Thursday, August 29, 2013

And Now It Begins....Again

I know just how the kids feel. After having the summer off from teaching, I get back in gear next Tuesday.  I feel groggy, anxious, excited, and impatient, with just a touch of dread, knowing that class prep, exam and paper grading in combination with blog writing, speaking engagements and parent coaching is all in front of me!

The most fun your teen is having now is picking out just the right outfit to make just the right new impression for this new school year. Thinking about academics....not so much. You on the other hand are obsessed with who their new teachers are, what are their expectations of the students, how many clubs/athletic teams your kids will sign up for,  and are your teens using the agenda books the schools so generously gave to your teen to stay organized? You are full of goals for your teen: honor roll, good citizen of the year, most valuable player, early to bed early to rise, etc., etc., etc. They on the other hand, are wondering who their best friend will be, will they find a fun party to go to on the weekend, worries that they won't make the team, get a part in the school play, or win election as a class officer. Homework, grades, pleasing teachers, getting to bed early enough to get up on time are not taking up much space in the old noggin.

Asking a thousand questions at the end of each school day will yield scant results, and instead your teen will probably reward you with more of the "leave me alone" responses. Your teen is overwhelmed as this new year starts. As a new middle schooler, high schooler, 10th grader or whatever "grader" there are a new things that are expected of him/her. Be more mature, grades really matter, college is getting closer, what if no one likes me, what if I can't get a boy/girl friend are just a few of the things that consume him/her. Asking a thousand questions just makes them feel more overwhelmed. Be patient, you will get the answers to those questions, just one at a time, and in a more casual way. When you bring in their laundry maybe say "hey so whats the deal with tryouts, or that English teacher, or History class? Pick one area of interest, and in a non-desperate tone, ask your question.

But here is the thing, they do need your help in setting limits on themselves as it relates to homework and sleep. They have had a summer of excess, too much sleep, unlimited friend access,  and texting/video games/facebook time. Like all addictions, any limitations will make them a little crazy, but crazy they must get, cause limitations they must have.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An OMG Sexting Story

Now that your teens are heading back to school, having "matured" over the summer and excited for a new year of flirting with potential new crushes, I thought I would share a little bit of "joani live." In this video I share a story a parent came to me with looking for help. For teens, sexting has become the perferred mode of communication. The old-fashioned "hi, what's up" has morphed into "hey-you know what's hot piece of a**!

If you happened to watch any of the MTV video awards and the performance of Miley Cyrus,(and I'm sure your teens did) you have to understand that sexually charged behavior, and sexually charged language does not bring a blush to anyone's cheeks anymore. I literally gagged watching Miley, your teens probably cheered her on! They need to hear from you on this topic. I hope this video gives you some help in that area.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fall Back To School Tips

Yes, the summer is over, and it is back to backpacks and schedules, carpools and homework. For some parents this day could not come fast enough, and for others it is dreaded almost as much as their kids dread it. The good and bad news is that in a few weeks, it will feel like summer never happened. Tans will fade, girls will finally have to put on some pants that cover their tushies, and everybody will be in some kind of routine.

I thought today I would give you my own version of a back to school sale, as I try to "sell" you on some strategies that you can start with from the get-go in hopes of a smooth beginning to the school year.


Do not allow your teen to take their cellphone to bed. How I wish teen drama happened between 8-10 pm, but the reality is, the real juicy stuff happens after 1 AM. Your teen has their phone on vibrate, and he/she never really hits the deep level of sleep that allows the brain to absorb the day's learning. Instead they lie in wait for their crush to text, or a best friend to text the days wrap up. This is why they are exhausted when they wake up. If you have been a good doobee parent who has not given your teen a smartphone, simply have your carrier shut it off when you and your teen agree on a time. Your conversation: "hey honey, I get how important it is to check in with your friends before bed, and I want you to have that time, but then we need to agree on a time that the phone will be shut off for the night. It is important for you to get a good night sleep. If you have already given your teen a smart phone, which you can't shut off through the carrier, you will say the same first part and then: " I will need to collect your phone at our agreed upon time. If you argue with me, and we get into a struggle about handing over your phone, I will need to switch out your smartphone for a regular phone, so that I can have it shut off and we won't need to argue. Your choice." And by the way, this goes for laptops, Itouches or any other device that can interfere with sleep. Shut your modem off if you have too. It is that important. Teens are already sleep deprived with the brain saying, "I'm not tired yet", and the school bus pick-up at a very early ungodly time. Your teen DOES NOT have the willpower to do this on their own, no matter what they tell you. Do not set them up to fail.


