Tag Archives: teens

10 Things I Would Tell My 18-Year-Old Self

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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?

100+ things for your teenager’s Easter basket

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When it comes to Easter baskets, kids are easy to shop for. Grab some jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, gather a few small toys, add the artificial grass and voila, you have created the magic of the Easter Bunny.

And then they become teens, and the Easter basket dilemma begins.

First off, don’t think for a second that teenagers are too old to wake up to an Easter basket on Easter morning. It’s more important than ever for parents to keep the magic alive as long as possible – and Easter morning is just one of those occasions to do just that.

However, teens are notoriously hard to shop for. They have specific tastes in style and gifts, and many times their tastes can be more expensive than the average Easter basket item.

With the help of other parents of teens, I have gathered more than 100 things to place in your teenager’s Easter basket – most of them completely affordable. If I’ve missed any, be sure to leave them in the comments.

(P.S. To see 50 more things, click here)

Alternatives to Traditional Baskets
– Fill an upside-down umbrella
– Use a portable shower caddy
– Fill a lunch box
– Use a reusable shopping bag
– Create an Origami box

Handmade Coupons
– Get out of chore
– Date night with Mom or Dad
– Day at the beach
– Teen’s choice for family outing

It’s All About the Money
– Eggs filled with coins
– $5 gift card to local business
– Gift certificate for mani/pedi
– Gas card

Toys for the Kid in All of Us
– Stuffed animals
– Nerf guns
– Bubbles
– Wind-up toys
– Family game
– Lego set
– Playing cards
– Hula hoop
– Jump rope

Get Ready for Summertime
– Beach towel
– Swim trunks or bathing suit
– Pool toys
– Sunglasses
– Swim goggles
– Flip flops
– Sunblock
– Baseball cap or floppy hat
– Snorkeling gear
– Beach umbrella

Subtle Hints for Upcoming Vacation
– Disney coffee (or hot chocolate) mug
– Pine cone (for hiking or camping)
– Seashells
– Pineapple (for Hawaii)
– Croissant (for Paris)
– Calendar or photo book of destination

Plan for Rainy Weather
– Umbrella
– Rain boots
– Rain jacket

Tasty treats
– Candy, of course
– Cheese sticks
– Beef jerky
– Trail mix
– Old-fashioned soda
– Handi-snacks
– Granola bars
– Cereal
– Hot chocolate

Bath Time is Fun Time
– Bath toys
– Bubble bath
– Bath salts
– Washcloths
– Bath towel
– New robe
– Hair brush
– Bath sponge
– Pumice stone

Practical, But Cool
– Cute socks
– A new outfit
– Underwear
– Key chains
– Deodorant
– Flavored tooth floss
– New toothbrush
– Colored shoelaces
– New pajamas
– Travel mug
– Water bottle
– Fingerless gloves

For the Creative Teen
– Colored pencils
– Colored chalk
– Scented markers
– Coloring book
– Water color paints
– Gel pens
– Polaroid camera
– Sketch book

For the Studious
– A new book ;-)
– Cool pens
– Colored paper clips
– Cute office supplies, like this cat shaped Post-it dispenser
Refrigerator magnets
– Mad libs
– Erasers
– Flash drives

Things to Do
– Movie passes
– Sports equipment (basketball, bucket of baseballs, etc)
– DVD of their favorite movie
– New video game

For the Teen With the Green Thumb
– Flower seeds
– Gardening gloves
– Gardening tools
– Potting materials
– Collection of succulents
– Hummingbird feeder

For the Music Lover
– iTunes gift card
– ‘Retro’ mixed cassette tapes
– Concert tickets

For the Girly Girl
– Nail polish
– Lip gloss
Metallic temporary tattoos (I want these!)
– Mini lotions
– Hair accessories
– Jewelry
– EOS chapstick (shaped like an egg!)
– Body spray or perfume
– Henna kit

What else?

Even pretend weapons can be dangerous

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.

When appliances talk back

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.

The cool parent

Four generations of first borns – from my grandmother to my daughter.

This post will publish in the Press Democrat on Friday, September 7, 2012.

On a recent afternoon, my daughter DQ and I were on our way back from dropping my son, Taz, off at his friend’s house. I had assumed that DQ was going to spend the rest of the day bored since one of her best friends was grounded that day, so I racked my brain for something we could do together.

“What do you want to do?” I asked her, and was surprised when she said she already had plans.

