What’s the one reason you should let your kids watch 13 Reasons Why—the story of why Hannah Baker committed suicide?
It’s because they’ve already watched it.
By the time the school emails and letters were spawned from the reports on CNN, NPR, The New York Times, and the like, that barn door had been opened and cued up for a month.
It doesn’t matter that you have controls on your Netflix account, or that your child doesn’t have a smartphone, or that you have drawn your line in the sand over what is appropriate viewing. Your child has gained access even if they had to watch it in ten minute increments on Billy’s iPhone before batting practice. This show is that much of a phenomenon.
Think I’m wrong? Just ask your kid, “Hey, what does ‘here’s your tape’ mean?”
And believe me, I know the issues with 13 Reasons Why. I already visited this fun house seven years ago when the novel was assigned to my daughter for a book report in seventh grade. She was twelve and her teacher RECOMMENDED this book. Yeah. I spent two days skimming it and gathering age appropriate information on sexual assault and suicide so I could have discussions with my daughter to give her some context for the book’s themes.
I was not pleased . . . but I am grateful. This was my wake-up call: I was no longer my daughter’s filter for the world. My control had been evaporating since the moment she stepped foot on the bus for kindergarten, but I had been too busy to notice just how gossamer it was. Fast forward to when I found out my other daughter had binge-watched “American Horror Story” at a sleepover, and I was primed to accept that forbidding books and shows was like the Little Dutch Boy trying to plug the holes in the dyke. Just when you think you have it covered, another one springs up.
There is a real danger in forbidding certain shows, books, and movies, too. If your child has to sneak behind your back to be part of the pop culture tsunami, you’ve closed off the possibility of discussion. Worse yet—in the case of “13 Reasons Why”—maybe they’ve only had time to sneak the brutal rape and suicide scenes without any of the context of the rest of the series.
I am not campaigning for or against kids watching “13 Reasons Why.” That is already being covered in the news outlets by experts and playing out in PTA meetings across the country. I am acknowledging that it simply is, and it has to be dealt with.
I urge you as a parent to watch it, invite your kids to watch it again with you, or at the very least watch the documentary at the end, “Behind the Reasons,” together. This documentary was filmed as a tool to help parents and teens frame the mindset of the artistic choices made by the creators, and to encourage those at risk to speak up and seek help. This show needs that explanation and discussion. There are some very useful talking points available from the JED Foundation, a teen suicide prevention group, and there is crisis help information on the 13 Reasons Why website.
This is arguably a dangerous series for at-risk youth, but it is not going away. Many summaries of the series claim that the story ends with Hannah’s suicide, but it actually doesn’t. It ends with one of the students reaching out to reconnect with a girl who was once his friend.
This series provoked tears, anger, frustration, outrage, and indignation in my own daughter. However, when asked what she got out of it, she replied, “Well, we all need to be nicer to one another.”
This time last year, my family was altogether for a pretty big moment: my brother Jonathan asked his girlfriend Kelly to marry him. Almost immediately after all the hugs, high-fives, and champagne toasts, Steve pulled out his calculator and started crunching numbers. With my brother and Kelly living in San Diego, a cool 3,000 miles from us on the East Coast, we would be booking airfares and lodging times seven in our near future. Then things got interesting: they were doing a destination wedding in Cancun, Mexico. Yay! And, gulp! Now we weren’t just googling great fares, but how to get a crew our size to another country. The sad truth is that there is not that much help to be found on the internet if your group is more super-sized than travel-sized. Here are some of the things we learned about how to travel internationally with a large family.
1. Plan Ahead
Though this one has been drilled into us from a lifetime of trying to go, well, anywhere, getting a brood the size of a basketball team to a tropical destination meant we had to take our planning game to the next level.
Pace yourself. Free-wheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants travel is for young adults and moms on the lam. We were making lists and checking them twice from about 10 minutes after we got the first text about the wheres and whens and we didn’t stop double-checking them until we landed safely back home.
One important part of this phase was thinking through the travel process itself. We made sure to download movies and podcasts and create playlists for everybody’s tech. Then we picked out books, magazines, snacks, and gum. We loaded backpacks with all of this and then threw in a deck of cards and some plain sketchbooks. Keeping the campers happy during the not-so-fun parts of travel was key to peace in our moveable kingdom.
Give yourself loads of time any time you try to go anywhere. Remember the “20-per-kid” rule. For every child you are trying to get out the door, you need to add at least 20 minutes to your “out the door” time. Somebody is sure to be faster, but that just gives you back precious minutes for your “slower than molasses but we love him anyway” child. Nothing destroys the memories you are trying to make faster than a screaming mother trying to get everyone out the door in time to meet a flight or dinner reservation.
Pay attention to the details. Like. . .
