Thursday, May 31, 2012

Texting And Driving: A Lethal Combination

This seems like such an obvious conclusion, and yet.... A May 16th Boston Globe article whose headline read: "Accident reinforces distraction dangers"tells the story of a 17 year old girl, distracted by texting on her phone while driving,  plows into and kills a 44 year old man out jogging. Today,  just 2 weeks later, another Boston Globe article whose headline reads: "Prosecutors say teens's messaging led to fatal crash". The cell phone of this 17 year old driver was found in his car after the accident with texts coming and going at the time of impact. He killed a 55 year old man, and injured the other passenger by crossing into oncoming traffic and plowing head-on into another car. According to the Globe: "5500 people across the country were killed in crashes involving driver distraction. Teenage drivers were more likely than those in other age groups to be involved in a fatal crash where distraction is reported." Tell your teen about these two stories, and any others you can find to make this point.

Sorry to be Debby Downer here, but this is such an important issue that bears repeating over and over and over again with your driving teens. Teens have magical thinking. They think that they are invincible. It is just part of the natural development of the teen brain. How ironic it is that just at a time when teens are incredibly motivated to tempt fate, their brains give them some license to do that. EXCEPT if they get enough conflicting messages on a regular basis that mitigate the brain's natural tendencies. You are the mitigator of all mitigators!!!! And mitigate you must!!!!

 "You better not text and drive. Its illegal," is not a strategy for change. (there are many states that make driving and texting illegal and punishable by fine and revoking the license). Forget that it's illegal, you can kill or be killed!!! Most teens will say: " I don't!" and mean it at the time. What you need to do is help them to come up with a plan for keeping their phone out of reach and temptation. Because of course that's really what driving and texting is all about...temptation. When that chime comes from your phone signifying an incoming text, it is really really hard not to want to read it immediately and respond immediately. I know, cause I get the itch too! There has to be a plan, and there has to be practice to make sure the plan works. Maybe there is a new family rule. Anyone driving the car, or getting a license within 6 months is required to turn off their phone whenever they are in the family car. Practice makes perfect. You have to model the behavior, and you have to provide opportunity for your teen to get used to being in a car without using his/her phone in preparation for driving and being phone-free. If your pre-driving teen doesn't agree to this opportunity to practice then I guess getting the license is off the table. This is tough love, with an emphasis on the love!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Summer Alcohol And Drug Alerts

 I was working out this morning, and several moms from my class who know I write a blog, wanted to give me a heads-up about some of the drug/alcohol issues that have made it through the high school parenting gauntlet of several communities. As usual, these are not fringe kids. These are kids from good families, good schools and supportive communities.

First. a new alcohol delivery system. Water bottles, ice tea bottles, red bull, oh, so yesterday. How about soaking a tampon, yup, a tampon in vodka, and inserting it in the vagina. Seems those little tampons can hold up to 1 oz of vodka, no chaser needed. No joke this is really dangerous. Please talk to your teen about this. Your ' I Get It conversation; " Honey, I recently heard that kids are soaking tampons in vodka, and than inserted the bloated thing in the vagina for the girls or the rectum (gross) for the boys. Apparently kids think that getting the booze in their system this way won't:

1. Give them booze breath and therefore pass a breathalyzer. This is wrong, breathalyzers measure blood content not smelly alcohol breath.

2. Kids do this because it gets them drunk faster. This is true.  The vagina and the rectum are very vascular and the alcohol goes directly into the bloodstream, rather than through the stomach. The bad news is that you won't throw up or have that gag reflex when your body tells you enough is enough. Because it is not mixing with gastric juices, you will go directly to the passing out and perhaps death phase, because there will be no signs that you are in distress. This makes it harder for hospital personnel to figure out what is wrong and then it will be too late. Maybe some of your friends have tried it, and lucked out that nothing bad happened. It is a crap shoot. It scares me to death. Please warn your friends who think it's an OK thing to do and please please please do not ever try this, it is so dangerous.

OK so that is the alcohol alert. Here is the drug alert. There is a new version of the drug Ecstasy called "Molly". It is a much much stronger version of the drug, and more dangerous. Kids can get very dehydrated from this drug and go into shock. This is a drug most kids think is pretty harmless. It is not. Please tell them.

