What I’ve Realized During Our Phone-Free Summer

According to a recent survey by Common Sense, the amount of teens with smartphones is pushing 90%. 70% of those teens are using social media multiple times a day. And we all know what social media does to our mental health and time management, don’t we? Sometimes I even have time management troubles due to distractions on social media platforms, and I’m 44. Can you imagine what it’s doing to our teens?

For example, the study done by Common Sense Media shows the following:

Over 50% of teens say that social media distracts them from homework and keeps them from actively being involved with friends and family.

The percentage of teens who say social media makes them feel less popular? 70%.

Does social media make them feel better about themselves? 82% say no. EIGHTY TWO PERCENT.

84% of teens polled said that smartphones and social media make them feel MORE depressed.

Read that last line one more time.

Pixabay

As we all have surely noticed, you rarely see a teen without their face in their device. Even when asked a question, they respond without looking up. Families allow devices at the dinner table or out at restaurants. Teens are even “watching movies” in the theater while looking at their phones at the same time. Teachers are even having to take phones from kids before class starts to make sure they are staying focused.

Parents have had to adapt and develop rules that our parents never even had to consider. As a mom to two teens, a tween and a toddler, we’ve enforced our own family rules just the same as many other parents in today’s device-addicted world.

The guidelines we enforce in our home are that phones aren’t allowed in bedrooms overnight, during meals or during homework times. Our girls also need permission to download apps and have time restrictions set on their devices. That sounds all well and good and seems like we have a handle on it all, doesn’t it?

Well, we don’t. They debate with us on the fairness of our rules and still try to spend too much time creating Spotify playlists. My husband and I still see how social media and the feeling that each text needs an answer right away is affecting our girls. Yes, even though we have, and do our very best to enforce, device regulations. We aren’t perfect parents. We’re just trying to enforce guidelines just like the rest of you.

So, when one teen “thought” her phone was waterproof and therefore ended up with a dead phone (we are making her work off the money it takes for a replacement, but that’s a different post for a different day) and the other teen had her device privileges revoked for a bit because of not following house rules, we decided to make this summer The Summer of No Devices.

Well, then how am I writing this post? Because I didn’t dunk my phone in the pool or break house rules. Plus I’m 44, as I mentioned.

We are well into week five of no devices and here’s how that’s going so far:

AMAZINGLY.

After the first week, we noticed a huge change in our girls. But listen, you need to know (and this isn’t meant to sound sassy) that our girls are nice girls. They are polite, kind, look at those speaking to them, have good table manners and are sweet, sweet kids. However, they are teens and they do make poor choices just as all teens do. After almost five weeks of no phones, we’ve witnessed these changes:

They are more confident. My girls aren’t wearing what other girls are wearing simply because it’s “cool” anymore. They aren’t influenced by what they see on social media. They’ve rediscovered their own self confidence and are making amazing choices because of it.

Their love for certain things has returned. Why? Because now they have time for them. Meaning, they aren’t distracted by a device, have become “bored” and said to themselves, ‘”Oh, that’s right! I love to paint!” and “I’ve been wanting to read this book!”

They are themselves again. My girls have discovered that they don’t actually even LIKE this or that which their friends are into. They’ve reconnected with their own likes and dislikes and no one is commenting on a post or photo to say, “That’s not cool.” I can now see the girls I once knew three years ago before devices gobbled them right up.

They enjoy each other again. They sit together again. And by “together,” I don’t mean next to each other while looking up funny memes and searching the “explore” section of Instagram. My teens are actively listening and talking to each other again. Cracking jokes and becoming even better friends.

Jessica Wilson/Unsplash

They are happier. My girls are 100% happier since The Summer of No Devices began. Actually, no, that’s not true. They were pretty irritable for the first few days. Their personalities are most certainly more jovial at this point and they don’t have that fear of missing out mentality.

Since we started this, I’ve had parents come to me and say they don’t know how we did it so I’m going to tell you exactly how to have a Summer of No Devices for your own family.

YOU JUST TAKE THE DEVICE AWAY.

And then when they ask for it?

YOU DON’T GIVE IT TO THEM.

But what about the times when your child has to get in touch with you. What happens? They borrow a friend’s phone.

If you want to know what kind of teen you really have? How polite and funny your child really is? What kind of amazing personality you’re living with? Just take away the phone. It doesn’t have to be for an entire summer, but give it at least two weeks. I promise you that your family can do it. We spent a week and a half in Costa Rica and our kids didn’t have devices. We stayed in different rooms in the hotels; they didn’t have phones, and it worked out just fine. If I needed to speak to one? I called their hotel room or texted the friend.

And guess what else?  NOT ONE CHILD HAS COMPLAINED OF NOT HAVING A PHONE. NOT EVEN ONCE!

Will my girls get their devices back? Of course they will. However, there will be some changes made once they do. We haven’t decided what the new guidelines will be, but I would love for us to say goodbye to Instagram, snapchat and VSCO forever. Will it happen? I’m not certain. I am certain of one thing, though and that’s the idea that I hope The Summer of No Devices moves extra slowly because this is pretty darn nice.