Passports Everybody needs one obviously BUT what if some of you already have one. We almost got punked with this one. Steve’s passport was set to expire about a month after our trip. While you can use your passport up to the date inside the cover, many countries will deny travelers entry if the passport expires in less than six months. Avoid unfortunate, uncomfortable, and expensive consequences and make sure you renew your passport at least nine months prior to the expiration date.
ALSO, and this is HUGE, find a small regional passport office (often a post office) that will let you schedule your appointment. Even though many passport offices will let you just walk in, these are not for you. Also, have all paperwork filled out, all necessary documents (birth certificates and social security cards), and bring the passport photos with you. We did ours at the local Walgreens. Yes, you can get them at the passport office but this slows the already slow process down to a stultifying crawl. Don’t break your people before you have even left native soil.
Fraud alerts. Steve works for a large bank and he has worked in fraud divisions before, so he clued us into the importance of this one. Let your credit card company’s fraud department know what countries you will be visiting and when including any countries you might be changing planes in. This way, they won’t flag your card as stolen and cut you off from funds just when you need them the most.
Flight restrictions We scoured the website to make sure we understood everything we needed to know about who could bring what, luggage sizes, etc.
No restrictions on taking pictures during flight. The ones my kids took during take-off and landing are among my favorites of the whole trip.
Be the early bird. For dinner, flights, tours, and just about anything, be ready to get that worm. Understand that your group is large, unwieldy, and largely unwelcome in the world of travel packages built for 4. Google and read travel reviews about what time to arrive and then plan on getting there at least thirty minutes beforethat. For flights, we were there an hour earlier than the recommended time (usually three hours, but at least two for international flights).
Be flexible. We met twenty of our relatives in Mexico for the wedding, so meal planning was complicated. We used What’s App to coordinate meals, beach time, and wedding to-dos. Our resort also had a great a la carte restaurant on site which was perfect for trying to get everyone together for meals that accommodated picky 7-year-olds and particular retirees alike.
Decide what you are doing about data. While checking out our cellphone plan to solve our “insane international data charges but Instagram-loving teens” dilemma, we discovered that our resort had a special app that could be downloaded to use social media without incurring international roaming charges.
BEST NEWS EVER!
2. Travel Light and SMART
Consolidate where you can. Despite the fancy clothes we would be bringing for the wedding, the rest of our clothing would be bathing suits, cover-ups, and clothes to go to dinner. This meant that we could pack the two youngest boys together in one suitcase, a worthy goal. Make “less is more” your vacation motto.
Plan on checking at least one bag. The idea of trying to fit all of our liquid needs to TSA standards was stressful. Because we were able to get us all into 2 rooms, we decided that we would bite the fees and check 2 bags, one for each room. This meant that each room would have all the big bottles of sunscreen, medications, and toiletries needed without having to worry about fluid ounces or special baggies.
Fly fancy. It’s just good travel advice in general to pay attention to the local customs about what is appropriate attire for dinner, visiting churches, holy places, etc. Our resort did not allow flip-flops or t-shirts at dinner which meant everyone needed at least one nice, closed toe shoe and a collared shirt. We made the decision to fly “dressed-up” so that our bags wouldn’t be as heavy.
We usually save the collared shirts and fancy hats for family parties.
Get the good luggage. Ellen knows the sad state of our luggage. As an intrepid traveler, she has many pieces of good luggage perfect for travel and she lent them to us. Good, rolling luggage and carry-ons make a huge difference when herding your cats through an airport or hotel lobby. We loved especially the underseat carry-on which was perfect for our 12-year-old. Roomy enough to fit all the clothes for him and his brother, it also meant I didn’t need to worry about him hitting any seatmates in the head as he tried to stow it overhead, or worse yet, worry about snagging overhead storage at all.
Pack smart. We had everybody pack and then take three things out of their bag. Except for the 8 year old who took out three pieces of underwear, this system was solid gold. Ellen also has a great tip that really saved space. We had a goal to only take 6 bags total. By checking 2 of them, we were down to only 4 bags going through the TSA line which was a huge help, especially considering that the college-aged kid forgot he had a water bottle in his backpack and was detained for a bit.
Protect travel documents. We made copies of all travel documents, then we gave all the actual passports to my husband Steve to distribute to each person right before they were needed. He immediately collected everything again after they were no longer immediately needed.
On the way to Mexico, the flight attendants didn’t give us our country entrance documents until we were disembarking, and the scene below ensued. On our way back, we got smart and asked for them while we were on the plane.
No, we aren’t a spectacle at all filling out our country entrance documents.
3. Honor your travelers.
Preserve bedtimes, routines, rituals. As much as you can obviously. All will benefit from happy, well-fed, well-rested kids. This even applies to older kids. Don’t plan a 9am museum visit knowing that punchy teens buck at the mere suggestion of being out the door that early.
