Parents Talk But Are The Kids Listening?

Parenting is an endless stream of shopping, cooking, laundry, tucking in, checking homework, kissing boo-boos, running baths, making lunches, scheduling and doctor appointments. It’s disciplining and breaking up sibling battles. It’s cajoling picky eaters to just have one bite of steak. It’s helping anxious kids onto the bus for the first day of preschool and then calling an hour later to check in. It’s the toughest job, and we often don’t know if we are doing it right. I mean, besides the day-to-day chores, it’s hard to know whether we are imparting knowledge and wisdom to our kids. Will they know to give up their seats to pregnant women on the bus? Will they grow up to be good people who stand up for injustice? Will they be able simply to stand up for themselves?

Years ago, I learned how a good parenting talk doesn’t always land as we hope. When my daughter Casey was 7 she went to day camp with a good friend, Allegra. It is customary for kids to take a deep-water test to show they are ready to swim without intense supervision. My daughter could pass the test, but she was resistant. After a few days of her avoiding the test I had a long talk with her before bed. She told me she wasn’t taking the test because Allegra wasn’t taking it yet. I explained that sometimes it’s good to move forward when one is ready. I said her friend would want her to take the test. In fact, I mentioned that if she took the test it might help encourage Allegra.

The next morning, I again nudged her to take the swim test. Off she went to camp. I waited not-so-patiently for the bus to arrive home to find out if my parenting talk did the trick. Did she take the test? Well, Casey hopped off the bus with a big smile. “I passed the test,” she said.

“Hooray,” I replied. I was patting myself on the back. It was my talk that did it. I knew it. But I couldn’t let it rest. So, looking for an affirmation I asked Casey, “What made you decide to take the test?” She promptly put me back in my place, “Allegra did it!”

There you have it. I hadn’t influenced her a bit.

Most of the time, that’s how parenting goes. We talk and there’s no sign that anyone is listening. Kids nod and say, “Yup”—but really, we don’t know if we are making an impact. This week, eight years after the swim test, Casey helped me see that I am indeed giving her more than just a ride to practice and a hot meal after.

A few years ago, Casey was dress coded in middle school. Frustrated at the objectification of girls’ bodies I wrote a letter to the principal, and it went viral. Since then, we have had many conversations about dress code. The emerging #MeToo movement added an additional discussion point on the situation. This year the dress code was drastically altered in our district, allowing kids to wear just about anything. Administrators were explicitly told in the written policy that they are no longer allowed to “accuse students of ‘distracting’ other students with their clothing.”

So it was quite a surprise to Casey when at a back-to-school assembly, the new vice principal announced tight clothing would not be allowed because it could be distracting. Without a moment of pause, Casey raised her hand and asked, “Can you explain what about tight clothing is distracting?” Turns out the VP wasn’t quite ready for this question, and he replied with a rambling tangent. Casey raced into the house after school to tell me about the assembly. She was beaming with pride that she pushed back about the distracting comment. And then I was beaming. As parents we worry constantly about making all the right decisions regarding our kids. Mostly we worry about the minutia —Is this teacher a good fit? Will my kid make the water polo team? Why wasn’t my child invited to the birthday party? Solving those issues are all important. But it’s really a much bigger, broader question that looms. Namely—Will our kids be alright?

When I used to teach a social work ethics class I told my students that ethics was putting our values into action. Our values are what we stand for, even when it’s hard and maybe not convenient. When confronted with an issue that affects her and all her friends, Casey stood up and used her voice. I had talked, and she was listening. I could not have been more proud.

It’s Just Barbecue Sauce

Sometimes as parents we wonder what we would do for our children if given the chance. Of course I’d give an organ, arm or leg for my kids.

But would I spend $25 to check an overpriced bottle of barbecue sauce at the airport?

