I’m not much for the Black Friday hoopla, but I can get down with Cyber Monday. You can’t beat shopping in your pajamas or while you’re at work . . . on break of course. So I’m making lists and checking them twice and hoping I can get some steals and deals for my teen girls. Even if these gifts don’t go on sale, there is a price point for everyone. All gifts have been Daughters of the Sisterhood approved, so behold in no particular order . . .
A card game about kittens and explosions and sometimes goats. I mean, what more can we say? If we didn’t have you at exploding kittens, we should have nabbed you at goats.
In this highly-strategic, kitty-powered version of Russian Roulette, players draw cards until someone draws an Exploding Kitten, at which point they explode, they are dead, and they are out of the game — unless that player has a defuse card, which can defuse the Kitten using things like laser pointers, belly rubs, and catnip sandwiches. All of the other cards in the deck are used to move, mitigate, or avoid the Exploding Kittens.
It’s family-friendly for ages 7 and up, super portable, and provides hours of fun.
And if you have a mermaid tail you might as well complete the look with the pillow. These things are addictively relaxing. You rub your hand over them to change the pattern and color of the sequins. Your teen could probably use the good, clean stress relief.
Flavored water is all the rage, and infusing it yourself is more economical and healthy. This 32 oz beauty comes in a variety of colors and features a securely locking lid so that your hydration doesn’t leak all over your backpack.
Honestly, you’d have any teen girl at Bluetooth speaker, but combining it with an adjustable color night light is so cool it will elevate you into the realm of best gift-giver ever. Even comes with the USB and AUX cords, and you can never have enough of those.
This little gift is affordable, but bursting with “wow factor.” My daughter uses her’s to listen to music in the shower because she can control it with voice commands. She also calls out to add things to her calendar or one of her lists. Honestly, this gadget would really be a winner for anyone on your list.
I cannot say that these are affordable, but they will make you a hero. With the lack of headphone jack on the iPhone “version whatever,” maybe you could say they were practical? Maybe even necessary. Suuuurrree.
These things are so popular. I can see why. They keep your drinks hot or cold for hoooouuuurrrrss. One thing though, the lid is not leak-proof, but no one seems to care. After much research, this is the link on Amazon for the authentic product.
If you don’t understand the now defunct social media platform, Vine, you are definitely not going to understand the appeal of this book. I might not have even included it on the list if my college sophomore daughter had not just given it to her high school junior sister for her birthday. They LAUGHED and LAUGHED. One warning, it does have strong language and themes, but for under four dollars you can buy yourself the title of coolest aunt ever.
So while the previous book was for the older teen set, this one works well for the younger ones on your list. Just a well-written book where the characters’ voices ring true, especially the main character, Plum. What I appreciate most about this book is that the parents are not banished to the sideline as doofuses. They are a real part of Plum’s life, and of the story. In all, the relationships and story line make this an authentic, fun read.
If you don’t know that teen girls love socks, you don’t know teen girls. One of our previous gift lists was pick up by CNN and we were raked over the coals for socks being a crappy gift. Not. True. Trust us.
This post contains Amazon Affiliate links which means I get a few coins to complete my holiday shopping at no cost to you!
Oh, you know how we love a good booklist! In fact, our last one was so chock full of good reads that you might want to give it another look. As Erin is currently teaching middle school, we thought it was time to put together a list for the younger set too. Sometimes, tweens are hard sells on a book, but these reads are so good, their stories so compelling, that even the most reluctant reader will succumb to their charms. So here it is: a tween booklist guaranteed to hit that reading sweet spot for your favorite young reader!
Um, an enchanted harmonica. Say what? Trust us on this one. Ryan’s magical tale that spans multiple generations and travels across continents is a new classic. The book dives right into some of the thornier aspects of our history and brings a wide-eyed, open-hearted approach. Sometimes this makes for heart-wrenching reading, but ultimately the story is a triumph and a powerful reminder that we can overcome all with love.
Beautiful and moving, this story set in the shadow of World War II is an inspiration. Our hero Annabelle must withstand the local bully, Betty Glengarry, but her actions set in motion a larger, more important story that one of bullying. This remarkable story is “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the middle school set
Caveat: please read this one before you hand it to a child younger than middle school. That being said, Park handles what could be a very violent book with grace and care. Told from two vantage points and set in 2008, the book follows Nya, a young girl from Sudan who has to fetch water for her village and Salva, a young Sudanese boy whose village is attacked by the rebels in 1985 and who ends up fleeing across the desert to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. This story has true elements to it and the heartbreak of this African village is certainly real, but it’s also an important beautifully rendered account that kids will read quickly.
This book is a true classic and even won the Newbery Award. Set in the South during the Great Depression, this book is hard but hopeful and the characters are bright and entertaining in the face of tragedy and racism. You will appreciate the warm ties and truths as your kids will identify and cheer for the family.
This book is just a great time. Funny, chocked full of adventure, and filled to the brim with heart, there’s nothing not to love here. But the magic is in our protagonist, Tiffany Aching, who sets out on a mission to become a witch. The six inch high tiny but fierce fighting men who assist her help create the magic here. If funny fantasy were a genre, this book would be at the top of it.
Set on our beloved Eastern Shore of Maryland, we would probably have a little love for this book even if it wasn’t so deftly knitted together. Luckily for your young reader, this story of a tragic kayak accident is powerful in and of itself. The moral questions the protagonist Brady must answer as he uncovers the truth behind the accident propel this story past the regret and sadness to another place. As the author steers Brady through some tough moral dilemmas without losing any of the suspense, you are reminded over and over again why the book won the honor of being named a Black Eyed Susan book.
