Tag Archives: tweens

Proud to be the meanest mom in the whole world

That’s me.

At least according to every one of my daughters at off moments in our relationships. Like when I take away their iPads while they are supposed to be doing homework or walking the dog. When I find them Skyping at 11 p.m. when they were supposed to be asleep. When I react angrily to disrespect. Or when I forbid clothing I deem inappropriate for a 12-year-old.

It’s funny because sometimes I’m also the best mom in the world. Like when we’re cuddling together during family movie night, or I serve their favourite dishes for dinner. When I allow their three best friends to sleep over on a Saturday night and make chocolate chip cookies. Or surprise them with a trip to see Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Florida (hoping to get mileage out of that one for years!).

Most of the time though, I’m the mom in between. The practical one who expects them do their homework on a Sunday morning so we can all have fun later in the afternoon without it weighing us down. The one who keeps the fridge stocked and picks them up from gymnastics, badminton practice and debating tournaments. The boring stuff that keeps our family on an even keel.

Oddly enough, I take secret pride in the times when I’m the meanest mom in the world. I guess because it doesn’t happen all that often, but recurs just often enough, with a kind of reassuring familiarity. It’s like an invisible badge of honour. It means I’m doing my job properly, setting reasonable limits (to my parental mind, if not to theirs).

It means I’m their parent, not their friend. (Tweet this)

Sure I want them to confide in me, enjoy spending time with me, let me into their teenage minds. And they do. At least so far. But I also want them to respect me and their father. To know we’ve set limits and imposed consequences for going beyond them. That we have expectations of acceptable behaviour, defined by our family’s values and beliefs.

That the seemingly silly courtesies we expect (say, for example, waiting until everyone is seated at the table before we begin eating, preparing your sister’s toast when you are making your own or asking if anyone wants the last potato knish instead of grabbing it for yourself) are part of loving each other.

That there is more to living life that what can be experienced through a computer screen.

That they may need some help controlling impulses. Setting limits. Developing and exercising good judgement.

That a 12-year-old girl who wears THAT when she leaves the house is sending certain messages to others, the possible responses to which she is not yet emotionally equipped to handle.

That the banal chores of daily life (homework, dog-walking, showering, emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, clearing the dinner dishes) are actually a big part of the stuff of life. And the discipline we develop from doing them properly help us succeed at other things.

That the developmentally appropriate narcissism of childhood and adolescence is nevertheless not the way they will be expected to live the rest of their lives.

That sometimes we appreciate things more if we want them for a while before we get them. Or save up our own money over time.

That sometimes we don’t always get what we want.

Other moms sometimes commiserate with me. They say they are sometimes told they are the meanest moms in the whole world too. This may seem like a contradiction. But I’m thinking it’s entirely possible we can all occasionally be the meanest moms in the whole world, passing the title from one to another like we’re already doing with used baby clothes and kids’ sporting equipment.

As long as there’s some balance with being the best moms in the world, and the regular everyday moms in between, I’d say it’s just one more odd reason to be proud of what we do.



Parents: What your kids’ teachers want you to know about bullying in school

Apples on desksA few weeks ago, I wrote a post for parents about what school principals want them to know about bullying. I’d spent a morning consulting with all the principals of a major Quebec school board, and I was really impressed by how proactive, concerned and invested they were in solving the complicated issues around bullying. I was also struck by the obstacles they faced: the limited resources, lack of personnel, need to support their teachers, blurry legal requirements and often conflicted interactions with parents.

It was a real eye-opener for me. As a parent, I’d never fully understood what these men and women have to negotiate in school with our children every single day.

But I still have more to learn. On February 23rd, I was privileged to spend an entire day talking about bullying and risk behaviors with 65 teachers and school administrators from across the province and Ontario. This was part of the Centre for Educational Leadership‘s Distinguished Educators Seminar Series at McGill University.

It was clear from the beginning that they are very concerned. Like most educators, this group worried about the blurry line between school and home, the Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter interactions that spill over into fights and drama in the classroom and schoolyard. They knew that parents, not just students, were whipping up the rumour mill online and through email and texting campaigns when something happened with their kids. Small things become big things very quickly; misinformation and disinformation abound.

The amount of time spent managing these issues can quickly get out of hand and get in the way of the primary activity at school: teaching.

So what follows is a catch-all list of Things for Parents to Think About (for lack of a more imaginative title). It’s really an addendum to my earlier post, but highlights some key items. In a perfect world, there would be a seamless partnership between school and home. But in a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about bullying either.

