I Used To Hate Smug Moms Of Older Kids — But Now I Am One

I’d see them walking past the playground but never actually on it. They’d be out and about with their upper elementary or middle school-aged children seemingly without a care in the world. Or they’d be laughing with another SMOK friend while their children ran ahead or lagged behind.

They weren’t pushing strollers. They weren’t holding anybody’s hand crossing the street. They weren’t rooting through a diaper bag for a Band Aid or tissue. They were unencumbered, apart from maybe a stylish tote with a baguette peeking out of it. They were Smug Moms of Older Kids (SMOKs, I dubbed them) and I hated them.

If I got close enough, I could hear that they were having actual conversations with their children. These were no toddler-tantrum negotiations or numbingly boring uh-huh type exchanges, the sorts of which I was mired in; the SMOKS were talking animatedly with their articulate children about a Broadway show they’d seen or a school project a child was doing without parental assistance or even, wait for it…the news.

I’d watch them walk past while I was half-heartedly pushing a swing (“Pump your legs!”) and talking about dumb preschool drama (“I’m sure you’ll all be friends again tomorrow!) and I’d want to Go Go Squeeze my eyeballs out. Sometimes, I’d make eye contact with a SMOK. I’d try to shake the veggie sticks crumbs from my hair or sneak on some lip gloss—“I’m hideous! Look away!”—but I’d also think, “Yeah, good for you, lady. You’re children are aging. Well done.”

Can you hear my slow sarcastic clap?

Clap. Clap. Clap.

Oh, how I loathed these moms!

Oh, how I envied them!

Through no fault of their own, they were simply women who’d set out on their motherhood journey years before I had (at an “advanced maternal age”). And now these SMOKs had arrived at a destination I longed to live in—a place where they never had to share a bathroom stall again. A place where everybody knew how to blow their own nose and could get their own breakfast and snacks. A tantrum-free zone where no one had to go to bed doing basic affirmations like, “I’m still me! I’m still a person!”

martinedoucet/Getty

When you’re in the trenches of motherhood, it’s hard to remember that sometimes.

You are still you! Still a person!

I’m pushing 50—not strollers—now. My children are (almost) 9 and 12. And I’ve become, somewhere along the way, the very sort of SMOK I so despised all those years ago. If I see you, Mother of a Small Child (MOSC), in a public restroom changing a diaper, I’ll avert my eyes because…gross. If I see you and your snotty toddler in a coffee shop, I will choose a seat as far away from you as is humanly possible. It’s a weird sort of reversal of the ole “There but for the grace of god go I” feeling. Because I’ve been there.

Maybe you’re loving your life with small children! Maybe you look at me—and you may even see me out in the neighborhood by myself because I’ve left my children home alone!—and think how lucky you are that your offspring are precious sticky littles who require you for pretty much everything. Maybe you love cutting grapes in half and wiping butts that are not your own. Maybe you see me and think I must be lonely when my children are both off hanging out with friends (SMOKS don’t use the word “playdate” anymore) and that I probably spend a lot of time thinking about menopause…and maybe I do!

But wow do I like being able to send my 12-year-old to the store. I like not having to hire a babysitter if my husband and I want to pop out for a quick dinner, just the two of us. I like weekend afternoons where it’s possible to pick up a book and read for an hour—just me, a book of my choosing. I like never having to go to another playground again just to try to burn up a day. I love hearing about all the cool things my kids are doing in the world without me and telling them about what I’ve been up to, too.

For some moms, I think loving the phase you’re in is a coping mechanism. And if it that works, then great, but it didn’t really work for me back on the playground. And I think it’s also okay to finally admit that I’m more suited for this job than I was for that one. Maybe that’s why the SMOKs always bothered me so much. They had something I wanted. And it wasn’t the baguette.

I have a lot of SMOK friends now. On occasion, one of them catch a whiff of a baby and say something ridiculous like, “I wish we could go back.” And I’ll say, “No you don’t” and she’ll say, “Yeah, you’re right. I don’t.”

That’s what we’re laughing about when we walk past the playground.

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Let’s Bring Back Home Economics Class

“Hey, Mom, do we have a double boiler?” my 12-year-old son asked me the other day.

“Ummm…no,” I said, trying to remember what a double boiler even is, and whether or not I’ve ever used one. “I think you can just make one yourself using a pot and a mixing bowl…or something like that?”

“Oh, okay,” he said. “But we should really consider getting one. We made brownies from scratch in F.A.C.S today and actually melting real chocolate made them so good.”

“F.A.C.S” stands for Family and Consumer Sciences, the modern-day Home Ec class that my son has been taking this semester at his middle school. Almost every day, he comes home telling me about some new yummy food he cooked, the “cool” cooking equipment he used, or some other cute and endearing story about his adventures in measuring, mixing, cooking, and cleaning up.

Let me tell you, when I found out that my son’s middle school required all seventh graders to take Home Ec, a part of me rolled my eyes hard. When I was a kid, Home Ec was also required, but I mostly remember it as a class that I thought was super dorky — a total blow-off class that no one took seriously.

And despite the fact that both girls and boys took the class when I was in middle school, I remember my mom telling me that back in the day, only girls were required to take it, so I immediately branded it as totally sexist.

I was sure that my son – who loves math and video games with a passion, and who acts like wiping down the kitchen table after dinner is equal to actual torture – would feel the same way I did. But surprisingly (although he may not admit it!), his F.A.C.S. class seems to one of the highlights of his day.

