Everybody’s Staring at Me!

I saw the woman glance in the direction of my feet as she went out the door at IHOP.  I froze, because I knew she had seen my rash and was disgusted by it.  Then I mentally shook myself – why did I assume she was looking at me?  I’m an adult and beyond this kind of self-conscious panic!  Aren’t I?

I’ve been dealing with an eczema-type outbreak all summer, and the experience has renewed my understanding of the self-consciousness of teens.  Unable to wear shorts, I invested in capris, which would show less of my legs.  Yet I was still paranoid, feeling like the spots on my legs glowed in a beautiful shade of neon red, when in reality, only the lower three inches of my leg showed, and there were very few spots in that region.

It is a sensitive parent who can remember being 14 and having an ugly zit plant itself on her nose.  Teens are hyper aware of how much their appearances are changing during adolescence, and anything that can make them stand out (at best) or be the center of negative attention (at worst) takes on nightmare proportions.  This can have a paralyzing effect, as in, “I can’t go to school looking like this!”

As parents often discover, it does no good to assure a teen that “no one will notice” or “it’s not that big a deal.”   It actually might be easier to go buy some cover-up than to argue!  But do your best to show empathy without adding to the angst (“I remember how much I hated those zits” is better than “Oh, no!  Poor you!  That just looks HORRIBLE!”).   Try to find a balance between downplaying the situation – and making too much of it.  Communicate that you understand how difficult it is to be a self-conscious teen-ager, and reassure your teen that it won’t last forever.  Hair grows out, scars fade, braces come off, skin clears up.

The latter, by the way, is what I’M still waiting for. . .

A Week of Funnies

When I mention that I teach junior high, people cluck their tongues and offer their sympathy.  Or else they tell me that I will receive a special blessing someday.  I nod and look down – mostly to hide the twinkle in my eyes.  If only they knew. . .

During this first (almost) full week of school, I’ve realized how much I both use and appreciate the humor happening every day in my classroom.  Some of this week’s highlights –

  • Austin asked if he could switch his days for Art and Study Hall.  When I saw the eager look on his face, I said, “You just want to be with your friends, don’t you?”  Grinning, he admitted that was his motive.  “Then nope,” I replied.  “But – but – but,” he protested.  “Don’t call me a ‘butt’!” I retorted – and the class roared.
  • The students knew the capitals of Germany and Japan, but not Canada.  I protested, “Canada’s our next door neighbor!”  One student asked, “Are we friends with them?”   When I said we were, someone else asked, “On Facebook?”
  • We were sharing stories from Fair Day (when we get out of school early to head to the Western Washington State Fair in nearby Puyallup).  Taylor said she and a friend were on the Pirate Ship ride when a girl behind them started complaining that she might throw up.  Taylor said, “I put my hood over my head and hunched down as far as I could!”  (The girl never did throw up.)
  • And lastly, one of the fish in my aquarium is swimming at a funny angle and having trouble staying afloat.  Some of the girls have named him Alfred and are feeling very sorry for him.  After they left the classroom on Thursday, I found notes taped to the aquarium telling “Alfred” he’d had a good life and they were going to miss him when he died.

No need to feel sorry for me  – I get to spend the day with captive audience members (who laugh at my jokes, if they know what’s good for them), who are also stand-up comedians (or sit-down, as the case may be)!

Let the Brainwashing Begin!

In education we have a phrase:  “Catch kids being good.”  We also have a warning:  “Just wait til the honeymoon period ends.”  I like to use the former to prepare for the latter.

With only two days of school behind us, my 7th grade homeroom is doing exactly what I’ve asked.  This morning, for example, they were all seated and quietly reading a book (or finishing their morning sentences) by the time the bell rang.  I made a point of thanking them and telling them how much I appreciate a class that is SELF-controlled instead of  TEACHER-controlled.

Later in the afternoon, my 8th grade literature class had hands up all over the place to make comments and ask questions during our class discussion (which covered a multitude of topics, but that’s another story).  I told them I remembered that behavior from last year, when they would get so involved in our discussion that they didn’t want the class to end!