When they are done, let them be. A lot of travel is overwhelming. Give them space and time to decompress.
Flower girl-ing and vacationing is a lot for a 7-year-old. This baby needs some pool time.
Let them do vacation their way.
We have teens and young adults, in addition to younger kids. We took the pretty pictures with my fancy DSLR, but I think I might love some of the ones my kids took of the trip even more. Let them show you the trip through their eyes.
Snapchat filters aren’t just for stateside fun anymore!
Make the experience of traveling part of the overall fun. Travel is great . . . and boring and confounding and frustrating too sometimes. We tried to make the parts that weren’t as much fun still interesting especially when we saw the troops fading.
Long lines getting into the country just meant there was time for cool photo opps.
AND one more piece of advice,
JUST DO IT!
We are ever so grateful not just that we were able to see my brother and his beautiful bride get married, but that we had the chance to create such a wonderful family memory. The truth is that despite all jokes to the contrary, all families are travel-sized. Don’t let your sheer volume deter you. Slow, steady, and steely-eyed will get you and your plentiful peeps over that finish line known as a great international family vacation.
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.
Well, the time has finally come. You are busy planning Step Up ceremonies and managing the first inklings of tween ‘tude. Take some time now before you start repurposing all of the backpacks for summer camp to think about the year to come. If you have a kid going to middle school this fall, this is an important passage. After the initial one of putting your baby on a bus to go to school at all, it’s the most important one you will face thus far. While the shift from elementary to middle school may represent a monumental shift on all levels—mental, emotional, and physical—- it also signifies the start of a new kind of relationship with your kid. Despite how it may sometimes feel, this new phase is not a battle to prepare for so much as a brave new world to visit.
With this in mind, we have some ideas to ease your way down this road.
1) Shift gears.
What we mean: Up until this moment, you have been in the driver’s seat. As the parent, you have charted the course, set the sails, and brought the ship around. Middle school marks the beginning of the end of your time as captain. It’s time to give your kid the wheel and give them a chance to navigate with you there right beside them.
What this looks like: If you have been managing schoolwork and sports up unto this point, it’s time to slowly back away. Start with showing them how to use tools like Google Calendar so they can manage their projects, tests, and sports commitments themselves. Teach them to use the online gradebook that nearly every school has to see how they are doing. Model how to set up a good work zone and then back away and let them start making decisions about how they work best for themselves. Colleges do not look at middle school transcripts. There is no time like the present to learn a lesson the hard way.
What this feels like: Moving to this new role in parenting can be very painful. We were rocking our parenting mojo and we liked steering our happy little family ship. But kids at this age need this time and space to start doing things on their own and a parent who can make the shift. This is the less physically demanding but more emotionally and mentally draining work of child-rearing. It’s also beautiful and rewarding when things are going well. Hold onto those moments when things get off-track and know that it’s completely normal and totally expected for kids to steer into rocks, break rudders, and generally beat the crap out of the boat during these years.
2) Trust But Verify.
What we mean: One day at the pool, someone asked my husband Steve how parenting a teen was different than a six year old. Steve threw this out: “Not different at all. I still do what I’ve always done. Trust but verify.” It’s a play on the toddler truism, “Never turn your back on them”, and it just happens to be a critical part of the middle school parenting toolbox. Remember what we just said about giving them a little more leeway, a little more room to maneuver on their own? Let them chart their own course a little now, but do not surrender your parent card completely as you let them sail on their own.
What this looks like: Check in often—in person, on social media, at school, on the sports field. Be a presence everywhere. Ask about what they’re watching, listening to, consuming digitally.
What this feels like: Honestly, this can bea little exhausting at first. Middle school opens up many doors and one of the big ones it opens up is the world of social media. Helping your kid manage their relationship with technology is a crucial part of parenting at this stage. Check out our social media tips to explain where the kids are, what type of parental controls you might want, and ways to help your family manage technology. Even outside of managing social media, piecing together the real story from the breadcrumbs your kid gives you can be frustrating. Patience, Grasshopper. Channeling your inner peaceful warrior is the key here. We have also found that walking doesn’t just burn calories but also some of the tension and frustration. Get yourself a FitBit and some walking shoes.
3) Speak often but put down your stick.
What we mean: Poor Teddy Roosevelt wouldn’t like what we did with his saying, but our way works much better with middle schoolers.Kids this age are finding their voice and they want lots and lots and lots of opportunities to use it. What will make this harder? Drawing unnecessary, hard lines in the sand and creating conflict instead of conversation.
What this looks like: Be ready and willing to start conversations from anything including but not limited to social media, movies, TV shows, commercials, songs, pictures, magazine covers, and tin can food labels. We’re not kidding: be ready and willing to talk anywhere about anything at any time.
