7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Put a Mobile Spy on Your Kid’s Cell Phone

Before you fall for a company’s “You MUST monitor your child’s cell phone” scare tactic, consider these things.

You can find an app for pretty much anything these days, and there’s definitely no shortage of options when it comes to cell phone surveillance. Whether you want to call it mobile spy, spyware, surveillance, or mobile monitoring, there are plenty of companies out there that will sell you their software, claiming to “keep your child safe” or assuring you that it’s “for their own good.”
Now the question “Should kids have cell phones?” is a whole other article. The truth of the matter is they have them. The Center on Media and Child Health shows that 22 percent of kids ages six to nine have cell phones. As they get older, the numbers rise – 60 percent of kids ages 10 to 14 and 84 percent of kids ages 15 to 18.
If you’ve read your child’s text messages, you’re not alone. According to the Pew Research Center, about 50 percent of parents have admitted to doing so. Far fewer have used an actual spy tool, but more than 60 percent say they monitor websites their teen’s visit and check their social media profiles. (Let’s be honest – this is probably the biggest reasons parents have Snapchat.)
I have friends that fall on both sides of the question “Should you monitor your child’s cell phone?” For some, it’s a given – they see having a cell phone as a privilege that they pay for, so they make their child hand it over every night for review. For others, they wouldn’t dream of opening up their kid’s phone unannounced because they remember what it was like to have their privacy disturbed as a teen.
While this is a very personal choice – whether or not to use a mobile spy – I’d challenge you to ask yourself a few questions before you say yes:

1 | Do you suspect they’re up to no good?

Is your child suddenly being dodgy or secretive? Did they go from being on their phone sometimes to constantly checking it, and going out of their way to keep you from seeing the screen?
Before you get too concerned, think about it logically. Perhaps they have new crush or friend. Maybe they are at a really high level in the latest app game craze, and they can’t get enough. Before you assume the worst, think about other scenarios.
And finally, just ask them. You have this right as a parent, even if they do try to roll their eyes and shut down.

2 | Are you worried they are in danger?

This is one you don’t want to overlook. If you truly suspect that your child is in danger, then it’s time to have a real heart-to-heart conversation with them.
Better yet, make sure to have these tough conversations with your child before you suspect anything. Sure, it’s awkward to talk to your kid about child predators that pose as teenage girls and people in other countries trying to dig up security details. However, it’s a lot better that they know about these things. This way when that little alarm goes off in the back of their head, they’re comfortable enough to come and talk to you first.

3 | Do they already have a poor track record?

This is where the privilege part truly comes into play. If your child has been caught sending inappropriate messages, photos, or going on websites they shouldn’t, then it’s your job to stop the behavior. This is a case where having random cell phone checks could be in your best interest until they earn back trust.
Remember, they’re not going to like it. They’re probably even going to despise you for it, but stay strong!

4 | Is it actually for your own curiosity?

Be honest – do you just want to know if Sabrina is dating Jake or if Tristan broke up with Megan (yet again)?
If you find yourself getting sucked into tween and teen gossip, then you need to have a little chat with yourself and find a way out. This also goes for constantly monitoring what they do. Sure, you can watch on the sidelines as a silent observer and occasional commentator, but don’t be the first person that always “likes” what they post or comments on their status.

5 | Are you just bored?

If you said yes to the above, then this one might be true as well. Maybe you just have a habit of checking your phone – most of us check our phones 85 times a day! If this is the case, try to break this habit. Everyone talks about kids have a problem and addiction with technology, but adults are just as bad – or worse.
Let your mind get lost in something else. It’s good for the brain.

6 | Do you want to lose their trust?

Before you use a mobile spy, this is a really good question to ask yourself because you will lose your child’s trust. Some parents might say that you should be your child’s parent and not their friend, and I agree. But trust is a two-way street. If you absolutely need to monitor your child’s activity, just know that this could affect that.

7 | Are you just doing this because other parents are?

Have other parents convinced you that this is the thing to do? Before you buy into someone else’s parenting method, step back and think of your own. If you have a trustworthy kid that has never given you any reason to question them, then maybe it’s good to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Technology is a wonderful, crazy, and sometimes scary thing. And it’s undoubtedly going to change and evolve faster than we can imagine. Before you fall for a company’s “You MUST monitor your child’s cell phone” scare tactic, try having a conversation with your child first. There are so many things you can do before taking it to that level. After all, even though “there’s an app for that,” it doesn’t mean you have to use it.

