There’s A Fork In My Bathroom, And Other Ways I Know My Boys Are Home

Let me start by saying I love my four boys. They bring me immense joy, hours of laughter, strengthen my soul, and deepen my understanding of unconditional love. But lately? Well, on some days, I prefer my cat.

The two middle children returned home after mandatory college closures brought them here to finish their semester. Oh, what fun, I thought. Just think how great the extra time with them would be, I thought. And while board games and bonfires were plentiful the first week, it all quickly faded into what has now become a strange little sitcom.

Being the only female in a household of five men has its challenges under normal circumstances. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that quarantine life has brought to the forefront observations I can’t escape or explain.

There’s A Fork in My Bathroom

OK … what in the literal hell? Why would there be a fork in my bathroom? Under what circumstance would it ever make sense to walk in the bathroom and see a fork lying on the back of the toilet? As far as I know, there is only one use for a bathroom, and it ain’t for eating pasta! Oh, and there was no plate. Just the fork. Steak skewer perhaps?

The Ice-maker Is Always Wrong

There are only a handful of uses for crushed ice, which include margaritas, daiquiris, and Moscow mules. I also don’t mind it in the occasional restaurant soft drink. But let’s be real. We’ve not been out to a restaurant or bar in almost seven weeks! And yet, every time I go to fill a glass with cubed ice out of my refrigerator, crushed ice always comes out. Why? I have one child, only one, who loves crushed ice and constantly is switching it on our refrigerator. I hope he’s not mixing up margaritas, as he’s a minor… unless he’s making a drink for his momma.

Kitchen Hours – Open 24/7

Raising a household of young men, I’m no stranger to the concept of a 24/7 kitchen. Despite the fact I cook dinner almost every night for my boys, it appears they are but a bottomless pit of starving ogres roaming the house in search of the next unlucky food to be devoured. (Perhaps they should check in the bathroom?) Most recently my youngest son descended from his bedroom cave into the kitchen to make a plate of nachos at 1:30 am. Traces of corn chips and shredded cheese littered the counter and floor. When asked why he was eating this late, I’m pretty sure his response was, “Me hungry”. Got it.

We’ve Experienced A Time Change

I used to think the only time change we would experience in our lifetime was going from Standard Time to Daylight Saving Time and back. Of course, that’s just ridiculous. We operate on BST — Boy Standard Time. All of the hours in my house have shifted. Breakfast is now at 1:00 pm, lunch at 5:00 pm, dinner around 8:00 pm, and bedtime is 3:00 am. Hence, the 1:30 am snack.

We Have A Spectacular View Of “Mt. Dirty Dishes”

Our home is native to the very popular, must-see attraction known as Mt. Dirty Dishes. Mt. Dirty Dishes can best be viewed between the hours of … oh hell, you can see it any time of the day or night. But as legend has it, as soon as the kitchen is cleaned and every dish meticulously washed and put away, something mysterious occurs. Slowly seeping out of cupboards and drawers, every pot, pan, skillet, and plate clutters the sink spilling out into an eruption of crusted oatmeal bowls, glasses of curdled milk and knives stained with smeared peanut butter. See #3 and #4 to help explain what I assume is only but a supernatural phenomenon.

Shoes, Shorts, and Sandals … Oh My!

If I ever need to find one of my boys, I just need to follow the proverbial “yellow brick road.” A lone shoe here, a discarded t-shirt there, a smelly gym towel up ahead. The Wicked Witch of the West has been known to appear from time to time, flying in on her broomstick threatening to disconnect their most precious possession, WiFi. Thankfully the Good Witch of the East shows up as well, reminding the boys there is no place like home… so pick up after yo’ damn selves!

They’re Always ‘In The Middle of a Game’

This could quite literally be the most annoying phrase ever muttered from my boys’ lips:

“Boys, it’s time for dinner.”

“I’m in the middle of a game.”

“Boys, I need your help unloading the groceries.”

“Be there in a sec. I’m in the middle of a game.”

“Boys, have you started, finished, or looked at your homework today?”

“Not yet. I’m in the middle of a game.”

Middle of a game?? Where is that Wicked Witch?

They’re Speaking A Different Language

Listening to my boys carry on a conversation is like trying to interpret Russian. Pepega. MonkaS. Poggers. PogChamp. This lingo comes from a video game streaming platform called Twitch, which makes sense since they are on it 14 hours a day. I supposed I could slip into my ’80s slang and throw around words like “gnarly”, “bodacious”, “dweeb”, and “gag me with a spoon”. My kids would probably just give me a sideways glance, while muttering, “OK, Boomer.”

I can’t be the only mom out there whose children are driving her crazy right now. But despite the crazy, there is kindness. In the mess, there is forgiveness. In the language, there is love. And the next time the boys say to me, “Mom, can you go to the store? We don’t have anything to eat in this house,” a slow, mischievous smile will appear, along with a wicked glint in my eye as I reply, “Why yes, boys, of course. But right now, I’m in the middle of a game.”

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I’m Concerned That My Kid Isn’t Reaching Out To Friends Right Now

If you have teens and tweens, you know that social distancing is causing social difficulties.

If your child is a very social person, they are missing their friends, they are missing school. They might be FaceTiming with friends often. Or perhaps they were connecting with friends often initially, but now that has tapered off.

Friendships can be quite fickle in the teen years. And as a parent, this is scary. So much of the teen years is built on social status: “clout” as the kids (and rappers Cardi B and Offset) call it. And it’s scary to wonder if your kid is the only one no longer getting together with friends?

