Tag Archives: tween

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!

Tackling Bullies

If you’ve been reading my stories for any length of time, you’ll notice that a common theme I discuss is in regards to bullying (like here, and here, and here). It makes sense. I’m a parent of kids who are only growing older. And as they grow older, the issue of bullying is becoming more of an epidemic in their schools. I worry about it. I worry that my kids will be targeted. I worry that any action or inaction I take will only make things worse for them. And with the way bullying can take any shape or form – from violence to mere teasing to using their Facebook pages as the ultimate tool in gathering the masses – I worry that my own kids will become guilty of bullying others as well.

More recently, I talked about a friend of mine who was potentially going through her own bullying situation. Her son was being challenged to a fight by a kid who was bigger and stronger, just to see who the winner would be. Basically it was a battle of brawn with an obvious outcome. As an update, nothing came up about it. The fight talk ended up being just that – talk. But in the meantime, my friend was suddenly faced with needing to know how to react to a kid who was threatening other kids, even just through empty threats. And the comments received on the blog (and any other blog that I have discussed bullying) were mixed. Some said to let the kids fight it out. Another said that school officials needed to be alerted immediately so that the bullying could be quashed. And another said to teach our sons and daughters to walk away.

The truth is, it’s hard to know how to handle a bully situation as a parent. Remembering what it was like to be a kid, the common feeling was that if a parent got involved, we were toast. Not only were we completely mortified, we were afraid of being more of a target for being a narc. So it was pretty much a given that any teasing we endured was kept from our parents so that we could at least save a little face.

And the bullying I witnessed in school was truly mean-spirited. One girl who was on the awkward side had an obvious crush on a popular boy in school. A group of girls created a love letter to her from him, with his knowledge. The girl was floating on Cloud 9 – until the boy broke up with her in front of everyone, making everyone laugh. Another girl had rumors circling around school about her solo bedroom behavior. And then there was the group of kids who thought it was funny to pants other students in gym class, thanks to the convenience of drawstring shorts (apparently these kids never graduated; my 7th grade daughter says this still happens in gym class). There was teasing about body parts thanks to the absence of modesty in the gym locker rooms. And there was peer pressure to try things we never would have done on our own, like drinking hard liquor in between classes or smoking pot behind the school or cutting class.

In truth, the bullying of yesterday was not better or less than the bullying of today. It was just as much a reality then as it is now. But now it has become much easier to target others thanks to the advances in technology. This is why schools have stepped up their efforts to stop bullying in their tracks, even including consequences for “cyber-bullying” done inside and outside of school hours in their rules.

And some schools have adopted a new anti-bullying program called SSA – Safe School Ambassadors.

I learned of SSA when my daughter was recently nominated to take part in it. The program targets the escalating problem of bullying by tackling from within – training a group of influential students to work amongst their peers to help alleviate negative situations more effectively. Note, it does not train kids to break up fights or to take on violent situations. Nor does it set them apart from their classmates by making them wear vests or badges. But it instead gives them tools to handle situations on the spot within their own group of friends so that circumstances involving bullying can be easily diffused. Due to the “narc problem”, adults are more likely than not to be ignorant of what students are really going through. At one point in the training program, the students discussed the things they had witnessed on school grounds. As they mentioned the weapons they had seen, the drugs kids their age were taking, and other scary situations that were taking place, my daughter told me that the teachers were holding their hands over their gaping mouths in shock. We just don’t know what kids are going through. We don’t know what kinds of peer pressures they are being faced with. We can be the best parent in the world and still be unaware that our child is being tormented by others or that they are guilty of being the tormentor. So a peer based anti-bullying program makes sense.

But as parents, what is within our realm of power to protect our children from bullying? First, forget the narc problem. If you learn of something going on, discuss it with the principal or the teacher so that it can be handled quickly and effectively. If your kids are targeted more, speak up more. Send the message loud and clear that your child is not a victim, and any negative action against your child will reap a world of hurt in consequences.  Get to know your children’s friends and their parents, creating a network of people to fight this battle together. Go to PTA meetings and school events to broaden that network. If your children are on social networks, be a presence on there too. It is not infringing on their privacy to be their Facebook friend. It is being aware of their online activity. In fact, in my household my kids are only allowed to be on social networks if I am not only their “friend”, but if I also know their password to log on. It is common knowledge that I check up on them by accessing their accounts and knowing what they are up to – including their “private” conversations and viewing their friends’ pages. The same rule applies to my daughter’s cell phone.  It is not being nosy.  It is not snooping.  It is ensuring that my kids are safe, and that they are engaging in only safe and respectful activity.  And if I see something that goes against that, I bring it out in the open with them.