After five blissful days celebrating my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary in Maui we arrived at the Kahului Airport with a bit less than the requisite two-hour window. We returned our Chevy Malibu to Budget and hopped onto the bus waiting to take us to the terminal. We completed the agricultural scan, printed out our boarding passes and checked our bags to LAX. Everything went remarkably smoothly.

Our luck continued with all four of us snagging TSA Precheck. My daughter and husband placed their bags onto the belt to be scanned. Emmett, my son, loaded up the bag we were sharing, and we all passed through the metal detector. And then it happened. My bag with Emmett was placed in the bad lane. We had something impermissible, but what? A stray bottle of water maybe. Nope. It wasn’t water or sunscreen or something else inconsequential, either. When the TSA security guard pulled out the banned item, my heart sank.

One day during our vacation Emmett and I had a surfing lesson in the morning. After chilling in the hotel for a while I convinced him to come to town with me for a Dole Whip. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at the local supermarket for some snacks. Emmett asked, “Can I look for a bottle of barbecue sauce to take home as a souvenir?” Sure, I told him. Last year when I went to Austin for a conference I brought him back sauce from The Salt Lick. He’s been slowly rationing the bottle since then. Some kids want keys chains or T-shirts or bracelets to remember their vacations. My son wants a condiment. I couldn’t be prouder.

So when the $8 Da Kine bottle was lifted out of my bag I thought, “Oh crap. Emmett will be crushed.” The TSA attendant read the look on my face, and told me I could go back out to the check in area and see if they could find my bag. If not, I could check it for $25. I gave my husband the boarding passes for him and the kids. I took mine and the bottle of sauce and left the secure area on a mission. No condiment left behind, right?

At the check in I meet Aleah, the Hawaiian Airlines employee contracted by American Airlines. I explain my plight. She isn’t moved. But she takes my bag tickets and says she will go out a take a look. Ten minutes pass. Then 15. I’m sweating and starting to lose faith. Finally Aleah shows up with bad news. She can’t find our bags. They have probably been taken already to board the plane. I go with Plan B. I ask Aleah if there is any way she can just check the sauce for me as a courtesy without charging me a fee. I explain I’m a loyal American customer with frequent flyer miles. Aleah says no, but agrees to ask her manager anyway. Before walking away she asks me what I will check the sauce in. She can’t just check a bottle. Then she walks away.

It’s now 11:46 am. My flight is boarding in 30 minutes, and I still have to go back through security. Finally she appears with more bad news. Her manager said she wouldn’t courtesy check the bottle for me but she would allow Aleah to go out once more to look for my bags. Aleah makes it clear this is a one-time privilege. I once again give her my bag tags and wait.

Tick, tick, tick. Aleah is nowhere to be found. I decide then and there that if Aleah comes back without my bag I will just check the darn sauce. The thought of seeing my son’s little lower lip quiver in sadness when he realizes his one special purchase was left in the airport was too much for me. I cleaned out my purse preparing to check it.

It’s noon, and I get a text from my husband—WHERE ARE YOU?. I’m starting to stress. At this point I just want Aleah to come back so I can check the bag, pay my $25 fee and run to catch my plane. But just then, like a Love’s in the desert, Aleah appears with one of our bags. I tell her she is a miracle worker. I tuck the Da Kine barbecue sauce made with real Hawaiian pineapple juice into the bag, close it up and thank Aleah. I pass through security with ease and run to the gate with a triumphant smile.

Would it have been ridiculous to buy a costly bottle of barbecue sauce then spend an extra $25 to check it? Probably. But I would have done it. I don’t think I would have regretted it either.

That would have been a great ending to this story. But it isn’t the end. Upon landing when our bag arrived on the carousel I noticed it was opened. Lo and behold, all the contents of the bag were there…except (you guessed it) the barbecue sauce. So there you have it. That’s parenting in a nutshell.

Taking My Own Advice

 

As The Family Coach it’s been my mission to help families enjoy parenting more. Sometimes I’m smart enough to take my own advice.