This Texas Bluebonnet Award winner is a wonder in and of itself. The central character August Pullman has a facial deformity which has prevented him from attending a regular school. When he does finally become a student at Beecher Prep, this buoyant tale takes off. Augie just wants to be treated like everyone else, but, well, everyone else might not be ready for that. Told from the perspective of Augie, his classmates, and his family, this anti-bullying story never comes off as preachy, but does allow room to talk about fears and prejudices and, ultimately, the power of kindness. Wonder of all wonders. A must read for all middle schoolers!
Wow. Just wow. This book sticks with you. Melody is the smartest kid in school, but she can’t talk or walk, so nobody knows. When she finally finds a way to communicate, she seems on her way to fulfilling her dream of just being a “regular” kid. But, sigh, middle school is hard, yo. Frank and open, this book takes us inside one girl’s journey with cerebral palsy and, even with detours into some heavy stuff, we are all made better from the trip.
This book reads like Charlotte Rogan’s Lifeboat for the teen set. Poor Robie leaves Hawaii for a trip home to Midway when her plane goes down. Unfortunately, nobody really knows she’s missing or where to look for her. Oh, yeah, and she’s pretty much on her own adrift on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s disaster lit at its best. Your older tween and teen will enjoy this fast-paced easy read.
This series tops the middle school lists. In this dystopian future world, society is divided into five factions named for dedication to five different virtues— (Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). This is the next series for any kid who devoured The Hunger Games and has been hankering for more of the same. This series adds some different elements that make it interesting for sure, but your child should probably have the same level of maturity to really enjoy it. Think of this one as upper middle school.
Set during the Middle Ages, Silvano is a guy having kind of a bad streak of luck. Wrongfully accused of murder, he is sent to a Franciscan House for his own protection. Posing as a young friar there, Silvano can’t help falling for the lovely girl in the nearby abbey. But he just can’t catch a break. More murders threaten to take Silvano’s freedom for good and keep him from his love. Unlike Hoffman’s popular Stravanganza series set in an alternate world that looked like Renaissance Italy, this suspenseful tale is actually set in fourteenth century Umbria. The historical element just adds another layer to this already rich story. Your young readers will swoon.
Ideal for all fluent readers, this series is a runaway hit. Luke is a 12 year old kid who has spent his life in hiding. The Population Police have dictated that each family can only have two kids. As his family’s third child, Luke’s life is in danger so he has never experienced many of the simple joys of childhood. As his world changes, he glimpses others like himself and launches a daring plan to come out of the shadows that gives energy and momentum to the series. Your kids will be so busy trying to keep up with all the plot twists and turns that they won’t even know they just spent their summer reading.
This recommendation cannot come without also calling attention to Anderson’s other wonderful titles Speak and Chains, both National Book Award finalists. Anderson is the master of historical fiction for the Axe and Aero set. This novel takes us to Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic is one of her best. Told from the point of view of Mattie Cook, this tale weaves a narrative around the real-life events and characters of the time. Anderson never treats her young readers like unintelligent ones so the language in the book is just as rich and interesting as the story itself. And there’s an appendix at the end with facts about the epidemic. Sqwee! To a certain reader, it’s kind of like getting a birthday cake on Christmas. Score!
This is an oldie but greatie. Several of us remember this book as one of our favorites from childhood and at least one of us taught this book to our students. Another Newbery winner, this book has been charming readers for over twenty-five years and it still reads as fresh and inventive as it did back then. Sixteen people show up to the reading of Samuel Westing’s will. Any of them could walk away with his millions. The fun is in the unravelling. An absolute delight to read!
Animal-lovers will flock to this book! Zelly is moving to Vermont and she desperately wants a dog. Her grandpa Ace comes up with a crazy scheme to convince her parents that she is ready for one: he makes her a dog out of an old orange juice jug. There is a lot to love about this book. The sweet but complicated relationship Zelly has with her grandpop Ace, her new friend who encourages her to stay true to her convictions even in the face of social pressures, and the subtle themes of responsibility and treating all people (even bullies) with respect woven throughout. The author even inserts some great education about the Jewish faith into the story as Zelly meets two families who are devout Jews in a town that where they are a distinct and noticeable minority. Kids will love the Yiddish glossary at the end!
So you had to know this book was special once you figured out that this sequel won the Newbery Honor Award, but it’s also pretty apparent from the moment you open the spine (without breaking it, of course) and settle into the pages. Thirteen year old Dicey and her three siblings were abandoned by her mother in a parking lot and she has heralded them safely to her grandmother’s house where this story begins. The truth and beauty of Dicey’s voice and story, the pace and strong characters, and ultimately the honesty that permeates from this fast-paced read are all part of its charm. Oh, and it was one of Erin’s favorite books from when she was on the cusp of teendom.
This funny, tender book about being true to who you are doesn’t ever come across as schmaltzy and boys will be laughing too hard at all the crazy adventures of Gabe and his friends at Nerd Camp to notice all the sweet stuff anyway. Gabe’s dad is getting remarried and he is getting a stepbrother who happens to be the very same age. This is great news for Gabe until he realizes that his new brother Zack is a cool skateboarder while he is, well, not. Gabe desperately wants to hide his geekiness from Zack and the story unfolds. In the end, this is a story about accepting yourself for who you are. It’s such a positive, upbeat story narrated by an engaging young voice that tween boys won’t be able to put this book down.
Oh, we love a strong female lead and this book has one in the firecracker protagonist named Mo LeBeau. Big on personality and heart, this book is also a full-blown mystery topped with a little Southern charm. As a read, it goes down like a smooth glass of perfect lemonade. Your kids will be charmed by the quirky cast of characters and the precocious but believable dialogue.
Erin’s kids have been known to fall asleep clutching spy goggles and our friend Mary’s son brought his spy watch kayaking, hiking, and camping last year. Boys LOVE spy stuff. So a book about a school for spies? It has Hogwarts for Future Double Agents written all over it. Even the hero Ben is a little Potter reminiscent. Slow to warm up to the spy stuff, Ben wins in the end—making friends, helping to uncover the hidden mole, and getting his spy groove on. This book brings the action, ninja stars, and combat simulation (in the form of paintball—of course) to the CIA Academy and kids who enjoy a witty tale with a side of suspense will be delighted. This would be a great read-aloud for younger kids too.
