It Won’t Be Cute When She’s 13


As we walked into the restaurant, I glanced down at a baby in a car seat – and took a second look.  There she was, iPad in both hands, watching a preschool video and tapping on the cutesy characters in it.  She couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 months old, but her parents had given it to her to keep her entertained as they waited for a table.

I could see the future: 12 years from now they’ll enter the same restaurant, and she’ll have her head bent over her phone.  As he walks through the door, her dad will look over his shoulder and snarl, “You’re always on that thing!  Can’t you put it away for once?”  And she’ll shrug and continue what she’s doing.

The Academy of Pediatrics ( recommends zero screen time for children under two years old, but that’s not the main point.  What bothers me is that this baby’s parents are starting her obsession with electronics so early  The good news is that it’s never too late to make changes.  If you see more of the top of your teen’s head than his or her face, you have every right to set some limits, such as “No phones at the table” or “No phones while we watch this movie together.”  It’s a form of courtesy, which isn’t shown nearly enough in modern society.

Just be sure to practice what you preach!

Eggs Over Medium – and Hold the Phone


We were out to breakfast one morning when I noticed two 12-ish girls sitting at their own table, near but not with their family.  As they chatted and giggled I realized what was unusual – neither had an electronic device in her hand!

When we go out to eat, most of the kids I see are either using their own phones, or – if they’re really little – their parents’ phones.  Or they’re playing on a Nintendo DS.  To see two girls looking each other in the eye while they talked and laughed was a nice change.

This may be one of the hardest skills for parents to model, because we’ve become so addicted to our smartphones that we check them every few minutes.  But table manners and restaurant etiquette can’t be taught just by talking about them; they have to be practiced.

The next time you take your family to a restaurant, try coming to an agreement before you leave.  Maybe phones are okay until the food comes.  Or maybe no phones out until after the meal.  Or turn it into a competition. . .

Have you heard about how college students will pile their phones in the middle of the table, and the first to give in and look has to pay the bill?  In a family, it might be whoever looks first has to do the others’ chores or put money into a family fund.  Awareness of the problem is the first step; agreeing on a solution is the second.

The bottom line:  technology should never be an excuse for being antisocial.

Zipping It


Yesterday at the Spring Fair, I enjoyed watching little daredevils riding the mobile zip line.  A young man of about 7 or 8 shared my enjoyment, shouting as he walked by, “WOW! That is SO COOL!!”

My smile turned to a frown as I heard him whine, “Ow!”  Turning around, I saw his chin clamped in his father’s hand.  Through clenched teeth his dad barked, “Didn’t I tell you to stop yelling?  Why don’t you listen?”  The little guy rubbed his chin and looked at his dad with fearful eyes as they walked away.  I wanted to tap Dad on the shoulder and ask, “Can I show you a better way?”  Because soon that boy will be 13, and his dad will find that grabbing him will only make things worse.

In my fantasy world, I would advise the dad to stop walking, get down on his son’s level, and agree that yes, it is cool, BUT – yelling about it isn’t okay because he might disturb other people.  He could then ask his son to repeat what he’d said, but in a quieter tone.  And here’s the important part:  a few minutes later, when Junior expressed how excited he was about something else – but in a lower voice – Dad could smile and say, “That’s how you do it!”

Fast forward several years.  The son bursts in the door yelling, “I’M STARVING!  WHAT IS THERE. . . ” As he catches his dad’s warning eye, he lowers his voice, “. . .to eat?”  Without grabbing, yelling, or even speaking a word, the message has been sent and received.

And nobody’s rubbing his chin.

It’s Rated R For A Reason

Rated RLast week when we were discussing spring break plans, Amelia said she wanted to see the new Selena Gomez movie.  When I pointed out that it was rated R, she said that wasn’t a problem: “My mom will take me.”

I looked up the movie on and read the Parent Guide notes aloud.  After hearing several descriptions of drug use, nudity, and sexual situations, Amelia looked alarmed.  “I didn’t know all that was in there,” she said.  “I just thought the previews looked funny!”

The MPAA ratings may have their flaws, but they do serve a purpose, when parents heed them.   Had Amelia’s mom taken her to see the film without doing some checking first, it could’ve been uncomfortable and awkward for everyone.  There are several sites besides IMDB; Kids-in-Mind and Common Sense Media provide good info for parents (you can click on either name to access the site).

Teens – especially young teens – are forming their morals and values based partly on what they observe adults doing.  It’s important for the adults closest to them to guide them in making good choices.

And maybe to do a little research for them.

I Had A Bad Day

Mr. Grumpy

Bad days happen to all of us.  And while watching your best friend eat lunch with someone else might not compare to hearing rumors of layoffs at work, to your 13-year-old it’s a pretty big deal.

Imagine if, on your bad day, you  complained to a friend or spouse, and he responded, “That’s all you have to complain about?  I wish my life was so hard!”  Not only would you feel irritated, but you’d also hesitate to share with that person again.

If you feel that your teen doesn’t tell you much, check your responses.  Your teen or pre-teen considers herself more of an adult and less of a child, and she wants you to treat her as such.  Though she’ll still often respond like a child, sometimes she’ll surprise you with her maturity and insight.

The next time your teen whines about his terrible day, try responding as you would to a friend or co-worker:  “That does sound lousy.  Poor you.”  Don’t discount or solve any problems; just listen with empathy.  You’ll get more information and you’ll get it more often.

And the next time you have a bad day of your own, chances are good your teen will give you a little empathy in return!

