What’s Your ‘Mom’ Thing?

We all have at least one—that mom thing we like to do for our kids. That little gesture that we use on a regular basis to communicate without words that we love our kids. For example, one mom makes her kids’ lunches for school every day. Her mom did that for her, and she enjoys passing on the tradition to her three children.

I do hair. Each morning, I brush and braid my two teenager daughter’s hair. Once a month or so, I cut my two boys’ hair. Sure, the girls could do their own hair, but I enjoy it and they enjoy having me do that in the mornings before school.

It’s wonderful that we each have a regular way we connect with our kids. The trick is not to have so many “mom” things that your kids aren’t doing things on their own.

Please share your “mom” thing!

High Schoolers & The Internet

Q: Please help me navigate the Internet access issue for high schoolers. I know it’s recommended for kids to do their homework in their own rooms (so they know they are responsible), but I also know they shouldn’t have TVs and Internet access in their rooms. We don’t have TVs in bedrooms, but high schoolers require laptops with Internet access to check homework given, do research, and some online program/assignments. I know my teenagers also view content that is not beneficial and is time wasting in addition to homework. What do you recommend?

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A: We’ve never required our kids to do their homework in their rooms simply because with four kids, each share a room and there’s simply no space for a desk or other surface conducive to homework in their bedrooms. But we still apply the principle in that we ignore their homework—it is their responsibility completely. As soon as they were reading well (sometime in first grade), we stopped helping them on a regular basis. We do allow the occasional question, and have clearly communicated that we will not run out and buy X, Y or Z for a last-minute project.

So our kids do their homework at the dining room table (we have an open floor plan) and the computers available to our middle schoolers for homework are centralized to the kitchen/dining /living room area. This allows us to keep an eye on what they’re doing, looking at, etc., but we steer clear of involvement. This has helped immensely with them not trying to sneak watching things and it has helped us monitor computer usage in general.

Our computer usage rules are simple: Three hours a day to include homework time and the computers are off limits at 7 p.m. each evening (well, we allow a little extra on Friday nights!). This means that they must have homework that needs to be done online finished by 7 p.m. each evening.

I share that to help you devices your own computer/electronic device policy. In my experience, having a set “off” time each evening will be more effective than telling them when to do their homework. Have them move their laptops to a central area so you can keep an eye on what they’re doing (or not doing). Also have a docking station for all electronic devices to be plugged in and left overnight to avoid the temptation to check who’s texting who at 3 a.m.

They may complain that it’s not enough time for them to do their homework, to which you shrug and say that you hope they will figure out how to make it work because that’s the new shutoff time. Then stick with it, even though they will probably come to you in a panic a time or two saying they haven’t finished. When they do, point out that they can certainly get up earlier to finish before school!

And practice good device usage yourself. It’s one thing to insist on down time from electronics for your kids and another to not put down the devices yourself. Develop technology free zones, such as during dinner and on Sundays, to help kids stay connected to the family and the real world.

Should Parents Seek Counseling for Socially Inept Ninth Grader?

Q: My son’s a 14-year-old ninth grader. His principal has mentioned to me a couple of times that he thinks my son could benefit from counseling on social issues, as he is socially not doing too great. By not great, I mean his interactions with others are often tense and negative. However, he has plenty of friends and enjoys hanging out with them.

The principal said he’s heard murmurings from other students that my son stirs up tensions. But there isn’t anything that can actually be pinned down, like “You lose all privileges until you go four weeks without punching and hitting.” It’s much more subtle.

His teacher also mentioned something along the same lines. I’ve already been advised three times to take him for counseling (once from the teacher and twice from the principal), but I have little to no faith in the profession (based on past experience).

Just wondering if you have a good idea how to handle such a vague situation?

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A. There’s nothing worse than trying to combat rumors, especially in a high school where things can be easily distorted and murmurings take on entirely different meanings. I don’t blame you from feeling confused.

Remember, recommending counseling is their default position—it’s one that’s probably drilled into them as necessary for liability issues, etc. They’ve forgotten that most of the stuff like this can be resolved in the home with parents who are aware and who care about their kids enough to do some of the hard work. To many parents, counseling is the easier route because it doesn’t involve them directly.

If Son has plenty of friends, why is the principal concerned? What, exactly, does he think Son is doing to “stir up tensions”? And what does the teacher think Son is doing to stir up tension?

First, I would press them for better examples aside from rumors from other students because that, to me at least, has shades of the telephone game, where something someone said gets so distorted it has no relation at all to the original sentence. Since by your account, he has friends and enjoys doing things with said friends, I would question what they think a counselor would do. Most of the time, counseling is recommended for kids who have NO friends and refuse to do things with anyone (no activities, social events).