On Growth and Earthworms

This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!
From day one our children are measured. We know their heights, weights, and head circumferences, for that matter. At each check-up these measurements are again taken. With data in hand we can look back at their first several years and marvel at the incredibly fast rate of physical development. But it doesn’t stop there. Emotional, social, and intellectual milestones are also marked. Many are the ways with which to measure these factors. Each recording has its part. I’m not suggesting that numbers, data, or even test scores should be the focus – far from it. Collectively, however, these numbers help to tell a story.
I look at my now teenage daughters who are no longer growing in height and realize that they are still growing … in much more broad and significant matters. It’s amazing to watch their personalities develop and individual lives unfold. I awe also, even worry, at how important numbers are to them. These seemingly innocuous digits have been a driving force, for better or worse, for my girls that have helped them to strive for more and to achieve. The oldest was just named Science Sterling Scholar in her senior class. Another participates in a math and science organization that designs robots to competitively complete assigned tasks. Still yet, the other pushes herself harder and faster in distance running. All three excel in math and are enrolled in engineering courses. Interesting, isn’t it, that each of these activities and accomplishments are heavily laden in numbers. I watch my girls and wonder how it is that numbers have become so important to them and chuckle as I realize they always have been. They naturally were drawn to the allure of new information and their teachers and I complied in providing them with more. Society as a whole, I think, has the tendency to get caught up in numbers.
One rainy day my husband was painting our home’s interior. The children were all young, perhaps ranging in ages from three to six years old. To keep them out of Dad’s way I bundled them up and we headed outdoors. The girls lined up, like ducklings behind me, all dressed in satiny pink coats. Toes were covered in vividly colored plastic galoshes. We splashed and sloshed our way down the road. I took along with us a clipboard, paper, pencil, and ruler. We searched everywhere for earthworms of all sizes. So heavy was the rain and prolific were the worms that the girls screeched in delight as we encountered one worm after the other. From underneath bright yellow umbrellas the girls carefully measured each worm’s length then let them free. I dutifully recorded the lengths shouted out to me. We graphed the data and found the median length. They were delighted to share the results with Dad who was also astonished at the incredible lengths some of the worms had grown to.
It was a glorious time of counting, adventure, and discovery. The numbers that rainy day tell a story. But we mustn’t remain focused solely on the data. There’s more story there than mere numbers can reveal. The girls intellects grew, their interests broadened, and memories were made. We, quite simply put, bonded that day and grew in ways immeasurable. This experience was but one of many stepping stones that helped my girls become who they now are. And while recording their growth is still of interest to me, numbers and all, I much rather enjoy their company and spending with them quality time. My wish is that we all will find opportunities to grow together in good health and love.

Does Being a Twin Impact Your Future Relationships?

Twins are born into the world with a cosmic connection to another person. What does that mean for everyone else that comes into their lives?

So, the twin thing really is a thing. It starts in the womb. When I first found out I was having twins, I felt them ganging up almost immediately. They kicked and slept and hiccupped in tandem. When they made their debut, I am fairly sure they negotiated a crying cycle that shouldered out even a minute of silence.
I gave thanks that they were not identical, that I had a boy and a girl to create some separation, some individuality in the twin world. We did not name them cutesy twin names, no Aiden and Adelaide, no Mason and Madison. Anything to prevent them from turning into Disney characters.
And they do have their own proclivities. We’ve got a lefty and a righty. A builder of blocks and an artist. A perfectionist and a tornado. Perhaps because of these differences and the fact that they have had to live together for each of the 24 hours of every day since conception, they can both initiate and negotiate conflict better than most.
After all, they have no choice.
Patricia Malmstrom, in her book, “The Art of Parenting Twins”, writes, “They fight, but they love each other. They know that they have to live together.” It’s the greatest truth my twins have had to learn – that they can’t escape the relationship.
You would think this would be a good thing, this early prescience about the nature of successful relationships, and it would be…if everyone else in the world was a twin. But how many of us have dated someone with the emotional intelligence of an amoeba and wondered how we were ever going to reach a level of equanimity? To be more aware than your partner of the long-term consequences of your actions and of your own psyche is not an advantage. It takes two to keep that relationship rolling.
Twins have to fight for autonomy from the very beginning. They are forever proving that they are separate, capable entities. Most of us do not have to figure out how to assert our own independence until later in life, when we are knee-deep in a relationship that encroaches on our previously free-wheeling self. It is a tricky thing that takes practice – something twins have had a great deal of.
Imagine, if you will, your most unbalanced relationship, when you felt like you were unknown and unknowable to your partner, always pushing at the edges of understanding and ultimately feeling alone.
Now imagine having someone in your life who has always been intimately in tune with your wants and needs and emotional fluctuations. They might be your polar opposite, they might make you crazy, but they have always been able to read the seismographic printout of you – because they are your twin. That knowledge hovers between you and every relationship…that out in the world, there is someone who knows without even having to try.
It seems like a cosmic set up for relationship trauma.
But there is also potential for greatness. One study on the twin relationship found that “individuation and connectedness may complement rather than compete with one another.”
Twins have the potential to find even more success in romantic relationships because of all the hours clocked practicing empathy and the emotional give-and-take necessary for effective communication. All that time spent in conflict and negotiation might finally pay off.
So, despite the lifelong connection, the genetic chain that links them to one another, twins can use that emotional intelligence to their advantage later in life. There need not be a line in the sand that separates them from the rest of the world.
Or at least that’s what I hope as I overhear my twins talking in their own secret twin code, plotting to overthrow the family and then the world.

The F Word: a Discussion on the Power of Language With My 9-Year-Old

The consequence for the use of this language will depend upon the context, the cultural norms, and, let’s face it, the potential for parental embarrassment.