Well, I guess the number one reason I’m on Snapchat is rooted deeply in my psyche. I always wanted to be a dragon for Halloween and because of gender bias stereotypes in the 1970s I was coerced into being a princess year after year instead. With Snapchat filters, I can realize my dream while parked in my driveway—no glue gun or sewing skills required.
Just kidding. I always got to pick my costumes. I’m on Snapchat because I have teenagers—and not for the reasons that may immediately come to mind like monitoring their activity and just plain understanding what they’re up to on their phones. Articles about managing your children’s social media have been written. Heck, we’ve written one.
No, this is more of a “if you can’t beat them, join them” sort of thing . . . or maybe it’s more like a “beat them at their own game” deal. Either way, I sound uber-competitive and that was not my intent. My point is that I’m on there to interact with them through their preferred mode of communication. My theory is that if I make it easy for them, I am going to get more frequent interfaces with them. I bet your grandma loves letters, but when was the last time you sent one? Hmmm?
This grooming them to share their day with you may seem trivial when you can just get the recap around the dinner table or on the way to lacrosse practice. It can cause a mild panic attack when it hits you that you are sending your babies away to college.
This has nothing to do with “helicoptering” either. It’s just that some of my favorite people in the world are the ones I created and I like to see their fun and joy. Just because they have the freedom to spread their wings and leave the nest doesn’t mean we have to be incommunicado. That’s not how family works.
My descent into Snapchat began when my senior in high school went with her marching band to Disney World. I felt fine sending her on her own because in seven extremely short months she would be on her own in college anyway. It’s just I was bummed missing out on the fun of it all. I love Disney and I ADORE watching my kids experiencing it. With Snapchat, she was able to quickly share tidbits (like taunting me with the balmy temps) and I could follow her “Story”—the photos she strung together to represent her day.
Do you feel like I have crossed over into a different language? Watch this quick tutorial I put together. Many of my friends complain that Snapchat is not intuitive, but they didn’t have two teenagers giving them the guided tour. I tried to recreate the same thing for you . . . minus the exasperated eye rolls.
I do recommend downloading the Snapchat app to your phone and opening it up for the first time before watching the video so that it makes some sort of sense to you.
Also, here are two terms to help you orient yourself as you get started. (You can view more here, but once again, they will not make much sense until you tool around the app a bit.)
Snap: a video or a picture captured and shared on the Snapchat app.
Story: Snaps shared to all of a user’s Snapchat friends are compiled into a series of photos or videos called a Story. Unlike individual Snaps, which disappear almost instantly, Stories stay on the app for 24 hours. The snaps sequentially disappear as they reach their 24 hour expiration marks. Snapchat users may also download their own Stories to keep a permanent record of each day’s events, if desired.
It doesn’t last forever. I like to think of them as the telephone conversations of yore. It’s communication in the moment without a trail (and without taking up storage on your phone). While you can replay a Snap, you’d better do it quickly because you only have a minute or two.
It is communication on-the-go. While you might annoy your college freshman with a “check-in” call or text while they are in the middle of something, they seem to always be up for sending a goofy face.
It shows your interest. Getting on Snapchat should be the opposite of stalking your kids on social media. It’s about fun and showing your kids they’re important enough for you to meet them where they “live.”
It lets me know where I am. This was an unexpected bonus. When we were traveling up to Boston University this past spring, I could snap a picture along our way up I-95, swipe right, and the geofilters would tell me exactly where we were. (Note: not all locations have geofilters.) I could also check my husband’s speed without being obvious. Ahem.
It has given me unexpected insights. Back to Boston University. My daughter and I followed the School of Communication “Story” and it made a huge impact on her decision that students were still wearing parkas to class in April. And there was snow on the ground. In April.
It has given me cool points. My kids’ friends CANNOT believe I am on Snapchat. Added bonus is that I can stay in touch with them even when they are no longer parading through my house because my daughter is off to college. (The “sob” is implied.)
It’s just for me. This point might just pertain to myself and bloggers like me, but this is my only social media account that is not a “platform” for me (although some bloggers are using it that way to fabulous ends like Mommy Shorts.) I can just go on here to play, not create content for the world.
Minor Etiquette Points
Inform your teen before jumping on and explain you are doing it to communicate . . . and get the kickin’ filters. My youngest daughter usually blocks me from viewing her story . . . and I’m okay with that. If she wants to send goofy things to her friends (don’t worry, we have the sexting/bullying/strangerdanger talk about ever 52 hours), I don’t have to be a part of it. I liken it to the way I would have felt if my parents listened on the extension to my teenage phone conversations. (Could there be a more 80s sentence than that?)
On the flip side, she is the only one I have a “Snapstreak” with. Once you and a friend have Snapped each other (not Chatted) within 24 hours for more than one consecutive day, you start a “streak” . . . and the pressure builds not to break it. I broke our last one and I’m still hearing about it.
You don’t have to respond to pictures by sending a Chat. One of the reasons often cited for teens’ love of the app is that it reduces the pressure for feedback in terms of “likes” and comments. When sending pictures and videos, teens don’t have to worry about whether their “like count” will indicate their level of popularity like it does on Instagram.
With that being said, my friend, the profoundly talented, outrageously hilarious Rebecca from Frugalista Blog sent me this Chat when I was posting all those Snaps on My Story as examples.
Chats like these are ALWAYS welcome, no matter what any whipper-snapper says. Just know that the pressure is off because people don’t expect you to respond.