If you have teens who you know are out partying. Rather than putting your head in the sand, you need to confront the issue directly. "I get you and your friends are out partying on the weekend. What are you going to do to make me feel that you are on top of making safe decisions.? These are some of the scary situations that are out there, plus all the usual binge drinking I know some of your friends, and maybe you do. Honey, I love you and need to know you know how to stay safe. "

Thursday, May 24, 2012

To Give Or Not To Give My Parents My Facebook Password

This must be my facebook week. A parent recently asked me what she should do about her 12 year old daughter who refused to give this mom her facebook password. If you have a 12 year old on facebook, than absolutely you must have access to their password.(see yesterday's blog for a good example) At this age, kids do really really stupid things, even more stupid than if they were 16. At 12 most kids are at what I call the "as if" stage. They are acting "as if " they were older teens. Asking for and wanting privileges that are given to older teens. They are dressing like older teens especially girls who look for sexy tops and shorts to make them appear sexier and older. Also they are trying to act "as if"  they are older teens, by being sexually provocative, using a lot of colorful language,  and doing anything to make them feel cooler and older than they actually are. This goes for both boys and girls. This is why if your young teen is on facebook, you must be completely on top of supervising him or her.

I cautioned the mom against forbidding her daughter to go on facebook. If this teen is already a regular user, and mom forces her to close down her account, she probably will just go underground and go on it when she is at a friends house, where mom has no accessibility. So parents,  you may have to suck it up if your teen has already started her facebook career, but you don't have to feel helpless to intervene if your teen is being obnoxiously withholding.

Here is what you can say: " I get you feel that giving me your facebook password is intruding on your privacy, but refusing to share it with me, or refusing to go on with me so I can check and make sure there is nothing on your wall that is unsafe or disrespectful, is a sign that you are hiding something from me. Learning to be on facebook takes some training on what you can and cannot put up there. Think of it like learning to drive safely. This takes time. You must take a class and drive with an instructor and  your parents for 6 months. Learning to be on facebook safely takes time too. So, from now on you will only be able to use the computer in the kitchen or dining room where dad and I can supervise you. And only for short periods of time, maybe a total of 30 minutes a day."

Your teen will moan and groan, and you can be sympathetic that yes, things are different and will be hard to get used to. You don't have to go to the " this is the way it is, and if you don't like it you don't have to use the computer at all" place.  That just keeps your teen angry and motivated to find a way around the new rules. Empathy has a much bigger payoff for cooperation!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Is Publicly Humiliating Your Teen A Good Parenting Strategy?

NO NO NO!!!! For those of you who are wondering whether you should publicly humiliate your teen using social media as a consequence of bad behavior,  I give a resounding two thumbs down. This recent story has made a lot of headlines, in the same vein as the computer shooting dad of a few months ago. It seems a young teen posted pictures of herself using alcohol. Rightly, her mom was supervising her facebook wall and saw the pictures. The consequence for the girl was to write the following sign and hold it up in a photo that was then posted on her facebook wall.
"Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor, I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should and should not post.

The good news is that this mom is monitoring her daughter's facebook. For that she gets a definite "thumbs up."  But humiliation as a consequence, not good. Will it work? Will humiliation stop this girl from posting inappropriate pictures, maybe...probably, but is that the only goal? Using public humiliation as a parenting techniques to me, is analogous to spanking to punish a child for doing something wrong. Fear and humiliation are the same to me. These are not healthy ways for kids to learn and then become motivated to change behavior. These are also the kinds of strategies that lead these same kids to bully and humiliate outside of the home. If this is a sanctioned strategy in one's home, why not do it outside the home?  Hazing, bullying, taunting, where do you think kids learn how to do these things. The research is pretty strong here. If kids feel bullied and humiliated at home,  they have to find their power outside of the home. Hello bullies.