Initially, they were going for walks and bike rides together. And then the world happened. They watched the news. And as a parent, we put down stay home orders in our own house: It is the responsible response to this public health crisis, after all.

But now, I wonder and have started to doubt: Is every teen staying home? Are others getting together? Is my teen the only one not getting together with others? I ask my quite-social daughter if others are getting together, and she says “Maybe. Yes. Sometimes. No.”

Whenever I suggest reaching out to a friend, my teen replies, “To talk about what? There’s nothing really to talk about. Getting together just kind of happens after class or after a basketball game or tennis practice, and without that it’s weird. We’re not old ladies; we don’t get together just to talk.” Noted.

Not all kids have a group of friends, and that’s okay. But I can’t help but wonder, when the curve of the virus has been flattened, will my teen be behind the curve with regard to social skills? I know plenty of moms who were concerned about how their son or daughter was content and happy to sit at home by themselves, playing video games or watching YouTube, before the social distancing. And for those moms, watching these kids do more of that is worrisome.

“Why don’t you play a video game with so-and-so?” we moms ask.

“Because I don’t want to. I’m having fun doing this,” says the kid.

“Have you been texting with so-and-so? Do you want to FaceTime with so-and-so?” We moms try it all. They don’t want to. They’re not missing it. They don’t want to connect with friends.

These are kids that teachers describe as outgoing and social in class and at school. These kids join a few groups here and there, and that usually helps facilitate the connections. But without those groups or daily interactions, it’s just not something they are seeking out.

As a school administrator recently pointed out to me: If you are a kid who likes learning and (mostly) likes the teachers, but doesn’t like all the “drama” that comes with a school day, distance learning is a dream come true. For others, school is only fun because they get to see their friends, and this distance learning is a nightmare. If my kids learn no new academic content while participating in distance learning, I don’t care. I am so thankful for the teachers who make meaningful connections with them through distance learning. I know that making those connections while only having your family around can be a big challenge for teens — who are literally going through a time period where they’re developmentally supposed to separate from their parents.

Some kids may just welcome the break from the drama and social pressures. Some kids are anxious and may be worried that they are a bother to their friends if they reach out first. Some kids (mainly younger ones) are just enjoying the increased family connection. Some can feel connected, creative and inspired online, while another can feel isolated, irritable and left out, even if using the same app or game.

And what about when this is all over? Will these social-distancing habits formed during quarantine have lasting effects on society? Will it be a lasting norm to socially distance? It’s no secret how many of us prior to social distancing already dreaded the thought of tight jeans and socializing in a group. Restrictive, self-conscious, social anxieties found a mask to wear as a trendy and quirky introvert in recent years. When in fact, most of us are ambiverts: people with balanced, nuanced personalities composed of both introverted and extroverted traits. Many people chose to cancel last minute or skip social gatherings to sit in sweat pants and watch Netflix and avoid social gatherings prior to social distancing. So perhaps this would be a welcome norm?

A surefire way to improve mood according to psychologists, is to apply the 3M’s: move, make, and meet. Even if we moms didn’t have a specific label for these things, we knew they were good for our kids and for ourselves. As I visually put together the bare minimum expectations for my own tweens and teens during quarantine, I was sure to include outside time and dog walking (move) and culinary or creative time (make.) And my wise friend, Sue, was sure to add to her kids’ expectation list time to connect with friends (meet) in any way, at least once a day.

We moms have figured out how much we need those virtual happy hours to boost our mood. Even true introverts recognize how important some type of “meet” is to ward off depression.

So how much do we force that third “M” of “meet” as parents? As I’ve found, there’s really no forcing a teen or tween to do something they don’t want to do, and there’s no need to worry as long as they aren’t completely isolating from everyone. The only thing I can really do is model some of my own virtual-MEETs with friends and extended family, and ensure meaningful connections with the people that are here.

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Being Quarantined With My Teenager Is Driving Me Bonkers

I think it would be best to begin this essay by asserting how much I love my son. I really love the heck out of that little guy. I was the first to hold him in the hospital, and I’ve been his champion for 13 years now. I will do anything for him, and I always will. But I will also say right here, and right now, that I need a break from that young man, and I honestly don’t know when I will get one.

I haven’t drank in a decade, but homeschooling my 13-year-old has got to be why liquor stores are COVID-essential. He refuses to do his homework. It’s not that he can’t do it. It’s that he doesn’t want to do it, so managing his bitching now makes up approximately 20% of my professional responsibilities.

Now that I work from home, I put a desk in his closet because it was the only available space in the house (he has a huge closet). I sit at my desk, closet door open, Tristan working in his room just to my right. I keep one eye on my laptop answering emails; the other on my shaggy-haired son who just stares at his schoolwork like it’s a hate crime.

I try to accommodate with timers and goals and short breaks, and he argues and asks for snacks or screen time, and all of it feels like this quarantine is going to lower my life expectancy. And to be real, I’m not 100% sure how much work the kid has, or where all of his resources are. Just the other day my wife asked Tristan if he’d checked his school email, and he said, “I have an email?” Sure enough, he did, with a seemingly-endless list of unopened messages from his teachers.

Then there’s the yelping. He is constantly making this horrible yelp that reminds me of those plants in Harry Potter that kill you when they scream. I know this sounds dramatic, but trust me…it’s not. Every time he does it I feel like I’m dying. It is the backdrop of my life, it is the soundtrack to my Zoom meetings, and it is the sound I want played at my funeral so everyone will understand why I died before the age of 40. Naturally, we have discussed this sound. I have asked him why he does it, and what is the significance of it, and if he is actually possessed. And his response is always the same, “I do it because…” followed by the sound, as if the sound itself is the only explanation needed to justify making it. All of it makes me feel like I’m living in a Kafka novel, only Kafka got to turn into a bug, which I must say sounds pretty okay right now.