If you do need to respond to the under-20 set, they will probably expect a Snap back. Either just take a random (often blurry) picture of the floor or wall, and caption your response on it or you can take a selfie of your expression.
This is not everything by far, but I hope it helps. The biggest takeaway is that if you have teens, you are missing out on a huge way to connect if you are not on Snapchat with them. Also, don’t be afraid to swipe and tap around on the app. You never know what you’ll unlock.
Even if you are not a fan of Joni Mitchell, you have to concede that she was on to something when she sang about that big yellow taxi. My son is a freshman in college. You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, sang Joni. You also don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s situated nicely on a college campus 300 miles away.
There is no sugar coating the early weeks after the big college drop off. I may not have been a sobbing mess, but my emotions did splash. Just hearing my son’s name could make my eyes fill. Seeing a forgotten sweatshirt hanging by the front door could send my lower lip trembling. A fuse ready to be lit, I should have worn a sign that read “Handle with Care.” This emotional bomb was set to go off, even after perfectly reasonable conversation starters like “Hey, how’s he liking school?” Heaven help the poor woman at the checkout who looked at my items and asked me if I was making a care package. I rarely knew what would trigger me.
But almost harder than wading through my own feelings was watching all the rest of my people struggling with theirs. Just to fill you all in on a little secret from the frontlines: those big strong men you live with will buckle under the weight of this change too. Sure, your husband might talk a good game: “So proud!” “So excited!” “So happy!” You need to know that he is just so spectacularly out of touch with his emotions.
Dads are not immune. No, they most certainly are not.
Your guy might even mock you just a little bit for all of your sloppy, constantly emoting emotions, but he will get his too. When he hears your sweet boy deliver his first college radio broadcast, he might even tear up and and finally get in touch with that full range of emotions you are now experiencing daily. It’s all OK. This Olympic level of missing takes the parenting game to a new plane where even stoic rock solid dads crumble a little. Pick him up and hug him and forgive him for the mocking. This stuff hurts in a way that feels new and raw and visceral. You are all exposed nerves here.
And then there are the siblings. In my house, this means a sister only nineteen months his junior and three younger brothers, the youngest only a tender eight years old. They all handled the new dynamic in our house each in their own way, but collectively it looked like a lot of mopey kids laying around my house. The bodies that were usually in perpetual motion were flopped over whatever upholstered chair, couch, pillow, or clean corner of the floor they could find. Obviously, we are not a people prone to nuance; this was sulking on an epic scale. Academy award winners wish they had our flair for the dramatic.
What it looked like was nothing compared to what it sounded like though. For the first time since we busted the seams of our house with the full complement of this crew of five, it was cool, calm, and collected around here. The profound quiet shot straight to my heart and found its target. Holy crap, I thought, this is so much worse than I thought.
Now I’m not saying they are barn animals, but most of the time they sound like them.
To a mom of five, this was a bright red warning sign on the dashboard of our family. Their silence said loud and clear: all is not well below the hood. Nobody wanted to reanimate that sacred space their brother left behind nor had the words to fill it anyway. Their longing left them all mute and grasping, so we leaned all the way in and got all touchy-feely. Our family mantra became “feel all the feels, just don’t be a jerk” and we splashed those emotions around with impunity. Our sound levels slowly but surely crept back to the deafening roar that feels familiar, safe, and ours. We were discovering a new way to be home.
But the truth is that we were still kind of stuck, and I think my son was too. Things were going as well as they could go for him as he transitioned to a new town, new school, and new life. My sister, a college professor, warned us about midterm time, though. That’s when the bottom drops out, she said, that’s when they use up all their reserves. Sure enough, a couple days shy of that mark, we got a text from him saying that he wanted to come home. My Momma Spidey Senses were tingling: my boy was a little homesick and oh, my heart. We all really, really, REALLY wanted a little shot of togetherness, but we convinced him to wait until Fall Break the next week. Then we got busy. Favorite foods were prepared, rooms were cleaned, every person in earshot knew he was coming home.
And then he was here, he was HOME, and we got to be the “Us” we knew again. I didn’t even intervene when bickering broke out. Spirited conversation is the birdsong of my people. We were finding our way back to each other even in our fights over backseats and side yard soccer rules. There were many wonderful things that happened that weekend, not the least of which was that spontaneous mother-son hugs and hair ruffles happened on the regular. But, by far, the very best thing was that we finally put the devil to rest. The one that had been hanging around and giving us sloppy emotions. The one that had niggled in the deep corners of each of our minds. The one that asked the hard question: are we really us without him here?
The answer is yes and no. We are on the other side of this mountain now. Of course, our family life is different today than two months ago. There are different daily alliances, different personalities moving into the spotlight, different roles to be picked up and tried on. But that is all as it should be. Family is a safe place to change and grow, and we make room for that here.
But in some ways, this major change, this fundamental shift, this child leaving for college, hasn’t changed a thing. The mystery of love is its ability to adapt and change to fit the people who need it and want it and commit themselves to it fully. Our “Us-ness” is alive and well and excited to explore this next new place. Our hearts are full with the sight of our sweet boy doing the very thing we so hoped and dreamed to see him doing: finding his way without our map or guidance.
I have a confession to make: I used to be a social media Luddite. You remember the Luddites, right? In the 19th century, they were the ones tearing down the mills, because, you know, milled wheat would be the downfall of mankind. When my kids first started asking about cellphones and playing with tablets, I panicked and started looking for my own wrench to throw in the whole social media works. Too much drama, too much exposure, too much access to things my kids don’t need in their life— it was all just too much. Since burning the internet to the ground was not a viable option, I leaned hard on every mother’s handy back-up plan: I banished devices outright. I even added a “my kids will never!” on top just for good measure.