When you find objectionable postings on your teen's wall, your best bet is using this " I get it moment" and a consequence where your teen can learn a new behavior. " Hey honey, I was really disappointed when I saw the photo of you holding up a bottle of booze on your facebook wall. Two things worried me, first that you are using alcohol, and second that you feel like you need to brag about it on facebook. I get you and your friends think its funny to post stuff like that, and maybe you thought it was OK to do because all your friends do it, but it can have some serious outcomes. From now on, you can only use the computer in the kitchen, when I am present, until I see that the stuff you post is OK to post. And as for the alcohol, you are not going to be allowed to go to homes or places that I do not feel are well supervised, or until I feel you have a plan in place to let you me know that you will make smart and safe decisions.  You are welcome to have kids here, where I know you will be safe.

If you take away the computer, take away the phone,  and ban facebook, your teen will just go underground with it and you will not have the teaching opportunity. Better to set up a situation where you feel you have more control and supervision. Humiliation as a consequence only serves to disconnect you and your teen. Teens make many many stupid mistakes. They are playing around with creating new personas and identities for themselves. This is normal. But like any child learning how to do something new, they aren't sure how to do it. Just punishing doesn't teach, it just punishes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

L Is For Lazy

Zits Comic:

Jeremy, barely awake, is walking towards the staircase going downstairs. Mom has placed a full basket of his dirty laundry at the top of staircase with a note that reads: JEREMY PLEASE CARRY THIS DOWNSTAIRS. Jeremy walks over the basket, not looking at the note. Jeremy gets downstairs where his mother awaits.

Mom: Where is it?
Jeremy: Where is what?

As a bonafide, card carrying lazybones, I totally understand Jeremy's behavior. Just this weekend,  after looking at a discarded clothing tag from a recent purchase lying on the floor of my bedroom for over a week, I finally decided it might be time to pick it up. I have stepped on it, walked over it, walked around it, but it just seemed like too much work to bend over and pick it up. I am a mother's worst nightmare. Actually, maybe I was my mother's worst nightmare. I am clean and neat, but it's just those small things that I am just too lazy to pick up until company is coming, or I have a little extra energy for the bend-over. I know this may seem stupid to some of you who are saying " how hard can it be to just pick it up." Well, like Jeremy, or maybe your teen, it just doesn't bother me enough to pick it up, and when it does, I will.

So what do you do, when "your Jeremy" does not throw away his food wrappers,  or take down her laundry for YOU to do, or put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher that HE used, or put away the clean laundry that YOU did for her, and on and on and on....?  Well, you have a few choices here. You can groan, and just do it yourself, focusing instead on the bigger things so that your entire relationship with your teen is not focused on getting on them for all the millions of things that they don't do.  You can withhold favors like rides and money by saying : " I'd love to drive you to the mall as soon as you put your laundry away,  or you can choose not to put the laundry away, and find another way to the mall. that's fine too! Whatever you want to do"(said without sarcasm, really I mean that!!!!) Of course you'll get a groan and some muttering, (which you just ignore) but if it's important enough to them, they'll do it....otherwise they won't! And you can go about your business as usual.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Woman Gets Jail For Drinking Teens-Summertime And The Drinking Is Easy

This was the headline in the Boston Globe on Saturday.  Not the summertime part, that's mine.  In 2010 (the justice system works verrrrry slowly) police were called to a home after getting complaints about noise and underage drinking. One of the party goers was taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Mom was convicted of supplying alcohol to minors and for allowing them to drink in her home. Her sentence is six months in prison. Harsh, I know. But clearly the judge is sending a message to all you parents out there who think that if you allow teens to drink in your home, you are keeping them safe.

We are heading into prom season, warm weather and for teens, party time!!! I have said this a million times, and I will say it a million more times, allowing teens to drink in your home IS NOT SAFE!!!!!! Just because you bought a couple of six packs for the kids and you're thinking;"if I just give them a couple of beers,  and then they get a little buzzed, then they won't have to go out partying in the woods." You only know about the beers. What they have heard is this is a house where we can party with permission. "Are you f##king kidding me? Let's get trashed." And trashed they get by packing in any booze they can in their pockets, water bottles, backpacks, pocketbooks, iced tea bottles, coke bottles, etc etc etc.