Last week we went to the fair as a family. My daughter, being a teenager, went off with a friend. That left my son, Emmett, alone with my husband and me. We wanted to make it fun for him. My husband suggested we buy an extra ride pass for us to share. I don’t do rides (everything makes me sick) so my husband bravely accompanied Emmett on the Crazy Coaster and the Cliffhanger. But I could see my son really wanted me to do something with him. I decided I could handle the giant slide.

Slowly Emmett and I climbed up steps that seemed like 17 stories. We sat side-by-side at the top in our sacks. My heart was racing. My son looked at me and asked, “Ready?” I said I was, although I wasn’t. Then we pushed off and slid down together. I screamed the whole way like a little kid. At the bottom we both giggled and hugged and smiled. It was such a great experience and I was totally satisfied in my participation.

With Rayshawn, out newest beloved stuffed animal

My husband then shared the pictures he took and I was so touched. Aside from my cheesy grin what struck me most in the pictures was how my son was looking back at me for most of the ride. He started out with both fists in the air filled with joy. But then he turned around to find me. He was checking on me, making sure I was OK and sharing the fun with his mom. This picture is such a reminder to me to put my phone down, stop nagging my kids about this and that, and just have some fun with them.

Our passes came with two games for each of us. Emmett and I played the one where you point the water gun at the little circle. I won and gave Emmett my prize. At the end of the night we finished the fair as we always do. Emmett and I rode the giant ferris wheel together at sunset, just the two of us. He calls it my Jam and he’s right. It’s just my speed, it’s 10 minutes and it’s my favorite alone time with my little buddy. Soon enough he will be the teenager going off with his friends. Then my husband and I will just twiddle our thumbs at the fair eating large smoked turkey legs and visiting the bunnies until our kids are ready to go. It will be fine, but not the same.

Fiery BattleBots Fight in a Bulletproof Cage, It’s The Ultimate Family Show

BattleBots is one of the best family shows on television. After a year hiatus, thankfully Discovery Networks (Discovery and Science Channel) decided to revive the show. BattleBots like a mashup of mixed martial arts and a monster truck battle. Two remote controlled robots are put into a bulletproof cage and let loose on each other until one bot dies. There are fireworks and head on collisions, loose wheels flying, flame throwers and screaming and laughter and … I could go on and on.

We were invited to be guests at live taping of the show in Long Beach, California. I went into the old airplane hanger happy to escort my 11-year-old robotics-obsessed son to the event. I had no illusion that I, too, would have a blast. I was so wrong. It was one of the most entertaining events I’ve been to with or without my kids. Now we are excited to see how the season plays out. Who will battle who? What damage will be inflicted? What crazy antics will we see? We can’t wait.

There is so much I loved about BattleBots. Old people compete against young people. Men versus women. Kids and families against large BattleBot crews. Some have competed for years. Others are newbies in their first battle ever. There was a 15-year-old girl sitting in front of me with a giant pink bow in her hair. She was as enthralled in the action as my son. And what’s cool is that on a basic level BattleBots are just good entertainment. But the show also highlights how physics, engineering and robotics all play a vital role in the design of these massive 250 pound machines.

The Sharkoprion team

The names of the bots are inspiring. Some favorites are Sharkoprion, Huge (with the best tag line: We’re Kind of a Big Deal), Ultimo Destructo, Petunia, Minotaur and Kraken. We were lucky enough to sit next to Peter Lombardo from the Huge team. My son spent three hours picking Peter’s brain about robotics and building. And to his credit, Peter patiently and enthusiastically responded to each and every question. It was like they live in this universe were science is the coolest thing there is, and it was so awesome to witness.

You can catch Battlebots on both the Discovery and Science channels. Season 3 began on May 11 so check it out to see which bot survives until the end. The show airs at 8 pm.

My son Emmett’s review for your kids:

Battlebots is a TV show where groups of people make big robots. They use different blades and weapons to try to make the other robot immobile. They are in this big square ring with hammers and blockers on the sides. You try to drive around and hit the opponents with a weapon. You win if your opponent stops moving and becomes stuck.