WARNING: the following essay contains graphic and explicit language as used graphically and explicitly by children.
When I was nine, I swore like a sailor. I had never actually met a sailor at that stage of my life, and to this day, I think a better simile might be: to swear like a nine-year-old. I had forgotten about this stage in my own linguistic development until I was reminded by my son just how foul mouthed a young lad can be.
The moment has already become canonized in family lore, sure to be remembered and retold for decades. Indeed, I already can’t wait for the opportunity to tell his own children someday around the Thanksgiving table – should he choose to go down that path.
As it was, the day was beautiful. My wife’s brother, sister, and mom had come up to visit us at our new home. It was peak foliage season, a little later than usual, and warm for an October day. We had decided to take a family walk, exploring some land with which I had recently become familiar.
I love my in-laws. They are real down-to-earth types, not a lot of hang-ups or stress about many things. My wife is the youngest of six, and therefore my three boys are the youngest of the 13 grandkids on that side of the family. There are some similarities in that diverse group of kids, but there are many more differences.
My kids are Vermonters. We come from the wild northern woods, and my boys are definitely more feral than their Connecticut and Virginia relatives. Their hair is longer, their dress less curated, but they are polite, well-mannered boys…well, most of the time.
Aunt Cynthia, Uncle Robert, Granny, my wife, my three boys, and I all set out for a walk in the woods. After politely enduring the usual gamut of questions about school and sports and etcetera, the two older boys, 15 and 13, ran up ahead, trailed by their nine-year-old brother, who, we joke, is a 16-year-old stuck in a nine-year-old’s body. It is not surprising, considering his role models, that his self expression is considerably influenced by these two.
As we walked, we adults discussed the things that adults discuss. Occasionally, we’d consider whether to turn back and head home or keep going, and, enjoying the day, we opted to keep going.
It wasn’t long before the two older boys abandoned us entirely and found their way back home on their own. The younger one, unfortunately for him, was stuck with the grown-ups. He asked time and again to turn around, each time a little more imploring than the last, and each time, he was met with a “not yet.”
After many twists and turns in the path and a good 20 minutes after my exasperated son had determined that this walk was way too long with no end in sight, he asked one last time, “Can we go back NOW?!!!”
“Just a little farther,” I said, enjoying the weather and the conversation with my mother-in-law.
“OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!”
Now, here is where you get into murky territory as a parent. Some parents, no doubt, would be mortified. An entire array of responses might have been appropriate, falling somewhere on the spectrum between spanking/scolding/grounding all the way through to ignoring/doing nothing.
In our case, all five of us burst out laughing.
Then, a really good conversation with my in-laws ensued about the range of possible responses. The outburst itself was treated as insignificant. His mother and I have no illusions about where he might have heard this particular phrase, so rather than indulge in the hypocrisy of pretending to be offended for the sake of our in-laws, we acknowledged his frustration, turned around, and started the walk home through the woods.
Most of us remember the scene in the movie “A Christmas Story” when Ralphie loses the lug nuts to the car and exclaims, “Oh Fudge… Although, I didn’t say fudge.” The movie mom washes his mouth out with soap, and we find humor in his musings on whether he prefers the flavor of Ivory or Life Buoy soap. Even at the time the movie was made, this was a cultural commentary on a time of the past. Today, a parent might be arrested for abuse by forcing a child to ingest a potentially toxic substance.
The consequence for the use of this language will depend upon the context, the cultural norms, and, let’s face it, the potential for parental embarrassment. I am a writer, a former English teacher, and a lifelong lover of language. I am a regular user of – as we refer to it in my house – “the Fuck word.” I love that certain words have the power to shock. And that, to me, is the lesson: Language is powerful.
Words have meaning(s), and the meaning of words can change according to their context. This understanding is subtle and nuanced and also vital for a young person to learn. The problem with being nine is that there aren’t really many contexts in which the word ‘fuck’ is a viable choice. Thus the conundrum of many nine-year-olds: How does one learn to employ this ubiquitous gem of a word without getting into trouble?
A belated side note: I assume that no nine-year-olds will read this article in a magazine directed at parents, so I will avoid using euphemisms, like “The ‘F’ word” or an obscurative version of the word like F#%@ (except in the title because the bots don’t like it). When have you ever read those symbols and not automatically supplied the missing letters? If you say it in your head, why sanitize it?
And that, my friends, is precisely the point. Why sanitize it? Aren’t we learning all the time that overly sanitized things are actually creating problems for us? The parent who picks up the dropped pacifier, pops it in her mouth to clean it off, and gives it back to the baby is doing her child a great service, much more so than the parent who disinfects it or throws it away. The germs she shares are a kind of ‘culture’ that provides an inoculation against infectious agents.
Language is the same way. Ideas can be harmful, and words can infect our thinking. If everything we allow our children to be exposed to is sanitized to the point of being devoid of culture, then we are setting them up to be very confused people when the world eventually comes crashing in.
Better, in my thinking, to be upfront, not only with the words and their meanings, but with contextual information on when and where and with whom certain things are appropriate to say. It is better that children exercise their curiosity, ask questions about, and experiment with words and ideas in the context of their family where they know they won’t get “in trouble.”
Should some things not be said? Of course. Yet things are said all the time that are better left unsaid. If you’re not afraid to sit down with your child and discuss the context, the power of the words, and why something might be better to not say, then that child is bound to cross invisible cultural boundaries without realizing it. He will find himself hurting others or embarrassing himself as he muddles his way through the complexities of what is okay to say, when to say it, and to whom.
The best reason I have been given to choose not to say something is this: Something, once said, can never be unsaid.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is from the Upanishads, in the final part of the Vedas, Hinduism’s oldest scriptures composed between 1500 and 1000 BCE (that’s a long time ago): Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your character. Your character becomes your destiny.
What’s the lesson here? You don’t have to believe what you think – now literally a bumper sticker (at least here in Vermont). Be careful what thoughts you attach to. Somewhere between thought and action lies a vast reservoir of power called language. Learning how to use it, and when not to, is a vital life skill. It’s important for parents to embrace the teaching of this skill the same way we teach our kids about cleaning and dressing our bodies, or how to cross a road. I don’t think it’s something to be squeamish about.
Back to our walk in the woods. Once we had turned around and started heading home, my son became more animated, less anxious, even cheerful. The adults discussed the use of choice language openly and without judgment.
He and I have talked about how he shouldn’t use that word at school or outside of the family context, and he has full knowledge of what it means, in its many iterations – although he hasn’t inquired further about what sex is. That conversation still lies in our future.
My son’s most pertinent question, so far: Why is it appropriate for adults to use this language while kids can’t, and how come his brothers, who are not that much older than he is, get to be considered adults in regard to that kind of language? The best answer I have for him is that maybe it isn’t appropriate for adults to use it either. Another answer may be that sometimes it’s okay to be a little inappropriate.
Ultimately, it comes down to being responsible for the consequences of saying things that can’t be unsaid – my consequence being that I have to sit down and try to explain to a nine-year-old the Operator’s Manual for “the Fuck word.”
Man, I need to watch my language.

