles and ends. Also re-read, review summaries, notes, outlines and previous assignments. Furthermore, compare your notes with a friend. The notes are often only another version of the test.

Recite specific facts to yourself. You can do this when walking, driving a car, or riding a bike. This strategy ties in with multiple intelligence theory and learning styles. That is, active and kinesthetic learners study best when they can use their bodies to learn or express their intelligence.

Get a good night’s sleep — it is critical for successful test taking. Some of us are morning, afternoon or evening people. If you stay on a schedule, you can learn to regulate your biorhythms or cycles supporting your physiological, emotional, or intellectual well-being or prowess.

Last but not least — eat a good breakfast the morning of the test. Again, most adolescents eat at all times of the day or nothing at all, which is why most nutritionists believe adolescence is the unhealthiest period of our lives. In short, the brain is an engine that needs to run on protein. Find a diet that you like and stick with it. Good luck and remember, it’s only a test!

*Dr. David Sortino is a cognitive psychologist and currently Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, and students. Dr. Sortino can be reached at or 707-829-8315

The Terrible Tweens

I got a call from the school the other day regarding my son. I had stepped away from my desk for just a moment, and my coworker called me on my cell to let me know. She had been concerned, but I wasn’t. A call about the Taz wasn’t exactly a monumental event. It happened quite frequently. What did strike me strange, however, was that it was my daughter’s school calling about my son. Apparently trouble travels…..

I called the school and talked with the secretary. She informed me that the Taz was sitting in her office. Confused, I asked her what was going on. She told me that DQ had decided not to take the bus that day, and had either jogged to his school, or had jogged home. The Taz, not wanting to run the risk of taking the bus to my parents’ house alone and being locked out without a key, decided that the best thing to do was to get off the bus at his sister’s school and wait for me to pick him up.

Thing is, I knew DQ hadn’t jogged home. Our home was 10 miles away across town. And I didn’t understand why she was jogging to her brother’s school when the bus went straight there. Something wasn’t adding up. I texted her, asking her where the heck she was. She texted back and told me that she decided to go to 7-11 instead of going home.

There is a moment in every mother’s life when their child inflicts some extreme emotion inside of them. Sometimes it is pure elation. Sometimes it is love so strong that you realize you never knew love, not really, before they burst into your life. Sometimes it is the need to protect them from all that is bad in this world. And sometimes it is the desire to cause them so much hurt because they have just made the stupidest choice of their life.

And you know that you ain’t seen nothing yet.

She is only 12 years old. And as I ranted to her about the pure idiocy of leaving her brother alone to fend for himself while she went god knows where, and how she could have been hit by a car and no one would have known because she has no ID on her and no one knew where she had gone, and how in the hell did she think she was going to go home after her little “jog” over to 7-11, I couldn’t help but realize that I was acting just like my own mother.

And she was acting just like me.

It’s amazing how we’ve come full circle. Here is this young being that has the attitude that she knows it all. She didn’t flinch once as I took her cellphone, iPod, and computer away and gave her orders about which rooms I wanted clean in my house by the time I got home from work. She didn’t seem to have any reaction at all. She just shrugged, casually said she was sorry, and gave no good explanation to her thought process about not taking the bus home like she was supposed to. It was very reminiscent of the non-verbal middle finger I used to give my parents, which eventually became very verbal. And as I talked to my mom about it, I could hear the humor in her voice at the way payback’s a… Well, you know.

It’s also one of many times when I feel I owe my parents a very large thank you note for all they put up with when it came to my tweenage and teenage antics.

Do you have a teen or tween? How bad is it? And what more do I have to look forward to?

Fuzzy Legs

When I was a kid, I was so embarrassed about my hairy legs. It wasn’t like the blonde, almost invisible body hair of my friends. I had thick, dark, Italian hair. And it was very noticeable. As a young tween, I was at an age when every single blemish on anyone’s body was noticed and made fun of, and my hairy legs had already been pointed out to me. There really was no question about it. I couldn’t wear pants in the heat of summer for the rest of my life.