Not only that, but he’s learning actual life skills … you know, skills he’ll use long after middle school is a distant memory.

Besides learning how to use a double-broiler, he’s learning how to read a recipe, how to prep the stove for cooking, how to measure stuff and use measuring equipment, how to crack an egg (this was big for him, because he would never let me teach him how!), how to follow a recipe correctly — and most importantly, how to clean up after himself when he’s done.

It’s more than that, too. He works on teams with his fellow students on these cooking projects, so he’s learning about cooperation and teamwork. My son has told me that respectful communication is emphasized in the class as much as teamwork around the execution of the recipes.

After this unit, the kids are going to learn about etiquette, nutrition, and career exploration. And get this: the kids are going to spend a unit completing a few sewing projects – yep, on a real live sewing machine.

I am just so overjoyed about all of this. Not only are these skills all kids need to know (even sewing comes in handy sometimes!), but many are skills I have failed to properly teach my son. I mean, I ask him if he wants to help me make dinner, and I occasionally force him to wash a few dishes, but he really doesn’t know his way around the kitchen like he should.

Honestly, most domestic-type skills are just plain annoying to him. But for some reason, not when they’re taught at school. Somehow, getting to cook and bake and clean up is really cool when you get to do it at school. Who knew?

With the stress placed so heavily on academics these days, I am very happy for my son to have a hands-on, practical class built into his schedule. In addition to all the real-life benefits and applications of the class, it’s a much-needed break from the pressure of his other classes.

Interestingly, my son’s school is one of a dwindling group still offering Home Ec. According to NPR, the number of Home Ec classes has sharply declined; in the decade leading up to 2012, the number of schools offering Home Ec dropped by 38%.

The reason for this, as NPR explains it, is partly that there are fewer teachers entering the family and consumer science profession. But it’s also because of budget cuts, and the fact that schools are allocating their funds more toward academic coursework and away from “life skills” classes like Home Ec.

Gayla Randal, an educational and program consultant for the Kansas State Department of Education, explained why she thinks Home Ec has dropped out of favor in the United States over the past decade.

“Society couldn’t get over the stereotype of the home economics teacher,” she told NPR. “Anything that wasn’t about a test score was scrutinized,” she added, referencing No Child Left Behind and the rapid increase of standardized tests.

Yet teachers and most parents agree that Home Ec teaches skills that are necessary to be a highly functioning adult. To me, “life skills” should be as much a goal in education as learning algebra. When was the last time you actually used algebra in real life? On the other hand, I’m sure you’ve completed at least one task in your kitchen today.

Clearly, some of our kids aren’t learning this basic stuff from us.

“Sometimes we take for granted that kids know how to wash dishes,” Susan Turgeson, president of the Association of Teacher Educators for family and consumer sciences told NPR. “I never thought I was going to have to explain, step by step, how to put the drain plug in, the amount of soap to be used.”

Ummm, yeah, my son has absolutely no clue what a drain plug is or how to soak a sink of dishes. Sigh.

As a mom raising two boys, I feel like it’s even more pressing that my sons learn these skills. I like that Home Ec is a required, graded class for kids at my son’s school. It underlines the fact that domestic skills are just as important as what he learns in any other class.

I’m sure as heck not raising a man who can’t cook a decent meal, work the stove, or wash the dishes. NOPE.

So, let’s bring back Home Ec. everywhere, please? Thankfully, we are past the stage of believing that only girls need to learn these skills. But if these are skills that everyone should know, well then, teach ‘em to everyone!

Our kids will be better off as students, as adults, as partners, as future parents, and just better overall citizens of the world.

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Instead Of Shutting Your Kid Down, Try The ‘What’s Your Plan?’ Approach

Like many parents, I can see an accident happening several minutes before it actually happens. My daughter is swinging dangerously close to my fresh cup of hot coffee with her blanket cape. My son is riding his bike on the sidewalk but looking up at the sky rather than at the sidewalk in front of him. My daughter is pulling a chair up to the cabinet preparing to climb up, but I can see one of the legs has gone into a crack in the tile, making the chair wobbly. My son is talking and gesticulating wildly at the dinner table, his cup full of milk an inch from the table’s edge.

I know how all these scenarios are going to end. It has even been a running joke in my family that I’ll say, “Watch out, you are about to…” and then the thing I’m about to say will happen happens before I can even get a chance to get all the words out of my mouth. So my kids think I have the ability to predict the future. They take it semi-seriously actually, and will usually stop whatever they’re doing once I express a concern.

But sometimes I wonder if I am too overprotective. I do keep my distance when they’re trying something new, at least, but it’s hard to just sit there and keep my mouth shut when I know someone’s about to get hurt or spill something. But I worry that my intervening might make them dependent upon my foresight rather than their own.

I came across something on Facebook the other day that got me thinking about this again. The suggestion was that, rather than choosing the extreme of either pointing out what’s about to go wrong or zipping your mouth shut and letting the thing happen, you can simply ask, “What’s your plan?”

Love this via The Gentle Mamma

Posted by Wilder Child on Monday, August 26, 2019

It’s kind of perfect. This approach allows parents to bring attention to the fact that perhaps the current trajectory of the situation is not the most desirable one, while giving the child a chance to evaluate the situation for themselves. It might be that they are perfectly in control and can prove as much to you. Or it might be that they really are out of control and need to check themselves, and this gives them that opportunity. Either way, asking a child “What’s your plan?” gives them the chance to exercise their autonomy and try out their planning skills to determine what they should do next.