9 Ways to Breathe New Life into Your Empty Nest

One minute you’re changing diapers and wiping noses, the next you’re dropping kids off in their college dorm rooms. Here’s how to fill the space they leave.

It’s true what they say: childhood goes by so fast.

One minute you’re changing diapers and wiping noses, the next minute you’re dropping your kids off in their college dorm rooms, steeling yourself to say goodbye. You think this moment will never arrive, but when it does – and it will – you’ll never want to forget it. You will hug your teenager and not want to let go – but you will – and hold in your tears as long as you can, because you know if you completely lose your cool, your kid will lose his, too.

That’s my story anyway, and one day it will probably be yours too.

I kept it together as long as I could when I saw both my children off to college, and then when they were safely settled into their new homes-away-from-home, I came undone. I cried on the plane ride home, and later I cried when I walked into our house and was smacked with a wall of silence. I cried when I went into their bedrooms and saw the pile of clothes strewn on the floor and rumpled bed sheets that still carried their scents. I found the first few days of their absence from our home devastating. It felt like our house was gutted. It was so quiet I swear I could hear ice forming inside my freezer.

Even grocery shopping made me emotional. Walking past their favorite organic plump blueberries and juicy green apples, knowing we didn’t need to buy them by the truckload anymore, and cruising the cereal aisle without buying Cinnamon Toast Crunch put me over the edge.

To fill the void at our empty table, I made coffee dates and lunch dates with girlfriends, and dinner plans with other couples almost every day for the first few weeks. I kept up the frantic pace until one night my husband and I looked at each other, laughed, and said, “This is exhausting. Can’t we just have a quiet meal alone?”

That’s when I knew we were going to be okay.

According to psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, I was right on target. “When your children leave, you are left alone with your spouse. That could be great because you finally have privacy and the run of the house. You can also now finally take the time to travel and plan your future together.”

Saltz cautions, “But often couples have allowed their marriage to stagnate, and once the kids are gone, sometimes they find that there is nothing left to hold the marriage together. That’s why it becomes very important for you to exert a lot of effort to reestablish the romance in your relationship.”

Romance wasn’t my problem. However, I had completely devoted myself to raising our children. Since most of my identity was wrapped up into being a mom, I felt like I was out of a job, but feeling as if I was fired fired me up for change.

Here are some tips that helped me breathe new life into my empty nest. Hopefully, they’ll work for you too.

1 | Cry it out

That’s right. Weep your tears of woe until it’s all out of your system. Realize that this is the way it’s meant to be, but acknowledge that it sucks anyway.

“Honor all the feelings that emerge in your emptiness, including past losses that may arise,” says Natalie Caine, who created the website EmtpynestSupport.com, “You have never been at this stage of life before. So allow yourself space and time to grieve for a role that is shifting.”

2 | Plan a trip

Stealing away sans kids (just the two of you or with friends) very early on in your new empty nesting adventure can be a wonderful treat. A weekend away is fine if you don’t have time or the resources for a more exotic locale. We took quick weekend trips to Las Vegas and New York that offered a shot of adrenaline to our routine. Spending time together where we didn’t have to cater to anyone but ourselves was a gift.

3 | Take action

Since you know that fateful day is coming when you will have to let go (gulp), make yourself a detailed plan of action first. Decide what you want to do that you didn’t have time for before, whether it’s beginning a new project, traveling, going back to school, starting a business, or even getting a facelift, start putting those pieces in place before your kids fly the coop. I began my blog, Carpool Goddess, while my daughter was a junior in high school. Having that creative outlet also widened my social circle via social media.

Facebook was especially useful to make me feel connected through both online conversations and instant-message-initiated lunches and dinners. I found the transition to a quiet empty home became easier because I was already so deeply involved in something that was personally satisfying.

4 | Don’t do anything rash

Although my kids were gone, I was still taking care of a new baby. That “baby” was the life I was beginning to create for myself after 21 dedicated years of raising kids and catering to their needs. Now it was finally “me” time, and I relished every carefree moment. So indulge yourself – maybe some spa treatments, a fun-filled weekend getaway with your partner or friends, or a long-needed shopping spree for cute clothes. Just don’t rush to get a dog because you desperately crave someone to take care of without giving yourself at least six months to decide if you want to take on that kind of a commitment.

5 | Get busy

Learn a new skill by signing up for classes at your local community college, or simply start crossing off dreams you’ve had on your bucket list by making them come true. (By the way, if you haven’t ever made a bucket list, now is the time to start.) I have friends who took up Mahjong, began French lessons, and started a decorating career when they became empty-nesters.

Since I started writing, I’ve signed up for conferences and classes such as Erma Bombeck’s Writers’ Workshop and a personal essay class at a local college to learn new skills and broaden my social circle. This fall I am starting a Master’s in Journalism program, which has been a life-long dream. Take it from me, having something to look forward to makes life rich and exciting.

6 | Get social

I made dinner plans almost every night for the first few weeks after our kids left. The evenings at home that were once filled with the voices, laughter, and stirrings of energetic or hungry teenagers felt painfully still with them out of the house. But after the third week of frantic socializing we welcomed the peace and quiet of home and found satisfaction in our new relaxed child-free rhythm as a couple.