It was time to shave.

Of course, I was afraid of shaving. I had been told that if I started shaving, I’d never be able to stop. What if I decided afterwards that I really wasn’t ready to shave? I’d be a prisoner to the razor for the rest of my life! I was told that the hair that would grow back would be even thicker and darker. I imagined my legs covered in big, black polka dots of hair that I would have to chisel off to keep my legs looking bare. And then there was the question of how MUCH to shave. Do women shave their legs AND their arms? When shaving their legs, do they shave all the way up to the hip? Is a woman’s body supposed to be completely free of hair altogether?

Obviously, these were questions for my mother to answer. But I was too afraid to go to her at first. I was sure that if I asked her about shaving, she would say no. So instead of going to her, I got all my information from my other tween friends. And I took matters into my own hands. I borrowed my mom’s razor and set to work in my bathroom. What I came away with were smooth legs free of hair – and full of nicks and cuts. In the first months of shaving, I experienced painful skin flaps from slicing my leg, legs bandaged with 4 or 5 Band-Aids at a time, razor burn from using old razors, and discovered that even after the most diligent job of shaving, I could still miss patches of hair. Because of the ugly razor burn bumps, I tried Nair. I found that not only did it stink, if rubbed off it would also rub off parts of my skin. I decided that shaving was definitely the way to go. I just had to master it. It seemed to be easier to do in the bathtub, but if I soaked my legs first the shave wouldn’t be as close. However, soaking my legs first ensured that I would not cut my legs, and that razor burn was kept at bay. And I also found that soap was not a good substitute for shaving cream.  It was apparent that I was now committed to shaving since I had started, but I was pleased to discover that shaving did not need to be done every single day like I had originally though.  Most important, I learned that I didn’t need to use an immense amount of pressure to shave, that the razor would still cut the hair if I skimmed my skin, but would cut my skin if I pressed too hard.

By the time that I actually let my mom know that I was shaving, it was too late. She, of course, would have been cool with it from the very beginning. And she probably would have clued me in on some of the tips about shaving, and would have dispelled some of my fears from exaggerated stories about shaving. To ensure that I was shaving safely, she bought me my own package of pink razors and some shaving cream meant especially for women so that I wasn’t using up all of my dad’s.

When my daughter was born, she possessed the same dark hair of her mother. Yes, the little bit of Italian that her mother has had been passed down to her without fail. My future ex-husband and I decided early on that as soon as she became self conscious of body hair, we would not stand in her way. We didn’t have to wait long. At 8 years old, my daughter was already beginning to ask about it. And at 9 or 10, she stole my razor and shaved her legs for the first time. And just like my own mother, I told her that it wasn’t a problem at all if she felt the need to shave. I answered any questions she had about how much to shave, encouraged her to not shave her arms if she could help it, and bought her a package of razors and some shaving cream of her very own.

Is 9 or 10 too early to be shaving? Some parents might think so. It is true that once you start shaving, it’s more noticeable if you stop. But the thought that it grows back thicker isn’t true. The hair is actually growing back with a blunted tip, giving it the appearance that it is thicker and darker. Therefore, yes, once you start shaving you really can’t just give it up just because you’re tired of it. And knowing all that, it’s hard to allow your daughter to give up a part of their childhood and start doing something as grown-up as shaving. Not to mention, it’s dangerous. She will be using a sharp edge to cut the hair off her legs. One small slip could mean a bloody accident. Wasn’t it only a few years ago that we were teaching her how to use safety scissors? And now she wants to use a razor against her skin??? Scary stuff.

So what is the right age to let your daughter start shaving?

