The Help Button

hlpbtnA friend who wants to change jobs asked me to teach her how to use Microsoft Word.  I considered all that she needs to know, from creating  a document to using tables and lists. . .and I decided the best thing I can teach her is how to use the Help Button.  When she can’t remember how to insert a picture, she can use the Help Button to find the instructions–because the reality is that I won’t always be available.

Students come to me and tell me what’s wrong:  “My pencil broke.”  Though they obviously expect me to fix it for them, I respond, “You can complain about the problem or seek a solution.”  And then I wait.  Eventually, and sometimes with prompting, they figure out that they need to borrow or sharpen a pencil.  Parents of middle schoolers should do the same–teach their children to solve their own problems.  This begins with not jumping in to provide an immediate solution but asking instead, “What are you going to do about that?”

One of the most important skills parents can teach their children is how to think and speak for themselves.   By age 11, middle schoolers should order their own food in restaurants, tell the hair stylist how they want their hair cut, and describe to the doctor what the pain feels like.  When they’re unhappy with a grade, they should be the ones to talk to their teachers.  If they can’t find something, they should stop and consider where it might be instead of being told by a parent where to find it.  If they’re trying to use something new, they should be the ones to read the directions.

Independence is an important skill learned only by experience.  The next time your middle schooler asks for your help, don’t answer right away.  Instead, reply with a comment such as, “Hmm. . .sounds like a problem.  How do you plan to solve it?”

It’s like pointing to the Help Button.

 

Vacation Spoilers

Jon Stepping on David

A mom complained, “It used to be fun taking my kids on road trips, but now my 13-year-old daughter ruins everything.  She is on her phone the whole time!  When we ask where she wants to eat, she says, ‘I don’t care,’ then complains about wherever we go.  I get so tired of her sulking and making everyone miserable!”

Adolescence can be like an unwelcome passenger on a family vacation.  Though the benefits of traveling with teens are many – they can find the nearest Starbucks on their phone and heave suitcases out of the car – they may not help willingly, preferring instead to whine or grumble (“Why do I have to do everything?”).  Their bad moods can bring everybody down as they pick on siblings and act like nothing will make them happy.

Here are some helpful tips for frazzled parents:

1. Declare “No-Phone Zones.”   This can be 30 miles or 30 minutes, but do negotiate rather than dictating.  And be sure you participate, too!

2. Ignore bad moods.  I saw parents do this recently at a motel breakfast.  Their daughter, who was around 13,  sulkily slouched against the wall, not participating in the family chatter.   When she finally slid over and joined the conversation, she was welcomed and immediately included.  Which brings us to the next point:

3. Ignore good moods.  Don’t say, “Now isn’t this nice, when you’re actually being  happy?”  It will then become a matter of pride for him to prove that he is not happy; in fact, now he’s twice as grumpy because he’ll say you are picking on him!

4. Take the back seat.  Siblings get tired of sitting near each other, and the view from the back is boring.   Switch with your teen if s/he is old enough to be in the front seat; this will also give the back seat crew some of your attention.  If you’re flying, consider one parent sitting with each child instead of parents in one row and kids in another.

Take the middle road with moods and the back seat on the road (or in the air), and you may find that Adolescence isn’t so hard to travel with after all.

 

“Hey! Why’d You Punch Me?”

scrthndsk

While working with a student one afternoon, I heard a voice behind me exclaim, “Hey!  Why’d you punch me?”  This is what I refer to as a “tattle voice,” designed to alert the nearest adult that trouble is afoot (or a-punch, as the case may be).  This time,  knowing the tattler probably had punched first, I chose to pretend I hadn’t heard.

There’s something inside of middle schoolers that compels them to punch, poke, and smack (boys), or hug, link elbows, and walk with their arms around each other (girls).  This is partly because their needs for physical affection haven’t diminished, but their means of meeting those needs have changed.  When they’re 5, their parents will still pick them up, kiss them good-night, and hold their hands as they cross the street.  When they’re 10, changes start to happen, some of them initiated by themselves.

When they’re 13, they may still crave parental hugs, but they’re not sure if that’s okay with their peers.  At an age where affection from parents may or may not be welcomed,  punching and hugging meet basic needs for affection in a socially acceptable manner.  I’ve had students decide punching me might be a good way to connect, and I’ve had to suggest we switch to fist bumps instead.

Parents who aren’t allowed to hug (at least in public) can meet physical needs in subtle, more middle-school-approved ways, like a friendly shoulder bump when walking, or a high five.  Side-arm hugs are tolerated more than full-on body hugs, and developing a “secret handshake” can be a fun way to connect.  Just don’t do it if they’re afraid their friends will see it and laugh!

There will be those days when your middle schooler may seek you out for a big hug.  Don’t ruin it by saying, “Oh, so you DO still need me.”  Just open your arms and enjoy the moment.

And in between those times, keep practicing your secret handshake.

 

“So I’m Never Supposed To Have Any Fun?”

CAParents like to call it attitude; I’ve dubbed it exaggerated sarcasm.  Call it what you will, it’s designed to push our buttons – and it’s usually successful!

Last week we instituted a seating chart for 7th and 8th graders in the lunchroom, which caused the expected whining and complaining.  One angry young man approached me and said,  “So we can’t sit by whoever we want?”   Such phrases don’t translate well in print, but anyone who’s heard them will be familiar with his tone of voice.