Do you have an opinion on handling bullying? Are there things you have witnessed that shock or anger you? What are some things that we as parents can do to help our kids, or that the schools should be doing to tackle this problem?

Giving your kid the Latch-Key

Is your child ready to become a Latchkey Kid?

When I was still in school, there were some days that my mom wasn’t there when I got home. I would have to use my key to get in, make myself a snack, and then do my homework before I could watch TV or play outside. I would make sure that I would get everything done as told. And I would ensure that my younger sister was watching TV or otherwise occupied. And then I would go down the hall to my parents’ room, close the door behind me, and search the room for anything interesting I could find. Eating from my mom’s secret stash of chocolate, snoop for the hidden Christmas presents, thumb through my dad’s vintage Playboy magazines (for the articles, of course), try on all my mom’s jewelry, and watch TV from the comfort of their huge bed .

I flippin’ loved those days.

Oh, don’t look at me that way. You know that you were just as rotten as me when I was a kid. Honestly, it’s not like there was anything that interesting in my parents’ rooms. It’s just that when a room is otherwise off-limits in the light of day, it is incredibly intriguing. And now that my son has finally graduated into “latchkey kid” status, he is probably doing the same thing. The clue?

“Did you know mom has a sink in her room???” Taz exclaimed to his sister a full week and a half after we had moved in.

Dear God. I haven’t let the kids into my room enough. It is surely the Pandora’s Box of our house, waiting to be opened in times when I’m not around. Don’t laugh. Your kids are currently searching for any incriminating evidence that you are human while you are reading this at work. And that brings up a very important question.

When are kids old enough to be left home alone?

Both of my kids got their own key to the house when they were 9. It wasn’t a set rule in our family, that 9 equals being old enough to be left alone. It was more about gauging when they were ready for such a responsibility. Were they self-sufficient enough to make something to eat when they were hungry? Could they finish their homework on their own? Can they entertain themselves without my help? Will they make smart choices when I’m not on top of them? I started testing the theory by allowing them to stay home alone for short periods of time, like when I went for a walk. Then I’d make it a little longer by going to the store without them, or taking a little time to run errands while they stayed home. I drilled them on what to do in an emergency, had them memorize my cell phone number and their grandparent’s number, and had them practice using their keys in the door lock. And eventually, I felt comfortable enough to let them stay in the house on their own.

Of course, I think it was me that needed the most prepping for this major change. I don’t care how ready your children are, the moment that you give your child a key is also the moment that you wonder when CPS is going to catch up with you for abandoning your child. I felt like someone would surely turn me in once they found out my child was home and I wasn’t.

But besides some snooping the kids may or may not be doing, the kids are doing fine. They call me every day as soon as they walk in the door, letting me know they made it home ok. They follow the normal rules that apply to their after school routine. And they are even a huge help in taking care of a couple chores before I get home 2 hours later.  I think the added trust I have placed on them makes them feel important, and they take that responsibility to heart.

Are you thinking of letting your child stay home alone? There are a couple things you need to think of. First, their age. Sure, California has no law set for when a child can stay home alone. But logic tells us that a child younger than age 7 (sometimes older) isn’t capable of knowing what to do in situations should they go wrong. Some kids ages 8-12 are fully capable of staying home alone in a familiar environment, like their own home for a short period of time (like after school, for example). Older than age 12 allows for a little more freedom, but still isn’t old enough to stay home alone overnight. Only you know if your child can handle the responsibility of staying home alone. Second, there should be clear cut rules set up for when they get home, the same routine they should adhere to every day (homework before fun). They should also know the things they are NOT allowed to do, and the consequences should they decide to ignore these rules. Third, they should know your phone number by heart so that they can call you as soon as they get home, and if they have any questions. There should also be a list of phone numbers to neighbors and family member available to them should they need anything. Fourth, and most important, they should be trained on what to do in case of an emergency. Discuss different kinds of emergencies and the actions they should take, including when it is appropriate to call 911.