Teachers and parents are quick to point out what the kids are doing wrong, but not always as quick to point out what they’re doing RIGHT.  Teens and adults alike stand a little taller and try a little harder when they receive compliments.  And even more powerful than a compliment is public praise.  Today I hauled another teacher into my classroom and told him, “Look at how awesome my class is!”  It was all they could do to keep from beaming.  (Everybody knows you don’t look cool if you beam when a teacher praises you.)

My plan is to make my students feel so good about doing the right thing now, while they’re still in eager-to-please mode, that they’ll just keep on doing it when the honeymoon wears off.

Want to improve your teen’s behavior?  Catch him being good – and comment on it (but be sure to keep it understated so you don’t mess with his “cool factor”)!

Dear Helicopter Parent. . .

I saw you last night in the restaurant.  When the waiter came to your table, you ordered for your daughter, who looked about 12 years old.  I found it amusing that when the waiter asked if she wanted it plain or with chicken, she piped up, “Chicken, please,” thereby making her presence known.  I see many similar incidents in your future.

I’ve also seen you on campus.  You’re the one with arms full of your child’s backpack, jacket, and musical instrument – while she skips ahead with her friends.  You’re the one who unpacks all of your son’s school supplies and organizes his desk for him, telling him where everything should go (he’s not listening, by the way; he has no ownership in what you’re doing).

I’ve seen you at the school office, delivering a Burger King lunch because your child forgot her lunch at home (it had a boring sandwich anyway), or a homework assignment that was left on the printer, or an athletic uniform because it’s a game day.

I’ve disagreed with you when you complained that “the students” (by which you meant “the parents”) weren’t given enough printed details about an assignment, which meant you they were unable to complete it correctly.

I know that you clean your child’s room, make her lunches, and do her chores because a) it makes you happy to take care of her, b) it’s easier than arguing with her, and/or c) by the time she gets home from her activities, it’s too late.

I’ve heard you complain that your child doesn’t pick up after himself, can’t think for himself, has little self-confidence, and doesn’t respect you.  To the latter I say, why should he, if you’ve let him use you as a personal butler/valet/maid?

I wanted to let you know you are under a Storm Warning, and the storms ahead are going to be big. You can expect either a rebellious child who rejects you in order to stand on her own two feet, or a dependent child who has learned that you will take care of everything for him.

It’s never too late to land your helicopter.  Provide a map and a first-aid kit – and let your child learn through mistakes and natural consequences!

Friend – or Unfriend?

Some of my best blog topics come from parent requests.  In this case, a mom of a high school freshman said her son wants her to “unfriend” all of his friends on Facebook.  While she understands his desire for privacy, she likes being kept in the loop and wonders what her response to him should be.

For those unfamiliar with how Facebook works, in order for two people to be Friends, both have to agree to it.  One person sends a request asking to be added to the Friend list, and the other has to accept (or reject) the offer.  This means that all of her son’s friends have consented to have her as a friend.  This should be her first point:  she did not force her Friends status on his friends; it was by mutual agreement.

Secondly, I’m assuming she pays for the internet.  I always told my kids that as long as I was footing the bill for internet access (as well as purchasing the computers), I would have full access to everything they did.  This meant giving me all their passwords if requested (and I only requested if I had just cause).  If they didn’t like that rule, I was okay with that.  They didn’t need to be on the internet if they didn’t want to be!  (None of my kids ever objected.)

My suggestion is to strike a compromise.  She can explain that while she understands that he wants his privacy, she enjoys seeing what he and his friends are up to.  If he has something to hide, then there’s an issue they need to discuss.  If not, then there’s no reason for her not to view their posts and photos.  However, she could agree to read their status updates but not to comment on them.

When I objected to my kids about the language some of their friends were using, they told me that’s how it was on Facebook.  They (respectfully) suggested that if it bothered me, I might not want to have an account.  Point taken.  I learned to hide the friends whose language or behavior bothered me, and I refrained from making any judgmental comments on their pages.

I respect a teenager’s need for privacy, and I don’t advocate reading all of their emails or texts (though I do advocate telling them it’s a possibility if there’s cause for alarm), but Facebook is a “social network,” which, according to dictionary.com, means an online community of people with a common interest who use a Web site or other technologies to communicate with each other and share information, resources, etc.

Parents just want to be social, too!