If you have had a teen that has fallen into the homework hole, do not wait for it to happen. Anticipate that this might happen again.Things don't change that much over the summer. If you have a younger teen, 6-10th grade, you might consider hiring what I call a homework coach. This is a cool college student with a car, who picks your teen up either after school or in the evening, takes them to a library, and sits with them while they do their homework, and then takes them out to shoot some hoops get an ice cream or a coffee when they are done. This basically gets your teen on a homework schedule, and pairs the dreaded homework with someone and something fun. Not that you aren't fun, well, actually you probably aren't when it comes to homework. Twice a week is usually enough.

Make sure you have a 2 hour period when there is no cellphone, and social networking sites are blocked. See cellphone strategy above. You can do the same thing, have it shut off for a couple of hours or agree for them to surrender. Again, and I will keep saying this, cellphones, and facebook, twitter et al, are TOO DISTRACTING. Your teen will argue till they are blue in the face that they can handle their homework while texting, facebooking, twittering etc. The research is unequivocal here, they can not. The brain will pay attention to the most interesting stimulus, and you can bet that geometry loses to texting every time. Even if your teen has no homework and says they did it at school you should follow through on the 2 hour rule. All this stuff is hugely addictive, you are not doing them any favors by feeding this addiction. Maybe they will actually spend time with you watching TV, a fate worse than death. Your teen will be mad at you. SO WHAT!


All teens should be involved in something. Too much time on their hands can be destructive. School is usually out by 2 and that leaves them with hours to whittle away doing who knows what, and who knows where. You should have an expectation that you teen either chooses a sport, club, drama or a job, but they must have something to do at least 3 days a week. No activity, no money! Some teens may be overwhelmed with the choices available at school, and might be too shy to join something. If you know your teen has a strength in some area, say art for example, you might want to go undercover and let the guidance counselor know about this. Perhaps they need artists to work on the newspaper or yearbook or drama production, and they might get the faculty involved to approach your teen, saying they heard that they were talented and could really use their help. Be creative. This is all about building self esteem and self confidence especially if academics is not your teen's area of strength.

Social life

Teen proof your home.
  •  Lock up the alcohol and prescription drugs
  • Make sure you supervise sleepovers (that means setting alarm clock to check on location and sobriety of your house guests.)
  • Help your teen to think in advance about handling themselves in risky situations
  • Supervise teens coming to your house to hang. Make sure your teen understands your no drinking or drug policy, and have a plan in place should your teen have friends who flaunt your rules. Remember it is unsafe and illegal. 

This is in caps and in bold because it is the most important. Do not let your relationship just be about checking up on your teen, as in "have you? did you? when will you? If this is the bulk of your conversation with your teen you absolutely need to build in some good relationship building time. This is what will get your teens to do what you want, not taking away their phone. Go to a movie during the week, take them out for a coffee, give them a day off when they feel stressed, and stay in your pajamas all day eating junk food. Let your teen know you get life can be hard sometimes, and that you don't always have to be the hard-ass!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

It Wasn't My Fault...Everybody Was Doing It!!!

This is a wonderful article about teens an peer pressure. It gives scientific evidence for the cause of peer pressure. I like science because it takes it from the personal : Why can't my teen think for him/herself?" to a place of objectivity. Parents need objectivity, because so much of parenting a teen becomes personal! Teenagers, Friends and Bad Decisions

 I love when articles confirm what I already know, but in a new way. It makes me feel so smart. This referenced a study that was done at Temple University looking at the effect on teens brains while they are making decisions when they are alone versus when they are with their friends. The experiment was so interesting. Ask a bunch of 14-18 year olds to do a simulated driving game for which they will be rewarded with cash if they finish in a certain time frame. Embedded in the game are choices to be made like running yellow lights to finish more quickly. However if you "crash" you get penalized and delayed.  Scores were compared with a group of college students and a group of young adults.  "Half of the time each person played alone, and half the time they were told that two same-sex friends who had accompanied them to the study were watching in the next room." The results, no change in game playing or risk-taking for college students and young adults when told about people watching their play, but for the teens they ran 40% more yellow lights and had 60% more crashes when they "believed" their friends were watching. Remember these "phantom friends" were not even in the room with them, they only believed that friends were watching. 