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Why I’m Not Happy My Teen Is Getting His License

learned about my daughter’s new crush one day after school when she ran into the car, stealing the front seat before her brothers got there.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” she said. “But we have a thing.”
That day, I learned having “a thing” meant you liked each other but you didn’t put a label on your relationship and it usually led to boyfriend/girlfriend status later after this trial run.
It was a great opportunity to ask her more questions and remind her to be true to herself.
“If you want more than a ‘thing’ don’t be afraid to say it. But don’t think you gave to take this ‘thing’ to the next level just because it’s the next expected thing.”
I was confused myself, but it was a good talk until my youngest barged in the car demanding fried food and sharing the details of his difficult Monday with me.
Most of these conversations — the ones where my kids are open and chatty and don’t shrug their shoulders when I ask them questions — happen in the car, usually after school or when they are excited about going to a social event with their friends.
Maybe it’s because riding in a vehicle is a more comfortable way to let me into their lives. I’m not looking at them or sitting across from them at the table. My focus is on the road, and I’m sure they are more vulnerable and fresh right after an event when their their mind feels happy and free. One where I’ve had the privilege of being there to greet them.
I’m afraid this sacred sharing time may be coming to a bit of a halt, and I’m not happy about it.
My oldest will be getting his driver’s license in a matter of months. He’s worked hard for it. He wants the freedom to drive around on his own and go to the gym and visit friends without his mother tagging along for the ride.
I’ve been my kids’ taxi driver for a really long time and I’m looking forward to the help — it only makes sense if he’s going to drive himself to school to take his brother and sister too. But I’m not as excited about it as I thought I’d be.
I mean, I’ll be left with more time on my hands to scrub the floors and work and do things for me. But the other day when my son got out of the car after a 20-minute ride during which we talked about how he used to have to sleep with every stuffed animal he owned and that time he pooped in the tub and tried to catch it, I realized something. If he had been driving here on his own, that bonding session never would have happened.
He would have driven himself to his friend’s house while I stayed home and weeded the garden or plucked my brows. When he brings his siblings home after school, the chance for me to get tidbits about their latest crushes, or who’s going with who to the school dance, or grabbing an ice cream together, won’t happen.
Sure, I’ll be more organized while my son feels more capable and independent. But this is a freedom I’m not really excited about.
I could be selfish and drive him around anyway, stripping him of a goal he’s worked for because I’m so afraid of missing something in my kids’ lives. Believe me, I’ve thought about it. The teen years have put more distance between me and my kids than I am comfortable with. The talks, the moments, the words exchanged are increasing in value, as I know their time with me will be up soon.
But I won’t. I have to let him go in little bits and pieces at a time, and this will be one of those things I have to let him do without me.
My first child getting his license and driving off without me was something I knew would be a bit emotional about. However, I didn’t know it would drag out tears and make him roll his eyes and tell me to “get a hold of myself” every time I reminded him of how many weeks he had until he’d be driving on his own. Which I do a lot these days.

It’s just another one of those things my child can’t wait to do without me, something I’m trying to clutch onto because I know what’s coming around the corner.

You’d think through the years parents would get better at letting go, but it just keeps getting harder. First, it’s the walking, then it’s the driving. The next thing you know, you are moving them into a dorm room or apartment, knowing you’re leaving a slice of your soul behind.

I can give my kids room to sprawl out and grow and evolve. But I’m not promising I won’t hop in that car a few times a month and take a much-needed ride, even if it inconveniences them. 

Because really, the fact that they are growing up and needing me less is cramping my style. I figure it’s the least they can do for their mom.

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I’m A Divorced Mom Of Teens And I’ve Never Felt So Lonely

Lately, I’ve been counting down the minutes until I can pick up my kids from school or their father’s house. I pepper them with questions about what’s time while we were apart, getting lackluster responses in return. I’m pretty sure they can hear the desperation in my voice.

I got divorced, then all my kids hit puberty one right after the other. We all went down like a row of dominoes as the vibrations in our house changed from happy and carefree, to solemn and angsty.

It wasn’t long after my ex-husband left that my kids starting going through puberty and choosing their friends on Friday night instead of staying in with me (as they should). As a result, I started feeling a loneliness settle deep into my bones and clutch onto my soul.

Honestly, this is like nothing I’ve ever felt.

The newness of my rare alone time wore off rather quickly. Sure, at first it was exciting to walk around my house in my underwear eating cake by the handful. I didn’t have to hide my sugar intake or worry I was making my kids uncomfortable. My kids who used to spend every single night here. My kids I rarely got a break from. My kids who were always pulling on me with their wants and their needs and their questions.

Now, their heads are in their phones. They are FaceTiming. They are taking some much-needed alone time in their room. They are out with friends. They are scooting off to practice. They aren’t as forthcoming with information. The questions have stopped along with them asking me (over and over and over) to take them out for ice cream.

You see, I used to be needed–so damn needed.

My ex-husband needed me to make doctor’s appointments for him. He needed to talk things out after a hard day. He needed me when his father died. He needed me to bake his favorite cookies because he didn’t know his way around a mixer. He needed me to tell him his shirt absolutely didn’t go with his pants before we headed out to dinner. He needed a hug everyday before he left for work.

He needed me.

My kids needed me to help them with their homework. My daughter needed me to help her braid her hair. My youngest son needed me to lie next to him in order to fall asleep. My oldest son needed me to calm him down when he was really nervous. They needed me to make dinner and plan fun events involving other families.

I still have a role to play here, but my kids need me in very different, hands off ways. Like picking up food for their slumber party on a Friday, dropping them off at the dance, and making sure they get up for school on time.