That one obviously didn’t take. I look back at my former self with compassion and an epic eye roll. Teaching digital citizenship to middle schoolers for the past 4 years has taught me not only that social media is here to stay, but that there are positives to counteract all the fears. There are also ways for me to help my children navigate this tricky terrain while still remaining in the driver’s seat. If this mom can have a change of heart and a social media plan that’s airtight, you can too.
Technology is part of our brave new world. Hop on board.
Let’s start with the upsides. Social media provides a space to connect with friends who don’t live close by, an opportunity to create social change and practice activism, an outlet for creative kids to not just create but share their creations, and a chance to amplify their experience and share it in a way that can be profoundly affecting. It can even connect families across generations. Social media may not be magic but some of the things that it can do practically reek of pixie dust.
It may not be Norman Rockwell, but we’ll take it.
But social media’s greatest strengths are also part of the problem. By nature, these platforms connect kids across devices rather than in person. This level of anonymity leaves kids vulnerable and exposed. Cyberbullying, privacy breaches, errors in judgment that last as long as a digital footprint (so basically forever), and emotional fallout from digital interactions gone the way of a middle school lunchroom on steroids are real and present dangers every time they sign in.
But we can’t just tilt at windmills here. Our kids today view their online and offline relationships as one and the same which means that as parents we cannot just tear the social media platforms down. Sure, we could banish them forever, but that would deny us the chance to parent our kids through this important place of interaction with their peers. This may not look like the sandbox at the playground, but the process is still the same: insert good parenting here.
Now, climb down out of that tree and put away that paper bag you have at the ready. This is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
First, educate yourself. If you are not computer-savvy, ask your four year old to catch you up. Learn the ins and outs of the social media platforms where the tweens and teens hang out. To save yourself some time, you can skip Facebook altogether, that’s just for us Moms to humble brag about our kids. Next, find some websites that you can bookmark when you have a question. Now that you have a day’s worth of google searching to do, sit back and relax and get ready to send us a great Christmas present, because we already did all this for you.
Second, be available, interested, and around. Social media menaces love a parent who has checked out. Make sure from the minute your babies sign up for an account that they know that you are around, that you are watching, and that you will be talking about anything you see that warrants a discussion. You can also talk about expectations and rules for how much time kids will spend on devices. Not sure what to say, here are some ideas. Oh, and here are some more about talking to your kids in general.
Third, find the right tools to keep your kids safe. Start with the links we shared above. Then check out this new app, Family Safeguard, due to hit the market on November 27th. With Familoop Safeguard, all of those great rules you have made for devices can be more than just a great family exercise, they can actually help shape kids into responsible digital citizens. By analyzing what kids post, this app can highlight areas of concern. There are even convenient little red alerts to guide you to your next talking points. The clear one page summary of all your child’s digital activity is not just helpful, it’s so appreciated by those of us who have more than one child who has gone digital. Even better, it can track more than fifteen different social media channels in the summary.
Some Things We Like
1. Parents can set limits on access during school and for bedtime. It helps reinforce family decisions about screen time and game limits.
2. It is available for all Windows products, including Windows 8, Mac OS, Android, and is coming soon to iOS.
3. Crazy simple to set up, once you sign up and approve your email address, the system will carefully walk you through setting up Familoop Safeguard on your child’s PCs, laptops, tablets, and phones and start safeguarding right away. All devices, all social media platforms, all aspects of a child’s digital footprint in one place just for you.
4. We really like the style AND the substance of this app.
Familoop Safeguard is the only parental control software available that automatically connects to all the social networks kids are using without account login information. From the Activity feed, parents get a full summary of a child’s activity online. The sites he visited, the searches he did, even the comments he made online and the sites that were blocked are all right there for you. Parents can even save it and have a look later as all of these saved sites and events are collected in a folder. Nothing but smiles from this mom with all this information readily available and so easily accessed.
5. As a mom with five kids at all different stages, elementary through high school, I also really appreciated the customizable templates of protection rules. This means that I can set restrictions differently for my 8 year old than for my 16 year old which is not only appropriate, but a key to familial harmony.
6. Also, while most parental controls software don’t take into account that kids can talk to the same person on all their different social networks, Familoop Safeguard merges all conversations with the same person into one place and gives you that handy red alert for a person or event that needs attention.
7. Family Safeguard has a reasonable price point with an offer of 60% off if you register at Family Safeguard now. Familoop Safeguard 10 day Trial – unlimited number of protected devices – Free Familoop Safeguard Premium 3 – Protects 3 devices – $39.99/ year or $4.99/ month Familoop Safeguard Premium 10 – Protects 10 devices – $69.99/ year or $9.99/ month
Overall, this app looks to be exactly the kind of app that you can use when managing your child’s social media. In fact, just add this one to the ever-growing chest of tools that will not only help your kid navigate but thrive in this new digital world.
Our goal after all is not to cut off our kids from all potential dangers, but to prepare and teach them how to take care of themselves. Our kids aren’t just future digital citizens: they are living, working, and playing in that space here and now. While all families will make their own decisions about how to handle social media and all the devices, these steps will help you think about the risks, design a plan for your family, and then follow through on it to keep your kids safe online.
Take back the driver’s seat in your child’s social media
while preparing your kids to be good digital citizens.
Are you a teenager heading off to college? An adult switching careers? A woman who is starting a business? A man who is starting a family? A human being with a pulse?
Here is a simple truth with the power to set you free:
Not every question deserves an answer.
Unless you are under oath in a court of law or defending your doctoral thesis, a question asked–especially if it’s a toxic one–does not equal an answer required. As long as you maintain your composure and remain polite, you can take your time in answering or even choose not to answer it AT ALL.
This truth has been nipping at our brains for a while because Erin has a son in college and we both have more kids in the chute ready to launch toward the ivory towers. It’s so nice when people like church members, acquaintances, and random neighbors take an interest in them. However, so often it turns into an interrogation. “How are you?” morphs into “Where do you want to go to college?” leads to “Do you really think you can get into that school?” which progresses to “What are your SATs?” and finally crescendos into “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?” (“with the rest of your life” implied).