What this feels like: When the conversation flow is going well and everything is clicking, it feels like someone should crown you Parent of the Year of the Century of the Universe. When things are so very south of fine, it feels like just about anybody, including your bachelor brother who doesn’t even know if he wants kids, would be a better parent than you. In other words, it’s either soul-crushing or life-affirming. Welcome to the beautiful planet of middle school, buckle your seatbelts and enjoy the bumpy but beautiful ride.
4) Follow the Golden Rule.
What we mean: All we know about parenting through adolescence can be boiled down into simply this: treat kids the way that you would want to be treated. This is not “be a buddy” parenting or relegating your role as the adult, but it is an acknowledgment of the truth: kids are unique and valuable, if not yet fully formed, human beings. They are not extensions of ourselves but special unto themselves.
What this looks like: Our favorite piece of advice is to actively listen. Do you know what that sounds like? Well, if you are doing it right, not much at all. Make space in your home and your lives for conversation to happen. Build it into your family’s culture so that kids are comfortable coming to you to share whatever is on their minds. Then when they do talk, listen with your mind open and your mouth shut. Even one word that could be interpreted as judgment or criticism can shut down an important conversation. Master the art of the noncommittal hmmm.
What this feels like: It hurts. We like to joke that we should win awards for all the things we don’t say, but it’s true. On the flipside, It also feels really, really great when you are actually connecting with your child. We warned you it was a bumpy ride.
The truth is that middle school is going to be a great place for you and your child in the coming years, but you need to get ready. Summer is all about planning and taking trips, right? Use our travelling tips to talk to your child and plan some strategies you think will work for both of you in the coming months. Then you can both sit back and enjoy the ride. Just remember to pack sunscreen.
Sports and prom and graduation day, oh my! Even with our spring overstuffed to-do lists, we managed to pull together a booklist for you of our favorite reads for getting yourself and your kid ready for college. Even if it will be a little while before your baby crosses that stage and moves that tassel, even if you are just overcome planning all the things you want to say to your graduate, even if college is still very much a SOMEDAY rather than a couple of months from now, try to find some time to open up one of these great books. Time moves super fast in the teen years, so you might want to get started today.
Any parent who has been through it will tell you: college admissions is an emotional pressure cooker. Nothing quite captures the high highs and the low lows quite like this utterly delectable piece of fiction. The Hawthornes are a family so familiar you feel from the first page like you might be reading about your next door neighbors. As their oldest gets put through the wringer applying to Harvard, dad’s alma mater, so do the rest of them. As the pressure is on, things start to unravel and secrets are revealed. Bottom line: an immensely enjoyable read for you that will make you grateful for your own process in comparison.
We get the anxiety around getting into college. It’s not just about getting into college, but the right one that makes a difference, right? Bruni has made it his life’s work to smack that idea right out of your head. With frank, honest talk and persuasive arguments for why you are looking at this whole college admissions thing all wrong, Bruni turns everything you think you know about it on its head. His passion is palpable and his research thorough. In the end, his argument that motivated kids can get a good education almost anywhere feels like just the balm you needed just when you needed it.
Snuggle this one up beside that big honking behemoth, Princeton Review’s The Complete Book of Colleges . Honestly, this book gave us a different way to talk about college and all the different reasons you matriculate to institutes of higher learning besides just the great job opportunities. We love, love, LOVE the acknowledgement that kids, like colleges, are not a “one size fits all” commodity. So many great ideas here for kids who might not fit the mold of the high achiever but who would thrive in college. A great resource that opened up lots of great discussions with our kids!
Before you launch your young man out into the world at large, read this book. Frankly, anyone who spends any time at all around any boys age 11 through 18 needs to read it too. With over 200 interviews with boys and strong research guiding her conclusions, Wiseman draws the adolescent boy in sharp relief and gives us not only a true picture of the more complex lives of boys, but some ways we can help them through the next few years.
Our favorite insight is that we as a society do boys a disservice by dismissing their emotional lives as simple when they most assuredly are not. There is even a free e-book for boys themselves to read about what to do in difficult situations.
We know what you’re thinking: Wiseman is kind of a superhero. Or a superstar. In any case, she has written a book that can save you and any special boys in your life and help get them ready for that eventual big step up and away from you.
And Wiseman works a similar magic for girls. Erin read this book when she first started teaching middle school and it fundamentally changed the way she looked at girls, their friendships, and their struggles with each other and themselves.
Wiseman offers sage, sound advice for how to guide girls towards treating themselves with dignity and grace and treating each other fairly, but there is so much more than that in this book. Understanding girl power plays, how boys fit into the big picture of girl relationships, and the different roles girls play really helps anyone who knows or loves an adolescent girl guide her to her best, most authentic self. Thanks again to the wonderful and very wise Wiseman for helping us prepare our daughters (and yours) for the big wide world.