I can see this working for me in just about all the scenarios I listed above, and then some. With my daughter looking to gain access to a higher cabinet, asking her what her plan is could get her to carefully assess the stability of the chair before climbing on it.

If my son is procrastinating with getting his homework done, I don’t have to nag him and tell him what I think is going to happen (that he won’t finish in time; that he’ll turn it in late; that he’ll get a bad grade). I can simply ask him what his plan is. Because he’s old enough to know the outcome of procrastination — me telling him all the potential outcomes is just nagging. “What’s your plan for homework?” allows him to consider whether he’s willing to risk turning that homework in late without me having to say as much. It puts him in charge of his own destiny.

In this age of helicopter parenting — or worse, lawnmower parenting — asking “What’s your plan?” is the antidote to over-involvement parents need. Although I have to be honest, I may never be able to stop myself from screeching at my kid to get away from my hot coffee — I’ve learned this lesson many times over that if I allow any excited behavior within a 10 foot radius of my coffee, the coffee is definitely going to get spilled. I guess that’s my plan for making sure I don’t end up losing my shit at my kids.

Thomas Barwick/Getty

But I can apply “What’s your plan?” to just about all situations where I think my kids might be heading in a direction where things won’t end well. This gives them a little bit of wiggle room to show me what their plan is. The cool thing is, questioning the plan can go in a positive direction whether your kid has a plan or not. If they really haven’t thought through the potential outcomes of whatever it is they’ve gotten themselves into, now they have been prompted to do that. But, if they have, now you get to hear the creative idea they had all along that you didn’t know about.

And, the likelihood is, just like that post I read on Facebook, our kids will probably surprise us more often than not. Just because they look like they’re doing something foolish, doesn’t mean they are. Or… it doesn’t mean they haven’t considered the potential fallout. Maybe they are perfectly aware of the potential consequences and want to do the foolish thing anyway. Maybe the failure is worth it to them. And maybe sometimes it’s our job as parents to let them learn in their own way, even when we’re sure we already know the outcome.

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My Middle Schooler Is Making My Life A Living Hell

I have two kiddos in high school, so I’m not new to this teenage shit show, but can we talk about how stressful this is? Oh, and newsflash, it doesn’t get easier just because you have been through it before, folks. I hate to deliver bad news, but I like to keep it real. Also, I need to talk to somebody about it. Somebody. ANYBODY.

I had no idea I could be so damn offensive I could be until I had a middle school-aged child. Apparently, everything I do these days is grounds for storming off or telling me how “cringey” I am. (When the fuck did cringey become a word, anyway)?

Courtesy of Katie Smith
 This includes but is not limited to asking him he packed his lunch, wants to go out for ice cream with me, or if he thinks he might want to attend the school dance. 

My middle school student is still holding onto qualities he had when he was three yet feels he’s big enough to be the boss of me. The two don’t really well and he’s making my life really hard. Also, your toddlers tantrums have nothing on a tweenager tantrum. Prepare yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out to friends asking them to bring Advil or wine. It helps.

He’s pretty quiet these days. By that I mean he ignores me at every turn. Except for when he wants to buy something to make his video-game career top notch. Or when he decides to tell me how annoying I am by blasting his favorite song and dancing.

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Apparently, he’s allowed to listen to it so loud the neighbors can hear the beat through his ear buds, but if I turn it on and show him my moves as a way to bond with him, I’m the most annoying creature that’s ever walked the land.

They know me by name at the grocery store because tweens can put away food, let e tell you. My son often resembles an aardvark dining on an ant feast as soon as I walk in with the house with the dozen bags of groceries I bring home every week. However, he likes to point out we never have any food. I’ve reminded him a few times that it’s because he’s eaten it all before it gets put away, but he hasn’t put two and two together yet. 

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He owns about five hoodies that get worn yet never land in laundry to get clean and apparently this is my fault too. Every morning he scurries around looking for a clean one and ignores the pile of dirty sweatshirts collection dust behind his door. 

In order to crack into his life, I have to ask lots of questions, which is a recipe to get blown off big time. But when you are the parent of a child in going through the middle school years, it’s the only way to get any information. Honestly, even then they don’t give up much except for the fact they don’t know anything.   

Me: “Did you have a good day?”

Middle schooler:” I don’t know.”

Me: Do you have homework?” 

Courtesy of Katie Smith

Middle schooler: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Did you turn in your math project we worked on last night that I handed you right before school and reminded you to turn in?”

Middle schooler: “I don’t know.”

Me: “What do you want for dinner?”

Middle schooler: “I don’t know.”

Oh, but he does know this one. As soon as I serve his favorite meal, he let’s me know he doesn’t want to eat “that garbage,” pouts for a while, and then asks if we can get fast food and is always surprised me answer in no. 

And can we talk about what master manipulators middle schoolers think they are? You ask them if their chores are done as they are deep in a screen and they will lie to your face even if you are standing next to the overflowing trash they were supposed to take out. 

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They have no problem telling you they are getting up, or are coming downstairs when they have no intention of doing so. 

As soon as you lay into them about it or take away their prized iPad they flop around, they say they are sorry (in the most smart-ass way possible), and make as many false promises as they can come up with.