And they’ve shown me what they don’t need, too: constant questions and hovering and me projecting my need to be needed onto them. They are growing up really freaking fast and, damn, it’s hard to let them.

No one needs me to tuck them in at night or make them a grilled cheese sandwich. No one needs me to show them how to make their bed or kiss a scrape.

But when your teens do need you, it’s for something big and private. You can’t casually drop the issue at the local playground in front of a bunch of other moms because (1) you don’t go to the playground to get your dose of validation over how hard it is to be a mom any longer, and (2) because if you go to a fellow parent about the struggle of parenting a teenager, you risk invading their privacy and being looked at like you and your family are screwed up.

So you don’t talk about the parenting frustrations as much because the shit we deal with as our kids get older is heavy and weighed. The aftertaste it can leave if you open your mouth about it doesn’t wash away like the potty or sleep training struggles.

So you don’t open your mouth.

This whole divorced with teenagers thing has given me a real taste of loneliness. I can honestly say up until recently, I’d never been lonely before.

Having friends and family has made it bearable, sure. But the truth is, they have families of their own to tend to.

Sure, there are perks that make me happy, but it all also remind me of how lonely this new found independence can feel. At this phase in my life, I’m decorating my house my way. I don’t have to consult another adult because there are no adults living here. I can get out the paint cans and sharp, new objects without worrying if my kids are going to hurt themselves because they have zero interest in doing these kinds of things that used to draw them to me like a magnet.

I can sleep in whatever position I want because there isn’t a man who resides on the other side of the bed, or little kids who beg to sleep with me, or even crawl in my bed with me after a bad dream.

And with that comes not being needed a fraction as much as I used to be.

It’s wonderful and horrible all at the same time.

I know it won’t always be like this — there is so much the future has to offer. The love of my life is out there, I can feel it with everything I have in me.

My kids will get a bit older and need me a bit more, I hear. They will have kids some day and they will all pile in here and this feeling, this sinking hole in my mind and chest, will be a distant memory.

At least that’s what I hope because this isn’t something you just get used to. It doesn’t get lighter with each passing day. It’s not something you can sweat out or sleep off. Believe me, I’ve tried.

And really, I’ve had enough and I’d like to ask the loneliness to be on its way because shit, this is hard.

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Why We Created A Loan Agreement With Our 12-Year-Old

My 12-year-old son has always sucked with money. He’s the burn-a-hole-in-your-pocket kind of kid. He likes to ask to borrow money, but he isn’t all that good a paying it back. He’s basically your shady uncle with a big time business plan that needs a few hundred bucks to get off the ground. It’s a problem.

So a few months ago, when he asked to borrow money to download a game for our Nintendo, we offered him a loan instead. The game was around 60 bucks. Mel and I found a Family Loan Agreement online (a quick google search will pull up several), made a payment plan, added a percentage, and consequences for missed/late payments. We even broke down how much more he’d be paying with interest. We went all out. We wanted this to be as real as possible.

My wife is the real money manager in the family. I’m better at laundry. She actually put together a spreadsheet that showed him how much he would spend with the percentage over the life of the loan. When she showed it to him, his eyes glossed over and it was pretty clear that he didn’t care about any of that, only the game. All I could think about was the first time I signed a car loan. I told him that the payment would be close to 50% of his “income,” and how that is never a good decision. He shrugged, happily signed, and then downloaded the game.

Two months in, it happened. He didn’t do all his chores during the month, and he bought another game, along with some candy, so he missed a payment.

We held a “financial meeting” in the kitchen, Mel and I sitting on one side of the table, him on the other his hair mashed on one side from sleep, his blue hoodie with crumbs along the front. He wasn’t exactly dressed to impress, but at that age, he never is.

Our family computer open with the payment information, the contract was between us on the table. We asked him about his missed payment, and he gave us a shrug that seemed to say, “What’re you going to do about it? I already passed the game.”

It was then that my wife leaned forward, and read the second paragraph of the loan where he put his game systems up as collateral, and they would now be repossessed until he was back in good standing (minimum payment + $6 late charge).

I half smiled, looked at my wife, and winked. “Gotcha!”

But had we?

He went through a number of emotions in just a few hours.

Disbelief: “How can you do this to me?”

Desperation: “How much can I earn by picking up after the dog?”

Boredom: “I’m sooooo bored.” (Times infinity)

Quiet disdain: Glared at Mel and me for a considerable amount of time, hopeful that we would crack under the shame of his eyes.

And naturally, I was left with the question of: Did we make the right decision?

Gosh, I don’t know. During those first few days, I was 100% confident that he hated me. Perhaps even 150%. I had this deep pit in my gut that he would hate me forever, when what I wanted was for him to have an AHA! moment and realize he learned a valuable lesson about finances that will keep him out of the red for the rest of his life.

Never in my whole life did I ever desire to work for a bank, issue a loan, or draft a contract. I wasn’t not interested in making money off this deal. None of it is for my gain.

This is the tricky part with kids and money. It’s so difficult to help them understand how the real world works. I want them to understand how to manage their own money, but honestly, I didn’t really understand how that all worked until the first time I got a late charge on my rent. I didn’t get it until I was two clicks from getting my truck repossessed. I did get it until I spent almost 10 grand on a credit card, and then had to struggle for several years to pay it back.

So I tried to give my son a little taste of that. But honestly, who really loves the loan officer or repo man? No one. And Mel and I were both of those roles. But I suppose these feelings are normal, right? I hope so.