And finally, a good way to ensure they stay out of trouble is to occupy their time with a small chore. It not only helps lighten your load once you get home, it keeps them from doing something naughty, like say, snooping in your room. Of course, a good lock does that too.

Do you have a child that is nearing latchkey kid status?  Or maybe you already have one.  What are your thoughts on kids staying home alone?

Yin and Yang

We ended our day on the made bed, our bodies perfect Yin and Yang semi circles. We faced each other this way, an uneasy feeling in the pit of our stomachs as we unfurled the day in a heap between us, determined to tackle it and sweep it aside before it plagued our dreams and interrupted our sleep. For an hour and a half, Mr. W and I pulled and kneaded the situation at hand, tossing the dough of our mixed family dilemmas as we tasted bite size pieces of moving forward in some areas and reining it in with others.

The day had started out innocently enough. Mr. W and I planned a day to San Francisco, something we had talked about for ages as a fun event for us and the kids. After a family outing to church, I set forth and took down lunch orders for all 5 of us. Of course, that meant 5 completely contrasting sandwiches. But I didn’t worry about that as I boiled eggs for the egg salad, flipped the grilled cheese sandwich, and toasted bread several different ways for several different sandwiches. And as we ate, the time crept by slowly, picking up pace with each minute. And soon 2 hours had passed and we were still nowhere ready to leave. A little hustle and bustle that was reminiscent of herding cats, we were finally on our way.

Of course, we had three growing kids in the backseat – three growing kids who wanted their own leg room and weren’t concerned about their neighbors. I counted down the minutes until the first whine about space, and had reached 30 when it started.

“Move your leg!”

“No! You move yours!”

“I can’t! I’m all bunched up to the side! So move your (oof!) leg!”

“Ow! Mom! She kicked me!”

We crossed the bridge and finally reached Golden Gate Park with a bit of frazzled nerves, but still happy to be out of the house. At least Mr. W and I were….

“What are those for?” one of the kids asked us, peering into the trunk.

“It’s for scooting around the park,” Mr. W replied, starting to take a scooter and two skateboards out of the trunk. The idea had been that the kids would have fun riding circles around us, racing ahead of us so that we could walk hand in hand while enjoying the scenery.

“Uh uh, I don’t want it,” one of the kids said.

“I don’t want it either,” another said.

Our little fantasy of a happy family outing was slowly disintegrating as reality hit the fan and splattered us with little pieces of tween and teen “I don’t wanna’s”.

“Well, I’ll take it,” the Taz said, pulling his skateboard out of the trunk.

We left the parking garage and entered the fresh San Francisco air encased by a thick layer of fog. And we rode/walked up the hill to a playing field. The Taz paused to watch a kids’ baseball game for a bit, and was disappointed when the rest of us chose not to stay put.

“But I want to watch the game!” he sulked.

“We didn’t come all the way to San Francisco to just watch a Little League game. We came to see the sights,” I said. But 10 minutes later, I was wishing we really had just sat down and watched the game. The smooth road we had been walking on turned into rocky pebbles, hardly suitable for a skateboard. And it was all uphill. The Taz huffed and puffed as he still attempted to ride his board up the hill, and we, in turn, ignored the “No Skateboarding” signs painted on the road. We pretended that everything was going fine, even though the two older kids were silently following us, and the youngest was very vocal in telling us how this was the worst day of his life and that the whole trip sucked. It finally came apparent that, even though we had only eaten a couple hours earlier, the Taz was having a sugar crash. He pretty much sat down on the side of the road and oozed all over the sidewalk, trying to hide his tears from every single stranger while simultaneously making them super apparent to me. I pulled a granola bar out of my pocket and practically force fed him just to get him to be able to see straight. And then we decided that we would just go back to the car, grab a bite of dinner, and go home. And that’s when the Taz decided that what he really wanted was a hot dog, and a smooth place to skate. So we went back to the park near our car, bought him the most expensive hot dog in all of San Francisco (‘it’s the dog with a snap,’ the hot dog man told me, referencing the crunch of each bite), and then let him ride all over the park with signs that said “No Skateboarding” everywhere we turned. At this point, Mr. W and I were frayed at all ends, unable to see up or down or even know which way we wanted to turn. I think both of us just wanted to go home and forget about this day altogether. We all sat in different areas of the park, collecting our nerves and taking a bit of a breather. And in that moment I never felt so far away from Mr. W, and so distanced from the kids. I watched Mr. W as he stared out across the park. I glanced at the older kids as one closed his eyes and pretended to sleep and the other worked on a doodle in a notebook she’d been carrying around all day. And I regretted having ever set foot out of the house for this “family day”.