Anyone can do it, and you can build what you want. There are so many different things that can happen. It’s fun seeing what different tools each robot has. It’s just a fun environment. It was so cool to see the inside of every robot. In real life they are actually big, not as tiny as I thought.

It’s always unpredictable and crazy seeing each bot that someone works so hard on gets blown up. No one cares. It’s just fun to compete. It was amazing to see how someone can completely destroy the opponent, rip them apart or melt them. It’s just really entertaining.

A Conference, Powerful Words & Silencing Your Inner Critic

Going to conferences always brings out my deeply hidden insecurities. On any typical day I am a fairly confident person. I work hard. I try to be nice to people. Life is generally good. But in the weeks leading up to any conference I’m a little shaky. I start obsessing about clothing (which I never do). I worry about meaningless stuff. My head gets the best of me.

Leading up to Mom 2.0 my mental firestorm always goes on overload. There are a few reasons why. To start with I really respect the people who attend. I read their words and listen to their podcasts and marvel at their Instagram feeds. I just sink into thinking, I’m unworthy. Oh course I’m worthy. We all are. But that doesn’t stop my inner critic from spewing belittling thoughts late at night.

The second and equally plaguing problem heading into Mom 2.0 is I really care about promoting my book. It took 20 years to learn enough to write it, and it’s my book baby. I want to tell everyone about it. But that’s the problem. It’s really hard to tell people about your book. It’s awkward. I’m awkward.

Lastly, there is always a time when it feels like everyone else has someone to go to the _______ (fill in the blank big event) and I don’t. Sure, I could ask to join someone. But that sometimes feels like offering to feed the bears. It could go really well or you could get mauled.

Still, excitedly, I drove to the conference, held this year in the lovely Langham Pasadena (thanks for the pens). The conference didn’t disappoint. I called my husband a few times, and he would say I was giddy. I met incredibly nice and interesting people. I presented on a panel with women I didn’t know, and it all worked perfectly. I went in determined to push myself out of my comfort zone, and I did. But the problem with leaving the comfort zone is that it’s uncomfortable there.

So when I went home and started thinking about all I said and did. I became mortified. I obsessed just like I did before the conference but this time I had actual experiences to harp on. Like the time I horrendously whipped out my book to give to a person I admire. Ugh, sorry. Or the time I tried to tell someone their Dove hair looked great but my compliment came off all wrong. Sorry, again. I could go on and on. I somehow was turning a great experience into middle school.

Before I sunk too deep into my breakdown, I flipped through my little notebook and remembered my two biggest takeaways from the conference. I replayed Brené Brown’s inspiring words: Talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love. I would never talk to someone the way my mind was talking to me. The other advice that really hit home was from Katherine Wintsch. In her Slay Like A Mother presentation she told us to stay in the present, “right here, right now.” And just like Brené Brown she told us to acknowledge the voice and then direct it to a friend.

If my friend told me all the crap I was telling myself, here’s what I would say:
You are being ridiculous. Even if you embarrassed yourself, who cares.
If you feel so badly asking for someone to help you out then offer to help someone else.
Give yourself a break.

All of the sudden I became the friend I needed. I started to return to my conference high shedding that awful critic. I incorporated what I just learned. And that’s what conferences are all about. It’s growth in ways you didn’t even know you needed.

Being a working mother these days is often about finding your inner voice and silencing the real or imagined chatter. I am so thankful to be able to have these learning experiences. Professionally, I prioritized my work and found the direction I needed. Personally, I picked up a new tool to fight my worst inner voice and a way to be a better me. Thank you Mom 2.0 for all of this.

On a side note: What makes me feel better about asking for help is also giving it. Here is what I have to share. If you are interested, message me on Facebook @thefamilycoach or send me an email here.