Hugging, kissing, encouraging pats, and any other kind of affection (or breathing too close to them), send them running for the hills. Just when I think my son isn’t ever going to peel himself from the sofa, I reach out to rub his head and he practically gives himself whiplash moving out of the way. 

I get that middle school is hard on the kids, but let’s face it. It’s tough on the parents. I vote we start a support group for all of us called, “Let’s get through this middle school shit together.” I’m thinking we should all get matching hoodies too. Who’s in?

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I’m Sick And Tired Of The Screen Time Battle

I don’t want to speak for all parents, but I know with complete certainty that if I took my hand off the wheel, my children would use screens 100% of the time. They wouldn’t get dressed, and they wouldn’t go to school, and they wouldn’t interact with real people. They’d just sit there in front of a glowing tablet, half dressed, eating chips and string cheese, like mindless zombies.

My son is 12, and he’s the worst with this. No doubt about it. He doesn’t have ADHD or any other learning challenges. He is simply borderline addicted to video games and YouTube, like so many 2019 children. He cannot get enough screen time. He asks and asks for screen time to the point that it’s become the refrain of my adult life.

We’ve even turned screen time into currency, and he has to earn hours on devices by finishing his chores and doing homework. And yet, even with a clear path to get screen time, he’s always negotiating for more. I ask him to do something additional to help out the family, and his first response is “how much screen time can I get.”

He isn’t all that interested in money. He doesn’t want to get paid for his labor; he only wants screens. And I’ll be honest, this makes me nervous, because I don’t know what his life is going to look like when I am not there to say, “It’s time to shut that thing down and do something else.”

In a lot of ways it feels like we have the problem handled for now, but after reading a recent article in CNBC by Nir Eyal, author of “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life,” I’m starting to wonder if I should be taking a different approach.

According to Eyal, “[I]n the future, there will be two kinds of people in the world: Those who let their attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others and those who proudly call themselves ‘indistractable.’”

In order to get our children to grow up indistractable, they are going to need to figure out how to manage their own screen time. Sadly, I think this is one of the biggest challenges of raising children right now. (Again it’s important to note that this is in reference to screen time distractions, not diagnosed learning challenges.)

I work at a university, and it is not uncommon for me to see students enter with respectable to outstanding high school GPAs and test scores, only to flunk out within a year because they are so addicted to gaming. I cannot teach a class, or even present in front of a group of students without repeatedly asking them to put their phones away.

Eyal has a number of tips on how to create indistractable children, all of them center on the idea of open conversation with our children, and teaching them how to set their own limits when it comes to online distractions. According to Eyal, “The most important thing is to involve the child in the conversation and help them set their own rules. When parents impose limits without their kids’ input, they are setting them up to be resentful and incentivizing them to cheat the system.”

Cheating the system is exactly what I’m finding with my son. He is always on the lookout for some way to sneak in some additional screen time. But the question is: if I ask my son to set his own limits, would he ask for no limits? Maybe… probably.

According to Eyal, there are two things you need to be open with your children about when it comes to getting them to set their own screen time limitations. The first is to help them understand that people who benefit from online entertainment are interested in keeping you online. That’s their goal because that’s how they make money. Teach your children that although they obviously enjoy being online, they need to recognize that they are falling into an attention trap, and that they need to be smarter than that.

Second, when discussing screen time limitations, be real with them. Discuss how many hours there are in the day. Discuss that time online can take away from the time needed to do well in school, participate in sports, and enjoy the company of friends and family. Treat your child like an adult, lay out all the factors, and allow them to make a rational decision and set their own boundaries based on the information they are presented with.

Then, get into the details with them. Ask how they plan to hold themselves accountable. Are they going to set a timer? At what point are parents going to step in? Will it be when grades begin to slip? Or will it be when they have noticed they have been online for too long?

The most important part is helping your child understand all the factors and what is at stake early on. This in turn gives them the skills they need to hold themselves accountable — and ultimately, God willing — allow them to become indistractable as an adult, when you aren’t around to tell them to “put the screens down.”

After reading all of this, my plan is to try it out with my son. My wife and I are going to sit him down this weekend and discuss all the factors. We are going to give him the option to pick his own screen time limitations based on his own busy schedule. I think he will get it, and I’m hopeful that this will be the first step in helping him become less distractible as an adult.

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My Kids’ Friends Don’t Want To Stay At My House Because I Limit Phone Use

There was a time when my kids had friends spend the night pretty regularly. I liked it because I enjoy having a house full of kids and spoiling them with homemade cookies and boxes of oily pizza. But more than that, I like knowing where my kids are and that they are safe. I just sleep better this way.

The fun times all came to an end as soon as they were old enough to get their hot little hands on cell phones. Instead of shooting hoops, riding their bikes, or wanting to watch a movie, their phones became the object of their affection.

I didn’t fret at first, thinking it would wear off and once again they’d want to come into my kitchen, help themselves to treats and talk to each other in the face.

It didn’t happen though.

The afternoon would slip into night. The sun would go down and instead of getting all riled up like they once would and shout out requests to have a balloon fight in the dark or play flashlight tag, I heard nothing coming from upstairs, because smart phones.

The first time this happened, I wanted to be the cool mom and let my kids stay up late, thinking they’d eventually get tired of their phones and either communicate with each other or fall asleep.