It wasn’t long after when I realized I hadn’t seen Taz for awhile, and I started to worry. As if on cue, Mr. W got up and caught my gaze. He nodded down to the other side of the park, I nodded back, and he took off to gather up my son so that we could all finally leave.

After some searching, a few more arguments, and finally a snap to the backseat to quit mouthing off, we finally reached the area of town that housed a Vietnamese restaurant that would be either really, really good, or that would poison us from lack of clean facilities to cook their food in. Lucky for us, it was really, really good food in a filthy place. And we survived it. The apprehension from the day momentarily was lost as the food did its magic, sedating us with the mystical herbs and spices that laced decadent beef soup and rice dishes. Left in a trance, we lazily made our way back to the car.

But the rawness of the day still hung in the air, and bedtime was a somber event. When the kids were all tucked in and kissed goodnight, Mr. W and I retired to his room, taking our places as semi-circles on a perfectly made bed, not sure what we should even say to each other. But the words flowed easily once the first one was breathed. And all topics were permitted as we covered the issue of parenting each other’s children, harboring expectations that don’t go as planned, and the reality of the family vacation that was only two weeks away as well as the reality of co-habitating that we planned on happening in less than a year. And as we came up with solutions – including the kids in family outing planning, stepping up allowance of our verbal guidance for each other’s kids, going with the flow to be able to change plans if Plan A isn’t working – the thick fog in the room made way for a harmonious sweet air. And we were finally able to breathe once more.

We’d been sucker-punched by the day. But still, something valuable came out of it. It was the yin and yang of it – our ability to come together from moments in chaos, lay out our frustrations, and hash them out one by one. It was re-learning that even the best of intentions can go awry. And it was knowing that even in the midst of an all out war, and when we are left licking our battle wounds and scars, we will survive and still feel whole in this mixed up family we are working at creating.

Being my kid’s embarrassment

As a parent, you will only be cool to your kids for so long. And when the tides change (and they will) you will become the most embarrassing creature on the face of the planet.

The kids and I went to camp together this past week. And in this week I got to see a different side of them, especially my daughter. It’s one thing to carry on a relationship with my daughter in our home. She is polite and helpful, the one I can rely on. She is rarely disrespectful, and is extremely trustworthy. While I hold fast that a parent should be just that to their kids – more a parent than a friend – I like to think that my daughter and I do share a special bond that does allow us to be friends as well. But in the week surrounded by more than a hundred kids her own age, she changed. She stopped wearing the cuter clothes she had (in my opinion) and started hiding under a straight-billed hat and baggy boys clothing. She was hanging out with mostly boys, losing anything girlish about her as she took on a tough posterior. She was the center of attention in her group. And I was suddenly placed in a role that I hadn’t been accustomed to.

I was an embarrassment to her.

We’ve been doing this for years, the family camp experience. So my presence at camp as a chaperone was nothing new. But as a preteen, my daughter wordlessly let me know that just the mere suggestion of my existence was mortifying. Anytime I looked at her, snapped a photo in her direction, or even hinted in a conversation that we might be related, I was met with a roll of the eyes, a glare, or worst of all, an actual reaming from my daughter to leave her alone.