  • 1-page book review request sheet
  • Sample successful pitch letters
  • My book proposal for a nonfiction book
  • Ask me to do a book review for your book baby

 

Emma González and the Unknown Costs of Early Activism

Photo Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

I’ve been watching the Parkland survivor advocates feeling simultaneously in awe of their courage and fearful for their futures. I am absolutely astonished at their strength, power and passion. They have been able to achieve what many exceptionally accomplished adults have not. They have advanced the discussion on gun control, and they deserve our never-ending gratitude. Yes, we owe them for what they are trying to do for our children and country. But we also owe them for the potential damage they are unknowingly inflicting upon themselves.

Emma González, the face of the movement, is barely a day into adulthood. She believes she can change the world, and she’s certainly putting in her effort. But at 18, she doesn’t know about the pain of banging your head against the wall trying to help people understand why they should collectively care. She doesn’t know that she just lost her last bit of privacy, and that her life will never go as she originally planned. She doesn’t know how PTSD may affect her in the future or even what the effects will be of having lived through a mass shooting and watching friends die. She hasn’t had a second of time to grieve. As a social worker and parent I can’t help but worry about what the recent fame and opportunity is costing her and her friends.

In an essay for Harper’s Bazaar, González laments: “I’m 18 years old, Cuban and bisexual. I’m so indecisive that I can’t pick a favorite color, and I’m allergic to 12 things. I draw, paint, crochet, sew, embroider—anything productive I can do with my hands while watching Netflix. But none of this matters anymore.” Right now her life is all about gun control. At the same time, she is still developing her identity of who she is and who she wants to be. She still naively thinks everything will return to normal as soon as the adults wake up and change the laws. She writes, “We want to fix this problem so it doesn’t occur again, but mostly we want people to forget about us once this is over. We want to go back to our lives and live them to the fullest in respect for the dead”

An icon at 18, González has a verified Twitter account followed by 1.4 million. Emma and her friends don’t know what twitter trolls can do. Unfortunately, they are getting a crash course. Just yesterday a doctored animated video made the rounds on social media. It featured González ripping up a copy of the constitution. The name calling can be venomous by the anonymous. However, loads of people have no problem attaching their names to vicious hate speech. Take Leslie Gibson, former candidate for the Maine house and a man who called González a “skinhead lesbian” on Twitter. That’s one of the nicer comments I read.

Being an advocate and activist has a price, and Emma González and the other young people fronting this movement will pay it for us. It may take years but the price will come. I worry about anxiety and depression. I worry about PTSD and suicidal ideation. I worry about social isolation and credible threats to their safety. I worry about the toll of prolonged anger without outlets and something positive to balance it. These worries aren’t hyperbole or dramatic exaggeration. It’s the sad reality of being a nationally-recognized activist.

A recent article in the New York Times chronicled the pain and suffering of young people who were suddenly thrown into the activist rolls. Due to various causes, five people from the Black Lives Matter movement have died in just the last two years. The kids from Parkland are already receiving death threats. González reported on 60 Minutes that she fears bombs being thrown through their office windows. This weight would be extremely difficult for an adult to handle, let alone adolescents. There is a lot of sacrifice and suffering that accompanies anyone shouting for change in the public eye. But the effects are more intense when the advocates are still coming of age.

It remains unclear how the #NeverAgain movement will affect Emma González and her peers from Parkland. They are doing a service for their country, and they should be recognized as such. I just hope the price tag for their effort isn’t irreparable damage.

A New Dress Code Policy & A Win for Girls

Sometimes a small change can make a massive difference. Today I found out my school district changed it’s dress code policy. What might look like minor language alterations actually add up to a huge development.

Last year my 13-year-old daughter was objectified, mortified and singled out due to her size (tall) and gender. First we were told girls couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys can’t control themselves. Then various school administrators gave my daughter two dress code violations stating that her shorts were too short. Frustrated and embarrassed by what she had to wear the rest of the day my daughter wrote an email to the principal expressing her thoughts on the dress code. The principal wrote back that it was out of her hands as she was just following district policy (LAME).