Know what your child is doing. Who are his friends? What does she do after school? What online accounts do they have? What are their passwords? Who is she texting? Who is he Skyping? This one seems almost too obvious to put down. But it’s the most important. Because even well-meaning, involved parents can lose track of their kids’ day-to-day habits and activities.

Because as our kids grow up, they naturally pull away. And it happens in slow, almost imperceptible increments. One day we wake up to find the 10-year-old who tells you everything has turned into a secretive 13-year-old who thinks you don’t know anything.

Teachers — especially in grades 6-8 — often deal with parents who just have no clue about their kids’ social lives and daily dramas. They sign their report cards, pay for field trips and maybe even pack their lunches, but they don’t really know what’s going on inside their offspring’s hormone-riddled, rapidly developing brains and bodies. (See this post on the insightful Scott Fried about the secrets of teens). So when an incident happens, or guidance is needed, mom and dad aren’t prepared to properly parent.

Educate yourself about teen culture. Get a Facebook page. Know the difference between a tweet and a text. LOL every once in a while. Ask your kid to play you some of their favourite music. Watch an episode of Glee or the trailer for the Hunger Games or visit the World fo Warcraft website (or whatever your child adores). Not because you’re trying to be cool (you’ll never succeed in your child’s eyes) but because you are showing an interest in what his or her life is like. You’re making an effort to understand their cultural milieu. They may not admit it, but they’ll appreciate it. You might even find yourself having an actual conversation with the same kid who answered every other question with monosyllables.

Which brings me to my next point: Be your kid’s parent, not their friend. A lot of parents find this confusing. Don’t we want them to find us cool? Don’t we want them to confide in us, tell us things, hang out with us? Nothing wrong with that. All falls within the purview of parenting. But the line in the sand is respect. Our kids must respect our rules, values and attitudes. They must be willing to give back to the family in appropriate ways. They must not take us for granted, talk back or ditch us every time more exciting plans present themselves.

Friends operate on an equal playing field, and respect can (and should) be a part of that as well. But a parent-child relationship doesn’t function that way. Yes, as parents we still need to respect our children, explain the rationale for our reasoning (when appropriate, to help them learn), make reasonable compromises and let them grow up as distinct individuals. I’m not arguing for a military-style dictatorship. But our children sometimes need to conform to rules and expectations with which they don’t agree. Sometimes the negotiating has to end, and they need to accept a “because I say so” response.

When an incident arises at school, teachers and principals need to be able to count on parents who know the difference between advocating for our children’s best interests and over protecting them. Although we should be there to guide them, we can’t (and shouldn’t) shelter them from all adversity. Those natural consequences and occasional experiences of pain, frustration and stress are an important part of growing up. If they don’t learn it in measured doses while they are young, they will never learn to cope with the harder stuff life throws at them when they are adults.

Parent with your head, not just your heart. It’s agonizing to watch our children suffer social pain, bad grades, bullying or even the consequences of broken rules. No parent easily forgets the worry and dismay over a kid who misses a soccer game because of detention, gets kicked off a team, skips a school trip or develops nervous headaches and stomach problems because they are too stressed to go to school.

We serve our children’s best interests when we learn to strike a balance between our sad feelings for their hurt and our intellectual understanding of what’s really going on. Sometimes it’s entirely appropriate to march into the school office and demand action, but often we are more effective when we keep a cool head and evaluate a situation: get the full story from our child before we call the school. Speak to the teacher before we call the principal. Consider whether it’s possible that the same child who is so lovely with her grandma and the neighbour’s cat couldn’t also be the one who rallies the other girls to exclude a friend from their clique. Or post libellous comments about a teacher on a Facebook page.

This last one is perhaps the hardest thing we have to do as mothers and fathers, but also possibly the most important. Because when things get complicated and others are involved, we need to make level-headed decisions with the big picture in mind. Sometimes we can find ourselves dealing with an unreasonable school or an untenable situation, but in some cases WE are the ones generating the conflict or asking for rules to be bent. Since these are precisely the same expectations we have from our teachers and principals, it helps if we can be on board.







The Internet redeemed: check out these amazing, creative online activities for kids

Girl on laptopThe first time I stepped into a university classroom as a teacher, I felt like a television. After more than 5-10 minutes of lecturing — no matter how interesting the subject — their gazes began to glaze over. Even those students who were engaged in the material seemed to quickly forget I could see them sitting there at their desks.

They picked their noses. Played with their various piercings. Doodled in their notebooks. Activities that would be openly insulting if I was speaking to them one on one.

I quickly learned to jazz up my material with media clips, punctuate lectures with frequent discussion questions, group work, pair and share activities. I moved around the whole classroom, worked hard to modulate my voice and throw in joke. I’d leave each class thoroughly drained but satisfied that I’d kept their attention.