I think it depends on her. If she wants to shave just because “everyone else is doing it”, it might be time to sit her down and discuss the reasons for shaving, and the truth that shaving becomes a lifetime commitment once started, and to maybe talk her into waiting a little longer. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that she will wait, but it has opened up the dialogue on the issue. If your daughter is starting to show signs of feeling self conscious about the hair on her legs, this is probably the time to either bring the issue up yourself, or to at least be ready for the time that she comes to you about it. Teach her the proper ways to shave to reduce the possibility of cuts and razor burn. Offer her the tips you have learned in your own shaving experience. Share with her what it was like when YOU started to shave. Whatever happens, it’s in your best interest to decide a game plan for how to handle it when your daughter does get to that stage.

And be sure to stock up on lots of Band-Aids.

How old were you when you started shaving?
What were the reasons that you did?
Have you thought about when you will let your own daughter start shaving?

Facebook Friendships

Everyone has a Facebook. And you? You have, like, 3,000 friends! It’s easy to feel popular every time you log on. And you are getting to know all these people as they update their statuses. At any given hour, you can find out what your friends ate for breakfast, that they are bored, that they have a lot of homework to do, that their parents are dweebs, that they went to the bathroom 5 times in an hour…..

But is it real?

I heard this term – cotton candy friendships – the other day, and it stuck with me. It was regarding the social life of teens online, especially when it comes to Facebook.  Think about it.  Cotton candy is the kind of treat that we all crave. It is super sweet, has a great texture, and dissolves in your mouth. Who really wants to share their cotton candy? Not me! When you buy cotton candy, you want it all to yourself. You can eat a whole bunch of that yummy cotton goodness! But what happens 30 minutes later? You’re hungry. You want something real. You need to be fed.

The thing about the internet is that it is incredibly convenient. When a teen can’t really leave the house because it is after hours or they can’t drive anywhere, Facebook is wide open for socializing with friends. Their friends list can include the people they are close to all the way to the most popular kid in school that they have never talked to in person. And while it is so easy to get swept into the socialism of Facebook and let that take over, inevitably, teens get….hungry. They need to see people face to face, to know what it’s like to connect. Knowing what everyone’s doing at all moments can be exhilarating, but it can also bring up feelings of jealousy as they watch their friends make plans without them. And then there are the false friendships that are created. A Facebook friendship is not the same as a real life friendship. Just because you know every movement of someone you have only talked to online does not make you great friends in real life.

It’s cotton candy, remember?

So how does a teen make friends? I found a great article by Vanessa Van Petton, the very person who coined the phrase “Cotton Candy Friends”.  In it, she urges parents to talk about the differences of online friendships and real life friendships, and the different needs their real life friends might fill. Your teen might have one friend that they can confide in, one to shop with, one to study with, and one to gossip with. And they are all considered your teen’s best friend. That’s ok. And know what else is ok? Having only one good friend. That friend can be the one your teen can call when they are incredibly sad or when they have really good news to share – and they are really there for them, not just “liking” their status. And that is worth way more than 3,000 friends and their status updates on Facebook.

Is it ok to have Facebook friends? Sure. But it’s important for your teen to understand the difference between their real life friendships, and the ones that only exist online.

What The Tortilla Curtain taught me

You had to have been living in a cave to have missed the local hot topic of the week.  A Santa Rosa Mom went before the Santa Rosa City school board to plead her case as to why the book, The Tortilla Curtain, by TC Boyle, needed to be removed from the required reading list.  In case you did miss it, be sure to read up on Kerry Benefield’s blog: Parent seeks to remove book from school reading list, and Parent not convinced tortilla curtain belongs in class.  Note the amount of comments left on each blog from readers fighting for both sides of the coin.  I posted this topic on my own Facebook, and was suddenly inundated with a bunch of comments of the same type – readers who were passionate about removing the book from the required reading list and readers who found it appalling that anyone would even suggest a book banning.  In the end, the school board voted unanimously to keep the book on the required reading list, and left the option that students may read a different book if they choose not to read this one.

But this event brings two very clear points to light. 

