From Teens

It's back to school. What happens when your kids are not excited to return?

Another First Day of School

0

The memories are still clear in my mind. Fondly, I can see my boys racing through empty school hallways, hear their footfalls on the squeaky clean floor as yet uncluttered by the year to come. Their gleaming eyes dart from side to side in search of the familiar faces of friends not seen since the previous June. I remember sharing their excitement as we found and set up their desks, serious work intermittently interrupted by explosions of chatter at the entrance of a new friend to class.

It's back to school. What happens when your kids are not excited to return?

The start of school used to be very exciting for our family. My boys were anxious to see their friends and meet their teachers. I would look forward to the seven-hour daily respite that school provided me. The summer months required a lot of work, shuttling the boys to and from activities or trying to fill their home hours with something other than television. The structure that school provided helped me as much as them.

There has been a polar-shift, however. My children are literally too-cool-for-school. They are supremely unenthused by the prospect of school restarting.   The old spark is missing. It makes sense. They have experienced multiple first days of school. This will be my oldest son’s ninth first day (K-8); it will be my youngest boy’s eight first day of school (PS-5). The thrill is gone for them. The spark of excitement that I used to feel at my boys’ returning to school has dimmed as well. My boys are greatly self-sufficient and quite easy to monitor. Their going back to school won’t make my life easier- just more quiet.

Perhaps a wiser parent than I would simply accept the changing times yet I continue a pointless quest to make the start of school exciting.   I ask my boys pointed questions regarding friends whom they have not seen in a while or about changes in their classes. “Will the school feel different without R there?” I ask them open questions: “what do you think it will be like having Mr. D as your teacher this year?” My queries, which would have begun animated conversations a few short years ago, are now met with unintelligible grunts.   Still, I try – without success- to drum up some enthusiasm for the coming school year.

The start of school, though less necessary for my sanity, still seems exciting to me. I dropped off some vaccine forms there this morning and was delighted to see many teachers and parents whom I’ve not seen in months. This is cool, I thought, a whole new year of school. Then my thoughts shift to my boys. Perhaps I could impart some enthusiasm with…. But I stop myself in mid-thought. My boys’ reactions to the start of the school year are completely normal. The lack of excitement is not satisfying, but it makes sense developmentally. My trying to inject enthusiasm into their systems vis-à-vis school’s starting seems futile.   I need to accept the changing times. I’ll always have the memories.

Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

It’s More Like “Girl Crash!”

5

Yesterday my daughters, ages 6 and 11, and I were driving down the road on our way to a doctor’s appointment about 50 miles away. I flipped through radio stations on the way, stopping when something met our fancy. At one point I landed on a station and heard an unfamiliar melody sung by a smooth female voice. I stopped and listened.

Frequently I can listen to an entire song and focus so intently on the music, the voice, or the harmony line that I completely miss the lyrics. For whatever reason, this time I caught the words.

Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

The song was Girl Crush, and I suppose I was somewhere in the middle of the second verse when I clued in to the fact that this song was about Girl A who envied Girl B because Girl B was with a boy that Girl A wanted. I think I had just gotten to the following part.

“I want to drown myself

In a bottle of her perfume.

I want her long blonde hair.

I want her magic touch.

Yeah, ‘cause maybe then

You’d want me just as much.”

I’d like to say something really intelligent and insightful came out of my mouth at this point, but that would be a lie. Instead I blurted, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” and clicked to a different station. Then the 11 year old voice in the back seat said, “No kidding! I was thinking the same thing.”

Whoa, I didn’t realize she’d been listening, taking all of that nonsense in. The immediate image that came to mind was of the Sirens. You know, the sultry crooning mythological creatures who lure you with their sweet song until you’re shipwrecked on their island and you meet your ultimate demise. We were lulled by a pretty song and drifted lazily along until we snapped to and saw the sharp rocks ahead.

                        “I got it real bad,

                        Want everything she has…

                        I don’t get no sleep.

                        I don’t get no peace.”

 

No! No! No! Hell to the nah!

I’ve got an eleven year old girl in the backseat. She starts junior high next year. I don’t want her drowning herself in anything, much less some other girl’s identity. My mind started racing, processing all the things that were wrong with this picture.

I want my daughters to be able to admire and respect other people without desiring to become them. It’s a good thing to be able to appreciate another person’s talent or beauty, but recognizing that another person has some positive attributes should happen in conjunction with recognizing your own talent and beauty. “They have it all, and I have nothing” is a messed up equation. It’s not balanced and we aren’t studying that kind of math. The idea of shape shifting into someone else’s image so you can be “good enough” or “acceptable” is not where we want to go.