This is pretty powerful documentation of the effect of what we call "the imaginary audience", a term coined by Psychologist David Elkind that refers to the heightened sense of self-consciousness in teens. This occurs because of the newly developing and growing teenage brain that is working on overtime to make teens aware that not only do they have thoughts about themselves but that other people have thoughts about them. Think of this as opening night jitters that starts the second teens awaken and ends when they have posted their last facebook message of the day. What will I wear today, how will people see me? What will I say today, what will people think about what I am saying? and so on. The study supports the thinking that when your teen is on their own they are more likely to make responsible decisions (no imaginary audience) but give them a real or perceived audience and lets get on with the show! Because often times it is all for show, just like the teens in the study who took more risks when they thought their friends were watching. 

This would be a great article to read with your teen. Here is scientific documentation of all your worries. Let them know that you are not crazy, even the scientists can see that when you are with your friends you are more likely to put yourself in risky and potentially unsafe situations. Your job here is to use that power of understanding with your teen " I get how important it is to not embarrass yourself in front of your friends, but I know that sometimes you might make a different decision when you are alone than when you are hanging with your friends. Lets try to find some ways that you can both save face in front of your friends, but make sure that you are safe. This is the kind of conversation you might have every weekend just before your teen leaves the house. This is NOT something you can change about  your teen. It is literally chemistry, but you can make your teen aware of it and provide them with  strategies, scripts and alternatives to keep them safe. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Rush To Be Older

As the back-to-school shopping commences I thought I would share this article I read recently. For those of you with kids in middle school, this is for you. The rush to want to be everything "teen" as soon as possible is in the air. Sexy clothes, tight tees, short shorts, shoes with heels to high will all be available at the teen store you will soon be inhabiting. There is plenty of time for "sexy." Try to steer her to "cute"

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Texting And Driving

Below is a link to a new documentary about texting and driving. This is NOT just for your teens, this is for all driving members of your family. Please watch it together for the greatest impact. The statistics are staggering for texting and driving accidents across all age groups. This is a family problem, not a teen problem. When your teen sees you take responsibility and ownership for your own bad cell phone habits, he/she will be much more likely to take responsibility and ownership for their own. This is a mom AND dad problem. I know its more moms than dads who read my blog, but please, get that man of yours on board with watching this documentary. I remember meeting with a couple once. The husband jokingly said; " do you think its bad that I text with one hand, drink my beer with the other, and drive with my knees." I wasn't laughing, and he wasn't really joking!

Developing good driving and cell phones habits or changing old bad habits takes ALOT of work. Change is hard, and repeating the message and teaching strategies is the only way. A parent I worked with shared this wonderful strategy. When a pre-driving teen chooses to sit in the front seat, no cell phone use is allowed. This gets your teen to disassociate sitting in a front seat with their cell phone. We want that to feel unnatural, so when its time to drive, it would feel unnatural to use a cell phone in the drivers seat. And most importantly, in the six months of permit driving, make them put their cell phone in the same place every single time they step into that drivers seat. Repetition-repetition-repetition!
Also there is a wonderful driving program that both you and your kids should take that teaches safe driving tips.

1. Where is your phone, and your teen's phone when you step into the car
2. Where will you put your phone, where will your teen put their phone before the key goes into the ignition, so that there will be no temptation to pick up when you hear that delightful ping of a text message, or ring of a phone.
3. Model by pulling over and stopping before you check your phone to see what very important message was left!
4. Watch this documentary

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Teens and Denial

Zits Cartoon for Aug/10/2013

Zits Cartoon for Aug/09/2013

"What, it wasn't me!" "It isn't mine!" "I don't know how it could have gotten there!"Famous last words of teens. A great way for teens to avoid taking responsibility, and a sure fire way to frustrate parents to the point of apoplexy!

The truth is your teen absolutely does not care that their shoes are strewn all around the house...except when they can't find them, then of course it becomes your fault: "Where are my shoes? What did you do with them," they scream at their loudest decibel. Because of course, it is one minute before their ride is coming to get them, and they did not think about these shoes, jacket, etc until just that minute, and now that they are missing they obviously can't blame themselves, so you're up!