“What are you going to do?” may not seem all that bad, but once that one gets through the door it’s often followed by: “But that major is too broad!”“Do you really think you can get a job in that field?” and the best one “You’ll never be able to pay back your student loans!”
It’s almost like the shiny promise emanating from these kids makes people want to squash it. And we’re not talking about reality checks from counselors or mentors, we’re talking about the clerk at the hardware store feeling free to give his two cents.
But you know what? It’s not just adult on teen ambushes, teens can be brutal to their own kind.
Erin: While it’s currently en vogue for a grand gesture to get your Homecoming date—fences decorated with the question, candies artfully arranged for the ask, declarations over the PA at football games (there were no less than three at the first home game we attended)—this is the toxic question writ large. The pressure to create something special enough to garner some likes on an Instagram feed and get the girl is real. However, the pressure to be clever pales in comparison to being ambushed in a public way about a personal choice.
When my girl got stuck in these headlights, she panicked. To avoid hurting her friend’s feelings in the face of his sweet grand gesture in the gym, the most public of teen forums, she said yes. But later, quietly, off to the side and away from the madding crowd, she politely declined his invitation. Unfortunately, a whole gym full of kids saw her say yes. The social fallout was swift and painful. In the cruel math of high school, she added up to being the bad guy. While nobody really won in this equation, had she deferred answering, at least it would have been between just the two of them.
But lest you think this is a primer just for teens, Ellen will never forget being attacked at a cocktail party about her career choices.
Ellen: I was at a party hosted by my best friend from medical school. It was a couple of years after quitting my OB/GYN residency and I was a stay-at-home mother to two young daughters. Although I did not know many of the neighbors at the party, they knew I had been a practicing doctor from the way my friend introduced me. I was standing in a conversational circle discussing boating when a woman fired at me “Don’t you think you are setting a bad example for your daughters by quitting your career? And how exactly are you going to pay for college?” Ahhhh. The silence from a dozen gaping mouths swiveling towards me was deafening. Those were some toxic questions if there ever were some. (And why does it always lead back to college??) Luckily, another neighbor stepped in and diffused the situation: “Carol, not every mother feels like she needs to buy her daughter’s love with a new Prada purse.” Boom. Thank goodness for my savior, but what if she hadn’t been there?
How Do You Answer When You’re Put on The Spot?
1. Remain polite. This is especially important for a teen talking to an adult, but for the most part, a cool head is always a good idea to maintain control of a situation.
2. Know you can take a minute. Teens are trained to answer questions swiftly and correctly, and it’s hard to overcome this impulse. Let’s be honest, most of us never outgrow that need to provide the “right” answer. But you can practice phrases to give yourself time to think. Things such as “Hmmm, good question,” or “I’m not sure we have time for that answer, ha, ha,” or “Can I talk to you in private?”
3.Remember you cannot script other people’s actions or comments, you can only control your own. Just because a question lights your fuse of anxiety, doesn’t mean you have to let it detonate. Take a breath and realize this person is just making human contact and your answer is not that critical to the fabric of civilization. Unless of course this person is vetting you for a cash donation to your college fund, then by all means, get worked up over your answer.
4. Totally diffuse the situation by agreeing. This won’t work if your core beliefs are being attacked, but it will work for the run-of-the-mill-middle-of-the-grocery-aisle “BUT HOW CAN YOU CHOOSE ARCHITECTURE? IT IS SO COMPETITIVE!!” An easy, breezy, “You’re right, it is,” is a real conversation stopper. You don’t have to argue and go on the defensive.
5. Answer a question with a question. Play offense instead. In Ellen’s cocktail party interrogation, she could have said, “Interesting question. How are you a good role model for your daughter and what is your financial plan for college?” Granted, a flipped reply this pointed might have too much of an edge for a child to use. In the case of a college bound senior being asked about her top college choices, she can give her answers and quickly follow up with “What made you choose the college you attended?” This plays to the age old wisdom that people love to talk about themselves.
So when you’re feeling in the spotlight, just remember that for the most part people are just trying to show interest or make conversation, and you are in complete control of your answers. If they want something from you, it is okay to say you need time to answer. And when all else fails, flip the spotlight on them.
When can my kids stay home alone? Inevitably, whenever we get a group of good friends together, somebody is asking this question. But seriously, who can blame us? After years of hiring babysitters and arranging daycare, we tend to wonder when, oh when, can we go solo to the grocery store without begging for help or emptying our wallets?
Well, being the Sensible Moms that we are, we first turned to the law to figure out the “when.” Easy black and white answer, right? Noooo. Only a couple of states have laws setting the age at which children can be left home alone. For most other states, the local Department of Human Services or the child welfare agency can provide general guidelines for your region.
But guidelines mean you ultimately have to make your own decision. Even though we live in Maryland, one of the few states that has a law setting the age, it didn’t do us much good because it’s eight years old. Eight? Really? That seems way too young to us.
So what it comes down to is evaluating EACH child for his or her readiness . . . so basically the same thing you have to do for every single aspect of parenting. Why aren’t there ever any easy answers? At least there are simple questions to start with.
1. How responsible is your child?
Can they be counted on to complete their homework and chores without being reminded?
Are they conscientious in following instructions and rules?
Does your child usually make good decisions or are they prone to taking risks?
2. How does your child react to unexpected situations?
Do they panic or keep a level head?
Do they give up quickly and turn to you for solutions?
3. Do they have first aid training?
Have they taken a babysitter course or some other Red Cross first aid training or been a part of a scouting first aid program?
Can they recite what to do in certain emergency scenarios without checking their notes?
Do they know where to find the reference materials from their first aid course?