I was livid and fed up with the policy and its implementation. I wrote a tongue in cheek letter to the principal inviting her to take my daughter shopping. The letter struck a chord, for better or worse, with so many. I received hundreds of notes from women and girls thanking me for expressing their frustration. I also received loads of well-meaning folks telling me I was raising a slut and a snowflake. Everyone is entitled to their opinion although I respectfully disagreed.

The dress code singles out girls. Although tall and overweight girls are disproportionately more likely to be cited. The not-so-subtle message of the dress code is that girls’ bodies are a distraction and girls need to be responsible for making boys comfortable. In the age of #MeToo it is clear that we need to be sending different messages to both the boys and the girls.

This year my daughter entered high school where miraculously the dress code isn’t enforced much. Life went on. However, I just spotted an understated post on the middle school Facebook page that simply says, “Dress Code approved 1/16/2018.” I clicked on the link and immediately smiled from ear to ear.

The new dress code states that kids must wear a shirt, pant, shorts or a skirt, and shoes. No one can wear clothing with profanity, violent images, any illegal item or hate speech. That’s pretty much it.

The best part of the new policy actually doesn’t relate to the dress code, but to how it can be enforced. School staff may NOT publicly call out a student for attire. Staff may NOT require students to bend, kneel or measure skirts or straps. And most important, school staff may NOT accuse students of distracting other students with their clothing. When I read that part I became teary from I place I didn’t know was still hurting. This is a huge advancement and a win for all the kids in the district.

I don’t think my letters to and about the principal had any influence over this policy. But I do think that our collective voice across the country is being heard. This policy shift may seem small and insignificant. But right now I feel hopeful, and that’s not nothing.

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How Can We Talk to Kids About Shootings? We Can’t.

I’m so sick of writing useless commentaries on how parents can talk to their kids about the latest episode of senseless violence. At this point, when there’s a shooting (at school or in a church or at a concert), there are no good ways to talk to kids.

Could this happen at our school? Yes

Am I safe? Not exactly.

Should I be scared? Kind of.

There have been 18 school shootings in just the first 45 days of 2018. Death or injury occurred at seven shootings and attempted or completed suicide happened at two. So, are my kids safe from gun violence? I don’t really think so. Are yours? No, they aren’t either.

I can’t explain to my kids that some people value their right to own guns, any kind of gun, over the safety of our citizen. I can’t explain this because I can hardly believe it. It hurts to much to imagine. But it’s true. Some people want fewer restrictions. They want to be able to bring guns across state lines and into cities. They aren’t interested in waiting periods or background checks. They want to be able to buy any gun that has ever been manufactured for any reason.

I can’t explain to my kids that words written in 1791 are the reason we have to have “active shooter” drills at school. There is no way to discuss this issue with kids because they ask the obvious questions, and I don’t have good answers.

Why does someone need a gun that can fire so many bullets? Ummmm….

How come nothing has changed since so many were murdered in Sandy Hook? Ummmm…..

I can’t explain to my kids that politicians make the big decisions but those decisions are clouded by a competing interest. People in politics have to run for office, and that’s expensive. I can’t explain that the people we elect are beholden to the people or entities who help pay the costs of running for office. There is no good way to explain this without shouting and ripping my hair out.

The moral compass of this country is buried, and there are no comforting answers for children. Sometimes I want to pretend that nothing happened to spare my kids. But I can’t do that either. They’ll end up hearing about it from their friends on the bus or even during a commercial during Jeopardy. We can’t shield children now from being killed or being frightened by it either.

I want to believe that change can happen, and there is a tipping point on the horizon. But more and more every day I feel like I’m living in a dystopian novel. Except this is reality. It’s really happening that time and time again not one change happens after a tragedy. An armed security guard at my children’s schools will not stop a gunman from shooting up kids on the playground or the outdoor cafeteria. More guns won’t make anyone safer.