What I know for sure is that parenting is a gamble: financially, mentally, emotionally. So we stuck to the terms of the loan. We dug in our heels, and hoped for the best, because as much as it sucked for all of us, I kind of wish someone would’ve done something like this for me when I was young. Perhaps it would have kept me from, you know, getting that first credit card and using it for all those video games, DVDs, and burgers back in the late ’90s.

Six months after the loan, and three months after taking away Tristan’s game systems, Mel and I were at dinner discussing what he wanted to do for his birthday.

He asked how much he had. Then he calculated a few things in his head and said, “I could get out of debt with that and still have $10.”

“Yeah,” I said. “That would be a mature decision to make.”

We went back and forth for a bit. He negotiated a payoff number that left him with $20 instead of $10 for his birthday. And he went for it.

I must say, I was pretty proud of the little guy.

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10 Things We Should Be Teaching Teens About Dating And Relationships

Every parent dreads the teenage years for so many reasons. From dating to FOMO to social media shaming, life was easier 30 years ago before the internet, SnapChat, and texting. Our teens’ lives play out in a sequence of video clips and edited pictures that we are powerless to stop. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I know the deep-in-your-stomach pain that hearing your child crying in their room evokes. I know the hurt that even the most civil of breakups can cause.

After watching three daughters navigate the murky waters of teen relationships and dating in the 21st century, here’s what I want dating teens to know:

1. No matter what, you matter to me.

No really, you are my world. You matter to me in the biggest, deepest way. I value you and all of your mistakes and virtues. You’re not perfect. You have definitely screwed up more than a few times and I see it, but I love you unconditionally with my whole heart and I am here to hug you and to show you where you veered off course. We’ll get back on the right track. “Lessons learned,” we like to call them, and lessons need to be learned on both sides.

2. Take chances! Now is the time to date the person that makes you jittery.

Don’t settle for the one that asks you out. Now is the time to shoot your shot and aim for the person that makes you nervous and jittery. Your teen years are about dating and experiences, not settling down for the rest of your life. I once worked for an awe-inspiring salesman and he taught me a lesson I wish I had learned when I was 15 years old: Ask for what you want. It’s that simple. The time is now, take chances. Go talk to the person you think is out of your league or a bit different than your social circle — whatever it is that intrigues you, go find it. You’ll never know unless you try. Carpe Diem.

3. You’re fine all on your own. You don’t need anyone to complete you.

You don’t need a plus-one to be okay. This one seems simple right? You have your family, your support system, your counselor — whatever it may be that keeps you on the straight and narrow. You are fine on your own. You, as a singular human being, have everything you need to get through this life and be successful. Your relationships that go beyond friendships need to be enjoyable to be worth it.

Anyone or anything that makes you feel inferior, controlled, or not important is an absolute throw away. Hear me again: a throw-away, as in throw them away and move on. You deserve to be acknowledged and heard — no matter what, all of the time. If someone isn’t listening to you or believing in you, see them for who they are and be on your way.

I had a geometry teacher in high school who pulled a bunch of cocky, not listening students aside. We weren’t there to learn, we were there to “not get” geometry. He asked us one question and I still think about it today: “What do you do with a horse that won’t move?” and then he walked away. You walk away too because you deserve to be heard. Feelings matter among equals. Voices are heard across board rooms and corporations. Equals communicate, period. Never settle for less.

4. The world doesn’t revolve around you.

As a mom, I may have misguided you here because my world did indeed revolve around you for a very long time, and it still kind of does, but I try not to show it. The truth is, the attention you crave from your partner is craved by your partner. What? Yeah, it’s true. You have to listen too. You have to be sensitive too. Guess what? You aren’t always right either. Own your baggage. Take responsibility when you screw up. Pick yourself up and learn your lesson. Hurting other people is a tough pill to swallow. Know the difference between being right and winning at all costs. One of them will leave you feeling hollow, the other will leave you being true to yourself. It’s a super fine line. Walk it and always see it.

5. Significant others are going to let you down.

So that super cute boyfriend/girlfriend you had a month ago, the one who was treating you so well and wanted to spend every waking second with you has cooled off and he isn’t coming around anymore. You’re devastated and I’m assembling a voodoo doll of them in my closet hoping to bring some pain their way (okay, not really, but, wow, how great would that be?). But seriously, take a minute and remember how this hurt feels. Drink it in and let it register where you will never forget it because it’s not the last time you’ll feel this way.

Yes, you trusted them. You thought those feelings were “real” and they weren’t. Gosh, I’m sorry. I would do anything to take this pain away, but you need to feel it. You need to know it so you can think twice or twenty times before you go that far with your next partner.

Sex is a real thing. Intimacy means something. Make darned sure that person means something to you, because tomorrow they may be posting selfies with one of your friends on their private SnapChat story. Think long and hard before you take that relationship to the next level because you matter to me (see #1) and I care about your self-worth (see #3). Make sure the people you take your clothes off with see your self-worth too, and if they don’t, move on, because you matter to me and I want you to matter to you.

6. Trust your gut.

Go with your gut. Be your gut. I mean it, get in tune with your gut. Call it your instinct, your intuition — call it whatever you want, but recognize it. As a young reporter, an LAPD officer told me to never ignore my gut. When something tells you to get out of that elevator or not to walk to your car alone, listen. Society molds you to tune out this internal safety mechanism — don’t. That voice in your head questioning where your partner actually is is right. That weird vibe you pick up on when you see your partner with another person, that’s real too. You’re not being ridiculous. You’re intelligent and rational and smart. Don’t forget that. Your gut is right on, every single time. Trust me, trust it!