Do not be naive parents. Do not assume you have any control once you have opened Pandora's box. And as I have said many many times, it is not your right to give permission to another parent's child to drink. You do not know their medical history, their psychological history, their family history, and any drama they might currently be dealing with. And pretending you don't know that kids are drinking at your house is a sham. YOU KNOW!! Be a presence. You may not be able to catch every swig, but at least the kids won't be so relaxed into thinking they can kick back and swig away. You may be saving a child's life by being that pain in the ass parent.

Be clear with your teen that by allowing drinking in the house, he/she is putting you at risk for being arrested. Nothing like a little guilt. Read them the above story.  Your kids love you, and wouldn't like visiting you in the slammer. After all,  who else would make them their macaroni and cheese and do their laundry? If kids are coming to your house for pre-prom or post-prom parties, or just cause parties, make sure you have a limit on the number of kids who can come. Ask your teen to provide you with a working guest list. Make sure kids enter and leave your house only through the front door, so you can assess their safety. Make sure that any basement/playroom doors to the outdoors are either alarmed or locked. Teens love love love to come in and out as they please, bringing in more people and more contraband. Be aware and be prepared!

Because we are heading into heavy duty party season, you need to have some good, serious discussions about the whole drug and alcohol issue as it relates to safety. Your I Get It moment; " You know honey, I know that now that the weather is warm, and you and your friends have more free time, partying is probably going to be somewhere in your plans. It scares me to think that you might drink too much, and not be aware of how the alcohol can affect you. When you power drink, and do shot after shot, your body just can't tolerate that much alcohol. It can shut down, you could black out, you could trip and fall, you can aspirate on your own vomit, some really ugly things. I need to know that you have a plan to keep yourself safe. I don't want you drinking or doing drugs at all, but I know how easy it is to get caught up in the moment. Let's figure this out together. I love you, and I couldn't bear it if something happened to you."

Be prepared for the eye-rolling, disgust and denial. Do not let it deter you. Love is a pretty strong deterrent.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Independence: Fear It Or Embrace It

 Last week Time Magazine came out with a very provocative cover. It showed a mom with her 4 year old son standing on a stool breastfeeding. The article discusses a parenting trend called "Attachment Parenting," which basically asserts that there should not be an age limit to the breastfeeding of children. If children still wants a "snack" at 3, 4, 5 or even 6 years old and parents are still willing, and if it seems to comfort and bring closeness to the child-parent relationship, why not?

 I was interviewed by USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor newspapers last week for my take on this controversial cover which you can read below. So I won't go into my thoughts on that particular issue in this blog, but it did make me think about parents who keep their teens at their metaphorical breasts. The question all parents need to ask, whether as a parent of a 4 year old,  or a parent of a 14 year old is this: "Whose needs am I meeting here? Do I keep my teen dependent on me whether by "helping them," (and by this I mean doing) their homework for them, keeping them close to home, make my opinions from what clothes to wear, what friends to keep, or even something so simple as what to eat at a restaurant, so indispensable that they are terrified to make a decision without me. Do I "help them"and by this I mean, get their summer jobs for them, write their college applications, and don't hold them accountable when they screw up, all in the name of support? Do I solve all their problems and make everything all better so they don't have to feel anxiety or depression?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, let's hope your breast milk dries up soon. The task of all adolescents is to become adept at becoming confident in their ability to take care of themselves. If they rely on you to "feed them" and to anticipate for them when they will be "hungry" they will be completely unprepared for the challenges they face as soon as they walk out the door of your home. And you don't have to wait for college for them to have to face this world. That happens every single day of their life. If your teen is texting you a million times a day asking what he/she should do in this situation, or  in that one, whether with their teacher, their coach, or their friends, they are still hanging on that breast.  That must feel pretty good to you. There is nothing more satisfying than being needed by your teen. And thought they might not like to hear you say, "gee honey, I don't know what you should do. What do you think?" Think they must. Remember this generation likes to get information fast. Don't be their google button. Let them go hungry!|+USA

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Don't Wait Till It's Too Late