“Katie and I are hanging out today,” she told me, even though her friend was not supposed to see the light of day for another 24-hours. From what I had heard, Katie had mouthed off to her grandmother pretty badly. As long as I had known Katie, I had never heard of any limitations being placed on her freedom. So she must have acted really badly for her mother to come down hard on her. But it wasn’t even a full day later and she was sprung from her cell and able to go free once again.

“What happened?” I asked DQ. “I thought Katie was grounded?”

“She was, but her mom changed her mind.” And then DQ said something that I’ll never forget. “It’s weird, but Katie has told me she wishes her mom would actually follow through when she punishes her. It would show that she actually cared.”

I’ve heard this theory before, that teens want boundaries to keep them safe whether they know it or not. But this was the very first time I had ever heard a kid actually voice this sentiment – that they wanted to know where the edge of their freedom stood through rules and discipline.  It made me think that maybe Katie was purposely pushing boundaries, testing her mom’s reaction when she got caught.

My friend Sara recently described a horrifying scene she‘d been witnessing on her Facebook newsfeed that only seemed to be getting worse. As of late, her cousin’s 15-year old daughter had been very blatant about showcasing her negative behavior all over her Facebook page. There were photos of her with friends holding bottles of alcohol and posts talking about staying out all night while she was partying, as well as call-outs to friends when she didn’t have any plans and was looking for the next reason to party.

Her mother seemed to turn a blind eye to her daughter’s antics, even though she has access to her daughter’s Facebook page and can see all that’s happening on there. Sara described how countless people had reached out to this girl only to be told to mind their own business by her and her friends, and sometimes ignored completely. But it was the latest incident that left Sara shaking to her core and unsure what to do. The young girl had posted an actual video of herself and some friends partaking in illegal drug use – right out in the open for everyone to see.

Was this video to share with her friends to make herself look cool? It’s possible. Was she looking for approval from others? Judging by the negative backlash from anyone concerned, probably not. Sara’s guess was that this was a cry for help, that she was trying to get her mom’s attention – someone who had made herself more of the “cool mom” to her daughter than the parent who was in charge.

Kids don’t need their parents to be “cool”. They need them to provide boundaries to keep them safe.

There’s a natural pull to want to be our kids’ friends. From the moment they’re born, we love them immensely. They are familiar to us, and under our influence appreciate many of the same things we enjoy doing or experiencing. My dad used to jokingly tell me that he and my mom were growing their own friends by having my sisters and me.

Silliness on New Year’s Eve with DQ

It’s ok to be friends with your child, but with limitations put in place. Staying involved in their lives, getting to know who their friends are, and keeping up with what their changing interests are is a good way to be a parental friend to your child. Having a moment each day for one on one time, and more importantly, listening to them, is a great way to keep a connection with them. But when you find yourself caving when it comes to discipline, confiding in them with issues of an adult nature, or forgoing rules altogether to be known as the “cool” parent, you’re actually failing your child.

Kids are going through a constant motion of change. They’re physically and mentally growing, and at times it can feel pretty out of control. As they earn more and more independence, they need a constant in their life to hold on to. They need boundaries to keep them safe. They need someone to be in charge.

They need you to be a parent.

Teenage Jekyll & Hyde

(This article is publishing in the Press Democrat on June 29th)

On a recent evening, I took my daughter, DQ, to the store to go shopping for some clothes and jewelry she wanted for a special occasion.  We not only looked for what she needed, but had fun going through the different aisles trying on scarves and making fun of gaudy rings.  It was an inexpensive way to get in some mother-daughter time – until we got to the checkout.  We both knew I ended up spending too much money on her, and she was extremely gracious about all her new pretty things I bought for her.  So I was caught off guard when the very next day she was blasting me via text about how uncool I was over a household rule I wouldn’t bend on, and how I always treated her like a baby.  We closed the conversation and ended up not speaking to each other for the rest of the day.

The following day she helped me put dishes away, finished her chores early, and then hung out with me all afternoon.  But that night at dinner she sassed back anyone who had the audacity to speak to her, making it clear that we were all idiots, and appalled when we required her to help out with cleaning up after dinner.  A mere 30 minutes later, she was lacing up her shoes to join me on a run around our neighborhood.  When we got home, she cracked jokes with her stepdad.  But when he joked back, she whipped around and snapped at him.