When it comes to advice about college, we listen to our friends Lisa and Mary Dell who write over at Grown and Flown, a great online resource for parenting through this next phase of life. They told us to buy this book, and we are ever so grateful they did. Chock full of great research, stellar examples, and good advice, this book is a gem, but what we felt was most helpful was the overall tone. Damour’s message time and time again is that we, as parents, can do this very hard thing of parenting our girls through this tough phase of development. With the cool confident tone of a priest or a hostage negotiator, Damour emphasizes that there is more than one way to “get this right.” Our harried teen mom hearts wish we could clone her and carry her around in our pockets to talk us down off our ledges when the time comes. In the end, this is one book that will deliver all of you to the other side and get you ready for the big, beautiful things that lie ahead.
This one might make you want to lock up ALL of your college aged kiddos, but you HAVE to read it. You know how we love to talk to kids about everything from sex to drugs to alcohol. Well, Krakauer lays out why we need to talk to our kids about alcohol and campus rape too. YIKES! But why, you ask? WHY?! We get that this is a tough read in many places, but Krakauer’s firm steady journalistic hand makes this one of the best, most important (but still immensely readable) things you can read, especially if you have kids filling out college applications or already cozied up in dorm rooms. It is a book that launched a thousand conversations for us. We are sharing it with you in the hopes that it will do the same in your family. A MUST read!
This, from Julie Lythcott-Haims’ Amazon author page, is one of the reasons we love her and her book:
I am deeply interested in humans – all of us – living lives of meaning and purpose, which requires figuring out what we’re good at and what we love, and being the best version of that self we can be. So I’m interested in what gets in the way of that.
Um, yeah, all of what she said. This is not a book about helicopter parenting, per se, so much as a path through the fears that can interfere with our parenting and foil our relationships with our kids. Lythcott-Haims tells us how we as a society evolved to this style of parenting and how to break the bad habits that threaten the job we are trying to do. Such insight in such a readable form! A book we keep coming back to again and again!
You know our science-loving hearts love us some fine research. This one is top notch while also keeping it real. Jensen is a mom to two boys as well as a neurologist. She gets that we don’t want to just know why our crazy teens act the way they do, but what we can do about it. Brimming with good science and better ideas of how to use that research to improve our parenting, this book won over our hearts and minds.
When Erin sent her oldest to college this fall, she desperately needed a place to answer her five million questions. Her friends were all, “we haven’t done this before, make a new friend.” Harlan Cohen was that buddy. Erin loved his straight-shooting, non-preachy tone and oodles of relevant advice. If at times it felt like he had peered into her soul and presciently written chapters just for her, well, that was just gravy. Though the 600 pages look daunting, this book is one you pick up and put down. Think of it as the Bible of Letting Go. There is a companion book for kids headed to college which we did not purchase. Erin knows her kid and the sheer volume of it meant that it would be a doorstop, not a resource. But THIS book was perfect for her and, hopefully you too, as you and your family take this next big step.
So whether you have a kid heading off to college in the fall or a few years from now, these are all books that will help you not just survive but enjoy this brave new world you are entering.
Newsflash, folks, all kids like to get their crafting on, even boys. I had really hoped the hefty dose of testosterone we have over here would let my un-crafty self off the proverbial “latch hook.” No luck. Something in the kid code screams, “I must express myself!” Providing regular access to a glue gun is definitely part of any mom gig. The sponsor of this post, the new Fruitocracy from Dole, gets it. Fruitocracy understands the special kingdom of tweens where self-expression, individuality and creativity may reign supreme, but harried moms are the ones actually running the place. Their fine all-natural real fruit snacks come in great flavors that my picky kids actually like. So my kids are fed and happy in the midst of and in spite of all the creating. As a bonus, they also help keep me from pulling my hair out in the middle of it all.
Time, experience, and Ellen, aka MacGyver, have taught this self-proclaimed crafting disaster a thing or ten. Behold some things I have figured out along the way that make all of the pipe cleaner and papier mâché mess much more palatable and enjoyable, even for glue gun challenged folks like me.
1. Embrace the mess.
Creative process tends to occur on the south side of messy. Add kids snacking to this mess and you have yourself a formula for disasters. That’s one of the things we love about the Fruitocracy pouches: a great-tasting snack that doesn’t ruin a masterpiece by spilling or devolving into a pile of crumbs. Knowing we can contain, if not exactly command, the mess is a true comfort. So bring on the mess that comes with their inspired dreaming, we are ready. But we draw the line on glitter. Glitter is the spawn of Satan.