I read an article last week by a journalist who interviewed people for whom death was imminent. OK, don't get all gloomy on me, it really was about living life to it's fullest. Those interviewed were asked about regrets they had, missed opportunities, and how they wished they had lived their life differently. There was definitely a consensus on many of these life lessons. I wanted to share four of them that I felt really resonated with the parenting experience, and could really change the lives of you and your kids if you pay attention to them. Here Goes! My comments in italics

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a true life to myself, not the life others expected of me.  So often we are fulfilling someone else's dreams and expectations for us. This goes for children who feel the need to measure up to their parents expectations. Maybe you never followed the path you wanted because your parent's discouraged you. I used to teach adult students who came back to school to get their master's degrees in Eduction. Most of them had originally wanted to be teachers, but as college students, their parents discouraged them, pressuring them to go into more lucrative professions like business and the law. So many of my students described the lack of pleasure they got from their careers, fulfilling their parents expectations. Now as adults in middle age, and feeling the freedom to finally do what they wanted to do, they were giddy with excitement and curiosity.  Make sure as parents, you give your teens and young adults the freedom to chose who they want to become even if it doesn't fit your dream for them. 
  2. I wish I didn't work so hard. Sometimes work schedules can't be helped, but sometimes they can. Maybe you can't make it home every night for dinner, but I know you can 1 or 2. And then there are always the weekends. The research is unequivocal on this, when there is dedicated time for families, which may only be dinner for busy families, teens feel more connected and communicative, and engage in few risky behaviors! Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize!
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. I'm guessing here that they aren't talking about angry ones. Those are usually pretty easy to express, especially when you are in the middle of parenting your teens. Your teens may not present many opportunities for the non-angry ones. But find them you must. Also, this is not just about expressing feelings to someone else, but also expressing feelings about yourself. Kids need a model here. They need to hear when you are sad, disappointed, angry, frustrated, proud about things going on in your own life. If you are proud of something you challenged yourself to do and accomplished your goal, show and share your pride in yourself. Its a good thing! When you are disappointed in yourself for something, say it and share it with your kids. It's good for them to see you taking responsibility for your actions. You will be more likely than to see them do the same, and understand that even the all-mighty parents make mistakes too. It makes them feel less badly about their own. 
  4. I wish that I had let myself be happier. Remember these are people with no time left for a do-over. You and your kids on the other hand, do!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Run Away And Join The Circus

Really, it's possible! Do you have a kid who is a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Maybe you have that kid who is funny and quirky. You think his/her unique take on life is original and a breath of fresh air, but to the kids in the middle or high school where they spend most of their time, he/she is just plain weird. Last week I was watching a wonderful documentary on Circus Smirkus, a circus troupe whose members are all teens. During the summers, this group of quirky, funny teens travel all over New England performing traditional cirucusy acts as jugglers, clowns, acrobats, and aerialists. I actually remember taking my daughter, 25 years ago, to a perfomance they gave on the cape. They were amazing. The film really lets the audiance get to know these teens. They are honest and open about the challenges of being a teen who is a "little different." These kids have found their "family." A place where they are celebrated and welcomed for their unique passions and personalities. All teens deserve this kind of acceptance and love, but unfortunately it may not happen in their community.

Maybe you have that teen, that is uninvolved with sports, or plays, or music, or any of the activities that your school/community has to offer. Maybe they don't feel, that for reasons they don't even understand, that they just don't fit in with the kids who participate in those activities.  It just doesn't feel right. And frustrating to you, when you ask the million dollar question: "why don't you try out for the .......? You would be so good at it". You get a groan, a moan, and a  "leave me alone!" I talked with a parent recently who lives in a small town. She and her husband felt this would be a wonderful place to raise their children. The problem with small towns is for young children they are wonderfully, nurturing, safe places to grow. But as teenagers, that sweet smallness can become suffocating and limiting. Their daughter had outgrown the kids she had grown up with, and because the school is so small it just doesn't offer much in the way for teens searching for something to do that makes them feel good.