This one is huge. The only way to ward off panic is to arm them with the knowledge of what to do in an emergency. Ellen had both girls take the Red Cross Babysitting course before she even thought about leaving them home alone. Erin’s daughter took the babysitting course too, but her boys are all in scouting and they all had their first aid merit badge before they stayed home alone.
When and how to call 911 goes hand in hand with this knowledge. Emphasize that in the case of a real emergency–such as fire or injury–to call 911 even before they call you. Make sure you give examples of when NOT to call and that 911 is NEVER to be called as a joke.
2. Who to call for help
As we mentioned, not all emergencies require 911–like when the toilet overflows. For times such as these, there should be a list of relatives and trusted neighbors they can contact if you can’t be reached. This list should be prominently and permanently placed or programmed into their phones.
3. Your fire safety plan
You should have a fire safety plan and they should have it memorized. Make sure they know if a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide monitor starts to alarm, their first priority is to get out of the house, and only then go to a designated spot to make the emergency call. Physically go over escape routes and locations of escape ladders with them. Make sure they know to stay low and to “stop, drop, and roll.” They need to know your safe meet-up spot.
Furthermore, if you live in an area with frequent natural dangers like tornadoes, make sure they know what to do if the siren sounds.
4. How to use your alarm system
This is one where you can learn from Ellen’s mistake. She drilled her daughter on how to turn it off when she got home from school. She neglected to tell her what to do if she failed to disarm it. Let just say the sheriff may have shown up.
5. How to shut off utilities
Let’s get back to that overflowing toilet. Their phone call to you should be to confirm they did everything correctly. They should know how to shut the water off to each toilet and sink, and where the main water shut off is in your house. In addition, if you have natural gas, they should know where to shut that off, too.
6. Where the fuse box is located
They should also know how to tell if a breaker is tripped and how to reset it. They should know that things like overloading a circuit with appliances can cause the breaker to trip and these things should be unplugged before resetting the breaker.
7. What to do if the lights go out
Whether it be from a tripped breaker or an overall power outage, they need to know where the flashlights and batteries are kept. If a storm pops up , they should be instructed to think ahead and grab the flashlights before the power goes out. Also, under no circumstances should they use candles.
8. What appliances are they allowed to use
This encompasses how your kids are allowed to feed themselves, too. If they don’t use the stove and oven regularly when you’re home, it’s not a good idea to have them use it when you’re away.
Using the microwave is a safer bet, but make sure they know not to put metal in there and be very specific: no aluminum foil. It’s really a good idea to go over all of the appliances in the kitchen: a toaster used improperly can cause a fire, and a blender with a poorly secured top can tie dye your ceiling. You need to be clear about your policy on kitchen knives, too. Check out these simple snacks that require no appliances or sharp objects.
If your kids are on the younger side, you probably don’t want them to use things that produce heat such as space heaters, curling irons/flat irons, and steamers. We would say household irons too, but who the heck uses them anymore? Oh, and be clear that no power tools are to be used. Ellen once had a babysitter drill a hole on her kitchen table because she was making shell necklaces with her girls. Yeah.
9. Who not to call
For us, they are not allowed to invite over friends or call to have any food delivered. Not a good idea to invite a stranger to your door.
10. What to do if the doorbell rings
Making a rule to never open the door is almost a no-brainer, but should your child answer through the door? This is a tricky one. Ellen was never a fan of having her kids calling through the door, “My parents are busy” because it seemed nearly equivalent to saying, “I’m home alone.” Therefore, she has always told them to not respond to the door. However, there is some fear about thieves knocking on doors to target houses to rob by seeing who is not home. If you have a barking dog, you have a pretty good live-in deterrent. If you don’t, did you know they make electronic barking dog alarms?
You also need to take the “don’t open the door to strangers” to a very specific place. Tell your kids to never respond to “Your parents are hurt, I need you to come with me now.” This is a more common tactic than “Want some candy?” by far. Reassure them that a trusted relative or friend would collect them if something were wrong. Even if a police officer comes to the door telling them to open it, instruct them to tell the officer that they will call the police department for confirmation before opening the door.
11. What to do if the phone rings
The easiest thing by far is to let it go to voicemail, but if you do have your child answer it make sure they never say they are home alone. Also, they should never identify themselves.
12. Are they allowed outside
This really depends on your neighborhood and the lay of the land. Streams, creeks, and pools are completely off limits. They should know how to handle the dog needing to go out and what to do if a pet runs off.
13. Technology rules
You need to be very clear about how and when they can use the TV, computer, and i-Every-Little-Thing. There are programs and apps to control usage if you need help.
Staying home alone is just one more step in the dance of growing up. With preparation and practice, you all have this!
If you have kids, after worrying about what to feed them, where to educate them, and when it’s the right time to sell them to the circus, you’re probably also wondering when it’s time for THE TALK.
We have a few caveats and some great tools to help ease you into this big moment which is really not so very big, we promise. We’ve not only been through it ourselves multiple times, but we have the power of professionals to help guide you in the right direction. With Erin’s education degree and Ellen’s medical degree, we might have a resource or two up our sleeves.
1) It’s not THE TALK.
I know we just said it was THE TALK, but that’s because we knew what you were thinking. The truth is that sex (and honestly the drug and alcohol and peer pressure talks too) aren’t one offs. They are part of an on-going discussion you are going to have with your kids about the science of how a body changes, the emotional and social changes they will face during puberty, sexuality itself, and, if you are religious, how sex aligns with their faith life. It’s not one talk but a lifetime of conversations.
2) Talk early.
Talk early and often. If you want some concrete examples of how we really do this in real time with real kids, check out these five things we actually talk about with our kids. The bottom line is that we never start the talk with “hey, kids, let’s talk about sex now.” If a conversation provides a natural segue to an important topic, seize the opportunity.
3) Give them bite-sized nuggets.
