Tagged Tweens

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

Another First Day of School

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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!”

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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.

Great ideas for letters to send your kids at summer camp!

Summer Camp: 5 Letters to Write to Your Kids

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Summer Camp. Descriptions from summer camp brochures and promotional videos extol the almost mythical place where summer days are filled with crazy adventures and new friends. The nights around the campfire are filled with songs and cool breezes. It’s a place to try new things, meet new people, and experience new traditions.

Great ideas for letters to send your kids at summer camp!

I’ve written before about why I send my kids to summer camp:

  • Develop Independence
  • Practice Interdependence
  • Improve Frustration Tolerance and Resilience
  • Disconnect and Decompress
  • Connect with Nature

There is no doubt that I believe sleep-away summer camp to be a formative experience in my life and my kids’ lives. Each summer when our kids return home, I marvel at how much more self-confident and self-sufficient they are. They are more flexible and creative. They occupy themselves without electronics and are more tolerant of other people.

During the month that the boys are at summer camp, I spend a lot of time thinking about my kids. I miss them. Honestly, by the end of the month, I even miss their bickering. So I do what any parent does when their kid is at summer camp – I spend a lot of time with my husband; I catch up on chores I’ve been neglecting, and I write them letters.

Over the years, my letters can be lumped into 5 main themes:

  1. The “I’m Proud of You” Letter
  2. The “Goals for Camp” Letter
  3. The “Nothing’s New at Home” Letter
  4. The “Update on the News” Letter
  5. The Coded Message Letter

The “I’m Proud of You” Letter

This is always the first letter I write my kids at camp. It’s the ego boost and connection back to home that is supposed to help my kids get through the first days of homesickness and their adjustment to the new routine.

Topics in the past have included: improved negotiation skills and teamwork, learning how to set and attain goals, prioritizing including others (especially when a friend is feeling left out), figuring out how to cool-off and take a break when needed, and successfully navigating a new school.

My kids have a good bull-shit meter and don’t pay attention to fluff, so this requires that I think critically and really get specific about each child’s accomplishments for the year.

The “Goals for Camp” Letter

Before my kids leave for summer camp, we spend a fair amount of time making goals for camp. In mid-Spring, the camp they attend asks for goals from both the camper and the parents. So everyone normally has a good idea of what they are hoping to get out of camp. the boys’ goals tend to be focused on doing stuff – more horseback riding or more hiking. Rob’s and my goal’s tend to be more focused on personal growth.

My second letter is normally about being intentional at camp.

Topics in the past have included entreaties to: have fun, unwind, support your friends, give people second chances, try something new, include kids who aren’t always included, encourage other people, give people the benefit of the doubt, say you’re sorry when you mess up, and try again if you don’t get it right the first time.

The “Nothing’s New at Home” Letter

This may be the most important letter that a homesick child receives. Now, not all kids are homesick, but no kid wants to get a letter from home detailing all the exciting things they are missing out on at home.

Most of my letters to camp consist of a lot of monotony. I tell the boys about just how normal my day is – work, dinner with their dad, grocery shopping, walking the dog.

It’s just a simple letter to let them know I am thinking about them, that I love them and that the world at home is still stable and predictable.

The “Update on the News” Letter

This is the easiest letter to write!

Think about what your kids love and send them updates about it. I have one kid who loves sports and national news and another kid who loves computer programming and dystopian fiction. I can easily check out the websites they frequent and print a few articles each week with updates and news. I slip these into an envelope, slap on a stamp and an address and the letter is on it’s way.

These letters do a whole lot more than connect my kids back to the things they find important – I’m showing my kids just how well I know them. I’m showing my kids that I pay attention to them, value what they value and want to encourage their interests. It is a powerful way to connect with them from a very long distance.

The Coded Message Letter

This is the letter that my kids beg me to write. They love getting a puzzle or coded message to solve. It gives them something fun to do during rest time or down time.

Our favorite coded messages are: The Pig Pen Cipher, The Block Cipher, and The Cut-Up Letter Puzzle.