7. That friend you are so grateful for still matters.

Value your friendships as much as your favorite Brandy Melville crop top! No really, your friends matter. Don’t lose your friends because you are too entangled with your new partner. My daughter started a new high school last year and she knew one person there. On day three, she came to the car ready to tell me about how great her day was because a boy called her by her name, asked if she played volleyball, and asked her to grab him a glue stick. This small effort made her feel recognized and depended on. At that moment, she was a person with a name. He made her happy with such a small gesture. She is still friends with “the glue stick guy” today. Reach out to people even when you don’t know them and invest in those around you. Remember that we are all working and evolving. Value your friends they are the ones who will get through those difficult times.

8. People are allowed to change their minds and they are allowed to not want to be with you anymore.

It’s never fun to be broken up with. It hurts pretty bad when someone decides not to love you anymore. It’s totally and completely allowed. Take your loss with grace and refrain from texting and loitering in places where your ex-partner will be. It’s time to move on and it’s time to spend time with your friends and people who want to be around you (see #7). When you’re the one who changes your mind and you fall out of love with someone first, remember this pain and be gentle with your now ex-partner (see #5). It hurts both ways, be patient.

9. Be kind always.

Whether you initiate the breakup or your partner does, it’s painful. Try really hard not to lash out in anger or jealousy. Stand your ground, don’t be a pushover and say your peace for sure. But try super hard not to hit below the belt, because later you’ll wish you didn’t.

10. Be the person you want others to be.

So easy to understand. So completely difficult to achieve. Try, really, really hard to be a good person. We’re all rooting for you because, well, see #1.

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Why I Stopped Giving My Teen Advice

It is a common statement from my 13-year-old son, and one I find frustrating: “You’re not listening to me!”

Because, I want to screech at him, I am listening! I hear him perfectly fine, he’s just wrong. I’m right. I’m the mom, and I’m older and have more life experience so dammit, I am right.

Until I realize my teen is actually making a fair point. And that maybe I should do a little less talking and a lot more listening. Because, though I may have more life experience and may have great ideas for how to resolve conflicts, this kid has been under my care for 13 years now, and he’s been listening to and absorbing all the life lessons I’ve been teaching him. And, even cooler, he’s been absorbing his own life lessons as he moves through the world — life lessons that have nothing to do with me or anything I’ve taught him.

This was never more apparent than when, several months ago, my son got into a disagreement with a friend of his. Without going into detail, because I need to protect both my son’s and his friend’s privacy, let’s just say the fight was bad enough that it put the friendship on shaky footing. They were talking about deleting each other from their group chats. If you know anything about teens, you know this is a big deal. Today’s version of being ousted from the lunch table.

Pixabay/Pexel

As my son told me what was going on, I interjected with advice where I felt I could help. But he only became more and more frustrated with me and kept telling me I didn’t understand. I experienced a weird sense of deja vu from my own childhood, telling my mom she didn’t understand. Now I really get what she meant when she told me over and over again, “I’ve been there. I get it.”

 

So, using every bit of willpower I had, I bit my tongue and stopped offering advice. I mainly did it because I didn’t think my son would listen anyway. I figured he was stuck in that teen mentality of “parents just don’t understand.”

Turns out, I should have stopped giving advice for a different reason, though.

Because as I listened, I started to realize my son was actually handling his problem pretty well. Yes, he’d said some hurtful things he wished he could take back, but he’d talked with his friend group, empathized with the friend he’d had the conflict with, and together they’d made a plan for how not to get into the same argument in the future.

The plan was not actually what I would have suggested. The disagreement and plan for resolving it involved other kids who I don’t know as well as my own, and my son had taken those personalities into account when solving his own problem. He has a good heart and wants to do the right thing, and so do his friends. He really didn’t need me.

This keeps happening more and more — I find myself butting heads with my teenage son because I want to offer advice and either he doesn’t want it or doesn’t need it (or both). And I am slowly learning to keep my mouth shut and my ears open. This most recent incident was pretty clear evidence that sometimes, shutting up is the best help I can offer.

Because sometimes my son just wants me to listen. He’s not looking for a solution from me. And really, what a gift that he wants to talk to me and share his thoughts and experiences with me since, in the past and often still now, I have practically had to pry the details from him with a crowbar. And what an incredible thing to witness as he comes up with a solution to a problem or makes a point more creative or smart than the one I could have come up with myself.

graham/Pexel

It’s not that my son isn’t listening to me. It’s that he’s reaching the age where he is independently applying the lessons I’ve taught him over the years. He has been listening. Yes, there is still lots of wisdom I can still impart to him, but we have reached the point where he gets to apply what he has learned. And, again, he’s also learned plenty of new things that I can’t take credit for. He astounds me every day with the insightful things he says.

It’s so easy to imagine parenting as a montage of lectures rather than a give-and-take. And I guess a lot of the early years of parenting are like that. We have our kids’ rapt attention (even if they’re acting stubborn, they’re listening) and their lack of experience and know-how is clear and undeniable. We as the parents must be in full control.