First of all, people from all over the county became very involved with discussion over….a book.  Do you know how thrilled that makes me?  The power of the written word lives on!  In a time when people are plugged into media driven outlets and technology, there is still passion for the words and bound pages that exist between two old-fashioned hard covers.  Opponents on this issue offered up very sound explanations for their belief in why this book should or should not be banned.  Words have power.  They have the power to move you to tears, to laughter, to shock…  They can take you out of your comfort zone, and they can bring you to a place of ecstasy.  A good writer can paint a picture without ever using an image, creating a world in your mind that takes you away from the here and now.  A good writer’s words can stay with you even after you’ve finished reading.  A book that tells a story that includes rape, strong language, and sexual situations could bring forth some very real lessons that can be applied to everyday life and help the reader understand a different perspective than the one they have known all their life.  And it can leave images in a young reader’s mind that they never wanted there, and that goes against every single thing that they believe in.  Words can be a blessing, but they can also be a very dangerous thing.

The second point that came to light is our responsibility as parents.  Whether you are on the side that condemns this book or on the side that highly favors your teen reading this book, one thing is clear:  we must be involved in our student’s studies and become fully aware of the material that is being placed before them.  This may even include reading the books they are reading as part of their studies before we make a snap judgment, or to prevent missing something that is not in line with the beliefs we teach at home.  And if we disagree with something that our children are viewing in their classrooms, we MUST speak up – at least for our own child.  Parents who are against their children reading a book that includes a rape scene and extreme language may never know that this is exactly what their child could be reading as a class assignment if they don’t take the time to be involved in their child’s studies.  With the event of The Tortilla Curtain going on trial at the Santa Rosa City Hall, it became that much clearer that not every controversial lesson will come with a permission slip requiring a parent’s signature.  As parents, it is our job to be involved with what our children are learning – to be there to answer tough questions about subjects like this, and there to say NO if it goes way beyond the comfort level of your family’s belief system.

Teenagers and Technology, pt. 2

Matthew Gollub of Tortuga Press wrote me this morning in response to Teenagers and Technology, the article that ran in the newspaper today.  Here’s what he had to say:

I read with interest your article this morning, “Are teens in tech overload?” I’m a local children’s author, performer and reading advocate. (I’ve spoken at over 900 schools and continue to visit around 60 schools a year.) Tech overload is a topic about which I speak during my school assemblies. Here are some suggestions which may help your readers:

*Tell your children from an EARLY age that too much screen time is not good for their growth. (By the time kids hit the teen years, it’s late and that much more difficult to get through to them.)

*Keep the media games, computer and TV OUT of the child’s bedroom. Studies show that kids spend LESS time on electronic media, and less time on questionable content, if the media equipment is in a central location where people (like parents and siblings) may walk in at any minute and see what’s going on.

*Place books in the bedroom instead of media equipment.

*Limit electronic media to, say, 30 minutes per day, maybe 1 hour on weekends. Or as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s family does, ZERO time during the week, to ensure plenty of time for school work and healthier activities. Again, the limits should start from an early age, like 5 or 6; a teen who already spends hours on electronic media each day has long since been allowed to make a wrong turn.

*Give kids healthy options to electronic media like sports, board games, outdoor games, etc.

*Model moderation! As parents, we need to limit TV and the time we spend ourselves on digital entertainment.

*Stage excursions to bookstores and libraries; de-emphasize the importance of places like the mall and Best Buy.

*Buy books for children as presents and rewards; make kids use their own money to buy video games, etc. (Making them figure out a way to earn money alone will make them spend time away from the screen.)

*Don’t allow your adolescent to have games rated beyond their years. (The rating industry exists to take the “blame” for young teens not being allowed to play M-rated games, etc.)

*Talk often and in depth about the games your teen play, exploring the games’ format and appeal. This will train them to view their games objectively. At times they’ll cringe at having to “de-brief” their fascination with a game, but communication works to de-mystify games and analyze the sway they hold over our kids.