But when I woke up to take my 3 a.m. pee, I could see the light coming from my daughter’s room. I crept down the hall thinking I’d see teenage limbs strewn about, girls fast asleep with empty bags of chips and candy surrounding their hair and feet.

Nope. Instead, I found what appeared to be three 12- and 13-year-old zombies staring at their screens. I took the phones away and told them they could have them in the morning.

I laid awake until the sun came up fearing the backlash I was going to get from other parents about how irresponsible I was, and how tired and bratty their child had been after they picked them up from my house.

The next day, I decided to beat myself at the guilt game and I confessed to all the parents. No one seemed too concerned about it. I told them I’d take their phones at a decent hour from now on and felt like I was mom of the year.

Only I wasn’t. Not even a little.

Turns out, I had embarrassed my daughter big time. I was the only mother in the history of mothers who had ever dared to pull such a vicious stunt.

Eventually, she got over it and the next time a friend spent the night, I informed her mom I’d be taking her daughter’s phone away at 9 p.m. (along with my daughter’s phone) and putting it on the kitchen island in case of an emergency. “I just don’t like them having access to their phones all night doing who knows what,” I said.

She agreed, thanked me, and said she did the same. She already had my number and I told her if she needed anything she could text me and I’d be available, or could give her daughter her phone back so they could talk.

I was very clear I wasn’t doing this to get off on some power trip — I do realize the phone is not mine. But, experience taught me the girls weren’t able to have self-control, nor were they interacting with each other. I wanted to do something about it.

When the clock struck 9:00, I took the phones. I slept well knowing they were talking and giggling and eating the chocolate chip cookies I made instead of watching YouTube videos, or sending shit into SnapChat-land, or doing other things I don’t want to think about. Not much good happens after midnight, let’s be honest.

Unfortunately, word has made its way around the school that I am the Dragon Lady who is so damn strict I make Cinderella’s stepmother look like Glinda The Good Witch.

No one wants to spend the night here anymore because I suck. Also, I’m pretty sure they say my cookies are bad which is total bullshit, but I get it. You need to go for the drama so, throwing that in is a nice touch. They want to make me seem especially repulsive and that is okay with me.

What I’m not okay with is letting teenagers stay up all night behind closed doors on their phones. I wish they had the capability to put the damn things down but at 13, they don’t.

Maybe some parents disagree with me, but it doesn’t matter because I agree with me and I’m the boss in my house.

No, I will not hold onto this rule forever. In a few years, it will feel okay to let 16-year-olds stay up all night staring at their screens. By then, I’ll be too tired to care. For now, I need to follow my gut on this one (no matter how over protective it seems to the kids), and take the damn phone at 9:00.

I’m not too worried about it though. I believe in my cookies and I’m pretty convinced they are so good, those same kids will be coming back to spend the night before too much time passes. Screens or not, you can’t deny the power of a perfectly made chocolate chip cookie.

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We Need To Stop Telling Our Kids What To Think

I try not to teach my kids too much.

Perhaps I should clarify: I try really hard to teach my kids, not what to think, but how to think. I want my kids to leave my home as young adults possessing the tools to acquire knowledge and analyze data and come up with creative solutions to unique problems on their own. I don’t want to eject a carbon copy of myself and my belief systems out onto the world.

It grates on me when I hear a kid proudly parroting their parents’ beliefs, clearly demonstrating that those beliefs have been rammed down their throats since before they were able to regurgitate what they’ve been told. Whether it’s religion or politics or arbitrary social norms, it makes me cringe to see a kid repeating their parents’ mantras like a tiny robot clone.

Even if it means they end up disagreeing with me on topics I consider important, I don’t want this for my kids.

This is tough with foundational belief systems like religion that, beyond being a guide for behavior and morality, are also woven into the fabric of one’s culture. I was raised up in the Southern Baptist church, and my kids’ father was raised and still practices Catholicism. Catholicism isn’t just a religion for my kids’ father — it’s literally a part of his culture. Family gatherings are planned around the liturgical calendar.

Our kids have attended Mass on and off since they were babies and both have received their first communion. They believe in God and Jesus. But they also know that only 31% of the world is Christian. That means the vast majority of people on this earth are not Christian and do not share their beliefs. In fact, the third largest group represented when it comes to faith are those with no religious affiliation at all. My kids know this, but a lot of kids raised in various religions assume everyone shares their beliefs because no one has ever thought to tell them otherwise (or they did think about it but intentionally opted not to). I was one of those kids. The first time someone confidently told me they were an atheist, my head about damn near exploded. I had no idea.

Flora Westbrook/Pexels

So, although my kids are exposed to and practice Christianity, I won’t shove dogma down their throats and demand they acknowledge Christianity as the only possible truth. It is arrogant, in my view, to be a part of a 31% minority and to claim, essentially, that the entire rest of the world is wrong. I recognize that acknowledging the potential for another truth conflicts with the very idea of faith, but this conundrum is exactly why I’d rather give my kids the tools to evaluate different belief systems for themselves. I won’t paint them into hypocrisy by commanding them to believe a certain thing. I’d rather they learn about different religions and spiritual philosophies and think about why people are religious and how they got that way. Then, based on the information they’ve collected, they can decide for themselves what to think.

Granted, part of teaching my kids how to think means teaching them to question whether a belief system or “difference of opinion” infringes or aims to infringe on someone’s basic human rights or labels any person as unworthy or inferior. I know plenty of Christians who, for example, are working hard from within the church to change the church’s bigoted stance on the LGBTQIA+ community.