We are officially in the Jekyll & Hyde years, that lovely age when darling daughters turn into exceptionally moody beings that are sweet as pie one second, and then turn into raving monsters the next.  Sometimes there’s a buildup to the actual explosion, giving you some time to duck and take cover.  But mostly it’s without warning, the scene changing from serene to volatile in the blink of an eye.

“One minute you still have your sweet girl, the next minute she’s back talking and slamming her door. Never really know which one you’re dealing with,” Carley Harp of Rohnert Park said about teenage girls around age 14.

One mom I know was astounded when she discovered that her daughter had a secret Facebook for her friends, and a more innocent one she kept for all her family.  Another mom stated that her daughter had recently stopped speaking altogether to her parents, her only form of communication done by rapidly moving fingers over the keyboard of her phone.

Having worked with teenagers for years at a summer camp our family attends, I have witnessed girls around my daughter’s age who are incredibly mature in their responsibilities.  But get them around their parents, these same girls are suddenly spewing venom and hatred.  And have you ever witnessed a Facebook newsfeed filled with hormonal teenage girls?  Emotions create an avalanche of ups and downs, ranging from exaggerated excitedness to depressed song lyrics and cryptic codes begging for others to ask “what’s wrong”.

“My girl was sweet, calm and gentle up until puberty,” Caren McLerran of Santa Rosa said about her own now-adult daughter.  “Then wham, she changed into a secretive, defiant person that I didn’t know.”  But she offered hope to parents going through the same thing with their daughters, having observed her own daughter coming back to her senses around age 18.   “Let’s just say that the caterpillar stage of a girl’s life is hell, eating her way through the feelings of everyone around her. But as she emerges from her rather toxic chrysalis she has once again returned to her beautiful butterfly-self.

The fact of the matter is that girls around age 13-15 are going through a huge shift in how they view their bodies, what it takes for boys to be interested in them, the pressure of popularity and fitting in, and the hormonal and physical changes going on inside and outside their bodies.  According to statistics, 50% of young teenage girls view themselves as fat, and 80% have dieted in some form or another (visit anad.org and eatingdisorders411.com for more statistics on teens and body image).  Peer pressure, whether it be drugs, sex, or any other pressure of “going with the flow”, are the strongest in the early teen years.  And this is the age when teens begin to make real adult decisions that could impact the rest of their lives.

So how do you deal with the fragile temperament of these cantankerous cherubs?  There is no cookie cutter answer.  The best you can do is try to remember what it was like when you were a teenager, and have empathy for what your daughter is going through.  And whenever she’s on the sweet side of her Jekyll & Hyde mentality, savor it for all its worth.

Don’t FREAK out.

Don’t freak out.

What did my parents say? “We hope you have a daughter just like you.” Guess what, it’s happened. And now I get to deal with the same stuff they freaked out on me about, but try to do it in a way that won’t cause her to rebel and get worse.

Like I did.

I was 17 when I met him. He was charming, thought I was beautiful, and made me feel like I was on top of the world. He was so much more than the boys I went to school with.  In my eyes, he was the boy who became my pedestal, lifting me up in ways I’d never experienced. In my dad’s eyes, he was trouble. If I wasn’t sure of it before, it became incredibly abundant when my father stood outside his house ready to fight this 18 year old kid to save the innocence of his daughter.

But dad, that ship had sailed long before.

The hatred that ensued only made me fall deeper into this boy’s arms. I snuck out at night to see him. I skipped school to be with him. I talked on the phone with him till the early hours of the morning. I visited him every chance I had and revolved my whole world around him. And when he was kicked out of his parents house and found himself with no place to live, I snuck him into my room – as if I could really hide him like bringing a pet home.

My parents found out, of course. At this point, the power struggles were getting exhausted. But guess who had more resolve? Me, the teenager. And I was going to fight till the end. My parents must have sensed this because they did the exact thing I never expected – they let him move in. There were rules, of course. And we stuck to them for about a day. And then we were having sex all the time under my parents’ roof almost as if we had their permission. If my dad suspected anything, he kept tight lipped and furrow browed about it. And this boy lived with us until the day after graduation.

Around this time my parents gave me a proposition. I could go to college, anywhere I wanted, and they would pay for the whole thing. However, if I moved in with him, I would forgo any money for college and would be on my own.

I was a smart girl. I had aspirations to be a writer. For years I actually had thought about where I wanted to go, and had it all picked out. A deal like this doesn’t come just anytime.