For more parenting ideas, I invite readers to check out my picture book for parents, “Give the Gift! 10 Fulfilling Ways to Raise a Lifetime Reader.” Copies are available at the Sonoma County library. On a personal note, I know these strategies actually work. My wife and I have a 14-year old boy. He’s an A student who also stays active with music and sports. But, like most kids, he would be all too happy to spend hours a day on videogames, if only we gave him the chance.

For more information visit Matthew’s site at

Teenagers and Technology

“We had to take away the Xbox again last night,” a friend lamented to me. She had caught her son in the wee hours of the morning, plugged in with his headset on, chatting with friends across the country as he maimed opponents in his latest game. It wasn’t the first time, and she was aware that it wouldn’t be the last. And short of taking the game system and throwing it in the Russian River, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Like many teens, her son had been spending way too much time in his room lately. After homework, he would lock himself in his room and plug into the Xbox 360, playing until it was time for bed that night. Weekends were the same story. Except on these days he spent the whole day playing. He stopped spending evenings with his parents catching up on CSI or Fringe like he used to. He hadn’t been reading for fun, even though he used to be a big reader. And he hadn’t socialized with his friends in months.

Actually, I take that back. He had been socializing with his friends the whole time. But instead of going to their houses and hanging out, they were hanging out virtually, blowing each other up as they played the same games and talked smack through a headset.

This has become the norm for the society. The past decade has shown a steady rise in online activity and electronic game use. The fault lies behind the upgrades that have happened rapidly for both. Phones now plug into the internet with a tap of a key, making Facebook and other social networks the preferred way to keep up with friends. In a moment’s notice you can find out what your friends are up to, random trivia such as Prince Charles surname (true story), or the price of the next iPod you plan on purchasing – which you can also do by phone.

As for game systems, they keep coming out with a better model each year. When I was a kid, Atari was the craze. We could shoot little missiles into centipedes, shortening them before they got to us and annihilated us. It was very state of the art. Then came the Nintendo, and Mario and Luigi became the spokespersons of the 90’s. Times changed, and Nintendos became Game Cubes and then Wiis. Playstations made way for Playstation 2 and 3. And the simplistic Xbox became the Xbox 360. The game stations of today allow you to network with people all over the world, and the graphics have become so realistic that you have to shield the eyes of any wee ones who happen to be witnessing the carnage.

While the violence depicted in today’s games is definitely a cause for concern, another aspect of life that is being lost is the capability to socialize. The formative years for learning how to interact with others and develop interests outside of school and work are doomed to be lost as teenagers choose online socializing over hanging out at each other’s homes and places of interest. Parents, myself included, are guilty of letting the TV and internet occupy their child in the interest of getting things done around the house or even just having a few moments of downtime. I’ve even witnessed a couple with their young son enjoying a quiet meal out at a restaurant while their child was entertained by a portable DVD player showing episodes of Spongebob. Kids aren’t even able to endure a 20 minute car ride without being plugged into the car’s movie screen.

There is hope in society. An article that posted today in the New York Times told of teenagers who have sworn off Facebook for long periods of time so that it didn’t interfere with their quality of schoolwork or social lives. SSU students rose to the challenge of giving up TV and internet for one week, and realized how distracting the media can be to life. And my friend’s son? He told his mom the story of how one of his friends sold his Xbox so that he could get his girlfriend a really nice present for Christmas. But don’t count on my friend’s son doing that anytime soon.

“That’s crazy!” he told his mom. “I’d never do that!”

Give him a year or two and a really cute girl that has stolen his heart……

iPhones, Xboxes, personal computers, cable television that knows of no bedtimes…
A teen could be deemed a social pariah if they simulated living in a cave and distanced themselves from all forms of technology in favor of the simple ways of life. And with all the technology that is available, it almost seems impossible to live that way. So where’s the happy medium? Without throwing an expensive piece of equipment out the window, what can a mom do to appease her son’s need for technology while still encouraging non-electronic forms of entertainment? How can she keep him from sneaking out of his room at night to play, even when she has locked the game system away from the stealthy ninja teenager in her room? And is there anything out there that would capture a teen’s interest the way the internet and game systems have?