7 | Mix it up

We started changing up our old routines, and with those little tweaks, our lives became exciting again. For example, we reconnected while walking instead of driving to dinner to our favorite Italian bistro. We also started a new weekend routine of going for afternoon coffee in a trendy neighborhood café overlooking a beautiful park. Remember, your life has changed profoundly and that’s okay. I grew my hair longer and added a few highlights for a softer look, and ditched my “mom jeans” for skinny jeans to my daughter’s delight (not to mention my husband’s).

8 | Brace yourself for when they come back

They will come home for the holidays, if not before, and your domicile will instantly be filled with chaos, noise, and laundry. Dishes will once again not actually make it into the sink and your car, which you’ve kept clean and with a full tank, will be driving off fumes and smell like fast food French fries. Your taste of a former life will be over before you know it and you must gird yourself for the shock of their leaving once again.

9 | Parenting never ends

The first few weeks of the empty nest are the hardest, but you will soon find out that your parenting days aren’t over –  you’re just parenting from afar. Cell phone calls, texts, Skype, Facetime, and Google hangouts offer a stretchy umbilical cord. You’ll see, at the first sign of your child’s sniffle, stomach-ache, hurt feelings, or roommate issues, you’ll feel just as connected as if they’ve called you from the next room.

You may worry that your relationship with your child as you knew it is over, but that concern may be premature. Karen L. Fingerman, PhD, author of “Mothers and Their Adult Daughters: Mixed Emotions, Enduring Bonds,” says, “People may worry about losing their child when the child leaves home, but they won’t. In fact, most parents are going to have a more mature, more emotionally meaningful and deeper relationship with their children to look forward to.”

Just remember: the bond between parent and child can remain strong and, yes, grow even stronger in the spaces left in between.

I know mine did, and yours can too.

All Grown Up

This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!
When daughter A was a little I used to read her a book titled “Leo the Late Bloomer” by Robert Kraus. In the book, there is a young tiger named Leo and he cannot do a lot of things that other tigers his age can do such as read, write, speak, or eat neatly. Leo’s father expresses concerns that he will never be able to do these things. But Leo’s mother says that there is nothing to worry about. She predicts that they Leo will bloom in time. But the key was that they had to stop watching him. Sure enough, at the end of the book Leo does bloom. He can eat neatly, read, and write. He can also speak and his first words are “I made it.”
This book really hit home for my husband and I with regard to A. After a somewhat difficult pregnancy, we were blessed with a beautiful healthy baby girl. The day she was born I tossed away my dog-eared copy of “What to Expect When You are Expecting” and immediately started studying the book’s sequel, “What to Expect the First Year.” Rather than using the book as a guide, I referred to it as the gospel and worried whenever A didn’t meet a milestone at the exact moment the book said she should. When will she roll over? When will she walk? When will she talk?
Fortunately, A was able to do all these things and more alas on her own timetable. As she got older, she continued to resist changes. While her friends looked forward to growing up, A went into new situations kicking and screaming. When I took her to “drop off” parties, I brought a good book since I knew I’d be staying. I wore sweatpants and a bra to bed when she went to “sleepovers” because inevitably the host would call and say A wanted to be picked up.
Her resistance to life changes continued as she got older. When her 5th grade class visited the middle school, she cried hysterically and said she was never going there. Instead of saying “Can I have the keys?” when she got her driver’s license, she said, “Please don’t make me drive!
As college approached, many of her peers excitedly looked forward to being on their own and away from their parents. But my daughter was not excited to move on this next chapter of her life. In fact, when I suggested she apply for a pre-orientation program that seemed aligned with her interests, she cried and accused me of trying to get rid of her early. Even though it was her choice to go to sleep away college, throughout the summer I could see her doubts and nerves kicking in about being so far from home. Would she be able to adapt to her new surrounding and embrace the college experience?
I also worried because I realized that I had spent the last 18 years taking care of A instead of teaching her how to take care of herself. When she was hungry I made her a sandwich and when she needed her track uniform clean I washed it. I folded her laundry and put it away. There were still nights that we left our side door open because she forgot her house keys. Would our “Leo” bloom when we weren’t looking or would she call to be picked up in the middle of the night?
I am happy to say that A has been at college several months and she hasn’t locked herself out once. When she doesn’t like the campus dining, she goes food shopping and cooks for herself in the dorm kitchen. Her room is relatively neat. She makes it to classes on time – without me shaking her arm a dozen times and saying, “You are going to be late.”
Last weekend A came home for a visit. Due to the Metro North issues her three-and-a-half hour train ride turned into seven hours of travel complete with delays and a brake down. I met her under the big board at Penn Station and her first words echoed Leo’s: “I made it!” Just like Leo’s mom predicted, when I stopped looking, my daughter bloomed.

This Is What Happened When My Teenage Son Gave up Sugar

After doing some research a few months ago, my teenage son decided to give up sugar. We’re both noticing a big difference.