As my blood pressure rose, I was tempted to take the bait, replying defensively with, “Look, you brought this on yourself.  If you could just behave appropriately, you wouldn’t have to suffer.  I’m not the bad guy here.”  However, experience has taught me that my response would not be met with, “Oh, you’re right.  Thank you for explaining it to me.”  Instead, the door would be opened for arguing and proclaiming of innocence and accusations of picking on people for no reason.

So instead I just said, “Yep, pretty much,”  accompanied by a small, sad smile and a shrug.  The young man looked frustrated, shook his head in disgust, and walked away muttering.  I wisely did not ask him what he was muttering, as that would have started a fresh conflict, and my goal was to defuse this one.

In the 1983 movie War Games,  a young Matthew Broderick teaches a computer about the futility of thermonuclear war by having it play several games of tic-tac-toe.  In the end, the computer comes to an important conclusion – one every parent would be wise to adopt when faced with teenage attitude:

“The best move. . .is not to play.”

1.  When we hear you say, “My kid tells me everything,” we shake our heads with sadness, because we know you are being seriously manipulated.  Your child tells you 1) what makes him look good; 2) what he thinks you want to hear, and 3) whatever will push your buttons to make you mad at the school or teacher and let him off the hook.  Seriously, what teen ever tells a parent EVERYTHING?

2. We wish you’d help us fight the dress code battle.  I had a parent once who, after I pointed out in front of her that her daughter couldn’t wear that at school, turned on her daughter and said, “See?  I told you!”  If she’d already told her, then why was her daughter at school in that outfit?  Why had she been allowed out the door in it?  I know why – because Mom wanted us to fight the battle instead of her.

3. It’s time to stop cutting the crusts off your teenager’s sandwiches.  This speaks volumes to us about your parenting style; you’re not ready to scrstls sndee your child as an adolescent.  You might also still be picking out his clothes, ordering for him in a restaurant, and cleaning his bedroom.  While you say you’re doing it because you love him, what you’re really doing is delaying his independence.  He won’t wake up one day and suddenly be a mature and responsible adult; you have to give him a chance to practice.

4. What seem like little things to you – chewing gum or texting at school – are big issues to us because they mean a student does not respect the rules.  “You’d really suspend my daughter for texting at school?”  No – we’d suspend her for repeated acts of defiance, because if she’s continually breaking one rule, chances are we’ve caught her breaking others.  When you downplay the situation, it only encourages her to keep seeing what she can get away with.

5. When we tell your child “No, you can’t,” and he gets angry and argues with us, we know he’s doing so because it works with you.  The same goes for whining – we know he’s using it on us because it gets him his way at home.  Hold your ground in the face of arguing and whining, and you’ll help your child to be more socially acceptable at school – and eventually in the workplace.

6. When we hear your teens use “please” and “thank you” without prompting, and we see them holding the door or letting others go first, we know you have taught them to be polite and considerate of others.  This is also true when they apologize, clean up after themselves, and refrain from interrupting.  It makes us think good thoughts about them – and about you!

 

They Don’t Think Like We Do

schbs

Last week we went on a field trip.  One student arrived at school late and was literally the last one to board the bus.  About 15 minutes down the road, my phone rang and a confused parent on the other end asked, “Did you forget me?”  Oops – it was the mother of my late student, and I had, indeed, forgotten her.  When I questioned her daughter about why she hadn’t asked me to wait for her mom, she said, “Because you told us that you wouldn’t wait for anybody who was late!”

Later that same day, I stood outside in a huddle of 8th graders who were trying to stay warm in 45-degree weather.  I reminded them that I had encouraged them to dress warmly, and one of them replied, “I did! I’m wearing my sweatshirt!”

The next day I stopped a 7th grader and asked him why he was walking down the hall like a penguin.  “It’s my new shoes,” he explained.  “If I bend my feet, they’re going to get creases above my toes!”

I see and hear this kind of thing every day.  Despite what they think, teens don’t yet have the world figured out.  They lack life experience, and they haven’t developed much of what we adults call “common sense” – but what is really wisdom gained from living and learning.

Sometimes they make us laugh, sometimes they make us stop and question ourselves, but if you listen carefully – they’ll always give you a glimpse into how their unfolding brains work!

They never cease to surprise me.

Speaking in Teen Code

gmi_87_09Politicians and diplomats could take a lesson from teenagers when it comes to being noncommittal.  Translating the hidden meaning behind the words teens speak is like an art form.   Here’s what parents need to know:

Question:  “Are you doing (homework) (chores) (the weeding)?” Answer: “I was just about to start!”

Translation: No.

Question:  “Are you finished with (homework) (chores) (the weeding)?” Answer:  “Almost!”

Translation: No.

Question:  “Did you kick your brother?” Answer: “He spit at me!”

Translation:  Yes.

Question: “Did you wear that to church?” Answer:  “Dad didn’t say anything about it.”

Translation:  Yes.

Question: “Who broke this glass?” Answer: “It was an accident!”

Translation:  I-did-but-please-don’t-be-mad-at-me.

Question: “Do you love me?”  Answer: <shrug> “I guess.”

Translation:  Yes-of-course-I-do-but-I-just-can’t-say-it-back-to-you-right-now.

Question:  “Will you do this job for me just because you love me?”  Answer:  “You’re the best mom ever!”

Translation:  No

When I get responses like these in my classroom, I always respond the same way, calling out, “I know that means ‘No’!”  The speaker laughs, admitting nothing but amused that I get the joke.

Translation:  “Thanks for understanding me!”