But big kids want and need to make decisions about their lives, from big things like whether to take on a more challenging course load at school or quit a sport they’ve been playing for years, to how to handle missed homework assignments or disputes with friends.

And the reason we must step back is bigger than our kids simply needing to develop autonomy and confidence in working out their problems on their own. It’s also because they are capable. This is the part I was missing. My kid is 13 now. Yes, I still have much to teach him, and yes I am still the parent, still the one with the final say. But I’m not actually smarter than he is. In fact, in many ways he is smarter than I am. And as long as he continues to show a willingness to self-advocate and the ability to do so effectively, as much as possible I need to step aside and let him take the reins.

Otherwise, what were all those years of teaching for?

The post Why I Stopped Giving My Teen Advice appeared first on Scary Mommy.

How The Filtered World Of Social Media Is Changing Our Kids

Last week, as my daughter and I were driving, I noticed an odd series of gestures happening in the front seat next to me. A quick glance to the side and I realized that it was my daughter taking picture after picture of herself with different facial expressions each time. When I asked her what the heck she was doing, she replied, “I’m doing my streaks.”

After realizing (thankfully) that she was not referring to the act of running buck naked through a crowd, I quickly regrouped to inquire what that meant in “teenspeak.” I should have known from the get-go that it was one of those social media time-sucks that seemingly drives teens and parents to the brink of insanity on a daily basis.

After a quick tutorial from her about Snapchat stories, I was in the know. If I have this right, Snapchat streaks require kids to keep up a daily routine of sending out live shots of things they are doing throughout the day to pretty much anyone they have ever met or will possibly ever meet or will never met. If perchance they happen to be sick, Wi-fi fails or they lose use of their opposable thumbs, then the streak ends and apparently the world with it.

I couldn’t quite shake the concept that across the globe, millions of kids like my daughter were doing the exact same thing. The idea that they were under the gun to send quick snap shots of themselves with forced smiling faces really bothered me. I decided that this was worthy of a discussion over a glass of wine with friends on a recent girl’s night. I was ready for my friends to rally behind me and share in my dismay of what our kids are doing on social media.

I was surprised, however, to find out that both of my friends used Snapchat themselves. One friend even told me that she actually kept up her daughter’s streaks for her when she was at camp and didn’t have phone access. I was floored. I mean props to my friend for taking that on, but the irony of sending her daughter to camp to unplug for a week only to keep said daughter “virtually” plugged in the whole time astounded me.

The heart of the issue for me is the constant need to present a happy facade. This is not reality, obviously. I worry that the lines between what is presented and what happens when the phone is off will become muddled for kids. The need to perpetuate a false persona on a regular basis seems a dangerous road to travel for anyone, much less an impressionable teen.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone and it is never far from my grubby little hands. I like looking at 100 versions of chocolate chip cookie recipes on Pinterest. I LOL frequently at the clever memes on Instagram. I even don’t mind the constant string of humble brags on Facebook. I’ve been guilty of that myself. I understand that that has become the new “norm.”

I am not okay, however, with the incessant stream of social media that portrays kids as some Stepford version of themselves. Where does that end? Will they never reach out when they need help because they don’t want anyone to see that they are not really happy 24/7?

Omkar Patyane/Pexels

It comes down to this for me — I want my kids to realize that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Happiness is great and boy do I hope that my children are living that dream as much as possible. But I also think it’s equally important to be able to deal with the problems and issues that life will throw their way, because that is inevitable and unavoidable.

A more recent car ride with my daughter prompted a conversation around this very subject. I think it’s unrealistic to expect her social media habits to drastically change. We did, however, have a very candid talk about knowing that it’s all right to raise that little white flag and show her true self. We discussed the importance of talking to her friends about her problems and to listen to theirs.

My hope is that my daughter realizes that, despite what she sees and sends on Snapchat every day, it is not real life. Life is not all rainbows and sunshine and Kylie filters. Real life is taking the good with the bad and learning to deal with everything in between. I know that her smiley faced “streaks” will continue, but I will also be there to nudge her back to reality too.

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After Her 12-Year-Old Attempted Suicide, This Mom Has An Important Message For Parents

Trigger warning: suicide/suicide ideation/self-mutilation

Tweens and teens today eat, live, sleep and breathe school, friends, family and social media. So when any or all of these areas of their life present struggles, it can sometimes make adolescents feel as if their entire world has come tumbling down. And, in a sense, it has. 

These people, places, and things are the focus of their life for the time being. How are they supposed to know there is a big wide world waiting for them just beyond the next door when they don’t yet have the key to unlock it? Truth be told, they can’t without parental guidance. And even though mental health issues amongst adolescents are taking thousands each year due to death by suicide, there is still a lack of awareness surrounding the severity of childhood, pre-teen and teenage mental health struggles.

With suicide being the third leading cause of death in those aged 10-24, children’s lives depend on the destigmatization of adolescent mental health, the support of loved ones, and the help of suicide prevention advocates.

One such advocate is Julie Lutz*, a single mother of two whose youngest daughter, Annie Lutz* nearly died by suicide at just 12 years old.

Lutz describes her now-13-year-old daughter as a “beautiful, outgoing, social, caring, ray of shine.” But sometime around November of 2018, Annie’s personality seemed to fade, and Lutz noticed a drastic change in Annie’s mood which she says she attributed to the run-of-the-mill teen angst. 