My oldest son has anxiety. It’s been something he’s struggled with his whole life. When he was younger he was often hyper, excited, and impulsive. If he got a laugh out of someone he would continue to do that same thing over. He’s twisted his hair when he’s anxious since it started growing in when he was one, and is very reactive when there is a change of plans.
Being an anxious person myself, I recognize the signs in him and I’ve tried to help him cope with his feelings. It’s definitely harder for him to relax than it is for some kids. He was always able to express himself when he was younger, which I think was very helpful, but after going through puberty, I noticed his anxiety seemed to get worse. He didn’t want to talk as much and became closed off.
He now stands at almost six feet tall and wears a size 12 shoe. The rambunctious boy who used to over-share is gone, and has been replaced by a stoic boy who often retreats to his room and never wants to talk about his feelings or things that are going on in his social life.
I have to remind myself he is still the same person, despite me not recognizing him some days. I noticed his lack of communicating and not being able to express his feelings – like he used to when he was younger – has caused him to be irritable and downright angry. Some days, even explosive.
Recently he has taken a huge interest into working out. He enjoys CrossFit and lifting weights, and watches a lot of videos about body building and fitness. After doing some research a few months ago, he decided to give up sugar which was huge for him – he absolutely loves baked goods and candy. When I’m making his favorite cake or cookie his anxiety flares up as he can’t wait to have some, then he wants some more.
After a few weeks of going sugar free, he sat down next me and said, “Mom, since I’ve stopped eating sugar, I feel so much better, less angry and mad about stuff.”
I had noticed a huge difference in his moods, too. They seemed to be more even. His fuse isn’t as short, and he’s falling asleep earlier. He’s also more talkative, and has been communicating more with the rest of the family.
I’m sure the exercising and finding something he loves to do helped with his moods, but I talked with Child Psychiatrist, Scott Carroll, who explained exactly what was going on in his brain when he’s eaten sugar: “Eating something really sweet can trigger way more insulin release than you need to have your muscle cells absorb the glucose,” he says.
After the insulin has been released, it causes your blood glucose level to drop and “the brain, which almost exclusively runs on insulin, responds to the dropping blood glucose level by making you feel hungry to get you to eat more triggers,” Carroll says.
We’ve all felt this, especially after a big meal that’s followed by dessert – we can’t seem to stop and keep reaching for more even if we feel full. While this impacts a lot of us, certain people are more prone to the effects this can have on our moods.
Dr. Carroll goes on to say the hunger feeling comes back to us by triggering our amygdala which is a nerve in your brain that controls our fight or flight response. When triggered, this makes you “more irritable and aggressive so you will fight for food,” he says.
That really made sense to me as I’ve watched my son many times eat three cookies and want more and get angry when I’ve told him no, or watched him make bad choices shortly after eating the sugar. He’s been caught sneaking sweets, too, and never seemed to have the self-control to stop himself until he saw what giving it up could do for his physical appearance.
Dr. Carroll explains the reason we feel cranky after a big sugar rush, then crash, is because glucose is not a real source of food. So, when my son switched from eating processed, sugary foods, and started eating only foods which contain natural glucose like potatoes, carrots, grains and corn, and beefing up his protein with meat and nuts, Dr. Carroll says his moods changed because his “glucose level doesn’t spike and he doesn’t release a lot of insulin” so he isn’t experiencing that irritable feeling that makes him want to get more of the sugary foods into his system.
I’m sure my son won’t be giving up sugar forever, life is too short to not enjoy things like holiday cookies and birthday cakes, but I am proud of him for recognizing this as a solution to feeling better mentally. If it helps him, it helps me and his wellbeing is the most important thing to me.
I’ve seen firsthand what giving up sugar has done for him and the positive effects it’s had on his moods, and I’m thankful he’s recognizing it’s a trigger for him at a young age.

The Problem with Teens No Longer Working Part-Time Jobs

The reluctance of teens holding part-time or summer jobs is now a national trend that has caused a fair amount of concern from experts in the marketplace.

How many jobs did you have growing up? I started babysitting neighborhood kids at age 11 (which sounds so incredibly young now that I’m a mother), and I continued to babysit for many years through the summer after my freshman year of college. I also worked in the snack bar at the local swim club for several summers and at a book store during my senior year of high school.

Have you noticed that nowadays teenagers rarely have jobs? Recently, I was shocked to find out that a few of the high school students in my community had absolutely no interest or time to babysit my kids on an occasional Saturday night. Their mothers gave excuses like they were too busy with sports tournaments and studying.

The reluctance of teens holding part-time or summer jobs is now a national trend that has caused a fair amount of concern from experts in the marketplace. Why is it happening and how does it impact a child’s future in the long run? According to Pew Research, in the 1970s and 80s, most teens worked at least part of their summer vacation, but the share of teens working summer jobs has decreased since the early 1990s. Now only about 20 percent of teens hold a job, which is an all-time low since the United States started keeping track in 1948.

Three main reasons can be linked to this trend: job market changes, education, and college resume-building priorities mainly pushed by parents. First, a shift in the job market has made it more difficult for teens to find part-time jobs. An article in Bloomberg explains that when the recessions hit in the early 1990s, early 2000s, and from 2007 to 2009, teen labor rates fell dramatically. As the economy recovered, teen labor never bounced back. Also, employers are less willing to hire teens because there is more competition with older Americans staying in the workforce and new Americans moving to the country looking for work.

Next, education has become the priority for most teens in the past several decades, so getting a part-time job isn’t even on their radar. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows how millions of teenagers aren’t working because they’re studying instead. Education is taking up more time as school districts have extended both the school day and the academic year, increased the homework load, and put pressure on students to attend summer classes.

Most students aren’t going to summer school because they failed a class; they are going purely for enrichment to get ahead and look impressive to colleges. The percent of 16- to 19-year-olds enrolled in summer school has tripled in the last 20 years. Also, kids are taking harder classes overall. According to Bloomberg, calculus is up threefold since the early 1980s, while precalculus is up more than fivefold, and statistics has increased by tenfold. The number of students taking advanced placement (AP) classes has also been steadily rising.

Finally, many teenagers are choosing not to get jobs because they want to focus on other activities that they think will impress college admissions officers, such as sports, music, student council, volunteering, and other extra-curricular activities.