Once you start talking, keep it simple, short, and, if you can muster it, sweet. While we encourage taking advantage of conversation openers, we do not recommend information dumps. Did you see all the talking points you have to get through when you are talking about sex? Keeping things short will not only make your talks more palatable for both of you, but it will give you both time to digest what was said.
4) Drop the euphemisms.
What you say is not nearly as important as how you say it. Be honest, approachable, and open. If you are not feeling comfortable, then fake it until you make it, because this is a hugely important point when discussing sex with kids. Notice how we didn’t pepper the title of this post with talk of birds and bees? You want your kids to learn early and often that you will give them the straight-up, honest story. You want them to see you as the ultimate purveyor of truth long before those hormones kick in and try to tell them otherwise.
5) Follow their lead.
Answer the question they are asking. A simple query about periods doesn’t mean you have to cover sex from A to Z. (Remember, bite-sized nuggets.) That’s a rookie mistake that Erin might have made, but now you don’t have to, the wisdom of a shared experience, friends. You will get to sex eventually, but you should start wherever they are.
6) Respect their privacy.
It’s awfully tempting to tell Grandma or your friends about what you are going through as a mom. Standing on the brink of puberty IS a big change for all of you, but this is their story and it’s time to start acting like a vault. Your son’s morning erections are not fodder for book club discussion. The good news is that if you’re a really good vault, you’ll get the important “secrets” later on.
7) Educate yourself.
There are such great resources for parenting through the teen and tween years. We have a really helpful booklist and podcast that will let you not just survive but thrive during these years. These books are chock full of great information about the growth of the teen mind, the emotional life of adolescents, and really good tips for how to parent them through the tough stuff during these years. They will be great additions to your bedside table for the coming years. How do we know? They are the ones sitting on ours.
8) When in doubt, start with a book.
Still flummoxed about how to get this party rolling? We have some ideas. In particular, pull out a book and pull it out early.
The Harris and Emberley series are the stand-by books we recommend to everyone. Ellen researched the heck out of what to give to her own girls and this was the series she settled on. Erin was quick to adopt them as her go-to, also. Appropriate for as young as pre-school, there are different ways to use them to get the conversation ball rolling.
1. Read each chapter together and discuss at the end.
2. Have them read it on their own and come to you with questions.
3. Have talks and THEN give them the book.
4. Just give them the books to read and let it go. (You’ll be able to tell they’ve been read.)
Erin, with her five kids, can attest that each child has a different comfort level and relationship with these resources and it’s very important to take their lead. Just remember, bite-sized nuggets! For the love of puberty, don’t plop all the books on their laps at one time.
This is the first book in the series and you can start using it as early as preschool. Great artwork accompanies good scientific information about bodies, keeping healthy, and age-appropriate sexual information. Good up through early elementary school.
For years, this has been the educator’s go-to guide for teaching sex to tweens and teens for a reason: it’s a great read for kids and adults alike. It’s been updated with great information about keeping safe on the internet and new chapters on gender identity. The newest edition reflects the world our kids our living in and allows for meaningful conversation on all aspects of sexuality.
You can do this. We believe in you and we’ve got your back in addition to a whole lot of great resources for you to use if you need them. Forget those silly birds and bees, and get talking about sex with your kids today! You’ll be happy you did.
You know we’re big proponents of talking early and talking often with your children about all of the important things in life. And what can be more important to kids than their ever-changing bodies? So when Cider Mill Press asked us to review The Boy’s Body Book and The Girl’s Body Book, we were happy to oblige.
Although the following books are new to us, we quickly fell in love, because they recognize the obvious, beautiful truth: puberty is different for boys and girls. Each book has very similar chapters, themes, and information just slightly modified in tone and information to more gender-specific changes. Erin’s “baby” who happens to be going into third grade is enjoying the boy’s book immensely.
Yes, this book has all the requisite good scientific information we require of a resource we are going to hand off to our kids, but it’s packed full of other good things too. The layout and format are truly engaging. The breezy, conversational tone coupled with fun artwork and compact chapters makes it immensely easy to read, and more importantly, to comprehend. There are also some bells and whistles that got us excited to add these to our library. Erin’s newly twelve-year-old was a big fan of the Quick Tips like this one:
Don’t assume that someone doesn’t want to be friends just because they don’t say hi to you. The person could be really shy and afraid to make the first move.
“The Expert Says” sections were also a big hit. Research in a digestible soundbite? Sign us up for more of those please. And while you’re at it, keep the boy testimonials scattered throughout the book coming too. We loved reading real boys weighing in on real issues in their real voices in “Boys Say.” By far though, our favorite section was the one titled “The Care and Feeding of Parents” which gives kids great practical advice about how to talk to their parents so they’ll listen. We laughed out loud and then had the great conversation that you always hope will start when you hand your kid a book like this one.
All the fine points of the boy book with some changes to better suit girls and their adolescent journey. We loved how the “Boys Say” column became “Notes from a Real Girl” here, and the well-chosen and thoughtful quotes sprinkled throughout the text were just as meaningful and welcome. Erin’s now sixteen-year-old daughter said that the “Know the Facts” section about pads versus tampons was exactly what she was looking for when she was younger. This book would have totally made Erin’s life easier. This book addresses all the aspects of life for a tween and teen from dressing right, to school, to relationships with friends and family, and everything in between.
Overall, both books deftly handle the modern landscape that our kids have to negotiate throughout adolescence. They address the importance of staying safe in relationships and online, while still keeping them entertaining with a friendly, supportive tone too. These books imply that despite the tumultuous, sometimes confusing and isolating changes kids are experiencing in adolescence there is support as well as the opportunity to thrive in spite of the challenges they might face.
And to help you out, we’re giving away a copy of each book! If you are 18 or older and reside in the United States, enter the easy Rafflecopter form for your chance to win. Giveaway ends on 8/30/15 at 12:00 am.