Same goes for political ideologies. I will tell my kids what I believe and why I believe it, but I will also share with them views that are in opposition to mine. Why do so many people disagree with me? What led them to think this way? Was it their environment? Their education? Their belief systems? Greed? Bigotry? Could it be possible they actually believe their particular set of values (which may be in opposition to my own) truly are what’s best for society as a whole? And why might they believe that?

I try to share knowledge with my kids in a way that allows them to arrive at a conclusion as a result of their own thinking. I can tell them it is important to be kind, but why? I ask them why kindness matters and encourage them to think about what a world without kindness would look like. I ask them how they feel when they do something kind for someone else or when someone else does something kind for them.

I also admit when I’m not as informed as I’d like to be on a certain topic. I don’t want to present myself to my children as someone who has all the answers because then they may arrive at adulthood expecting to know all the answers, and won’t it be a rude awakening to them to realize that’s not how any of this works. And guess what — mom might be dead wrong about some things. That’s okay, because admitting you’re wrong and committing to learning and doing better is one of the richest gifts you can give yourself in life.

Lenin Estrada/Pexels

I want my kids to question sources and factor in bias. I tell them to question and doubt anyone who acts like they have all the answers. I tell them almost nothing is black and white, there is rarely a definitive answer. In a world where too many people “inform” themselves via inflammatory headlines without even clicking the link, I want my kids to explore nuance. To understand the difference between statistics and anecdotal evidence. To understand that sometimes humanity trumps numbers.

Sure, it’s cool to see your kid parrot you or do something just the way you taught them; but it’s infinitely cooler to hear an original, insightful argument come out of your kid’s mouth as a result of their own careful thought and research. Even if the end result is that you disagree.

The post We Need To Stop Telling Our Kids What To Think appeared first on Scary Mommy.

Parents Are Using Fake Social Media Accounts To Monitor Their Kids

I lived with my grandmother during high school, and when I was 16 I had a girlfriend that grandma hated. She only let me go out with her once a week, and she didn’t like me talking to her on the phone. Sometimes I could actually hear her breathing on the other end of the line because she was trying to listen to our conversation by picking up the phone in her bedroom. To keep our conversation private, I actually drilled a hole in my bedroom closet and ran a secret phone line. I’d then hide in there and talk to my girlfriend.

Looking back, this was probably the ’90s equivalent of a “Finsta” or “Sinsta.” For those of you unfamiliar with those terms, let me fill you in. “Finstas” and “Sinstas” are fake social media accounts that teenagers create so they can keep their online interactions secret and away from their parents.

Who knows how long teens have been using secret accounts to stay away from their parents, but I assume the practice happened shortly after social media was invented. But there is a new twist on that practice: parents creating secret accounts to monitor their children.

I know. I know. All of this feels like some sort of a cloak and dagger operation where no one is who they appear, everyone is spying on someone, and who really knows what government we are all affiliated with. Is your teen a spy or a double spy, and are parents actually working for Russia?

I can’t answer those questions, but during a recent interview with former New York Yankees short stop Alex Rodriguez, he let it slip that he uses a “burner” Instagram account to keep an eye on his daughters. While interviewed on the podcast, he mentioned that his daughters wouldn’t let him follow them or see what they post, so this is his work around.

Well since this story ended up being discussed on mainstream media, I’m pretty sure the cat’s out of the bag and his daughters have brought this up with him at the dinner table. But outside of Alex Rodriguez’s home life, his confession to using a fake Instagram account does raise some interesting questions, such as, how many parents are actually doing this?

Naturally, it’s difficult to tell. I can speak for myself and say that I don’t. But at the same time, my oldest is 12 and we haven’t allowed him to get on social media yet. Or at least, that’s what we are telling him. I suppose, he could have a Finsta I don’t know about. But on the whole, he’s a pretty honest kid, so I’m optimistic.

I did, however, ask the question on my blog Facebook page and received hundreds of comments. Many parents said they refused because they respect their child’s privacy. A number of parents clearly had never heard of this practice, but are now convinced it’s the best idea since email. A number of folks said they’d only do it if they suspected their child was doing something dangerous or illegal. In the case of my grandmother listening in on my phone calls, she had the same fears. And you know what, they were valid. I was into some things I really shouldn’t have been.

One mother had this to say about why she has a fake social media account to monitor her children, and I do admit, looking back on my own teen years, I can’t help but feel she has some good points: “Yes. Because I remember being a teen and I made major decisions that I now wish my parents would have caught me and stopped me. I also know a few addicts who also wish their parents would have been more up their booty. Our job isn’t to make our kids happy all the time. Sometimes, we have to piss them off.”

On the whole though, according to this small sampling, it seems lots of parents wouldn’t monitor their children with a fake account. What they do, however, is regularly search their child’s phone. Some said they did it nightly. They insist on passwords to all social media accounts.

One mother even said: “If I want to see her social media I get on her phone and look at it. No need to sneak around.”

Many parents clearly have strict rules around social media, including setting accounts to private (particularly platforms like Instagram and Twitter), and not accepting friend request from people they don’t know IRL. And all of them seem to do it for the same reasons parents have been searching their children’s bedrooms since the dawn of time. To keep them safe.

But naturally, this is a new and ever-changing landscape, and so much of it all comes down to trust. The hope is that your children trust you enough, and that you trust them. When that trust is broken, it can all come out sideways, hurting relationships, and causing parents and children to drift apart.