Then there are the fights to get in the shower, and to get out of the shower, and to change his clothing, and brush his teeth, and to do his chores, and him saying that everything all the time, constantly, is “stupid.”

But honestly, I’m confident I’m driving him crazy too. I mean, come on, he’s 13 years old and his father is around him 24/7, working out of his own closet, and expecting him to do actual productive things. That has to be pretty painful. In fact, I know I’m getting under his skin. Yesterday I asked him to put his Rubik’s cube down and focus on his math homework, and I swear to you, he rolled his eyes so hard our clocks lost one hour.

And you know what, he was the exact same before the stay at home order. He has not changed at all. Nor have I, for that matter. This is just who he is right now, at 13. The problem is, the situation has changed. I used to be able to send him to school, and I would go to work, and we could both take a break from each other. Or when he’d make that yelp, I could push him into the neighborhood to go yelp with the other 13-year-olds down the street, all of it sounding like some prepubescent mating call.

So much of this is situational. I know that for a fact.

So what am I doing about it? Well… there isn’t too much I can do, outside of constantly looking on the bright side. I remind myself that he’s not a bad kid, because he isn’t. He’s actually a pretty nice young man. His teachers like him, and he has loads of friends. I remind myself that in so many ways, he’s my buddy. He’s my main man to talk about Marvel and Star Wars and Harry Potter. I honestly love the little guy, and the fact that I have every intention of continuing to support the kid in all aspects of everything — even when he drives me bonkers — should be a testament to that fact.

But the reality is, he may be in the most irritating phase of life right now, and it just happens to coincide perfectly with a pandemic, and I don’t know what I did to deserve this particular level of hell, but here we are. So if your teen is driving you bonkers right now, I get it. I’m with you. Try to remind yourself of the good times, the reality of who they are as a person, and fingers crossed, we will be able to hold onto our last shreds of sanity long enough to send these little yelpers safely back to school someday.

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My Teen’s Birthday Fell During Quarantine, So I Threw Him A Birthday Parade

I don’t know which is sadder: that my 14-year-old couldn’t have a real birthday party because his birthday happened to fall right in the middle of a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, or that he didn’t even ask for one in the first place. He didn’t ask for anything except brownies. “If you can find eggs,” he said with a defeated shrug. The store had been out of eggs the last couple of times I’d gone grocery shopping.

Ugh, stab me in the heart, why don’t you.

Like so many kids all over the world, my kids have accepted the inconveniences of shelter-in-place. Kids are notoriously adaptable and resilient. They adjust quickly to new normals and are generally more hopeful and optimistic than most adults. And, especially with older kids, when you explain why things are a certain way, they generally accept the explanation. My family has close friends who are severely immunocompromised, so even before schools and businesses started closing, we were already having conversations about how important it was to keep our dear friends safe.

My son also researched about coronavirus on his own and, not realizing I was doing my own research so I could write articles about it, sent me links explaining its origin, its rate of spread, its incubation length and how long it lived on surfaces. Even before quarantine, he embraced the importance of social distancing and hand washing. When school was cancelled, he hardly complained when he realized that it meant his science trip to the Florida Keys also had to be cancelled, or when we realized that, in all probability, he would not get to finish eighth grade with his friends, most of whom will not attend the same high school. This was confirmed last week.

His tacit acceptance of a lack of celebration on his birthday, on top of all the other things he quietly accepted… man. It broke my heart. To be fair, we are all okay. We are healthy, we enjoy our time cooped up together more than seems reasonable, and I’ve been extremely fortunate that I so far have been able to keep enough income coming in to pay our bills. I have nothing to complain about, but my kid not getting to celebrate his birthday — and not complaining about it — fucking broke me. Of course, I could make him a tray of brownies. I could get him a gift card to order extra skins or whatever they’re called for his favorite online video game. But I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted him to feel celebrated and loved by his friends and family.

About a week before the day, my sister shared a video with me — a friend of hers had recorded a line of cars driving by on her street. They were playing music, waving signs, honking, shouting out the window. It was a birthday parade.

Perfect. I don’t know enough local people to create the kind of traffic jam on the video my sister sent me, but I was fairly certain we could manage to get a few people to drive by and make a fuss for my kid.

I didn’t want to advertise my address on my Facebook page because my profile isn’t private enough, but I was able to create a private event and invite some local friends and family to drive by. I posted a few pics of my son on the event page and invited friends to drive by in a specified half-hour time frame and just generally act a fool in front of our house.

I kept it a surprise for my son, and when the time came, lured him outside by telling him we were going to play hopscotch. (We have resorted to playing my ancient childhood games out of boredom and the necessity to move our sedentary bodies, and my kids are enjoying it more than any of us expected.)

When the first car came by, my son thought it was just his friends being nice and that it was pure coincidence that we happened to be outside at precisely the time his friends drove by waving signs, blasting music, and screaming “Happy birthday!”

Courtesy of Kristen Mae

When a second car came by and created a similar amount of spectacle, he got suspicious. He wondered if a couple of his friends had gotten together and planned to surprise him. It wasn’t until the third car drove by, our cousins honking, hanging out the window, and shouting happy birthday, that he realized something had been orchestrated on his behalf.

Courtesy of Kristen Mae

I don’t know what I expected his reaction to be — just a smile, a few laughs, maybe? After all, what’s a few minutes of watching your friends roll by compared to an hours-long actual, in-person birthday party, right? But what happened instead is that he kept saying he couldn’t believe he “got a parade” for his birthday. He said it was “the best birthday ever.” Our last-minute birthday parade was a huge hit.