To have a 14-year-old boy who has some social issues is, well, normal, right? I mean, 20 years ago or more, no one would have been concerned if the boy had friends but made some social errors from time to time. Who doesn’t in ninth grade?

Once you have more concrete examples, then you can address it directly with Son. I would take him out for ice cream or coffee, shooting basketballs or whatever he enjoys doing, and just mention one or two incidents, that his teacher or principal is concerned, and get his thoughts on what happened. If there’s a clear pattern (like he defaults to sarcasm, for example), then talk about how that can be perceived by others. Then ask what Son could do differently in that situation. Help him think through how his own solutions would solve the problem.

For now, I would stress to the principal and teacher that you appreciate their concern—that you welcome their observations about Son—but since the school year is nearly over, you’re going to address this with Son yourself and see how he matures over the summer before considering counseling. You want the principal and teacher on your side even though you disagree with their conclusions.

A Manageable Routine for a Teen

Q: I need help regarding the evening routine for my 16-year-old daughter, after she arrives home after her sport, which is usually 5 p.m., during the week. She has ADHD and says she needs to decompress when she gets home before launching into chores/homework. That has translated into procrastination on phone/computer, getting homework done too late, or maybe not completed and getting to bed too late. She doesn’t have a bedtime—as she says, “Mom, don’t you think I want to go to sleep? I will go to bed, when all my work is done.”

I want to take electronics away for a certain amount of time at night. But then she says she needs her devices to do homework. Can I make her go to bed at a particular time? She takes rigorous courses and does have a lot of work, she just doesn’t manage her time well.

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A: I can tell by your question that this is a topic that has gone round and round between you and your daughter without any changes or resolution on either side. I do have some advice, but I’m not sure it will be what you want to hear because simply put: The only person in this equation who you can change is you. But changing how you approach this will help your relationship with your daughter and help her to take full responsibility for her time. However, if you follow my advice, you might not see any improvement in the current situation, i.e., how your daughter manages her time, but you will see improvement in your own stress about the matter.

One thing to note first: We all handle transitions differently. Some of us can move smoothly from one task or situation to another, while others need mini-breaks to transition from school to home. You might see her decompression time as wasteful, but it might be what she needs to clear her brain from the school day and focus on the afternoon/night ahead.

Those disclaimers out of the way, here’s what I would do (and do with my own middle schoolers who have homework on the computer): You have an end time when everything electronic is shut down for the night, including personal devices (phones), etc. Decide on what that time will be. For the sake of this answer, we’re going with 9 p.m.

Then tell your daughter that you’re sorry you’ve been trying to manage her time for her, that you are giving that back to her. You will not be asking her about homework or what she’s doing. After she expresses her delight in this, inform her that all electronic devices (computers, laptops, tablets, phones) will be shut down (and turned in to you in the case of the portable ones) by 9 p.m. each evening. Tell her that this is a non-negotiable time. If she hasn’t managed to finish her homework or check in with her friends by 9 p.m., that’s just too bad for her.

Now, be prepared that for the first night (or the first few weeks), she will blithely ignore this and procrastinate as usual. I’d give her a 10-minute warning (maybe set a kitchen timer) at 8:50 p.m. to finish up. Then when 9 p.m. rolls around, you enforce the shut down and confiscate the devices. She will plead, beg, cajole, throw a tantrum, etc., that she “has” to finish XYZ, to which you simply shrug and act very sorry she didn’t have enough time. Remind her she can get up early the next day to finish it before school if she likes, but that’s it for tonight.

The only thing you have to do is brace yourself for the fallout and don’t cave in. The first time will be the hardest but the sky will not fall. Her grades might slip for a short period of time, but you are giving her a lesson that’s worth a few lower grades–the ability to figure out how to manage her time by herself.

Just Because It’s the Right Thing

Q: I have a soon to be 15-year-old son in ninth grade. He is in a scholar program at a private school, and he has earned a partial scholarship based on his academic abilities. He also is in his third year of a gifted math program at a local college. His grades have begun to fluctuate. He is not earning good scores in the math program. He seems to only care about playing his computer, the shooting games popular with his age group. He has only been allowed to play on weekends if his grades are up to par (above a 90%).

He is capable of these grades. So now I have taken all technology away for this upcoming quarter. He says that he doesn’t care anymore if he loses everything. He is not going to improve his grades. I am worried that I am being too excessive. Is the consequence appropriate?

Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: The short answer is yes, taking away technology for the quarter in order to motivate your son to improve his grades is appropriate. However, what your worry indicates is that you assumed that would “make” him change his tune about his grades/schoolwork. He’s doing what any teenager does—testing to see if you’re really serious by saying “he doesn’t care” about the consequence.