See how nicely the little fruit pouch sits on the edge of the oh-so-important model rocket directions. Water bottles and chips don’t play as nicely.
2. Let them lead.
In my house, we have a bin full of craft supplies that well-meaning relatives and cruel friends have given us over the years. Since I have no idea what to do with any of the baubles, bells, and little pompom balls, they all get thrown in a box cleverly labeled “craft supplies.” When my kids are being so annoying that I worry the neighbors will hear through the open windows, out comes the box. Time potentially wasted wrestling with each other becomes time spent gluing rocks together and making fantastic things. Bottom line: my kids are still alive, I fostered their creative expression, and I didn’t have to do a thing. Win-win-win.
Slingshots are better than hand-to-hand combat, right? Right?!
3. Leave them to it.
Many of the things my kids craft are part of a school assignment. From a philosophical perspective as a teacher, I believe that a kid’s work is theirs alone. As a craft-challenged parent, I wouldn’t know how to help them anyway. The results aren’t always pretty, but they are 100% theirs.
“Character in a Can” is my favorite book report project. This is my son who thinks he just made Ralph from “Mouse and the Motorcycle.’ Just smile and nod and agree with him.
4. Give them room to work.
Creativity is a process that will not be denied. Surrender dining room tables, art supplies, and precious reserves of patience to the cause. But when necessary, leave the room completely, because sometimes you are just gonna need a break from all the mayhem. Maybe even use your break to raid your secret chocolate stash. Chocolate cures all, even a crafting hangover.
Ralph’s nose took eons longer than the rest of his coffee can body. Relaxation breathing helped us both survive.
5. Give them stuff to work with.
There are worse things in life than a burnt finger or two. With supervision, tweens can handle most power tools. So hand over that glue gun. But eat more chocolate. Remember, chocolate cures all, even a hot glue emergency.
They might become so handy they can multi-task and tutor a friend in Algebra while building a rocket.
6. Appreciate what crafts can bring to your family.
Crafts can bring more than macrame plant holders and knit toilet paper cozies into your life. It’s not all kumbaya over here all the time, but every once in awhile, the stars align and they work together on a project and I nearly weep with joy at the beautiful memories being made.
Is that a hug or are you just trying to launch a rocket?
7. Expect the unexpected.
Acknowledge upfront before the first bead has even been strung that this whole project can go off the rails. Whether it’s a lost piece, ruined directions, or worse, things can and will probably go wrong. Make peace with Murphy’s Law.
Sometimes the problem isn’t with the craft itself but your crafting buddy.
8. Appreciate the process.
One step, brick, bead, knot, or brush stroke at a time, this project will work it’s way towards completion. Reward the forward momentum with praise for the effort, snacks to keep them energized, and hugs along the way.
9. Take pride in a job well done.
Take your props for getting the project finished and heap it mightily on the kid who did it.
The smile says it all.
10. Celebrate successes.
Sometimes the crafts work out and it’s a beautiful sight to behold.
So go ahead, lay out those craft supplies and let your tween follow their creativity wherever it may lead. With our handy tips and Fruitocracy, you won’t just be able to manage the process, you might actually enjoy it too . . . but only if you follow our one hard and fast rule: NO GLITTER!
We loved how easy it was to bring our new favorite snacks along for the next big adventure! A definite bonus!
One more note: We love that the new Fruitocracy seems to have anticipated the slightly explosive union of the tween need for self-expression with their need for regular fueling. Fruitocracy really cares about what’s going on inside our growing kids. Each squeezable pouch is packed with real fruit, free of any high fructose corn syrup and GMOs, in great flavors like Apple Banana, Apple Mixed Berry, Apple Pineapple, Apple Strawberry, Apple Cherry and Apple. My family was missing these great snacks in our life because now we cannot get enough of them.
They are available now at retailers nationwide with a suggested retail price of $2.79/per pack.
Need more information about these great new snack pouches? Visit Fruitocracy
This is a sponsored post for Dole Fruitocracy but the two thumbs up from Erin’s tweens, our seal of approval, and our appreciation (or rather tolerance) of crafting is all our own.
Trust us when we say that once you get past potty training, kids start growing at an exponential rate. While we cannot quite believe the days of diapers are so far behind us in our rearview mirrors, we do appreciate the breathing room we have now. Less time wiping noses and butts means more time to look around and check out how things are going. While we stand by each of these parenting decisions and think that they have made a difference for our families, the verdict is still out, so you can decide for yourself.
1. We ask them to work hard.
We try to instill in our kids that they are blessed and for them to appreciate that. Everybody gets a gift and challenge. If you are talented, you need to bring your A game. If you have struggles, you can beat them with hard work and determination. Ellen loves to say, “Hard work beats talent when talent hardly works.” She may have read it on t-shirt, but we pretty much want to tattoo it on our kids’ foreheads.