So, if your kid happens to be unlucky enough to have a birthday during shelter-in-place, try out your own birthday parade! We only had eight cars come through, nothing like the hullabaloo from the video my sister sent, and yet it still made a huge impact on my son. He felt remembered. He felt loved. He felt celebrated.

And, of course, if you can’t swing a birthday parade, there are other awesome ways to make your kid feel celebrated on their big day. Throw a Zoom party, or get a few folks connected via Google Hangouts, or watch a fun movie together using Netflix Party.

Despite the relative comfort my family has been fortunate enough to maintain during this time, there is still a level of trauma my kids have had to absorb. Pandemics are scary — they just are, and none of this feels normal. And yet, how many people will get to say, “Hey, remember that time my friends threw me a birthday parade during the pandemic?”

Yeah, I think my son’s 14th birthday is one he will not soon forget.

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AP Tests Will Proceed During Quarantine — Here’s How To Prepare

The times are certainly changing for parents and their children, and while many aspects of schooling have dramatically evolved — perhaps the greatest among them being the transition from in-person to virtual learning — one thing remains constant: AP Exams will go on.

Out of 18,000 AP students surveyed, 91 percent told The College Board they wanted to take their exams. In an effort to accommodate student wishes, The College Board confirmed that exams will continue as planned, to the applause of hard-working AP students everywhere.

Why might students have requested that this opportunity remain available? After all, testing isn’t exactly at the top of students’ lists of fun things to do in their spare time.

The reasons are quite compelling, actually. Taking AP courses is no walk in the park. Many students have worked hard all year, poring over and mastering college-level material, and they want the chance to take their tests and earn their well-deserved college credits.

Furthermore, earning that credit can prove immensely helpful for students entering college. Many admissions officers view successful completion of AP courses and exams as indicators that students are hard-working, elevating their acceptance potential. What’s more, passing test scores can even allow students to skip some introductory courses or receive breaks on tuition. It’s understandable that students answered a resounding, “Yes!” when asked if they wanted AP Exams to proceed.

And while The College Board is making sure students get their rightful shot, the exams do look a little different than they used to, which has some students and families feeling uneasy, especially now that schools have closed their doors and students aren’t quite sure how to adequately prepare without the in-depth, in-person support they are used to receiving from teachers.

But fear not! Before you or your students decide to chuck it in the bucket and sacrifice months of hard work, know there are resources available to help your students prepare and still earn the credit they deserve, even if they don’t have traditional brick and mortar classrooms to help them do it.

AP Coronavirus Updates

Students and families can view the latest news and updates as well as learn about the new AP Exam format, including tips for how to approach this open-book, open-note structure.

Exam Schedule

This detailed exam schedule is organized by course and time zone and includes everything students need to know about their course-specific AP Exams, from what knowledge the questions are testing to which units the tests will cover.

The College Board’s Online Courses

These “free, live AP review lessons, delivered by AP teachers from across the country,” present students with optional lessons targeting content that supplements what their AP teachers have already or are continuing to provide. The lessons are also available to students on-demand following the live sessions.

Khan Academy

This free test prep resource provides videos, lessons, and activities covering the content of many AP courses to help students prepare for the 2020 AP Chemistry, Physics, and Statistics Exams, among others.

Prompt

This writing-feedback organization has teamed up with educators and AP writing experts to provide free AP prep materials for writing-intensive exams. In addition, because of the nature of writing and the difficulty associated with students knowing if they are “right,” low-cost (and no-cost for some students) AP English and History practice exam feedback is
available.

Yes, these are unusual times, and we’re all dealing with the associated uncertainties as best we can. These resources can make at least one part of all this less stressful for you and your students.

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10 Questions To Help Socially-Isolated Teens Take Better Care Of Themselves

We’re all having a hard time. Let’s not get into some kind of weird suffering contest, sizing up who deserves to be sad and how sad they deserve to be. I think we can all agree that nobody is living their best life right now.

For parents of teens, one real challenge is finding a way to provide our young people with the space and grace to process their feelings while we also somehow encourage them to move forward and grow into the good men and women we hope they will become. To do this, we need to acknowledge not only the turmoil taking place in our teens’ bodies and brains right now, but also that adolescents are people capable of exercising some degree of control over how their reactions to the world will impact them (and others, as any parent who has tensed up upon hearing the angry stomp of an approaching teen knows).

Here’s the thing: Every functioning adult has developed a toolkit for getting through tough times. You might not realize you have one, or you may have a whole go-to routine. Either way, you’re doing it. You’re handling the crap that comes your way and you’re moving forward. It’s our job as parents to give our kids those tools and teach them how to use them, so they can then handle their own crap and keep moving forward. If we succeed in this, not only will we be teaching our kids resilience, but maybe there will be slightly less stomping and door slamming and we can all unclench just a little bit.

So here’s a starter toolkit we can pass on to our kids. It’s basic, like the one someone gave you when you moved into your first place—just a hammer, screwdriver, a few little nails, and some duct tape. If none of these tools work, or if you or your teen feel too crappy to even try one, please reach out to a professional and tell them that you may need help. I worry, you know. OK, here we go:

10 Questions for Teens to Ask Themselves When They Feel Like Crap

1. Am I sleeping well?

You may be young and healthy enough to pull an all-nighter now and then, but don’t make it a habit. Sleep deprivation is torture under the Geneva Convention. Why would you do that to yourself? If that’s not your problem, if you’re sleeping all day, think about (1) how lonely that schedule is and (2) how painful it’s going to be when you eventually have to show up at school or a job some morning. Maybe give the vampire hours a rest and see if it helps.