Annie was experiencing difficulties with friends, bullying, issues with her father, and her grandmother’s brain cancer diagnosis. She eventually confided in her mother that she had begun self-mutilation through cutting. The first time Annie practiced self-mutilation, she sought help from her mother out of fear. Later on, Lutz discovered that her daughter had cut herself again. Only this time, she hadn’t sought her mother’s help. As soon as she learned of it, Lutz to seek counseling for Annie right away.

Emiliano Vittoriosi/Unsplash

It seemed to Lutz that Annie was improving with time and counseling, but after what Lutz describes as a “fantastic weekend,” Annie admitted that she’d taken too many over-the-counter-pills while attempting suicide. Those moments are what Julie describes as her “saddest moment ever as a mom.” 

“This language of cutting and suicide is not uncommon now,” Lutz tells Scary Mommy. “There’s a lot of layers surrounding [cutting and suicidal thoughts] that we are uncovering.”

Since the attempt, Lutz has been pro-active in supporting her daughter’s mental health by enrolling her in extensive counseling through school and outside of school, as well as installing a security software — Bark — in her daughter’s phone. Bark’s software contains an algorithm designed to notify parents via text and/or email of any potential risks (e.g. suicide, self-harm, sexual-predator “grooming,” drugs, violence, nudity, etc.) detected in a child’s technological devices.

Bark

Technology’s grip on children today is foreign territory to many parents, and this is the first generation raising kids who have had the accessibility of the world wide web at the touch of their fingertips since they were born. Therefore, it’s important for parents to know what is going on inside that universe they hold in the palm of their hands. 

While the internet may be a wealth of information when looking for resources about suicide prevention, a research article led by senior lecturer at Bristol Medical School, Lucy Biddle, infers that the internet may influence the appeal of suicide in an already suicidal individual.

Biddle and her team conducted a web search using 12 search terms one might be likely to use when looking for suicide methods. They focused on analyzing the first 10 sites listed, with research conducted for a total of 240 valid searches. Biddle’s results showed that roughly half of the sites were pro-suicide sites or chat rooms while the other half were suicide prevention pages.

The scariest part? The three most commonly occurring sites across all searches were all pro-suicide.

When Lutz downloaded Bark, she was notified nearly 100 times a day, mostly for bullying and profanity. Two months after her daughter’s suicide attempt, Bark notified Lutz that her daughter had been browsing and searching for pills around the house with the purpose of self-harm.

Lutz tells Scary Mommy, “Nothing could have prepared me for this.” 

After Annie’s search was flagged and reported to Lutz, Bark sent a “Love Box” with a heartfelt card, beautiful art and checked in later to see how Annie and the rest of the family were doing.

This road may not be easy for Lutz, Annie or the rest of their family, but through intense counseling, loving interventions, boundaries with negative peers, and maintaining a safe and open environment, Annie is continuing to find better ways to manage her mental health and stress. 

Now, Lutz is advocating for those who are suicidal, as well as raising awareness for parents who may or may not know their children are having suicidal thoughts or tendencies. The Internet and social media follow us everywhere, but this technology is seeking to monitor the safety of that accessibility.

Lutz’s recommendation: “Monitor your kid’s technology. [It’s] so important.”

*Names have been changed for minor’s sake. 

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Why Your Teen Needs A Summer Job

My two-year-old son, Leo, spends his days giggling through story time and happily throwing his toys. The coming years will be filled with homework, activities, sleepovers, vacations, and other experiences designed to boost his social and academic abilities. As he enters his teen years, I will start laying the foundation for the one element every teen should have: a part-time, minimum wage job.

Unlike older generations who decry the youths today, my motivation is based on my experience and the current struggles college grads face in the workplace. When I was 16, I got a job at a local restaurant that primarily catered to the elderly. What initially started out as a way to hang out with my friends and get financial independence turned into an opportunity to learn workplace etiquette that I still apply today.

Working an hourly job taught me managerial hierarchies, how to take critical feedback, the importance of formal communication styles with superiors, patience, and the path to promotions and raises. Yet several years into my career, I was surprised at how many new college grads lack these basic skills and instincts. I’ve also seen this innocent ignorance seriously harm a young person’s career mobility. For example, a 20-something graduate student needed me to leave my job in the middle of the workday to meet her because she “couldn’t figure out” the Metro System. I declined.

Why Your Teen Needs A Summer Job

Walking across the graduation stage doesn’t automatically impart college grads with knowledge of how the workplace operates and what is expected. While workplaces vary in terms of missions and productivity, unwritten social norms and expectations are universal.

When we don’t encourage teenagers to have jobs, we make their first professional job the first time for everything: punctuality, attire, management structures, performance feedback and reviews, filling out tax withholding forms, understanding paycheck deductions, appropriate conversation topics, etc. When combined with learning the job itself, such an experience is unnecessarily overwhelming.

A part-time job exposes teenagers to all of these elements gradually over time. Asking my mother what FICA was when I was 16 fares a lot better than a 26-year-old who is coming to the realization his take-home pay won’t be as much as he originally planned. Although it can be difficult at first, learning how to balance work, school, and extracurricular activities as a teenager with some parental oversight makes for a more comfortable, independent transition to college and/or adulthood.