You can mix it up – send the key-code before you send the coded message letter or send it after and see if you child can figure out the message without the key-code. If you have a hard time getting your child to write you back, send the key-code first and have them compose a coded message to you, before you send them your coded message! A little incentive never hurts.


 

Great tips for sending letters to your kids at summer camp!Remember – it never hurts to spice up any of these letters with glitter or confetti!

Also – If you have a kid who doesn’t like to write letters, try sending them with some fill-in-the-blank, Mad Libs style letters to complete and mail home. It has definitely increased the number of letters we get when our boys are at summer camp!

Navigating the Teenage Gossip Mill

Drill Before You Spill: Navigating Teenage Gossip

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Teenage Gossip: Help Kids Respond to the Invitation to Disclose Personal Information

There’s a George Strait song that goes something like,

“Do you love me, do you wanna be my friend?

And if you do, well then don’t be afraid to take me by the hand if you want to.

I think this is how love goes, check yes or no.”

Navigating the Teenage Gossip MillSeems harmless enough, right? A girl lets a boy know she is interested and would not rebuff his advances.  The ball is now in the boy’s court. He’s been invited to spill.

A few years back, my work as a school counselor landed me in the middle of one of these situations, but I didn’t anticipate the content of the note I was handed. It read something like this,

“Dear Girl Who Sits In Front of Me,

I think you’ve been sexually abused. Have you?

Check one: _________ yes       __________no”

She’s just been invited to spill.

Earlier this year my daughter recounted to me the following conversation.

photo (1)

 

Friend: Do you have a crush?

Daughter: Yes.

Friend: Write his name on your wrist.

She, too, has just been invited to spill.

 

Some version of this scenario is playing out right now on a playground, in a cafeteria, or on a cell phone near you. Watching my own child navigate the trickiness of personal disclosure was eye opening. I think I had assumed she’d be able to interpret the nuance of different requests for information and the motivation behind them – fodder for the teenage gossip mill or genuine care and concern.

Sometimes I’m a really clueless mom!

What I’ve found is that adult ears hear a different tone in each of the preceding three examples. We recognize the relative innocence and hopefulness in the first one. We hear the calculated manipulation and motivation to hurt in the second one. And, in the third one we hear the seemingly innocuous dare that will most likely lead to the crush no longer being a mystery.

Tweens are just beginning to refine this sort of perception and need some help deciding when and how much to share.

Understanding and Managing Teenage Gossip

So, my daughter and I worked together and came up with this.

Drill Before You Spill:
(to be used in the case of another kid pumping you for information)

1.  Who’s asking?
If you get an anonymous request, stop now. This is a definite no-spill situation.

If it’s someone you know, go on to #2.

2. What is my relationship to this person?

If it’s a casual acquaintance, zip your lips.

If it is a close friend or family member, go on to #3.

3. How much do I trust this friend or family member? Has he/she proven to be reliable and loyal in the past?

If the answer is no, stop the flow.

If the answer is yes, continue to #4.

4. How bad would it hurt me if my information still somehow got leaked?

Sometimes even the most trustworthy and well-intentioned friends or family members let things slip. If an accidental spill outside your inner circle wouldn’t hurt your feelings, cause uncomfortable embarrassment, or spark a long chain of questions you’d rather not answer, then go for it.

If your infkeep quietormation is so private that the thought of people knowing it makes your stomach turn over and beads of sweat start to roll down the back of your neck, keep quiet.

Our kids live in an environment that is saturated with a constant flow of status updates and tweets. The teenage gossip mill is relentless. They read, hear, and see people sharing both the inane minutiae of the moment and their deeply personal existential struggles.

In a world that sometimes blurs the lines between personal and private, our kids need to know that they own their information. Any attempt to expose or bring to light something they’re not ready to share should be met with resistance.

Kids need a safe, responsible, confidential adult with whom they can share personal information. If you have the privilege of being such an adult for a child, you are in a great position to be able to start a conversation about how to respond to an invitation to spill. How do you talk about the teenage gossip mill with your kids? What would you include in the “Drill Before You Spill” for your family?