2. Am I eating well?

Your metabolism is faster now than it ever will be. Enjoy it while it lasts. But watching Netflix or playing video games all day is not the same level of activity as school followed by practice, followed by …whatever you were doing in The Before. So maybe scale back on the snacks. Look at what you’re eating, too, and do better. It really is true that eating crap makes you feel like crap. AP-level advanced tip: Being bored is not the same as being hungry. Learn the difference.

3. Do I feel well?

I think we’re all acutely attuned to this one at the moment. If you’re not feeling 100%, let your housemates know, even if you feel guilty for sneaking out, or scared about getting sick. Don’t panic. It might just be allergies. But get checked out, right away.

4. Am I drinking, smoking, vaping, or taking crap that makes me feel like crap?

Lay off and see if you feel better. If you can’t lay off, you need to ask someone for help—someone who can really help, not one of your drinking buddies.

5. When was my last break from gaming/social media/porn/online crap?

You might need a brain break to reboot. Give your brain the day off. If that feels good, maybe give it another day and see how it goes. If you can’t give it a day, your screens have become the boss of you. Talk to a counselor or trusted adult. Don’t be ashamed. It happens.

6. When was the last time I showered?

If you have to think about it, it’s been too long. Clean hands, fresh breath, can’t lose. Seriously, wash those hands. Right now. Go!

7. When was the last time I went outside?

I know you can’t actually go anywhere, but you can probably step out the front door and do a little something. Shoot around your old hoop, pump up the tires on your bike, drag the dog around the block. It helps, I promise. By the way, please don’t do that thing where you “accidentally” run into friends who “just happen” to be in the same place at the same time and you all break your families’ quarantines, exposing each household to every other household’s whatever. Teenage brains overestimate pleasure and underestimate risk, I get it. Do the right thing anyway, for everyone.

8. When was the last time I talked to another human person, in person, with my face?

Even if you don’t feel like it, force yourself out of your bedroom and into the kitchen and living room to talk to your people. Don’t run away when they say, “Oh, look who decided to get up today!” or whatever. Hang around for a few minutes and see what they say. Say something back. It’s called conversation. It helps.

9. When was the last time I exercised?

Don’t think that because you can’t do your regular thing, you shouldn’t do anything. What matters is that you do something.

10. When was the last time I did something fun?

We all need a laugh, and fun doesn’t happen by accident. Somebody needs to say, “Hey, let’s do something fun!” Do yourself a favor and be that person. And don’t be afraid of looking silly. If you’re laughing, too, nobody can laugh at you. People are loving TikTok for that very reason, but it’s not the only fun available. Find your own fun and make it happen.

 

Adapted from Just Don’t Be an Asshole: A Surprisingly Necessary Guide to Being a Good Guy.

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Twitch Is The Popular Technology Platform You Might Not Have Heard Of

If you’re not one of the two million people who log onto Twitch each month, you may have never heard of the live streaming platform that was founded in 2011. Originally Twitch was a platform that allowed game enthusiasts to watch livestreams of gamers playing their favorite video games, including Fortnite, which manages to keep my son and his friends busy for hours (and angling to do extra chores in exchange for “V-Bucks”). Since 2011, the service has since expanded to include streams focused on artwork creation, music, talk shows, and even the occasional cooking show.

Twitch, owned by Amazon, not only allows users to watch live-streaming video broadcasts of gamers, but also allows you to livestream your own games and chat with other gamers. The most popular Twitch broadcasters have millions of followers and can earn money based on the number of people who subscribe to their channel.

As Twitch has evolved, it’s also taken steps into the social media world. One of its features, Pulse, available on the app, works similar to a Facebook or Twitter timeline. App users can post status updates or like, share, and comment on other people’s updates.

For kids who love gaming, Twitch is a chance to find their people—others who love gaming as much as they do. The platform has a community-like feel among users and even a quick glimpse into one of the chat rooms revealed the users chatting about jobs and hobbies. In a few of the chats, there was a friendly vibe to the chatter as friends wished each other goodnight and wrote ILYSM (if you haven’t brushed up on your acronyms for a while, that’s shorthand for “I love you so much”) to each other. Although, just a few moments spent in a third chat room revealed bad language and crude words spelled just wrong enough to not be caught by a moderator in a chat that sometimes moved at a dizzying speed.

How Does It Work?

Finding Twitch isn’t a problem — a version exists for nearly platform. The streams can be viewed via the official Twitch website or on an app designed for iOS, Android, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and 4, Amazon’s Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and the NVIDIA SHIELD.

You don’t need an account to view the streams. Watching a stream requires you to do nothing more than type in the name of your favorite game into the search field, or click on one of the suggested streams. But if you’re looking to follow a favorite channel or broadcaster, you’ll have to create an account.

Is It Appropriate For Kids?

It depends. The heart of Twitch is gamers watching gamers play games, either for fun or to learn how to play the game themselves. A more mild game, like Minecraft, would probably be appropriate for most kids. A more violent game, like Call of Duty, would probably be less appropriate. Games come with ratings, much like movies. Whether I’d let my child watch a PG, PG-13, or R-rated movie would depend on the movie, the reason for the rating, and my child. I would use those same criteria to decide whether or not a game is appropriate, too.

Since Twitch is no longer exclusively a gamer platform, there might be even more content suitable for kids. Things like cooking shows and watching others create art are probably safe options. But finding that content isn’t always easy, and there’s no single place where all kid-friendly content is stored.