My best advice, don't bite!!! There is nothing you need to say, nothing you need to do, it is not your job to keep track of their things. Sometime, they will figure it out, but your lecture of "if you only put your things in their rightful place this would not happen every single god damn day!!"will definitely not change their behavior. Either they'll figure it out themselves or they won't. And eventually they will move out, and you will never have to deal with it again. Make yourself unavailable for the search and rescue. And when their crap is in your way, have a basket for each of your teens in which any stray item that is making you crazy gets thrown. Think of it as your family's lost and found. If they can't find something, they can always take a gander at the lost and found and see what's there. It will be like Christmas every day!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

When Your Teen Asks The Tough Did You ever Questions

I came across a really interesting article by Dr. Perri Klass, a well know Pediatrician and author on kids and families. The article: Q. Did you ever smoke pot? A. It's complicated,  addresses the anxiety and ambivalence most parents feel when their teens asks this question. Of course the major worry is, if I tell the truth, will my teen use that against me as in " Well you smoked pot or drank when you were my age, so don't be such a hypocrite and tell me I shouldn't."

A study done at the Hazelton Treatment Center in Minnosota actually found that parental honesty about their own history with drugs and alcohol was a positive influence. And that has been my experience with parents as well. When your kid finds out that you dabbled yourself as a teen, I think it makes them feel that they can be more open with you and feel less judged by you if you have experienced the draw of teen experimentation.

Lying never works. If you are trying to encourage your teen to be honest and open with you, you need to return the favor. Which isn't to say that you have to tell the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. You do not have to say that you got trashed every weekend. Dr Sharon Levy, the director of the adolescent substance abuse program at Children's Hospital in Boston advises: "You don't need to tell everything. But if you decide to answer don't lie. Tell them the truth without glorifying it, and if you think you made a mistake, tell them that too."

If your teen does decide to turn it against you, you do not need to bite. Clearly if they have been confronted about a episode of drug and alcohol use, they will use any and all means to deflect responsibility for their actions. You do not need to get defensive or argumentative, you can just say we are not talking about me here, we are talking about what happened with you. Hopefully this won't happen because when your teen asked you for full disclosure of your alcohol and drug use it went something like this; " You know honey, I get that you are interested in hearing how I dealt with this stuff when I was a teen. So here goes. I did try pot, but just didn't like the way it made me feel. I didn't like feeling like I wasn't in control,( or when I was stoned, I couldn't concentrate and it stated affecting my school work) With drinking, I hated the feeling of getting drunk and being sick, and seeing other kids do really stupid things. ( insert a story here of some kid you knew who got into trouble drinking) so mostly I would just have a beer or two. When I was a teen we didn't drink hard liquor like teens do now. No one did binge drinking like that. And also pot has really changed since I was a teen. It is much much stronger now. And now there is so much more information about the brain. They didn't know when I was a teen that the brain is still growing, and that drugs and alcohol can actually lead to permanent changes in the way the brain works. Thank god I just kind of dabbled, cause if I knew then what I know now, it would have really changed the way I thought about it. I wouldn't want you to touch a hot stove just to find out you could get burned. My parents didn't know anything about this stuff, or about what I did, thank god nothing bad happened to me. But now we know alot more about brains and the potency of the pot out there, and of course I love you and want to make sure you are making informed decisions. I know that you have a lot ahead of you,  and that you have goals, and want to be successful in life. I wouldn't want to see something that you can be in control of to get out of control and alter you life forever."

Whew!! That's a long paragraph. You can be honest, without being preachy. You want to always keep the conversation open ended. Check in with them often, every weekend, reminding them how much
you love them and want them to be safe.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Where Our Daughters Learn About Self-Hate VS Self Love

For all you parents out there with daughters, the article above is a great read. I remember having conversations with my daughter when she was a teen. I would be talking about how fat I felt, or how old and ugly I was feeling.(That's when I was in my 40's, now that I am heading into my 60's I actually like myself better. See getting older is fun) But I do remember very clearly my daughter saying, "and you wonder why I am consumed with worrying about being fat. I get it from you!!!!" And I'm guessing she is more than a little right. I do not have one memory of my middle aged mother ever ever commenting on her size, her sexiness or her aging. Women in the 1950's and 1960's just did not think about that, or if they did they did not talk about it. And what about the dads. I know even from my own hubby and our middle aged friends, there are always comments about this hot woman, or that hot woman. Again, I never ever heard my dad comment about women in terms of their hotness. Maybe, we as adult have to start with ourselves and watch what we say and how we live. Are we giving these messages to our daughters and sons without even realizing it? Do we spend too much time and energy making ourselves look sexy and cool, rather than just healthy? Maybe we have had too much of the kool-aid as well, read too many People magazines, too many Allures and Vogues showing us how to find the fountain of youth. We have bought too many creams, had too much botox ( I draw the line) too many eyelifts and so on. Maybe we have to first model self-acceptance for our kids before we can expect them to follow suit.