So, how should we explain this shooting and the next and the next? We can’t because there are no words to explain all of this. What we can do is listen to their fears and express our own sadness. We can tell them that there is still hope, and there are ways to fix this problem. Tell them how important voting is and why. Tell children that in the face of a scary situation they should rise up. Be a good friend. Care for their community. Do what we can to help all people in this country to live better healthier more productive lives. Tell your kids you love them. That’s really all we can say.

When One Teen Suicide Turns Into A Cluster

Over winter break a child at my daughter’s school died by suicide. Grief counseling was offered.

Within one month on January 22, 2018 a girl was found dead in a nearby park by suicide. She was 13.

Only five days later a child in another nearby town died by suicide. His final notes to family, friends and his school were made public. The principal made a plea to parents to change that was widely promoted on social media.

Within nine days of the last local suicide we received news that yet another young man from my daughter’s school took his life.

That’s four local suicides within six weeks. Any loss of life is a tragedy. But when there are multiple suicides in a close vicinity within a short period of time it’s known as a cluster. And clusters among teens are particularly dangerous because they often produce the spread of suicide. There is a very delicate balance that is needed to honor the person who was lost and provide the family support. Communities need to be extremely mindful that doing so can often be in direct opposition of what is needed to control the cluster, namely, not romanticizing the child, glorifying the death or sensationalizing the situation.

Grief counselors are always on hand to offer support after a school death. That’s the first point the principal puts out there to allay fears of kids suffering from the trauma of losing a friend. But that is clearly not nearly enough.

Last year when 13 Reasons Why was released nearly every school was prompted to talk about suicide. Some schools advised parents to tell their kids to avoid watching the show. I advised something different. Other schools did a suicide awareness programs. But again, none of it is enough. Parents, teachers, school districts, colleges and society at large need to make vital changes to make sure kids have a chance to enjoy their childhoods and make it to adulthood.

Here’s what we need to do individually and collectively to keep our kids from thinking suicide is a viable option to end their problems:

Parents and schools must stop putting ever-present pressure on kids to succeed at all costs. The societal emphasis on college and getting into the absolute best one as a vital means to life success and happiness is incredibly misguided and untrue. Heavy course loads with multiple AP classes and hours of homework all while also doing extra-curricular sports, tutoring, chores, and volunteering is killing our kids (literally and figuratively). Meanwhile, mental illness concerns are skyrocketing among teens and college kids. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, I don’t care where my kids go to college or even if they go. I know that is easier said than done but saying it brings it closer to reality. What’s more important is for my kids to find a way to make a living doing something they enjoy. My kids know this clearly. Do yours?

Schools need to stop sending grades to parents on a daily basis. It takes the ownership away from kids and further gives parents one more avenue to overreach into their children’s lives. It adds emphasis on the importance of every minute assignment and almost begs parents to discuss each grade with their kids. In response kids start worrying intensely about disappointing their parents. Many a childhood suicide can be traced to children anxious that one mistake will so heavily upset their parents that they view death as a preferable outcome. Take that in for a second.

Teach kids that perfect is a fallacy and even the idea of striving to be at least closer to perfection should not be the goal. Parents say they don’t expect their kids to be perfect. But their actions convey a different message. Just watch the sidelines of any youth sporting event. Parents tend to provide an endless stream of advice on how to play and improve the game or performance. There is absolutely no fun in that. Children often continue to play to please their parents (and because it looks good on college applications) or they drop out. Either way, the message is clear: be better, do better. When kids come home with a 95 many parents ask (sometimes even jokingly), “What happened to the other 5 points?” Stop doing that.