And of course, I chose the boy.

Fast forward to a one-bedroom apartment, too many cigarettes, strange people coming and going, thrown on the floor and kicked around, pot and alcohol flowing, never having any money, a diet of Top Raman, his disappearance for days, girls claiming to be his girlfriend, a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from, being unable to reach out to my family who no longer knew what to do….

And all because I felt the need to win this power struggle.

So don’t freak out. Talk to her. And then, just listen.

Mortified Teenagers

I have a confession to make. I embarrass my kids. Most of the time it’s unintentional. For example, my son will turn down the radio before he opens the car door when I drop him off at school. He doesn’t want anyone to know we’ve been listening to talk shows, blues music, or worse, music his friends might actually like because I’m an old fogey and shouldn’t be listening to anything but talk shows and blues music.

Sometimes, however, my embarrassing nature is intentional.

My daughter deletes any comment I make on her Facebook. It doesn’t matter how simple it is, she has it banished from her timeline faster than I can refresh the page.

The other day she was being a bit too snarky for my taste. So in good humor, I posted ‘I love you’ on her page – ten times. She kept deleting them, but my copy and paste skills were faster than her delete mode could function.

“Oh, we’re playing that game, are we?” she said, a smirk on her face.

“Hey, I just love you very much, and want you and everyone you know to be aware of it,” I replied.

“You really want to go there?” she asked. And I nodded. But then I realized that payback is a, well, you know.

“You better not be posting anything horrible on my page!” I exclaimed, aware that I not only had real-life friends, but also co-workers and some people I didn’t know at all as ‘friends’ on Facebook.

“No, I’m not posting anything on your site,” she said. I went back to my ‘I love you’ paste-scapade and received an error message.

“DQ only shares some information publicly. If you know DQ, add her as a friend or send her a message.”

My own daughter UNFRIENDED ME!

Truth be told, it doesn’t take much for a teenager to be mortified by their parents. Want proof? Try to sound like them. Santa Rosa mom Jessica Snowden described the looks her daughter and friends gives her when a common phrase used by the younger generation slips out of her mouth. “Unfortunately, it could be when the friend who started it is around to hear,” Snowden said. “It’s hard not to have it rub off on you though when they are saying them all the time.”

Pediatrician Pierrette Mimi Poinsett of Windsor confirmed that just the “mere existence of parental units instigates mortification of teens.” Dr. Poinsett, who has a teenage son, advised that if parents want to be able to hang with their teenager, it’s best not to hug or kiss them in public. She also jokingly advised, “never sing or dance in front of your teens, especially in public.”

Of course, all bets are off on that one in my family…

Ann Leach of Santa Rosa agreed, joking that she’ll go out of her way to embarrass her teen as a sort of payback when her daughter is being particularly nasty. “But overall, it’s a great relationship,” Leach said, mentioning that while her daughter’s friends view her as a tough mom, she believes they know how much she cares about them and her daughter.

And let’s not forget the fact that if you are a parent, you are WRONG. Even when you’re completely right, you’re wrong. Santa Rosa dad Matthew Witthaus shared about the time his niece walked in on her mom and stepdad just when they were in the heat of the moment. She “thought she was the wronged one when shouted out the door and chastised for not knocking first.”

But teens don’t always hate their parents. While my daughter is 13, thus at an age when she knows way more than I ever could in my 30 plus years, sometimes she feels more like an ally than the enemy. She’s known to hang with me for lots of mom-daughter bonding time. There have been many nights when we’ve stayed up late watching a movie together or just gabbing about girl stuff. I include her in some of my Girls Nights Out now that she’s no longer a young child. And she’s become my favorite shopping partner in crime.

Witthaus mused about this as well, mentioning the friendship that exists between his niece and her mom regardless of the teen years. “Molly and her mother have a text message habit, communicate constantly on FB, and, if you didn’t know it from looking at them, talk to each other on the phone as one would a sister or best friend,” he said. “Neither of them would have it any other way, and they enjoy, rather than abhor, the comments as to the nature of their ‘sisterhood.’”

My daughter eventually ‘friended’ me again on Facebook. In return, I have done my best to refrain from commenting on her status updates. But seriously, it’s torture to keep my thoughts to myself when she types things like “He makes me smile” as an update.

Who??? Who makes you smile, DQ???

Guess I’ll never know.

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

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!