Not to mention, the attributes that are touted as desirable for adoption in the song all had to do with physical appearance or sexual prowess. And, the tone of the whole darn thing was acquisitional. (i.e. “How can I acquire her long blonde hair, her magic touch, her whisper, so the guy will want to acquire me?”)

Yuck! I don’t want my daughters to view themselves as a commodity to be marketed. Likewise, I don’t want them to buy in to some caricature of masculinity that suggests men only chase blondes with magic fingers and throaty whispers.

I get that the song probably wasn’t written with an 11-year-old audience in mind, but that song wafted through the speakers of my Kia Sorento carried on the waves of a Top-40 station. I guarantee when she walks into junior high in a few weeks, 90% of the 6th grade will have heard it. I wondered just how far the song had burrowed into her brain, so this morning I asked her if she remembered the song we heard on the radio yesterday. Her response: “You mean the one about the girl wanting to drown herself in some other girl’s perfume and steal her blonde hair?”

            Yep, that’s the one.

So, here’s what we’re gonna do. My husband and I can’t shield her from the reality that our society depicts and encourages images of people and relationships that we find to be inaccurate and unhealthy. We can use some of society’s distortion as a starting point for a conversation in which we share our perceptions about healthy women and men. We can ask questions about the underlying assumptions that would inspire a person to create a song like that, and then we can share our foundational beliefs about people’s worth and identity.

My hope is that conversations like this when my daughter is 11 will prevent her from polluting the airwaves with songs like this when she’s a young adult.

Thinking about when to let your kids start using social media?

A Conversation About Social Media

0

Thinking about when to let your kids start using social media?

“Your mom and I have heard you pleas, but our position remains unchanged. NO SOCIAL MEDIA.” All your friends are on facebook, instagram, or snapchat, you claim, but we are not swayed. “How about JP, EH and BL? we remind you. They are not connected to social media.   Nor are GD, HC, or UD. We are aware that your friends through soccer are connected, but we do not know them as well as we do your school friends.”

“All right, all right,” we respond to your heated rebuttal. “We hear you. You want to spread your wings and meet and interact with more people than you do in your school,” (an admittedly very small independent school). “Social Media, however, is not the best way to do it.”

“You’re right. We are older than you, and times have changed, but older does not mean wrong. There are healthier, safer ways to meet new people,” we continue.   “Take soccer. You have made many good friends through your team(s) and have done so the old-fashioned way—face to face.”

It’s not just those friends whom you’re interested in interacting with, you point out, you want to connect with girls.

“How about the girls at school,” we counter. “Many of them have crushes on you. Why not pursue one of them?” You have known them too long, you moan, you see them as sisters or friends, not girlfriends. “What’s the rush? Girls can wait,” we argue. You brush off the comment, irritated that we have steered away from the topic at hand.   Girlfriends can wait, you agree, but if you’re going to tap into the pulse of the broader world, you need to be connected to Social Media.

Perils abound there, my wife and I argue. There are predators in chat-rooms who impersonate teenagers. And there are troubles that young, immature minds can get into. We recount a tale told to us by an internet-safety expert who visited the boys’ school. The girlfriend of a HS boy sent him nude pictures of her. When, later, she broke up with him, he became angry and sent the photos to his school community. The girls parents contacted the police who charged the HS boy with possessing and disseminating child pornography. The HS boy has been branded a sex-offender.

I would never have shared those pictures, you cry, offended. I would have deleted them.

“Of course, we know that you would have showed greater kindness/judgment than the high schooler in question, but our point stands. Social Media leads to no good.”

You give us a charming, beseeching smile. “You don’t want me to be left behind socially, do you?”

****

My son might not always be happy about them, but these conversations are essential. Keeping the lines of communication open with one’s children is always a good thing. Such conversations can be illuminating for the parent as well. Despite my words, I grow less and less sure of my position vis-à-vis social media. There are certainly dangers that surround it, but most can be avoided with common sense. It seems to me that a parent should trust that his or her child would and could make healthy and safe decisions regarding social media. What’s the point of all the coaching/educating we do as parents if not to let our children interact freely with the world that surrounds them (a world that includes social media). I still have significant reservations regarding social media and children, and another year without it will not clip my son’s social wings irreparably. But the time seems unavoidable when I will relent and let him connect to facebook, instagram or snapchat. I can imagine how the news would be received and how I might deliver it, but I am not ready to have that conversation quite yet.