Cirkus Smirkus is not her thing, but her parents  need to help her to find "that thing" that lights her up from the inside out. She may need to leave home to find it, but that's OK. The world can be a safe and inviting place, sometimes more inviting than their own hometown. If you have a teen who seems lost and left out, help them to find their Cirkus Smirkus! Just ask the kids who did.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Inspirational Evening

This past Saturday night I went to an amazing amazing rock concert. It wasn't Coldplay. It wasn't....that's the only name of a band I know. Oh well. It was a group called Young@Heart. The members of this group range from 72- 95. This is not some senior citizen singing group that sings songs from their youth. This is a group of the youngest, most energetic and full of life people I have ever seen perform. Their repertoire includes heavy rock, pop, blues, folk, and punk. For two straight hours, whether in wheel chairs, walkers or canes,  they sang over 25 songs. There were no crib sheets, no missed words, just dancin, and singin old/young men and women, who literally travel all over the world singing and dancing, and have appeared on David Letterman, Jay Leno, and even Jon Stewart has reported on them. 

I first became acquainted with their work when the documentary about this group came out in 2008. This is a movie not to be missed. It is called "Young@Heart. (available at libraries and on netflix) I left the movie theater inspired by these chorus members from Northampton, MA. The commitment that have to this chorus, and to each other is without parallel. They are presented with music that is from a different generation, but they are completely open to the messages and the style. Due to the age of the members, some of the people die during the filming of this movie. Through the sadness at the loss of their friends and chorus members, they shore up and go on to show respect for the lives of those passing on. It is a lesson for every generation.

I was so moved by this film that I started showing it to my college students in my Human Development classes over the last 4 years as we studied later adulthood and death and dying in this lifespan course.  I have now seen this movie 10 times. Each time is as powerful as the first. What is so gratifying is watching my 18-22 year old students sit, mesmerized by the music, the people, and the message. This "reality show" actually means and teaches something. At the end of class on Thursday, a group of students excitedly came up after class. It seems they were so "turned on" by this film that they had found their website wanting to learn more about the group. This was completely self-motivated. What they wanted to tell me is they had found out that the group was performing on this past Saturday night, and they were going, did I want to go??? I couldn't have been more excited than if I had been told the Beatles were coming to town. But what was even more exciting was the joy on my student's faces. The fact that they were so inspired by this group of old people was a surprise and more gratifying as a professor than I can say.

The message of these older singers is that nothing can't be overcome and accomplished if you have passion, drive,  support and motivation to be the best you can be. This is a message for all people, especially your teens. Watch this movie with your kids,  and watch their faces light up.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Cellphone monitoring: Should I Or Shouldn't I? You Will After This Blog!

Several weeks ago, I was presenting a seminar on Sexting and Texting for a group of parents. At the end of the seminar, parents often come up to me with a story that they wouldn't share in a group setting. But in light of the subject of my seminar, a couple approached me with what they felt was an important story to tell. They had recently been notified that their sweet middle school daughter had been promised by an 8th grade boy that if she sent him a picture of her "tits" (his words not mine) it would only be for him. Famous last words right? Of course this headless photo, thank god for that, has now been seen by many. When the girl's parents confiscated their daughter's phone, they started reading the many texts this young teen had been receiving from boys and her friends and sending to boys and her friends. The parents were so mortified with what they read, they couldn't even read the words out loud. Needless to say, this was not an isolated incident. It wasn't more photos they found, but raw, sexual conversations, and promises for "hooking up". This is a wonderful, lovely family, and a lovely teen. Just saying!

Mom of a 14 year old, sweet, lovely girl walks into her daughter's room one evening while she is in the shower. Daughter had left her e-mails open on her computer, and her cell phone on her desk. Mom wasn't even there to snoop, but had just walked into the room to bring in her daughter's laundry. The computer screen was open and her e-mail was on the screen. Who wouldn't have read it?  Mom was shocked, reading a discussion between her daughter and her boyfriend regarding their recent foray into new sexual territory. Thinking this was just a cute young puppy love relationship, the kids had been able to be alone in a house unsupervised. Puppy love no more. This young girl and her boyfriend were having intercourse. Mom was horrified, and picked up her daughter's cell phone reading a history of texts that were explicitly sexual. Again, this is a wonderful, lovely family, and a lovely teen. Just saying.