So my friends, if you are going to monitor your child’s online activity with a burner account, tread lightly.

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My Husband And I Keep Arguing About When To Get Our Daughter A Phone

At one point during my 11-year-old daughter’s recent slumber party, my husband Joe and I made the rounds in our sleeping bag-strewn living room — at a pre-designated “electronics curfew” time — and collected our young guests’ tablets and phones, telling them we’d give the devices back in the morning.

Why? Because before we’d collected them, the girls had been physically in the room together, but all their eyes had been glued to individual screens.

The scene freaked me out. It looked more like a bunch of laptop-focused adults at a Starbucks than a hyped-up group of fifth grade girlfriends.

Cristina Zaragoza/Unsplash

And although my husband and I didn’t really talk about this sleepover scene until later, I could feel the buzzing undercurrent of our longstanding argument: at what age should our daughter get her own phone?

Joe’s pretty ready to hand one over in the near future, but I’m thinking high school at the earliest — and we’re kind of stuck in this impasse.

I mean, we were on the same page about getting the girls to engage with each other face-to-face at the sleepover. But I also knew that Joe probably thought that Lily, our daughter, must feel left out because she didn’t have her own device, while I thought, “Thank God, we haven’t given in yet to the peer pressure.”

And resistance is only getting harder. The parenting landscape, in regard to tech, is changing fast, so that while only a couple of the 10-year-old attendees to last year’s slumber party had a phone or tablet, all eight 11-year-olds at this year’s celebration came bearing at least one device (if not more).

Plus, the average age for when a kid gets a phone in America these days is ten, while less than a decade ago, it was more like twelve or thirteen, according to the Pew Research Center.

“This is the world we live in now,” Joe will say when we’re preparing dinner together, or out for a weekend run. (Lily, of course, had begged us to buy her a phone this year as a birthday present.) “This is how Lily’s friends communicate with each other. We can’t change that.”

“I know,” I say. “But she doesn’t need to have her own phone. She’s 11, for God’s sake. We got by just fine without them when we were her age.”

Joe will then try to reason with me, in his uber-rational attorney way, that times have changed.

“Plus, Lily’s getting older, and there will be times when she needs to reach us,” he says.

“When? When will we be away from her that long, in a situation where she couldn’t ask to borrow a friend’s phone, or an adult’s?” I say, before blurting out, “Let’s not talk about this right now.”

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This is pretty much how I always cut off the argument and kick it squarely down the road. (It’s interesting to me that I, a highly conflict-averse person, fell in love with and eventually married a man who argues not just for a living, but for fun.)

Yet when we have this conversation, I inevitably question myself and my judgment, because Joe – a smart, thoughtful man with whom I more often than not concur when it comes to parenting choices – disagrees with me so profoundly.

Then again, I tell myself, on this specific topic, I just might be more informed.

I’m the one frantically reading Atlantic articles like “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” – which explores how rates of depression among teens skyrocketed in tandem with this demographic’s heavy smartphone use – and books like Maryanne Wolf’s “Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World,” and Catherine Price’s “How to Break Up with Your Phone.”

Why? Because when I noticed my own waning ability to sustain focus while reading or writing (or even watching a movie) – despite my lifelong passion for these pursuits – I grew anxious about how digital devices will inevitably impact my young, still-developing children, too.

Plus, research has shown that times of sustained focus, whether it involves face-to-face connection or reading, are among the things that provide the most contentment in our lives. But if we’re collectively losing our ability to regularly achieve that kind of joy, what will our lives look like?

These are the things I obsess about while lying awake at night.

Joe, meanwhile, shares none of my neuroses regarding this topic; and when I voice my worries, he shrugs with zen-like resignation, like he’s watching me frantically stacking sandbags in the face of a Freedom Tower-sized tsunami.

“Didn’t you ever not have something that your friends had when you were a kid?” he asks me. “Don’t you remember how that feels?”

“Yes,” I say. “But it didn’t feel like there was so much was at stake when I wanted Jordache jeans. It didn’t feel like my mental health and intellectual capacity were hanging in the balance.”

“We can’t keep Lily in bubble wrap,” Joe tells me.

And that’s the problem. As a parent, the world as it appears through the lens of the internet terrifies me, and I hate the idea of placing my daughter in that realm before I feel like she’s ready and mature enough to handle all that comes with it.

Because this irresistibly seductive window to “virtual connection” and casual engagement is also inevitably a window to hate, and online bullying, and eating disorders, and every other awful thing out there. The more compulsively addicted we become, the more our online lives tend to overshadow our IRL experiences.

Which is too bad, because my family happens to be really lucky. We live in a small town, where our neighbors look out for (and regularly chat with) our daughters. We often walk downtown together to go to the bakery, or the second-run movie theater, or a restaurant, or the farmer’s market; and we always run into more people we know, out walking their dog or just enjoying (or complaining about) the weather.

I want my kids to see and truly appreciate the open-hearted micro-world around them — and let that be their foundation — before they stumble into the virtual world’s toxic alleyways.

Because if I, as a 48-year-old woman struggling to cut back on my own reflexive phone use, have so much trouble psychically processing what’s on my screen, how on earth can I expect my 11-year-old to do so and still retain any sense of hope?

I can’t – which is precisely why I keep arguing to keep a phone out of my preteen daughter’s hands for as long as possible.