Aside from the content of the games or shows, the chat rooms may contain mature language from other users who comment on the games. When you click on a stream to begin watching, a chat room reminiscent of the AOL chat rooms of years long gone (have I just dated myself?) opens up. Moderators are quick to delete inappropriate comments … if they’re caught. It’s also easy enough to hide the chat, by clicking the x and collapsing the box.

And, although there are community guidelines in place, the platform is live. Which means there’s no delay between what the streamers may say and do and when the content is published. This means the content may be unpredictable, and any given moment might be the one your kid sees or hears something you don’t want them to see or hear, or don’t want them to see and repeat — particularly in school, or in the middle of a long checkout line at Target.

What Should Parents Know About Twitch?

Minimum Age: The official suggested age for users is 13 and older, but there’s no verification at sign up to make sure younger users don’t sneak on.

Subscriptions: Twitch is free to use, but there’s a fee to subscribe to channels. Subscribing to channels grants access to ad-free viewing and subscriber-only chats. And speaking of fees, anyone can become a broadcaster—there’s potential to earn real money from each subscription.

Direct Messaging: Twitch has a direct messaging feature that allows any users to contact each other privately. There is a way to change the settings to block messages from any strangers, and I’d highly recommend using this feature to avoid anybody creeping into your kid’s inbox.

Screen Time: If screen time is already a concern, Twitch has the potential to make things worse. There’s an endless supply of content to stream. In 2018, 1.1 million years of content was streamed.

Ultimately, Twitch is a live streaming platform with social media-like communication abilities. Parents need to be aware of the features and potential dangers lurking on Twitch. They should pay attention to who their kids are chatting with, what they’re watching, and how they’re watching it. As with any social media platform, online safety is important, and begins first and foremost with a conversation with your children.

Whether they’re on Twitch or a different social media platform, a good first step is to understand what benefit or joy your kids are receiving from the site and balance that with the need to keep them safe. And then, let the gaming — or watching other people gaming — begin!

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My Teen Never Tells Me Anything — Except Through Text

At first, the texts to my teen son followed morning shouting episodes that had left me feeling guilty and inadequate as a mother, or just plain furious at my son’s apparent inability to respect other people’s time. Once he was off to school and out of reach, I couldn’t contain my need to either apologize or clarify my position, even if I knew he wouldn’t see the text until after his school’s afternoon bell.

Sometimes, when my son would be working with classmates on a school project, or he was at his dad’s, and I had something to say to him, I couldn’t stop myself from texting him. I would tell myself I should set aside some time to sit and talk one on one, but in these instances it was less that I was overcome with the impulse to share my thoughts immediately, and more that I was afraid I’d forget to tell him whatever it was I’d wanted to say.

When it comes to communicating face-to-face, my teenage son and I are a cliche — there is an invisible wall between us. My communication skills are weakened by a maternal bias that I can’t shake no matter how hard I try. I’m also old — from a bygone generation for whom the internet was a novelty and not a necessity, and smartphones were but a twinkle in Steve Jobs’s eye. For Pete’s sake, I typed papers on an actual typewriter and called friends on a rotary phone. And even though my son admits I’m “pretty cool, actually, for a mom,” the fact remains that I don’t, and can’t possibly ever, completely “get it.” And so, in-person communication with my son is punctuated by eyerolls and a certainty of not being understood — from both of us. We speak different languages, or at least, it often feels like we do.

I didn’t expect digital communication with my son to go any better. I just wanted to talk to him — to know him — and when face-to-face wasn’t working or when he simply wasn’t around to have a conversation, text was the option that was available. I would have used whatever means were at my disposal.

But text communication has worked better. I get more response from my son via text than I ever did when we talked face-to-face. Even now, in the midst of a global pandemic and an open-ended shelter-in-place, when my teen is under my roof and separated by two panels of drywall, our best communication is by text.

Last week I texted him a screenshot of the grades he’d earned so far with distance learning. (It wasn’t pretty.) I’d read expert opinions recommending that parents allow kids to adjust period and not to get too crazy with schoolwork enforcement, but it was clear by my son’s grades that in some classes he wasn’t even trying. I accompanied the screenshot with the text, “You have until Friday to pull these up, or you’ll lose electronics until you do.”

Clean, clear, to the point. No risk I’d make that weird, eyebrows-in-my-hairline “or else” face that causes both my kids to involuntarily snicker. No risk I’d suddenly lose my shit and start screeching like a harpy and toss my credibility out the window. Just a clear expectation and a consequence, in writing. I heard my son’s sigh through the drywall and then, a few minutes later, his texted response: “Okay.” Four days later, his grades were back up.

But we don’t just text about disciplinary issues. I forward my teen son memes that are over the head of (or inappropriate for) my 10-year-old, and his cackle rings through the house. I think he likes it that I think of him and trust that he’ll understand crude or politically charged humor. I think it surprises him that I also appreciate this kind of humor.

He sends me YouTube videos of explosive chemical reactions or music compilations or “epic fails.” In the first days of shelter-in-place, he forwarded several videos sorting “fact from fiction” about the coronavirus. He hardly said anything to me out loud about COVID-19. I only knew it was on his mind, worrying him, because of the videos he sent. This enabled me to bring it up over dinner and talk through some of the kids’ fears and our plans for how we would get through a prolonged lockdown, coming from a place of already knowing what they knew.

Texting has opened the door to other in-person conversations, too. It’s as if my teenage son and I are laying our cards on the table before we begin the game. Cutting out the game altogether, in fact. Knowing what each other knows removes doubt and suspicion. I don’t doubt my son’s awareness of current events as a function of his youth, and he doesn’t assume I know nothing due to my being old and out of touch. Our texting back and forth puts us on the same page, like walking into a company meeting and immediately being handed a detailed itinerary. It reduces the potential for awkward or annoying surprises.