Being young when I had my daughter, I really thought I was immune to this kind of treatment. I thought that I’d be the cool mom, the one that all her friends would wish was their mom. I thought we’d be bosom buddies – the mom and daughter team that would try on each other’s clothes, gab about boys, make kissy face photos together, share heart-to-heart talks every night, and have each other’s backs. I thought for sure that I would be way cooler than my own mother, who was a whole 2 years older when she had me than I was when I had my daughter, and embarrassed the holy heck out of me.

A little note about my mother. She got great pleasure out of embarrassing my sisters and me. HUGE pleasure. The only explanation that I have for being forced to wear handmade dresses in 6th grade was that my mom was sadistic. She must have been wildly amused by the torment I received from all my classmates in their cute pegged jeans and white Keds. And me? All I could do was slink away in my patchwork dress with the wide bow in back, sporting my ugly brown hiking shoes so that I could run on the playground while looking pretty. My mother also memorized every single bar song that exists. She would break into song about “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” at random times of the day, ignoring our pleas to keep it on the downlow. Same goes for the Monty Python “Lumberjack” song, and a certain song from the Dick Van Dyke show:

“I’m in love, I’m in love with Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! Attila the Hun! He’ll pillage the village and kill everyone. Attila’s the one, for me!”

And because of our Italian heritage, my mother had my preteen sister in tears when she told her this joke: “How do you tell who the bride is at an Italian wedding? She’s the one with French braided armpit hair.”

Yes. My mom was a hoot. Oh, and my sister’s getting married next year, and it’s supposed to be classy. Anyone know any fancier braids than the French braid?

At any rate, I thought for sure that I had conquered the mom-barrassment by being young, cool, and hip. Obviously, I was wrong. And apparently she’d have everyone believe that she sprouted out of the ground rather than coming from someone as repulsive as her mother. Things finally came to a head at camp when I was taking a picture of all those around her to gather photos for the whole camp, and then pointed the camera at her.

“Would you get that thing out of my face???” she demanded, hiding behind a scowl as I snapped photos. “God, you’re so embarrassing!” And then she turned away from me, ignoring me as she gabbed with her friends – doing her best to pretend that I didn’t even exist. I let it go in that moment, but my feelings were hurt. Gone was my daughter who still shared most of the contents of her heart with me at home. And here was this preteen girl who was suddenly dressing strangely to fit in with all her friends and wishing me away as furiously as she could. I decided it best to not call her out and embarrass her anymore, but that evening I pulled her aside, away from her friends, for a chat.

“You need to accept the fact that I’m your mom, and I’m here,” I told her.

“I am!” she protested.

“No, you’re not. You’re totally mortified by my existence. And I’ll have you know, you’re the only one. No one else here cares that your mom is here, only you.”

“But I’m not doing anything!” she insisted.

“But you are. You are acting like everything I say or do is totally stupid and mortifying when I have done my best to leave you alone this whole week. And it’s hurting my feelings.”

In that moment she seemed to actually be listening, and the hard look on her face softened some.

“If you want, I’ll just pretend that you’re not my daughter. I’ll continue the week as if I’m just a chaperone and we’re not even related. It wouldn’t be my favorite thing to do, but it sure beats what’s going on right now,” I told her.

“No, I don’t want you to do that,” she said.

“Well, how about this. You treat me a little bit nicer, and I’ll do my best to not do anything to embarrass you.”

She nodded.

“But know this,” I continued. “I’m taking pictures of all the campers here, you included. I won’t go crazy, but at least smile for a couple of them?”

She nodded again, and actually leaned in at the same time as I did for the kind of hug you give after a disagreement, letting herself be wrapped up in my arms just like she did when she was younger and I was her whole world.

Amazingly enough, the talk we had did change things. She made a point to smile at me as she stood in line waiting for her lunch the next day. And she came over to where I was sitting to share what family had written her in letters to camp. And she even made friends with some girls and spent just as much time dressing like a girl and being sweetness and spice, as she did wearing her hat and beating up her guy friends. And true to my word, I left her alone as much as possible, letting her have fun without her mom watching her every move. At least, I hope I did.

While this isn’t the first (or the last) time she’s been averse to my presence, this week taught me several new things. First, communication really can help break down the walls that exist between parents and their children. Second, I’m not as cool as I thought I was. And last, I need to brush up on my bar songs – because if she’s going to be embarrassed by me anyway, I might as well have fun with it.