In Erin’s House, we say “Fight the Tiger. Embrace the Mountain.” Hard things aren’t the enemy but worthy of the climb.
2. We support, but we don’t do excuses.
We are all kinds of available. Whether our kids need a ride, a good meal, help conjugating a verb, or advice, we make it a practice to put down the cellphone and really listen. This means that tough subjects like dating, sex, and drinking are all on the table along with “what’s your favorite episode of Friends?”
We don’t mind offering a shoulder after a heartbreak or one of life’s disappointments either. However, if they skip practices and don’t make the team or they blow off studying and get a “D,” we are here to tell them they got the results that equaled the effort they put forth. No pity parties.
Participation trophies are not the end game here. A rich life is not about just showing up. Achievement is for it’s sake alone. Sometimes the joy in a job well done is all you will have at the end. Your reward then is not just that you get to lead the life you want to live, but you get to be a person that you like and respect.
Stepping outside of her comfort zone is its own reward.
4. We respect their successes as THEIRS alone.
We revel in their achievements and are thrilled for them, especially as they are moving on and away from us. But when it’s their moment to shine, we exit stage right and let them have that limelight all to themselves. We are absolutely the proudest Moms ever but we have chronic shoulder injuries; we refuse to tweak them by straining to pat ourselves on the back.
And to take it a step further…
5. We respect them.
They are not our products or our possessions. They are their own people with their own thoughts, goals, and likes. But with that in mind, we do our fair share of influencing . . .
6. We immerse our kids in culture.
Ugh. Sounds dreadful, right?
If you just make learning fun. . .
Well, only if you think watching movies, reading books, using technology, dancing to Wii games, watching Youtube videos, visiting museums, traveling, listening to music, dining at restaurants, attending sporting events, and talking about what is going on in the world is a chore and not the joyous, good stuff of life. It’s a great big world and we are all just living in it. We want our kids to embrace all of the beautiful, bright things the world has to offer. To that end, we jump in with both feet and drag them along with us. Also, life’s a whole lot funnier if you get the jokes.
7. We turn family into friends.
Family is your first best friend, so siblings are included always. This one is non-negotiable. In spite of the daily grumbles and petty fights, we still try to make our homes places of safety and kind words. Sure, teen hormones can make that challenging, but we emphasize every time we are able to get a word in that our home team is the ultimate advantage. Then we cross our fingers and hope that this is the recipe for turning blood bonds into actual ones.
Nothing says “I share DNA with you” like a sibling sandwich
But don’t get us wrong, we’re not some freaky Von Trapp cult . . .
8. We turn friends into family.
Friendships are the true gifts in life, and we have been very fortunate in finding some that have moved into the realm of family. Our kids are lucky enough to be surrounded by loving people. We hope they appreciate how special this really is.
That’s right. We even have matching t-shirts. Hmm, maybe we ARE some freaky Von Trapp cult.
But when you are this blessed, it is your responsibility to give back . . .
9. We model service.
One of our dear friends once said that she would feel like an utter failure if her kids achieved personal success without any regard for other people. We agree with heads nodding wildly in solidarity. There is no aspect of our lives where we don’t give a little of our time and talent. It makes all that time we spend on dusty trails and in snack booths worth it, right?
Don’t mock. Khaki is good for the complexion.
But you can’t feel a need to serve unless . . .
10. We teach responsibility.
We teach household tasks and hold them accountable. We let them know that our teams require team players so there are no gold stars for pitching in. Some things just need to get done, and nobody is going to do them for you. Best to learn this lesson from those who know you and love you best, especially when you try to sweep the kitchen floor with a dust brush. Your future wife doesn’t need to know about that.
That being said, we sometimes have to take a walk around the block as they clean the kitchen. All of the <ahem> negotiating that goes along with learning said responsibility is enough to drive a mother to just go ahead and do it herself.
So there you have it, some of our key parenting decisions all laid out for you. We see inklings of solid, hard-working citizens and fine young men and women emerging over here, so it feels like this was not all for naught. Decide for yourself and your family if any of them will work for you.
-Erin and Ellen
We probably should also add that we douse both of our families heavily with humor to keep them chugging along.
If you have a kid who is going to be using technology this year, you want to listen to this podcast. We are talking about technology and tweens and teens as well as some of the pitfalls and pluses you can expect.
Some things we include in this podcast:
Erin talks about her past as a social media Luddite and tells a little about the path that led her to become a reformed technology convert.
How group chats are like the Wild West of the internet
The potential trap of creating a technology contract
Things to say when you give your child their first piece of personal technology
How to use filtering software as training wheels for technology
We also want to put resources right here in your hands right NOW so you can pin or bookmark them for whenever you might need them.