At the least we have to continue, on a regular basis to have talks with our teens about this. No matter how much eye-rolling you may encounter, do not let that deter the message. Find opportunities when they present themselves, don't manufacture them. If you are watching a show or hear some lyrics or see something in a magazine or hear a story from the news, or a friend, there is your chance, your "I get it"  moment. " I get how this might sound hip or funny, but I worry that it makes girls feel like that have to wear a tight or cleavage revealing top, or short shorts with a butt crack exposed, or whatever, just to get attention from a boy. Do you feel that way?"
Or with your son: " I get that boys think its funny to comment on the size of a girls boobs, or think that they can convince girls to take pictures or give blow jobs in order to be their boyfriend, but its really just to "get a little", and get a good story to tell the guys. I hope you wouldn't lead a girl on like that? Just talking about this once does not facilitate change. This is tough stuff. Our world is changing and this happens to not be one of the good things. Our culture bombards us with messages, but we give our kids messages as well. Do as I say, not as I do, won't work anymore. You gotta walk the walk to really make a difference.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

You Can't Always Get What You Want!

Usually when I write a line like that, I am referring to your teen's sense of entitlement. but this time, I'm addressing you. When your teens were younger versions of themselves, they wanted to please you. If you were a skiing family, then they loved skiing, if you were a Soccer, Baseball, Basketball, Football, Tennis, etc family then they loved playing your sport du jour. Younger children are developmentally built to want to please you. We call that the "good girl, good boy" stage. They crave your attention, and your admiration. You are their # 1's, and whatever they have to do to get your attention and keep it they will.

Then Adolescence hits. And the drive is not about pleasing you, its about figuring how they differ from you. We call this separation. Maybe you or your partner are their soccer coach, and you have absolutely loved coaching their team. But with fall signups coming up, they have clearly and with no ambivalence let you know that they absolutely do not, under any circumstances want to play soccer or (fill in the blank) anymore. You are shocked!! "What do you mean, that's our thing, I love, I mean you love Soccer." " Ah no, that was your thing, not mine," they retort.

I once knew a parent whose daughter was an outstanding gymnast. During elementary and middle school she had moved from local competitions to regional, and national ones. Because there were two other children in the family that required equal attention, the parents had to divide and conquer. Dad was the designated gymnastic parent. He loved loved loved being the gymnastic parent. He loved all the car time he had with his daughter, driving from meet to meet. He loved enjoying her success, he was an ambitious guy himself, and loved having a daughter who was as ambitious and focused as he was. It was a match made in heaven. Until it wasn't anymore.

Hello teenager. As the daughter began 9th grade, and the lure of cute boys, weekend parties, and new friends became part of the picture, her passion for gymnastics started to fade, and she made the announcement that she wanted to quit! As you can imagine, this did not go over all! This dad was extremely invested in his daughter's gymnastic life and success, and was not happy about giving that all up. He had olympic trials dancing in his head! He didn't want his daughter to be a quitter, and why, just so she could go out with her friends on Friday and Saturday night? How superficial, he thought.

The daughter never had seen herself as a career gymnast, it was fun, and without other distractions in her life, she was happy to do the gymnastic thing. But now entering high school, there were a lot of other things on her radar that were of interest to her. And the truth...that's just fine.

Your teens are now in the position of making decisions for themselves. They may have pursued interests because they saw how happy it made you when they did, and also it was fun! Now perhaps they want to stop those piano lesson, or team sport, or scouting, or whatever, and try something new. Their new teenage brain is letting them know that there is a world of possibilities out there, and they want to try it all out. And they need your permission to go for it.

Your gift to them is to give them that freedom to explore, even if it means having to deal with your own disappointment...privately. If you have a teen that you think has been following your dream, you might say to your teen: "you know, I've noticed lately that X doesn't seem to interest you that much anymore. I just want you to know that this is your life, and if you want to stop doing X I am fine with that. Our goal is for you to find the things in life that make you happy, not us happy. Freedom of choice, what a great gift, so much cheaper than a new pair of sneakers!