Forced to enforce

“What is that?” I asked DQ when I came into her room to wake her up.

“What is what?” she asked, moving the covers slightly to conceal what I was pointing at.

“That,” I said, flipping the covers aside and grapping the lime green cell phone that had been hidden underneath. “I thought you told me that it was put away for the night. You lied to me.”

“I didn’t!” she protested. “It was put away.”

“So when was the last text?” I asked her, flipping it open to reveal an unread message that came in at 12:45 am. She grabbed it away from me before I could read any further.

“I was asleep then,” she said, clutching the phone as if it held top-secret information.

“Uh-huh, right. So when was the last text that you sent?” I inquired, attempting to get the phone back. She stealthily maneuvered it out of my reach, but saw that I wasn’t kidding around. She opened it up and scrolled down.

“12:30,” she said sheepishly.

Dang it. Dang it! Why does she have to do this to me? I mean I set up guidelines, and mostly she obeys them. But this bending of the rules? I had told her in the beginning, on Christmas day when she was presented with the phone, that she had a strict 9pm phone curfew. I told her that if she couldn’t follow that rule, among the other rules I had put in place, I was going to have to take the phone away. Only once before I had caught her bending this rule. I let her off with a warning that if I caught her using her phone again after curfew that the phone would be taken away. And I had done my best to be naïve to the subsequent rule bending that occurred after that, meaning that I had purposely not checked to make sure that she was following the rule – choosing to “trust” that she was putting the phone away at the proper time. But there was no denying it this time. I mean, it was in plain sight. And now she was forcing me to do something that I didn’t want to do…

Be the parent and take the dang phone away.

It’s not like I enjoy punishing my kids. I actually hate it. Things are so much easier and more serene when we are all getting along. I like my kids, and I’m pretty sure they like me. But as parents, we run the risk of sometimes NOT being liked when we have to enforce rules to keep them safe, to help them learn how to be responsible, and to allow them to get enough sleep at night instead of staying awake texting until the wee hours of the morning.

And sometimes I wonder if kids purposely break rules to see if their parents are paying attention. I mean, it’s almost like they WANT to be caught with how obvious they are in their monkey business. Either that, or they really believe that parents just won’t notice. For example, remember that one friend of mine with the pothead son? She ended up voicing her displeasure at his habit, and forbade him from letting any of the wacky weed into her home. And he promised her that it never had, and it never would. But when she was collecting laundry from his room, he had left a half-filled pipe right on his dresser table. Either he really thought it was invisible, or he wanted to get caught.

Or there’s the third option, if I remember correctly from my own hijinks as a teenager – rebelling for the sake of rebelling just to prove to parents that they can.

In my purse is one lime green cell phone, buzzing away with questioning texts wondering where my daughter is. And stuck at home is my daughter, her thumbs going through texting withdrawal. And me? I am not exactly jumping for joy about having to enforce punishment that I laid out from the very beginning. But what kind of parent would I be if I didn’t? What kind of message would I be giving her if I set rules and then allowed her to break them? I mean, we’re supposed to enforce the rules as parents.

Right?

Vacationing with teens

It’s vacation time and your kids are finally old enough to not have to be on a child leash or watched every second so that they don’t run off in the crowd. Nope, they’re teenagers now. So surely it will be easier.

Are you off your rocker?

Sure, traveling with teenagers is nothing like traveling with a toddler. But as far as difficulty goes, it’s pretty much even. They don’t want to see that museum you wish to check out. They are vocal about how “stupid” the scenery is or how boring the plans you laid out are. They are hardly impressed with the hotel you have chosen. They are totally embarrassed to be seen anywhere with you, and spend the whole vacation walking several yards behind you – as if they actually sprung up out of the ground instead of admitting they are related to you. And it is apparent, your vacation has totally interrupted their social life.

However, a family vacation with your difficult teen can still be successful – maybe even fun.