Millions of children in the United States feel overwhelmed and pressured because of their over-scheduled lives. Parents feel like they aren’t doing a good job if they don’t sign their children up for a laundry list of activities. But these kids end up feeling like they are under so much pressure that they don’t even have time to babysit once in a while or have a fun summer job that can actually teach them more about life than any book, class, or organized activity ever will.

Many students now enter college without ever holding a part-time job in high school, and this can have a big impact on their future success. I recently watched a hilarious video spoofing a millennial job interview. The candidate had no clue what it meant to get to work on time, respect a supervisor, or actually get any real work done besides scrolling through social media. She was the stereotypical millennial who had been coddled her whole life and expected the world to revolve around her. As you can imagine, she did not get the job.

If our kids never spend time working at a real job, how will they ever understand what it means to succeed at work someday when they graduate from college or graduate school with all of their hard-earned degrees? They still need to have some basic life skills that can only be learned in the field, such as:

  • Time management
  • Self-discipline
  • Follow company rules
  • Take on and understand responsibilities
  • Learn to collaborate with a diverse group of people
  • Creative problem-solving
  • Conflict resolution
  • Respect colleagues at all levels
  • Overcome challenges and failures
  • Able to deal with difficult clients and co-workers
  • Accept criticism

Working part-time while going to school also helps teens grow in so many ways. First, jobs help teens experience something new, expanding their perspective beyond school and home by interacting with different people, learning new information, hearing stories from co-workers and customers, and seeing how the world operates outside of their comfort zone.

Next, they mature more quickly and are able to take on more responsibility. They learn about responsibility such as not being able to check Instagram and Snapchat because they need to focus on a cash register, stocking shelves, or helping customers.

Jobs also teach teens how to manage money. Teens who earn their own money have more of an appreciation of its value and tend to be more responsible with their purchases.

Teens can also get a self-esteem boost from working, as they achieve goals and get rewarded for their hard work. This will also make them begin to feel more independent and self-reliant.

Finally, one of the most important benefits of a teen job is that it teaches them how to multi-task and manage their time. It is critical for all individuals’ life-long health and happiness to know how to find balance in their lives. By managing homework, extra-curricular activities, social and family commitments, and a job, teens will learn how to do this with success.

What parents can do

A huge part of this teen job problem is us – or potentially us in a few years if you have young kids now. Parents are not letting their kids grow up. Instead, we’re coddling them because of guilt, fear, and other issues we’re holding onto. This is hurting a whole generation of kids who are staying kids for way too long. It’s really up to us to shift the story by taking the following actions once you have a teenager in the house:

Start slow. Help your teen figure out a small job that she can do during the summer at first. If she attends camp, see if she can start as a camp counselor-in-training. Or maybe she can attend an educational program for half of the summer and do some babysitting during the rest of the break.

Help your teen learn how to find a job. Without doing all the work for him, guide him on how to write a resume, how to email local companies about part-time jobs, how to network with friends and neighbors about opportunities, etc.

I have a neighbor whose son is particularly successful at math, so he created a flyer highlighting his tutoring services and placed them in mailboxes around our community. He landed one great client and was thrilled to make some extra money while helping a younger child at his school excel in math.

Identify what they love. As they get older and have more experiences, work with them to find out what their strengths and passions are so they can find a job that they will be excited about.

Prepare your teen for job interviews. Get books out of the library, watch interview tips videos, and do mock interviews with her to help her prepare.

Teach them professionalism. Talk to them about professional issues, such as appropriate dress, how to interact with bosses and co-workers, reporting to work on time, cell phone use, etc.

Be a listener. Always be available to your child by providing encouragement and to be a sounding board in case he faces difficult or challenging situations at his job.

I Want My Children to Be Selfish

I believe in order for children to become truly unselfish and empathize with healthy boundaries, they have to do the work of tending to their own needs.

We give our children one chore on school nights – to wipe down the family dinner table. But they often (read: almost always) forget. So, really the chore is on us every night to yell past the noise in their earphones plugged into devices, “Come wipe down the table!” There’s always something else they prioritize before the chore – a friend’s text chat to respond to, the latest upload of a favorite Youtube star, or lounging on the couch.
Sometimes I mutter child-friendly expletives under my breath and roll my eyes at having to nag for them to clean the table, but I perform those actions because that’s the script of the frustrated mother exasperated with her children’s egotism. The honest truth is, I like that my children are selfish, and here’s why:
I believe in order for children to become truly unselfish and empathize with healthy boundaries, they have to do the work of tending to their own needs, for how can you know and care for others if you haven’t learned to do it for yourself?
Growing up I was often asked to be kind to others by cutting myself down. As a girl, the world required I smile sweetly even when I didn’t feel sweet. I had to diminish myself in order to make others comfortable. Sometimes my parents made family plans that were inconvenient to my own expectations and I would be told to sacrifice my desires for the good of the family. “Don’t be selfish,” the world does not revolve around you, they told me. Before I had learned to really know myself, learning to be in touch with my own intuition and to trust in it, I was rushed into caring for others.
I was rewarded for it as compliments flowed freely. “You’re so thoughtful and kind,” and yet I felt miserable inside. I bore other people’s emotions before I learned to regulate my own. By the time I entered adulthood, I was exhausted and overwhelmed.
I get that this cruel and busy world needs more selfless heart and service. We need to raise children who will stop and help strangers, stand in line to donate blood, and pick a flower for the elderly neighbor. But I think empathy is caught, not taught. What if we trusted that they are wired to be empathetic, that if given a loving, supportive environment, every person prefers to be kind to others? What if egotism in our children and adolescents isn’t a sign that they are broken, but that the world is?
Harvard University developed a project whose mission is to help us raise kind and caring children. Making Caring Common provides resources to cultivate empathy in children, and the number one advice on their list is this: empathize with your child.
“When we empathize with our children they develop trusting, secure attachments with us,” the website states. “Those attachments are key to their wanting to adopt our values and to model our behavior, and therefore to building their empathy for others.”
So yes, while we want to be intentional about creating opportunities for our children to care, our first priority needs to be caring for our children. To me, this means giving them space and time to learn and meet their own needs, to self-regulate their emotions, to have plenty of opportunities to lounge on the couch day-dreaming with their imagination.
We need more caring adults in the world, but we need caring adults who are also, to use popular author Brene Brown’s expression, wholehearted. I want teens and young adults in my life who are secure, confident, who know what they want and have the courage to pursue it because it inspires me to do the same.
My teenager’s favorite celebrity crush is the K-pop boy band, BTS, who has risen in popularity from the Korean music arena onto the international stage. BTS recently partnered with UNICEF in a campaign to end violence for children. The name of their campaign? LOVE MYSELF. The armies, what the BTS fans call themselves, press their thumb and index finger against each other forming the shape of a small heart as they chant the slogan. Love myself, love myself, love myself.
Like many other women, I struggle with my body image and struggle even more to transfer that baggage to my daughter. But when I slipped and bemoaned my body weight the other day, my daughter flipped her hair, gave me the finger heart symbol, and quipped, “Mom, love yourself.” This growing young woman who spends hours in her room engrossed in her own interests instead of wiping down the table, she’s going to be okay.
I mean, she still needs to wipe down the table. But after doing what she wants to do is fine with me.