Some posts we have written about technology and kids:
We are adding the following guides because THESE sites are where your kids hang out online. Follow the guides to educate yourself and make a plan with your kid about how your family will treat technology.
Does the mere mention of teens and relationships send your mind reeling toward sex and drama?
Scoot on over and pass the sunscreen, because we are in the same boat as you. But who can really blame us? It’s been a theme of literature and entertainment since way before Snapchat. Romeo and Juliet, anyone? Fast forward to the age of Netflix and DVRs with shows like One Tree Hill, 90210, and Pretty Little Liars and you start to believe your teen could wander into a den of depravity on any random Tuesday night.
But here’s the thing, those shows have adult themes written by adults for adult actors playing teens. In middle America, teen dating tends to be a lot less racy. We’re not saying adolescents, sex, and alcohol aren’t a thing–we discuss those extensively here and here–but we’re suggesting you step out from the shadow of anxiety cast by those high-stakes topics for a moment. We’d like to interrupt your regularly scheduled broadcast of “These Kids Are Giving Me Gray Hair” with a reminder of all of the good things your teen can learn as they test out the waters of dating relationships.
Positive Life Lessons
How to Judge Character. Dating may seem like a whole new playing field to you, but it’s really just the teen social scene kicking it up a notch. There’s been flirtations and there’s been “going out” (which ironically rarely makes it past the four walls of the lunch room). With dating, teens are now choosing to spend time with a particular person. This gives your kids the opportunity to fix a lens on the things that really matter like respect, integrity, common beliefs, and shared interests to name a few.
Clue your kids into watching how people treat waiters, clerks, pets, and loved ones because that will reveal more about a person’s character than any Buzzfeed compatibility quiz. But most importantly, tell them that when people show them their true colors, believe them, no matter how adorable they may be on the outside.
How to Know Yourself. Remember the early beginnings of relationships where everything revealed is brand new and fascinating? Sure the initial conversations start up around schoolwork, parents, siblings, and pets, but it’s not long before more initimate subjects are broached: What kind of books do you read? What’s your favorite music? What do you want to be when you grow up? All of these questions implicitly get to the core of “who are you really?” Getting to know someone helps you get to know yourself too.
How to Be True to Yourself. Being part of a pair is the perfect place to learn how to stand on your own two feet. Erin’s daughter was three dates in before she realized the boy she was dating hated the music she LOVED. But it wasn’t so much that he didn’t care for her favorite band, it was the way he reacted to them and to her affinity for them that made the difference. Standing up for her favorite band brought her a step closer to standing up for what she believes in. You might not thank your daughter’s ex for creating your future crusader, but his presence in her life didn’t hurt. Dating gives your teens opportunities to define what they stand for and to discover what their “deal breakers” are.
How to Resolve Conflicts. Conflicts don’t have to be of global proportions to be important. In fact, lesser disagreements are a great training ground for when the stakes are higher. That fight blooming over disparate Netflix queues on a Saturday night develops compromise. Spending lots of time with one special person means your teen will have lots of chances to learn how to work out differences of opinion. It’s a great opportunity for your kid to practice the conflict resolution tips listed in our handy graphic. Click here to enlarge.
How to Love Yourself. The hormones, the pressures of school, the social scene—did we mention the hormones?—it’s enough to bring even well-adjusted teens to their knees. A significant other gives your kid a sympathetic pair of eyes and ears who thinks he or she is pretty darn great. Negative self-talk takes a backseat because there is this person who sees some really special things in them. After all, out of all the students, in all the classes, in all the school, your kid and their date found each other. And whether this turns out to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, a momentary blip, or a lifelong love on the timeline of their lives, dating alters how they will see themselves. Its been proven to them that they are lovable. Similarly, the vulnerability they show to open themselves up in a relationship moves them miles along that emotional highway they are all traveling toward emotional maturity.
Not every relationship will be great and many won’t even be that good, but if your child decides to date during the teen years, there is no need to feel adrift. The confidence your kids gain from testing the dating waters is valuable to the growing up process. These skills will be just as valuable in a future executive office as in a marital abode. Ultimately, dating is a good and healthy part of their development.
We have one final life ring to throw from the decks of the SS Sanity: you don’t have to welcome every new significant other into the inner family. Don’t disrespect young love, but the new sweetheart doesn’t need to be on the Christmas card either. Dating is a learning experience and this means couplings can change with the wind. If you keep your feelings out of the equation, your child can be free to come to you with their questions or, dare we even mention it, broken heart.
At these beginning stages of teen love, we treat significant others like we do wait staff: we are polite, we enjoy the small talk, and we assume they won’t be in our lives forever. That’s our story and we’re sticking to it until we need to take it to the next level.