The most important tip I can suggest to you is to include your teen in the planning of the trip. If they are a part of the brainstorming suggestions for where to go and what hotel to stay in, they are more inclined to enjoy it. After all, it was “their idea”. And teens have some really great ideas for why someplace would be great to visit. This is also a great way to teach them lessons in budgeting as you go over prices of airfare, hotel, car rentals, food, and all other vacation related expenses.

Nix the museums or travel places dedicated to things such as architecture (unless your teen is really into those kinds of things), and steer more towards vacations that are more activity oriented. Places like the beach, camping trips, or big city adventures are very appealing to kids in this age group. Even better, allow the kids of the family to come up with one fun activity each for the whole family to do. The more fun you have planned for the family, the less time they can claim they are bored. And in the meantime, they will hopefully forget that you are embarrassing them.

If your budget allows, book a separate room for your teens. They want their own space too, and a little bit of room for them to spread out will help them not feel so suffocated by family time. Not only that, you won’t be forced to step over all of their mess in the hotel room. Extra bonus? You get a little alone time on vacation with your spouse to do….well, I’ll leave that up to you.

Let your teen still be the tech slave they are at home – to a degree. Sure, it would be nice if your teenager would stop texting their friends or checking Facebook the whole time they are away from home. But let’s be realistic. This is a very big part of who they are. If necessary, set guidelines for when they are allowed to be sucked in by technology. Set up times during the day when they can text their friends. If overseas, check into internet options at the hotel so they can communicate through a computer. Just think about how your vacation will be with a sulking deprived teen. Yup, it’s better to keep the technology around.

Finally, ease up on the rules. This is their vacation too. If they are sleeping in late, would rather hang at the hotel pool than the ocean, or are making the hotel room just as messy as their room at home – bite your tongue and choose your battles carefully. At this age, you can enjoy breakfast without them as they sleep in. You can trade off days at the pool or the ocean. And the mess? That’s what corners are for. Look the other way and spend as little time in the room as possible.

Are you vacationing with a teen this summer? Perhaps you already have. What are some tips that you have come across that can allow a family vacation to still be fun?

The right age for cell phones

After much thought and deliberation, and even more pleading on my daughter’s part, this last year I caved and bought my (then) nearly 12 year old daughter a cell phone. It came down to this: as her independence grew, I needed a way to contact her at all times, and a way for her to contact me should she need anything. And while I now grumble over my nearly doubled phone bill, and the fact that she is more than likely to be hunched over it texting (thank goodness for unlimited texting plans) rather than making emergency phone calls, I am still of the opinion that I made the right decision. It has been a lifesaver when I’ve had to pick her up from school. I can simply text her and let her know where I am parked. And when she is at her dad’s house, we are still able to communicate through a quick text or phone call. And since she is now able to stay home on her own when I need her to, it’s comforting to know that she is only a phone call away.

Apparently I’m not alone in this decision about whether the age of 12 is old enough for a cell phone. In a study done just last year, 58% of 12 year olds now own a cell phone, a sharp rise from only 18% in 2004. Referred to as the iGen (or whatever they are planning on calling this group of technologically advanced youngsters), kids 12 and younger seem to have an advanced understanding of the internet and all things electronic. With the starting age of cell phone users getting younger and younger, it makes sense. After all, they were born into an era when everything seems to be centered on technology. And with the influx of smart phones, this truth has only been magnified. I read recently that teens spend about 7 hours a day on the internet. School takes up a good majority of their day, so it’s safe to say that the rest of their time is spent on the net. Knowing how my iPhone has been both a blessing and a curse for being able to peruse the web any time I want, I’m certain that this is the also the reason for the rise in internet usage among the younger generation. Note: While my daughter owns a simple smart phone to make texting easier, I have headed off the internet usage (and thereby, the internet charges) by simply rerouting her network on her phone so that it dials up an imaginary network – bringing her to an error page rather than anything on the net. Another option with many companies is to set limits on your child’s phone if you don’t wish them to connect to the internet, or to rack up hundreds of dollars in 10 cent texts that mostly consist of “lol”.  kk?

But, as many parents still wonder, is 12 still too young to be connected at the hip 24/7? And being that I’ve even seen kids as young as 5 with their own cell phones, as well as parents of 14 year olds who believe their child is still too young for that kind of responsibility, it makes me wonder – when is the right age to carry a cell phone? And besides making phone calls, should a kid’s cell phone also be able to connect to the internet?