Schools need crisis intervention plans as well as prophylactic plans for addressing suicide. Playing catch up offering suicide hotlines and providing grief counselors is not enough. School and communities need to know how to respond if and when a suicide occurs. Days after a recent suicide a well-meaning coach published the suicide letters on his blog. He was asking for parents to read the letters and think about how to make changes to support children better. He too was grieving. But what he didn’t know was that those letters would also be seen by young people. They would be confusing to read and incredibly thought provoking. And worst of all, highly inflammatory in terms of glorifying suicide. I’m deeply saddened but not at all surprised that another suicide happened days later. At this point I only know there is a correlation between these two events, not causation. But training and research make me fear that sharing those letters did more harm than good. Information disseminated on a regular basis to parents, kids and teachers about teenage suicide, why it happens, how to prevent it and how to handle it if it does occur it would prevent some mishandling and minimize the risk of a cluster forming.

Parents need to make the assumption their kids are exposed to drugs, alcohol, vaping, sex, porn, violence, social isolation, bullying and much more. Social media, cell phones, access to the internet and the 24-hour news cycle have taken away parents’ ability to shield their children from information that may be harmful. Kids don’t always possess the maturity to handle what they are exposed to. Often even the most conscientious parents have no clue what is going on for kids behind closed doors and on disappearing snapchats. Make a point of talking to kids regularly (weekly) about important issues even if you think it doesn’t affect your kids. Talk to your kids even if they don’t talk back. Talk in the car, over dinner or at night with the lights out before bed. Text these conversations if that’s the only way. Have the conversations before you think you have to. Your kids are going through so much more than you think. Get in there and help them.

Love your kid no matter what. That sounds obvious but it needs to be said. Love your kid despite his F on the important science test. Love you kid although she was caught smoking pot in the bathroom. Love your kid even though she is gay or lesbian or trans or not even sure. Love your kid when you find out she’s been promiscuous and might be pregnant. Don’t just say it. Show your kids that you may not love their actions but you love them. Show them that they should not fear a nuclear meltdown if they tell you bad news. Make sure they know that there is nothing that they should view as the end of the world. Tell them and show them with your action.

Learn more about suicide and how to prevent it at The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

HEXBUG VEX Robotics

HEXBUG VEX Robotics Catapult
$19.99 on Amazon (on sale for $12.79 right now)

My son, Emmett, likes to build. We recently learned about a new line of toys from HEXBUG (yes, same company who makes those awesome crawling little robot bugs) called VEX Robotics. Sure, robotics are all the craze right now. But there’s a place for the VEX products. Here’s why.

As a parent, there are several things I appreciate about the VEX line. To start, VEX allows kids to experiment with robotics without breaking the bank. It’s frustrating how expensive some of the robotics toys can be. Many families are just priced out. But the VEX products are generally between the $12 – $20 range. There’s a big bang for the buck here. Kids have to use their brains to build it. And unlike other building toys, once it is put together, kids can still play with it. The VEX robotics products don’t just sit on a shelf and collect dust. They continues to provide a fun activity long after the initial fun of constructing is gone.

Emmett and some of his friends build the Catapult, the Zip Flyer and the Crossfire Airplane Launcher. They were all great. The Zip Flyer is great for younger kids (8+). The Catapult and the Crossfire are recommended for 14+ but my son is 11 and built them both without assist. The only downside to any of the toys is that the balls for the Catapult are easily lost. That’s due to no fault of HEXBUG but still it’s a minor issue. Luckily, they supply extra balls there are some to spare.

Emmett’s Review:
When you start building any of the VEX toys I like how you don’t really know how it is all going to come together. You don’t know how it’s going to work. Then when you are building it you learn how each machine will work. After you build it I liked how there are a lot of different things that can be done with it. You can launch it at different levels. So you can choose the distance which is fun. The Catapult was the most complicated one to build of the VEX toys we tried. I would say that a kid needs to be a little experienced at building before trying the catapult. The Zip Flyer would be better for younger kids.

It’s fun to play catch with the Catapult or to try shooting it at a target. I would recommend all of the VEX products and specifically the catapult.

Overall Recommendation: Great toy at a great price point.

Disclosure: These products was provided for free. However, these reviews are our own and reflect our true feelings on these products. Some links may be affiliates.