When I suggest to parents that they need to monitor their teen's texts from time to time, I am usually met with tremendous resistance. I hear things like: " it's an invasion of privacy", or " they won't give me the password to their phone," or they would be so mad at me, and think that I didn't trust them." Here is the thing, this isn't about trust, it is about temptation, and education. Younger teen's especially have no clue what they are doing when they send sexy pictures and text racy language, peppered with promises of sexual favors. They see it all as joke, until something bad happens. Because teens are impulsive, and don't think before they act, they get themselves in the kind of trouble that can have life long implications and consequences. The humiliation of the middle school girl, and the loss of the virginity of this 14 year old. Case in point!

Boys, buoyed by watching extremely explicit porn on their computers, IPADs, and Smartphones have become more brazen then ever pressuring girls for sexy pictures and sexual favors. Girls, wanting to please the boys, get a boyfriend, feel sexually powerful, or  to be "popular" either offer or are pressured into providing these pictures and "talking dirty."  This is not a one time conversation you have with your teens. Just saying, "you better not be sending pictures and writing "dirty" on your phone, is not going to influence their behavior, when they are caught up in a moment. Thank god both of these parents are now clued into their daughter's world. They get now, that they their kids need to be supervised, and educated. Without supervision, kids are getting themselves into deep guano!

A cell phone, a computer, or any other device is a privilege not an expectation. As such, and as the grown-ups in the house it is your job to make sure they are using them safely. Just like driving a car, where you need to have a grown-up sitting next to them for at least 6 months before you are allowed to drive unsupervised, you need to think of phones and computers the same way. Graduated responsibility until you have confidence that your teen gets the dangers of these devices should not be a choice but a given. Your I get It moment: " I get how important it is for you to communicate with your friends in private, but I also know that kids get caught up in the moment, and at some point you might want or be pressured to send a sexy picture, or text, or ask for a sexy picture, and not know what to do. Sending and receiving this kind of stuff can be dangerous, and can change your life forever. Now at least you can say, I can't, my parent's check my texts and photos so no way!"Let them know that you would rather do this monitoring togethe.

 Safety and education, not punishment. You can't help if you don't know!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Amazingly I have never written about the daily conflict many parents feel as they leave for work in the morning, knowing that their return might be days later from a business trip, or late at night after long hours on the job. This is never easy. It is not easy for the kids who don't see one or more of their parents very often or for any length of time, and who seem out of the loop about what's going on in their lives.  It is also not easy for the parents who feel conflicted about not giving enough to their job, or conflicted about not giving enough to their family.

There have been a confluence of situations with families this week that gave me pause for thought. For one single mom, she has had to turn over most of the parenting responsibilities to her mom, who luckily lives in the same complex. Her job demands now that she travel 3 or 4 days a week, and as a single mom, with full custody of her teen, this is a situation fraught with ambivalence. She has to earn her living, and her daughter needs to be supervised, but together they have little time. Another single dad with 3 kids, has a team of nannies looking after his elementary and teen aged kids. He too, must travel, knows his kids are well cared for, but not by him. And finally, I was watching a reality show last night call "The Pitch" about the life of working in an advertising agency, and the toll long hours can wreak on families. One particular scene showed a young dad receiving a phone call from his wife, reminding him that he hadn't seen his kids for 4 nights running. Feeling guilt and sadness, the father secretly leaves his office to steal a bedtime ritual with his kids. The kids run to their dad, climbing all over him like a jungle gym, until a call from the office demands he return to deal with an imminent deadline. The kids burst into tears, not understanding why their daddy can't just stay home. They do not understand deadlines! The pain on this guy's face, having to leave his children, and the pain on his wife's on being left with the children was palpable. Real life, real conflict!! Sound familiar?

Young children can be bribed, reasoned with and cuddled. Teens, not so much. Entering in and out of a teen's life is not easy. They are apt to be angry that mom or dad is unavailable when they are needed and resent the parent for wanting to bud in on a life they are not much a part of. Such was the case with this single mom. The daughter's life is unlike any of her friends. She lives in a wealthy suburban town where her friends live in large comfortable houses. She lives in an apartment. Her friends can go home after school to houses where a parent is present, she has to go to her grandmother's. She often has to sleep at her grandmother's. She loves her grandmother, but misses the comfort of just being able to hang in her own room, when she wants. She and mom are not in a good place. There is unspoken resentment and anger from the daughter. The mom feels awful, and guilty most of the time.