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?

The worst age

Every age group of kids seems to have their benefits and drawbacks.

Newborns don’t do much but eat, sleep, poop, and cry. But they are so dang adorable and precious, so brand new that it is hard to do anything but love them to pieces. And let’s not forget that newborn smell. Mmmmm…..

When they age a couple months, colic is probably the biggest headache for parents (not to mention the babies themselves!). The poopy diapers come in at a close second, and seem to quadruple and only get stinkier. They need to be picked up while you are standing, for once you sit down they start crying again. And that dang diaper rash never seems to fully go away! It gets to the point that you smell diaper cream at all times, even when you aren’t near them. But this is also when they develop their personalities. And that smile! Who can resist the newly acquired smiles that take over a baby’s whole body?

Then there’s the toddler stage. These adorable little creatures can be pure evil. I’m not kidding. Do not be fooled by that dimpled grin and the “I love you” that comes out of the blue. I’m telling you, they are only trying to distract you from the new peanut butter masterpiece they just left on your bedroom wall. And do they know any other word besides “NO”? Probably not, except for when they are being exceptionally bright and asking you questions that really have some thought put into it, or when they are suddenly keen on helping you set the table because it’s a fun new game to do with mommy. And I’m sorry, but no one can make you see things in an entirely new and brilliant way than a toddler.

When they get to be old enough to go to school, they suddenly learn all sorts of new habits to bring home and try out on mom. Talking back, lying, picking their nose, wearing the same clothes day in and day out…. Their messes get messier. Their noise gets noisier. Their demands get demandier (is that a word?). They suddenly have more responsibilities, and dang if they don’t forget every single one of them. You are now the craft maker, scout leader, taxi cab driver, phone operator, teacher’s assistant, secretary, project manager…. Your role as mom has just taken on a million new duties, and yet the pay is still the same. However, this is also the age when kids can carry on a more serious conversation with you, when you are beginning to share a few of the same interests, and when you are finally able to see them as future adults as they take on interests of their own that are outside of yours.

Get to the tween years and it’s a whole other ballpark. The good news first – at this age they are probably the most helpful they will be in all of their life until they become an adult. They are more willing and able to help with household chores and managing their younger siblings. They can be depended on, and are, for the most part, pretty trustworthy. The bad news – they have started to think you are the biggest idiot in the whole wide world, and are begin to believe that any association with you might just ruin their rep.

And finally, the teen years. These are just like the tween years, minus the helpfulness and triple the “idiot thing”. They are suddenly under the impression that they came up out of the ground rather than believing that they are actually related to you. Need them to do something for you? Please don’t hold your breath. But if they need something from you, they are pleasant as pie. And then as soon as they get you to bend, you are once again back to idiot status. With their suddenly almost adult appearance brings on more adult decisions to face. Drugs, alcohol, sex, the suddenly less clear line between right and wrong…. But teens can surprise you, too. They are capable of making the RIGHT decision. And contrary to popular belief, a lot of times they do make the right decision. Some of the most helpful community servants are teens. Teens are passionate about their beliefs, and many of them are vocal about them. And even further, they do something about those beliefs. While sometimes their ideas that they are invincible can give us parents a heart attack, that same believed invincibility is what makes them stronger than many adults. They aren’t jaded by the world of today. They are rebels WITH a cause, fighting for what they believe in, and set on fulfilling their dreams about what they want to do with their life.

Britain’s The Baby Website recently conducted a survey asking their readers what age they believed was the worst when it came to kids. Anyone have a guess? Without much surprise, the winner of the poll ended up in the teen years. Of 2000 parents, a large majority of them decided that boys were the hardest to handle at age 15, and girls at 14 were a handful. And while I can definitely see that the teen years are the most difficult, I can’t help but think it’s also the age with the most rewards. Here is when we get to see our kids as they will be when they are adults, when they are the most themselves (minus the snarky attitudes and unwilling demeanor, hopefully).

What do you think? What age do you believe is the most difficult when it comes to kids? And what is the most difficult and the most rewarding aspects of your child at the age they are right now?