Is that why texting so often works better than conversation for me and my son? Is it because the ongoing sharing of information removes the emotional stakes?

I think yes, but I also think it’s more than that. My follow-up texts to a difficult school morning conveyed emotions more evolved than my sleep-deprived, primitive emotions of guilt and anger. As I wrote and edited my texts, I had time to process my emotions and think about what I really wanted to say — how I truly felt, even. Was I really as angry as I seemed that my son almost forgot his field trip permission slip? Or was that an understandable mistake on my son’s part and I was grumpy and short on caffeine?

In my follow-up texts, I apologize for my overreactions and clearly explain my justified ones. I remember to show my pride and soften my anger. I remember — and acknowledge — that my son is doing the best he can, that he’s not yet an adult but definitely isn’t a kid either, and that I am also not perfect but am also doing the best I can.

I see similar thoughtfulness in my son’s responses. He may not use as many words as I do, but texting is, after all, his language — literally the language of his generation. The memes he chooses to send tell me about his silly sense of humor. The videos of cute animals tell me about his soft heart. The science and math videos tell me about his curious mind.

And, though I wouldn’t want texting to replace face-to-face interaction, I will use whatever means available to know my kid. If that means that some of our best conversations happen with a literal wall between us, well, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

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Why I’m So Worried About My Teen During Social Distancing

As families try to adjust to the “new (temporary) normal” of the global pandemic, social distancing, and lockdowns, there are mountains of articles and advice on how to help young kids. I’ve seen tons of advice for dealing with the shenanigans of your new “co-workers,” and there are articles on how to talk to your kids without scaring them. But there isn’t much said about the big kids in our lives – teenagers.

Teenagers, by nature, need independence. They need time away from their parents. They rely on their peers and friends. In fact, according to Orlando Health, a study published in Child Development found that teenagers who had close friendships were less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety even into their mid-twenties. They also had a greater sense of self-worth. Experts say that friendships begin to take on the “attachment relationship” that teens had with their parents when they were younger.

“[These] are really very, very close and emotionally intimate relationships,” Jaana Juvonen, developmental psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, told The Atlantic. “And even if that particular relationship doesn’t last, it has ramifications on ­subsequent relationships.”

I’ll admit, I’ve often bemoaned the fact that my teenage son seems so dependent on his friends. I sometimes wish that he wouldn’t need to be texting his friends so much or that he would be content to spend time with his family or even alone, that he wouldn’t need the constant stimulation that his friends provide. And I suspect I’m not alone. According to The Atlantic, “Too often educators and parents fail to appreciate the potential upside of these strong ties. Teachers often separate friends, whose banter can be disruptive in the classroom. Yet when researchers record student conversations during class, there is evidence that while kids are problem solving or working together, students collaborate more effectively with their friends.”

But these relationships – and even the “peer pressure” we often look so negatively upon – are essential to development and can even be wildly beneficial. “It’s really interesting that we as adults in the society often regard friendships more as a nuisance and a distraction rather than give them the value that they really deserve,” Juvonen told The Atlantic.

These healthy and essential relationships and interactions have been erased – or severely hindered – from our teens’ lives now due to social distancing. They aren’t chatting with their classmates while they work through a chemistry experiment. They can’t tell jokes (most of which are somewhat inappropriate) while eating a sandwich at the lunch table. They can’t trash talk over a friendly basketball game at the park down the street.

Sure, they can still FaceTime and text and hang out in an Xbox game of Fortnite. But it isn’t the same because, for the most part, these interactions are now supervised. We, their parents, are in the next room. We are sitting next to them on the couch while they FaceTime their friends. We can hear their cussing and laughter through their closed (and locked) bedroom door.

Some parents might think this isn’t necessarily bad. After all, we have more insight into our teens’ social lives now. We know when and how they communicate, and we can step in when we see something questionable. In some cases, this might be true. But overall they are being deprived of the freedom to figure things out from their peers and in situations away from their parents.

As most experts recognize, it is important for kids to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. And teens can learn a hell of a lot when they aren’t under their parents’ watchful eye. What’s more, teens need independence and autonomy. As Greater Good Magazine by UC-Berkeley points out, “Healthy, self-disciplined, motivated teenagers have a strong sense of control over their lives. A mountain of research demonstrates that agency is one of the most important contributors to both success and happiness.”

But here we are, all up in each other’s business 24/7 (or pretty damn close to it), and many teens are really struggling with this. So what can we do to help?

Well, as with most things, I think the first step is to acknowledge the validity of their feelings and the struggles. My teen son – an outgoing extrovert in just about every sense of the word – is having a particularly hard time being physically separated from his friends. My husband and I have tried to acknowledge this as much as we can. As the grief expert David Kessler has said, we’re grieving. “This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air,” he said.

Yes, our kids are grieving – and acknowledging this can help us all move through it. “There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us,” Kessler added.

It’s also important to cut our teens and ourselves some slack. Rules need to change. We all need a little more grace. I don’t presume to be an expert or have the answers on any of this (in fact, the song, “Does Anyone Have a Map?” from the musical Dear Evan Hansen has never felt more applicable). But we’ve made a few changes – both intentionally and organically – that seem to help.

– Screen time limits have gone out the window. Our teen is allowed to play Xbox for much longer than usual, as long as he’s playing with his friends. That way they can talk and laugh and do all those things that teen boys do while playing video games.

