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.


Eye Contact

20140509_183930628_iOSI know a trick for making friends with shy babies – I look at their chins or cheeks and allow them to study my face, because even babies as young as 3 or 4 months understand the powerful intimacy of making eye contact.

Thanks to cell phones (and other screens), we’re losing the art of making eye contact when we talk to each other.  When I talk to teens about this social issue, they admit their own guilt and vow to do better.  At least their intentions are good!

But then another issue invariably pops up – their parents‘ use of cell phones.  Common complaints include: “Why is it I can’t use my phone at dinner, but my parents can?”  “My mom won’t look up from her phone when I’m talking to her, but I get in trouble if I do that!”  “It really scares and frustrates me when my dad talks on his phone while he’s driving.”

As with most parenting issues, you’ve got to model the behavior you expect from your children.  If you’re new to smart phones, you’ll find it’s tempting to stop and read every email and reply to every text.  If you’ve had one for a while, you might be a constant phone-checker.  I recommend setting your email to “manual,” so that your phone doesn’t notify you every time you have a new message, and beware of obsessively checking weather or game scores or when it’s your turn to make a move.

Not too far down the road is the day your only communication will be via electronic means because of college or adult obligations.  Take advantage of your chance to make eye contact today.  Put down your phone, look up from your tablet, turn away from your computer.  Look your teen in the eye, because even if you don’t say the words, the message is still there – “I love you and I care.”

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.

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.”