If you have a partner, or you are the parent whose hours at work outnumber the hours at home, you have to work hard at letting your teen know you understand that this can be difficult. You do not need to  apologize for your work, cause that may be what you have to do to provide for your family, but understanding how this might be a difficult for your teen, and communicating them to them is vital.

Here is a conversation I suggested she have with her daughter, one she has never had. '' You know honey, I was thinking the other day while I was sitting on the plane that your life is so different from your friends, and how hard that might be for you sometimes. I admire you so much for your ability to be so flexible, and to often have to give up your own comforts and routines just because of my schedule. I don't think I have ever told you how much I really appreciate all you do and all you often have to give up because of the kind of life we have. I love you, and think you are amazing for putting up with all this. "

Most times a teen just needs to be validated that its OK to feel that their life isn't they way they wish it was,  and that they wish their parents didn't have to work so much, and were away so much. You don't need to buy them expensive gifts to prove your love. Making your teen feel important can be as easy as having the conversation above, and a quick daily text saying, "I miss you", or, "hope you had a good day", or a nightly bedtime ritual call when you are away. No need to feel guilty or defensive, just loving. That can go a long long way!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Another Reason NOT To Get Your Teen A Smart Phone

A newspaper article I read over the weekend described an incident that took place at a suburban high school last week. It seems one boy thought another boy was "talking trash" about him. He wanted revenge for the alleged "trash talking," so he waited in the hall for his supposed nemesis, caught him by surprise, and sucker punched him to the head. To add insult to injury, and to further humiliate the victim, the assaulter had an accomplice waiting with his smartphone to catch this all on video and posted the assault immediately to twitter and facebook. Gotta get a good audience!

The victim, who claimed he didn't even know this guy, suffered significant damage to his eye. There is no "boys will be boys" explanation here. In the old days, there might have been a fight out by the apple orchard, at least that's where the fights took place when I was in high school.  I hate fighting of any kind, but at least in those fights, the opponents were prepared to fight each other. You will be happy to know that both of the boys, the brute and his video accomplice were arrested and charged with assault and battery, and disturbing an assembly, whatever that means.

For me, it is not only about the brutality, but also about the video-taping and posting on twitter and facebook that was equally egregious. These boys wanted to put on a show. They wanted their 30 seconds of fame, in hopes I'm sure, that the video would go viral, cause that's what happens to outrageous videos right?  And then they would be famous!

Maybe the incident would have happened anyway, but my suspicion is that the taping of the fight became almost more important than the fight itself, or even the alleged reason for the attack. If I have said this once, I have said this a thousand times. DO NOT ARM YOUR TEEN WITH A SMARTPHONE!!!! Teens are impulsive! Teens often lack self-control! Teens love attention! Teens love drama! An instrument that can record things and then immediately post them to places where thousands of their closest friends can be impressed with whatever prowess they are selling, be it violence, sex, or downright humiliation, is addictive!!!!So is facebooking during school, shopping on line, or watching porn during lunch in the bathroom. These things really happen, and you would never know, cause once your teen has a smartphone, you don't know what the hell they are doing with it.

This week I have had a rash of coaching requests from parents dealing with smartphone video and picture posting issues. When I asked parents to provide reasons for giving their teen this instrument of power and distraction, all I got was they asked for it, or,  I was getting one, so I got a good deal on buying a bunch. When I asked whether they thought through any of the potential consequences for giving their teen the smartphone, they individually and collectively said NO. Well, here are the consequences. Two boys arrested, one boy with an injured eye. Earlier this year I wrote about teens videotaping their inexperienced teacher, and posting this embarrassing moment in the classroom immediately on facebook for the whole school to see. Consequence: teacher humiliated, two students arrested. 

I think you can tell how I feel about this issue. Please think through giving your teen a smartphone and all the possible consequences. Make a pro-con list. And please let me know if anything makes it into the pro list, that a regular old flip phone can't accommodate. Really, I want to know!