– E-sleepovers happen. WTF are e-sleepovers, you ask? Well, I was confused at first too, but basically it’s just a group of kids playing Xbox together late into the night and then watching a show together over FaceTime.

– Cussing and crude jokes are overlooked. For the most part, anyway. I mean we all have limits, and there are still some standards of decency.

– We don’t micromanage school work for their remote learning requirements. It either gets done or it doesn’t.

– And finally, we’re pretty frank with our teen about what’s going on and how we’re feeling. We don’t censor information or hide our emotions the way we might if our kids were younger. Teens can sniff out inauthenticity and bullshit like nothing else, so we’re giving it to them straight (as much as possible anyway).

I’m absolutely heartbroken for all the teens who are missing milestones because of this pandemic. Graduations. Proms. Sports tournaments. But even aside from those once-in-a-lifetime events, our teens are experiencing huge losses — of independence, of freedom, of socializing and peer interaction – that will impact them for the rest of their lives. While these losses might seem small in comparison to the loss of jobs and lives, for our kids, these losses are enormous.

So let’s be gentle with our teens. Let’s relax on the screen time limits and let them swear in front of us. Let’s not worry so much about whether our kids’ education is suffering, and focus on making sure their emotional wellbeing isn’t suffering. And as much as I never thought I’d say this, maybe – just maybe – this is a time to be our kids’ friends, and not just their parents.

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The Hell Known As Trying To Keep Teens Quarantined

If you have teenagers living with you through this pandemic, you know the hell that’s telling them they can’t hang out with their friends every damn day. I know this because I see your posts far and wide as you reach out to other parents asking them what the hell you should do.

My smooth-talking sixteen-year-old thought as soon as his school shut down, it was going to be Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in here. I told him right away that it wasn’t a vacation: He was expected to do his school work, and stay at home.

Exactly five minutes later, he slammed his laptop shut, announced that all his teachers told him to enjoy his vacation, and he grabbed his car keys while telling me he was going to the gym. I wasn’t in the mood for his sarcasm or disobedience, to say the least. 

I told him that he was going nowhere and could work out at home. That turned into a 21-day argument (thus far, anyway). Eventually his gym closed, so he gave up on that, but apparently I am the “only parent” in the kingdom who is following the stay-at-home order and not letting him hang with his boys. 

According to him, I am overreacting and don’t know the facts — that he is immune to everything and has a protective shield over his body that won’t allow COVID-19 to penetrate him, so he simply cannot get it or spread it to anyone. 

Since that day, I have put my lectures on repeat. Keeping him and his brother and sister (who don’t have driver’s licenses, thank God) was successful until last Friday, when I braved the grocery store. We were down to one roll of toilet paper. Living with three growing kids who eat 45 times a day and poop after each meal is a problem in itself, but I’ll spare you the details. 

Upon my return, I noticed his car wasn’t in the garage. I looked at the clock, which said 2:22; where could he possibly be going at this hour? When I called him, he told me he needed to get gas and wanted fast food and would be home in a few hours. “I just can’t do this anymore. I can’t sit in the house with nothing to do.”

That was the first time my son ever left the house without permission. 

I told him he needed to get his ass home right then. I also told him he better not be seeing any of his “boyz,” because who knows where they’d been. Then I called his father, who lives in town, and asked him to drive around and look for him.

I didn’t stop there. I asked my two younger kids who stood by and let him leave without doing anything to stop him, why they didn’t call me. I got eye rolls, of course, and was told I was being dramatic. “You bet your ass I’m being dramatic. There’s a universal warning to stay the hell home and you guys don’t think it’s that big of a deal!”

I’ve explained to my kids that keeping them only between my house and their father’s house isn’t a punishment. I’ve told them I want them to be healthy, and they need to do their part in this. I’ve tried to be patient when they ask me if they can see their friends, and they wonder when life can go back to normal. 

A lot of things they loved about their life — their friends, going to the movies, going out to eat, long-awaited school activities, have come to a halt and they are mourning them, just as we all are. 

If you have teenagers who are beating you down about keeping their life normal, thinking it shouldn’t be a big deal if their best friend comes over for the afternoon, I feel you. This is no small task we’ve been dealt. I often feel like I’m trying to contain wild animals who smell meat outside their cage, and they are getting hungrier by the day. 

But as hellish as it is, this is an important job we have: to show them what is right, to think of others, to make this damn thing go away as soon as possible so we can all resume our normal lives.

My daughter wants to have a friend over. She thinks if they don’t touch each other, all will be okay. My youngest wants to hang with his squad at Target — something he’s done for months now. When I tell him no, he argues that the store is open, and says they’ll stay six feet apart and wear ski masks. 

I know kids are being relentless because they are hurting and lonely, and really want this to be over just like everyone else in the world. That’s why I have to do everything in my power to keep them at home, regardless of how tired I am or how much I don’t feel like arguing. I told my son if he slips out again, his car keys will be gone for a month — and I’m not fucking around. 

So yeah, on top of everything else, we need to worry about keeping our teens at home. It’s hell for sure, but it needs to be done. 

As if that isn’t enough, my daughter has been flooding my DMs with videos and pictures of ducks. Ducks in diapers, ducks going on walks, ducks falling asleep on the countertop, ducks swimming in the sink or tub. She keeps telling me since she can’t see her friends, and this summer will probably be the worst summer of her life, she’d like a pet to keep her company. 

I love my children. Watching them go through this isn’t easy. Parenting them through this isn’t easy. And if there’s anything I could do to make it easier on them, I would.

I was thinking more along the lines of buying them extra candy, but it looks like we’re getting ducks. Who knows? Maybe those are easier to keep in a row than teenagers.

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