I know I’ll be having this same conversation with Joe again later this year, as Hanukkah and Christmas approach. And he and I will likely explore compromises, like getting Lily a flip phone she can use to call or text only.

But for the time being, I’ve sidestepped this issue by letting Lily, for her birthday, get her ears pierced.

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A Twitter Thread Shows How Teens Are Unknowingly Being Manipulated On Social Media

There’s a reason we are terrified of our kids going to middle school. That’s when it all changes, doesn’t it? Suddenly our babies who were just watching Paw Patrol like five seconds ago are learning things—things that make our ears bleed when we imagine them inside our sweet innocent children’s brains. They’re learning about sex (beyond the “talk” Mom and Dad gave them at nine). They’re tempted to try new things—”cool” things like vaping and drinking and making out on the bridge after school. (Is there a bridge by you? There’s always a bridge or path in the woods or spot under the bleachers where kids make out and do shit they aren’t supposed to, isn’t there?)

We are helpless as we approach this cliff of adolescence. We have to let our kids fall off into the abyss of new knowledge and new temptations and peer pressures that middle school will inevitably throw at our kids.

But today’s kids face far more than classmates egging them on to kiss a boy on a bridge or try a puff of this or a swig of that. Today’s tweens and teens are also navigating social media. And through Twitter, or Instagram, or Snapchat, or whatever else pops up next, they are inundated with information—good and bad—that floods their still developing, still impressionable brains.

And, as one mom recently found out, one of those things is the ugly, racist underbelly of America.

In a now viral Twitter thread, Joanna Schroeder (@iproposethis) provides a much-needed wake-up call to parents—especially parents of white teenage boys.

Schroeder then goes on to say, “Social media and vloggers are actively laying groundwork in white teens to turn them into alt-right/white supremacists. It’s a system I believe is purposefully created to disillusion white boys away from progressive/liberal perspectives.”

And that should be alarming to all of us.

Just like anyone who preys up young kids too naive to know better, racists and white supremacists, according to Schroeder, are trying to influence our kids early and groom them. Only it’s 2019, so they’re doing it through social media.

“First, the boys are inundated by memes featuring subtly racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic jokes. Being kids, they don’t see the nuance & repeat/share,” Schroeder explains.

Then what do you think happens to the 12-year old who shared or retweeted something he thought was funny and not offensive (because he’s 12 and still learning)? He’ll be attacked, ridiculed, and blasted online as a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, or a bigot. And then he’ll have to choose what to do with that shame and embarrassment—apologize and right his wrong, or listen to the voices saying, “The world is too sensitive!” and “People get offended by everything these days” and “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

If that boy follows route #2, (which many do) and believes the voices telling him that he’s being unfairly punished because “it was just a joke,” he’s already made it through the first phase of training. Now he’ll get angry for being in trouble, and those who spread racist, sexist, and offensive “jokes” are his new online friends. Because they’ve got his back.

And that’s how a new white supremacist is born. That’s how the seeds of anger are planted. Seeds of anger at: “Women, feminists, liberals, people of color, gay folks, etc etc. So-called snowflakes,” Schroeder explains in her Twitter thread. “And nobody is there to dismantle the ‘snowflake’ fallacy. These boys are being set up—they’re placed like baseballs on a tee and hit right out of the park.”

It’s not like it was generations ago, parents. Grooming young minds to believe in bigotry used to take more time. It relied on exposure via newspapers and word of mouth. It took years of brainwashing. Not anymore. The process is quicker now. And easier. All thanks to the internet and social media. And the fact that our kids are accessing all of it at younger and younger ages.

So what can we do? “Stalk their social media,” Schroeder says. Look for red flags—like if your son says the word “triggered” in response to a sensitive topic. Someone has already planted that in his mind—that a topic that’s offensive to some is really “just a joke” in today’s politically correct climate.

Schroeder also implores us, as parents, to take several more necessary steps. We need to explain how propaganda works—by making “extreme points of view seem normal by small amounts of exposure over time—all for the purpose of converting people to more extremist points of view.”

We need to ensure our kids know that they are being used as pawns, and that it’s up to them whether they’ll be played the fool or not.

And we need to change the narrative on that whole “snowflake” thing. Is a “snowflake” someone who “gets offended by racism/sexism and actively wants to help end bigotry?” Well, then it’s time to teach to our kids to be proud snowflakes, isn’t it?

She adds that we should also talk to our kids about comedy, since the continuous argument we hear is “You can’t make jokes anymore!” because “Everyone’s always offended!” Schroeder says we need to “show them that progressive comedy isn’t about being ‘politically correct’ or safe. It’s often about exposing oppressive systems—which is the furthest thing from ‘safe’ or delicate as you can get.” She suggests exposing our kids to the witty and poignant humor of comedians like John Oliver, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert and talk about what they’re trying to achieve with their jokes.

This is scary shit, folks. Our kids are seeing these messages at younger ages than ever before—well before they’ve had time in their lives to truly figure out what bigotry really is. And if we don’t intervene, they’ll be influenced by the wrong ideologies and could possibly share such tweets and posts themselves without knowing that once they hit “like” or “share,” the damage is done.

It’s a whole new world for 21st century parents and their kids—for better or worse. We can’t simply ignore the social media world our kids are exposed to. It’s our job to protect our kids from the ugliness that’s out there, and to ensure that they don’t become part of the ugliness themselves.

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