I thought of this as the Sesame Street/ MTV effect. These students had been weaned on non-stop entertainment, on rapid jolts of audio-visual stimulation. They were not accustomed to sustained periods of focused attention. Video games seem to accentuate this tendency to prefer hyper-kinetic media forms.

I’m very sensitive to this with my own children. I have no problem with some exposure to the Wii’s, Nintendo DS’s and iPads that fill their days. I let them eat their Cheerios with Elmo and Dora, and move on to Wizards of Waverly Place and (eventually) Glee. But I was always insistent on time also spent with real books, on the kind of art projects that make your fingers dirty and adventure games played outdoors with flesh-and-blood friends (not just onscreen with avatars).

As they get older, the struggle to keep this balance is harder and harder. Most of their homework is done online (often in very creative ways). There’s no more trudging over to a library to look things up in books. Everything is online. Instantaneous. Rendered in live-streaming, HD-quality video. Teachers instantly email them feedback and answer questions on Saturday afternoons.

Although I still work very hard to make sure they do spend some time outside (not just skiing on the Wii) and meet their friends face to face, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to maintain a more balanced understanding of the time our kids spend online. It isn’t fair to lump it all under the rubric “screen time” as if Photoshop were the same as Phineas and Pherb.

Because it’s not.

A couple of years ago I interviewed Michael Hoechsmann, then a professor in McGill University’s Faculty of Education (and now at Lakehead University), for an article in Montreal Families Magazine about whether socializing online was actually bad for our kids.  Dr. Hoechsmann, himself a father of two teenaged boys,  urged parents to make a distinction between using a computer for production and consumption. When his children are writing on a blog or posting a poem, for example, “I consider it the equivalent of time spent drawing or building a model.” However, ‘”If they are just doing consumption online [such as watching YouTube videos or playing a game], I consider it only a slightly more active version of watching TV.”

Some of the things our kids can do online are downright amazing. They have access to the most powerful, creative and productive technologies ever produced. The potential for learning new things, stimulating their growing brains, developing new interests and exploring new talents is phenomenal.

So I thought that instead of joining the mob decrying the impact of computers and the Internet on our children, I’d use this post to remind us that used judiciously, in moderation, technology is pretty damned amazing.

One of my older daughters has devoted time over the past year to writing her own novel. It’s almost 150 pages long now, and she has enjoyed the writing as much as the research she can do instantly on her iPad. I can’t imagine time better spent.

As both she and her twin sister enjoy different kinds of creative writing, both girls are members of a website called Figment.com, where young writers can post their work and enjoy a moderated, copyright-safe feedback forum of other kids and teens.

A similar site called Deviantart.com invites teens to post their original artwork (the right-click is disabled so images can’t be copied) and invite moderated feedback.

All of my girls have spent hours on a free, user-friendly animation building website called GoAnimate.com, where kids can build all sorts of interesting cartoons. You can check out one of Sophie’s earliest animations here. Kids can build their own stories with graphics, movement and audio and send them to their friends. They can also use them for homework assignments and class presentations.

Kids who are really into animation should check out the National Film Board of Canada’s excellent StopMoStudio workshop online. The scant 19-minute video has some of the NFB’s experts demonstrating their techniques. And once they’ve been inspired, they should go to the NFB’s PixStop stop-motion animation. Available for free on iTunes, this iPad app was originally developed for classroom use, so it has plenty of tutorials and a very intuitive interface.

Other cool animation apps for Apple products include iStopMotion for user-friendly stop-motion animation for iPhone, iPad and Mac, as well as the point and click StopMotion Recorder for iPhone. Users can use the onion-skin views to reposition the camera and integrate Instagram-like features (such as noir, sepia and Lomography).

Do your kids love computer games? Let them try and build their own on My Doodle Game, where they can design the landscape, put in their own challenges and choose from a wide-variety of characters and obstacles. This is a great example of creativity, problem-solving and sequencing.

Have a reluctant reader at home? Check out ReadingRewards.com, a safe social network devoted to reading, which incorporates gaming elements to encourage kids to read, review and recommend books to others.

Curious about the world? Dealing with homework questions mom and dad can’t help with? Direct kids to the award-winning HowStuffWorks website and get lost in a fascinating, informative virtual place where it’s hip to be smart. Aside from articles, there are quizzes, games and podcasts on what Apple called one of the “best apps of 2011.”

These sites and apps offer just a hint of the amazing, innovative and creative potential of the web. It’s not all Facebook, YouTube and World of Warcraft out there. Challenge your kids to check out some of these creative and production-oriented sites so you can cut them a little slack if they want to spend hours in front of their screens.