Mixing Generations

Handshake2This week I took my middle school choir to sing at a retirement home.  Having learned from past experience, I prepped them before we went, reminding them that nobody is born with white hair and wrinkles and walking with a cane.  I pointed out that these elderly people were once young basketball players and cheerleaders who joined choir or band and argued with their parents about chores and what clothes they could wear.

We sang some of our concert pieces and then we invited the residents to suggest Christmas carols that we could all sing together.  When someone suggested “White Christmas” and my accompanist had to admit he didn’t know it, one of my choir members piped up, “We can just sing it without the piano!”  Though some of them barely knew the words, they sang with gusto, and the audience joined in.

When we had finished, I encouraged my singers to go and wish people a Merry Christmas.  I’d warned them ahead of time about arthritic fingers, so they knew they should shake hands gently.  As they scattered around the room reaching for hands and chatting with the residents, I could see them gaining confidence and growing more comfortable around strangers many years older than themselves.

It’s not unusual for teens to say they never want to get old, or to call senior citizens “creepy,” but if we teach them to see beyond the effects of aging and connect with the person within, their discomfort can change into acceptance – or even friendship.  As with many things, we just have to provide education and opportunity.

Rage Quit

A term known to gamers, for a concept known to everyone, “rage quit” translates as “I’m mad and I don’t want to play anymore!”

But it happens beyond gaming.  Parents see it in discussions that become arguments.  One day it might be a parent rage quitting; the next a teen: “Forget it!  Whatever!  Just do what you want!”    Try not to get to that point – suggest that there might be a better time for this discussion.  But if you do get there, recognize it as time to stop.  Walk away, drop it, or change the subject before mean words are spoken.  Nobody’s in the mood to be reasonable after a rage quit; parents will make ridiculous threats (“Get back here or you’re grounded for a month!”) and teens will resort to disrespect (“I can do whatever I want!”).  Nobody wins.

If you go past The Point of No Return and into the Land of Hurt Feelings,  call for a time out.  Later, when everyone’s calm, start fresh and avoid the snares you ran into last time.  Exchange apologies if necessary, and keep breathing deeply.

Remember – in video games and in relationships, there’s a wonderful little button labeled “Reset.”








Thanksgiving Strategies

Hopefully, you’ll have a turkey at your Thanksgiving dinner – and it won’t be your own offspring.

Teens can be notorious for making holidays challenging – by being silly, or sulky, or just plain antisocial.  Here are a few tips to help things run more smoothly:

1. Discuss expectations.  Going to a relative’s house?  Having the relatives in?  Either way, tell your teens  beforehand what you want from them, whether it’s helping out with the housecleaning (or cooking or clean-up), or  entertaining Grandma or younger children.  It’s an awkward stage of life, and teens don’t always know what their roles are.

2. Agree on dress code.  If your family dresses up for holidays, talk to your teens about what they should wear, but be prepared to compromise.  You could give in on the shorter skirt but insist on a modest top, or allow jeans but with a dress shirt.  As long as it’s nicer than everyday wear, teens can pull it off.

3. Talk about table manners.  You taught them these when they were younger, but it’s a good idea to review the basics.  Knowing which fork to use isn’t as important as trying new foods when you’re a guest, or learning to refuse politely.  If elbows off the table and napkins in laps matter to you, then say so.

4. Comment on the positive.  Before you go (or guests arrive), take time to thank your teen for being on time or dressing appropriately.  After it’s all over, point out one thing that went well, such as chatting with the grown-ups or helping clear the table.  Parents are quick to criticize but not as quick to compliment.

When you’re counting your Thanksgiving blessings, remember to count your teens.  And don’t forget to let them know!

Welcome to Your New Job

It’s time to quit your job.  No, not the one where you earn a paycheck – keep that one.  I mean the parenting job you’ve had for about 10 years or so.  It’s not that you’re not needed anymore – it’s just that your job description has changed.

During your first decade of parenting, your role was more like that of a personal servant.  You were supposed to make sure your children were happy and all their needs were met.  They in turn showed their appreciation with hugs and kisses and stories about everything that was going on in their heads and hearts.

But if your child has reached the age of 10 or beyond, your responsibilities have changed, and you weren’t even notified.  You are no longer expected to solve his problems and cheer him up.  In fact, if you try to do either at the wrong time, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an angry outburst or a cold shoulder.

Your new role is more like that of a consultant.  Be available, listen to the issue, show you understand, but offer a solution only if asked to do so.  Your son complains that his homework is too hard?  Tell him you remember how it got harder as you got older.  Your daughter complains that her friend is being mean?  Tell her you know that must make her unhappy.  If your help isn’t requested, then don’t give it.

Think of it as a promotion.  And your raise?  It will come in the form of a teen-ager who actually wants you around.



Out and About

As I listened to the three little girls chatter with their mom and dad, I thought to myself, “Those are parents who won’t have big problems with their teenagers.”

While I was at Disneyland this past week, I played my usual game of Observing-Parents-And-Making-Predictions.  It’s  not something I do intentionally; I just catch myself at it.  In this case, I was at a nearby table watching the family finish a meal in the afternoon heat, a time of day which can bring out the worst in anyone.

But these girls, who were in the 5-to-9-year-old range, were smiling at their dad, teasing him: “Can we leave now?” the oldest asked with a grin. “Who ARE you children?” Dad blustered, “and why are you following me around Disneyland?”  The girls burst into giggles.  As they left, both parents listened with interest as the oldest laid out a plan for their afternoon.

So what is that easily-spotted trait that implies an easier adolescence?  I’ve boiled it down to respect.  Parents who treat their children with respect – who listen seriously to their children and speak reasonably to them when they’re still little – will keep doing so when their kids are teens.

And those teens will respond the same way.