To be sure, I’m not longing for the days of brutal child labor. Teenagers should work part-time when their livelihoods don’t depend on it. Jobs should be in a low-risk environment with managers who are used to training and overseeing that age demographic. Teens need a place where screwing up won’t have major, long-term consequences for their employer and getting fired doesn’t put food and shelter at risk. High schoolers are expected to make mistakes and flounder because they’re not independent adults with an expensive degree. College graduates do not have that same flexibility, which is why they frequently become targets for frustrated bosses.

The biggest objection from parents is that teenagers have the rest of their lives to work so the time in high school should be free from such pressures. Although that is true, operating a cash register ten hours a week for spending money is much different than working a full-time job to get health care and groceries. The obligations and stress levels are not the same.

Most importantly, I want Leo to have a job while he’s under my roof so I can help teach him about how quickly a paycheck can disappear or what to do if his employer runs afoul of labor laws. If he has a bad day at work, I want to help him get through it then so he’ll know how to react when he’s grown up. My parental guidance would be equally essential if Leo was learning how to drive a car or navigate a relationship or deal with a difficult teacher.

Parents should use the precious, finite time we have with our children to prepare them to live an independent, productive adult life. Young adults already face so much shock when they enter the work world, so why not reduce that burden where we can?  One of the best ways I can do this is to help Leo find a job the day after his 16th birthday.

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Teaching Pre-Teens Proper Hygiene Shouldn’t Be This Hard

I was going through my 12-year-old’s sock drawer when I realized every single pair smelled like butthole. Is that too strong? No. No it’s not. They smelled really bad. They had sweat stains. (And yes. They were sweat stains, not the other stains that sometimes boys put in socks. I know the difference. I was once a teenage boy. You can trust me).

I had been in his room, helping him pack for a weekend father-son camping trip. Not that he’d asked me to help. I told him to pack. He went upstairs, and came back down almost instantly and announced he was finished, so I checked his bag. There was one pair of dirty socks, zero pairs of underwear, and no sleeping bag. No toothbrush. No comb. No water. Just some sweats and a T-shirt, a couple bags of candy, and his Nintendo Switch… You know, the essentials.

I was rummaging through his sock drawer after finding some underwear, when I realized I couldn’t, for the life of me, find a single clean pair of socks.

“What is going on?” I asked. “Why do all of these smell bad?”

He looked up at me with a confused I-know-you’re-going-to-get-in-my-business-just-leave-me-alone look preteens often give. His hair was shaggy brown and hung well past his ears. It was a little greasy and still mashed on one side from sleep. He slumped his shoulders like he often does when annoyed, which had, more or less, become his default stance.

“You told me to change my socks every day,” he said.

“Okay,” I said.

“In the morning I put on new socks, and put the old ones back in the drawer.”

He shrugged like he was nailing the hygiene thing.

I corrected him.

Listen, I’ve made some stupid assumptions in the past, but I suppose the new winner was that my preteen understood that dirty socks go in the hamper and clean socks go on feet. But now, suddenly, I understood why when he took his shoes off as we drove home from soccer practice I had to practically stick my head out the van window to keep from vomiting.

I don’t know what it is with hygiene and preteens. I don’t know why I have to ask Tristan if he used soap in the shower, only for him to say, “I forgot.” I don’t know why I had to ask him if he changed his underwear, only for him to ask, “Why?” And I don’t know why he has this “outfit” he insists on wearing 24/7.

It’s nothing special, trust me. It’s a blue zip-up hoodie, a pair of black Adidas track pants with white stripes up the side and a small hole in the right knee, and a grey T-shirt with the cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. Once a week, I pry the outfit off his body, soak it in stain remover, and wash it, and you’d think I actually removed his skin. I once missed a week because I didn’t feel up to fighting with him. I now know what teen spirit smells like.

We are in this stage where even something as basic as putting on clean socks is a challenge, and I’m at my wits’ end with keeping his smell down. I feel like I have to micromanage everything about keeping his body clean. I have to state the all too obvious. I used to check his toothbrush to make sure it was wet. Once he caught on to that, he’d just put his toothbrush under the sink for a bit, so now I have to actually watch him brush, a timer going on my phone, him staring at me, grudgingly, all pissed off because I don’t want his teeth to rot out of his head.

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And you know what, I keep using the term “have too.” And frankly, I don’t have to do anything. I could just let him live his life as the stinky, greasy, yellow-teethed little boy he wants to be. But I just can’t. I need him to understand the importance of hygiene. If not for his sake, then for mine.

Of course, we pick our battles. I only make him comb his hair on Sundays, because approaching him with a comb is like approaching him with a chainsaw. And as much as I want him to floss his teeth, getting him to brush is about all I have the strength for at the beginning and end of the day. But when it comes to taking a bath with actual soap, and putting on clean socks, I just can’t let those things slide.

All of these hygiene battles are driving me bonkers. And I cannot get over how often I have to state what seems incredibly obvious. I should admit, however, that I’ve been at this parenting game long enough to realize that nothing should surprise me. When my kids were born I literally had to teach them how to eat and sleep. Raising children means working with a pretty raw product.

Scary Mommy and FG Trade/Getty

And I hear from a lot of parents that this is normal for his age. Well, as normal as taking a shower and forgetting to use soap can be. I take comfort in that. And I take comfort in knowing that he’s a kind kid who does well in school. People seem to like him despite his disregard for hygiene.

Fingers crossed that in a few years, it will solve itself. But in the meantime, I’ll be there, sniffing his sock drawer and asking him the important questions like. “Did you put on deodorant? Because you smell like a locker room.”

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