When Grief Comes Home for Christmas

This is the year I learned that elevating one specific holiday to the single most anticipated family event has its down side.

A few days before Thanksgiving I strung fairy lights on two windows in my dining room and adorned my mantel with decorations that included a statue of a fir tree, three sparkling votive holders, and an angel. It wasn’t much, but it was something – a trifling attempt to face the first holiday season after losing my daughter, Ana.
Ana celebrated her last Christmas a year ago. She died three months later, on March 22, 2017 at the age of 15.
I’m not religious. By birth, I am Jewish. My parents are cultural Jews and atheists. Growing up, I observed a few select Jewish holidays including Chanukah and Passover. We didn’t celebrate Christmas in my childhood home. Trees, stockings, and murmurings of Santa were strictly forbidden.
I didn’t get my first taste of Christmas until I met my husband, didn’t get my first real tree until I was 26 years old. After that, all bets were off. The sheer ornament of Christmas compared with Chanukah was intoxicating, the concept of Santa Claus absurdly wonderful. I embraced the holiday, owning it with the enthusiasm of a true believer in all things red and green. Nearly two decades after that first tree, Christmas still felt new to me.
The angel is the first decoration I’ve owned that is not fully secular. I bought it to honor and acknowledge Ana, not because I think she’s an angel or because she’s in a place some people call heaven, but because I know her spirit has expanded, that she still exists. She still exists.
The angel, lovely and silent, looks a little bit like her.
Unlike me, Ana always knew Christmas. The holiday was entirely hers. She spent five Christmases with cancer, but her illness did not dampen her joy. She did not spend a single Christmas in the hospital and that was more than a gift – it was a miracle.
Ana’s first Christmas was my fourth. I was still trying to find my red and white striped Christmas legs, so her arrival into my life (and the subsequent arrival of her sister three years later) shaped the holiday for the next 16 years. There is not an ornament in our collection that she hasn’t touched, not a carol that doesn’t remind me of her wide blue eyes on Christmas morning.
This year grief will dull the shine of what was our family’s most cherished tradition. I wonder, can I do it? Can I hang her stocking knowing it will remain empty? Can I walk through row after row of perfect Douglas firs and blue spruces without openly weeping?
I had no idea a family could lose so much – two sisters unwrapping ornaments in mid-December, two steaming mugs of hot chocolate after the first snowfall, two sets of pajama-clad footsteps on the stairs at 6 a.m., and that tiny bit of magic that makes it seem possible that angels and elves might really exist. It’s gone, just like that.
This is the year I learned that elevating one specific holiday to the single most anticipated family event has its down side. The rituals I loved most about Christmas are now my greatest sorrow.
There are quiet corners of the Web where groups of bereaved parents face the same anguish as me. Within our bulletin boards and private Facebook groups, we struggle with the same questions.
Should I hang her stocking?
Should I decorate his grave?
How can I incorporate her into our extended family’s celebrations?
Will I be able to get out of bed on Christmas morning?
There’s no solace in keeping company with parents who share the same agony as me. Yet, I’m hopeful. There are parents who get through it, who have learned to adapt to the loss.
Perhaps wrapping Christmas up so tightly with my children is a blessing. Ana feels closest to me when I recall her joy. It’s much easier to remember her happiest moments when I’m surrounded by this many reminders – red, green, gold, and white.
That’s why I strung those fairy lights up in my dining room, lit half a dozen candles on Thanksgiving, and spent far too much money on decorations for my younger daughter’s bedroom.
It’s why I intend to hang Ana’s stocking and fill it with tumbled stones, dried flowers, and notes to put on her memorial.
It’s why I’ll listen to the familiar music and watch the holiday movies that we cherished as a family of four.
When the lights are lit and everything’s in its place on Christmas Eve, I will visualize Ana’s spirit lingering close by, content that we haven’t given up on Christmas or family. Executing these rituals takes some bravery, but Ana showed me how to be brave. She also showed me that life is for living, no matter how hard it gets.