You’ve run into the paradox that is parenting: A parent can do the right thing and the child can still do the wrong thing, but that doesn’t mean the parent stops doing the right thing.

You are doing the right thing by taking away his electronics. Now he has a choice—he can continue to thumb his nose at schoolwork and fail even more or he can buckle down and get back to business. He might *say* he doesn’t care, but stick to the plan and he might come around on his accord. Fold now, and he’ll know that you don’t mean what you say or say what you mean. That will cause many more problems in the future than a few dismal grades in the present.

And be prepared that he might flame out entirely. But at 15, he’s old enough to face the academic consequences of that choice. Yes, those consequences could be far-reaching at this stage in his academic career but again, that’s on him, not you. It’s his life and his choice to do the best he can with what God has given him—or to waste it all by not applying himself.

I know this is tough for you to watch, but you’ve done the right thing. Now it’s up to your son.

The Trial of a Teenage Girl

Q: Are teenage girls just horribly disagreeable? Right now, I have a really hard time liking mine. I know my husband is having the same problem. We love her, and we try to support her in healthy ways, but being around her is a real trial. When we take her places, she manages to look or be miserable or make someone around her miserable.

Yet we feel like including her in the family is important. She will either dilly dally getting ready and be the last one in the car, talk nasty to her little sister, be disrespectful to her father or me or just be depressed and droopy. Any suggestions or know a place where I can buy a time machine and fast forward to her at age 30?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: I don’t think you really want to miss these years, even though things are not going well in your relationship with your teenage daughter. I hear your frustration and can also see your daughter’s hurt as well. Teenagers don’t always want to be disagreeable, but it can be the easiest emotion—after all, it takes much less effort to be nasty than it does to be thoughtful.

The teen years in general have gotten a bad rap, but while there can be rocky patches in any parent-child relationship, for some reason, parents can be much less tolerant of such behavior in a teen. Hello, remember the toddler years? How the little darlings drove you crazy with their wildly swinging emotions and emotional outbursts in the most inappropriate places? The teen years are similar, given how many changes a teen goes through physically and emotionally and mentally. That’s not to give your daughter an excuse to behave as if she’s the only one who matters, but it should temper your own response.

What would make the biggest change in your home would be for you and your spouse to find more ways to express love to your daughter. I know, I know—she’s not exactly acting very lovable right now! But isn’t that the point? You might say you love her, but how do you show you love her?

In other words, you need to pile on the kindness, the love, the connection just because she’s your daughter and you love her. Once you’ve re-established your relationship with her, then you can start to address some of the behavior. Right now, she can’t hear what you have to say because you’ve lost that connection—you even admitted you have a hard time liking her and wanting to be around her. She can sense that, and of course, she doesn’t want to be around you!

I’d like to assign you a little project that I think will bear good fruit. This will take some time, but with patience, you can reconnect with your daughter. You need to surprise her with your love, without any expectation in return. Start by writing down at least 10 things you love about her. Then for the next 10 days, share one of those things with her each day in multiple ways, both with words and with deeds. If you love the way she always uses earbuds when playing music on her computer (that’s thoughtful to others, right?), then tell her directly that you appreciate her thoughtfulness, buy her a new pair of earbuds, upload a little cash to her iTunes account, or ask her to play you her favorite song of the moment.

This won’t resolve itself overnight, but I think you’ll start to see improvements within a few weeks. It might not be with her behavior—it might be that your own heart has changed toward your daughter.


A Hostage Situation at Bedtime

Q: My 13-year-old son has taken to holding our entire house hostage at bedtime if he is upset about something. He will bang on doors, wake his brothers, and be mildly destructive. For example, last night he began this behavior because I wouldn’t let him keep his phone in his room. After I took the phone, he began a 40-minute tour of belligerence. He finally calmed down but refused to get in bed and slept on the floor.

He is now a wreck today. Because I told him he would lose his phone for a week if he didn’t stop his behavior, I am anticipating more trouble tonight. He will continue to make everyone miserable until he gets his way. This morning I tried to talk to him and let him know that if he realized he made a mistake last night and would acknowledge that, we could reach a reasonable compromise. He instead dug his heels in more about “punishing” me tonight for taking the phone.

He’s a very intelligent and otherwise well-adjusted boy. I hate seeing him so angry and consumed with revenge for perceived slights. It’s not fair to his father and me and his younger brothers to be subjected to these tantrums. I absolutely don’t want to give him the phone back, but our house needs sleep.

Image courtesy of Naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Naypong/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: “You cannot negotiate with terrorists” is an oft-quoted truism that has applications to child rearing because children can be little despots of their own, as your son’s outrageous behavior has shown. To wit, he is throwing massive temper tantrums that has everyone in the household cowering in fear of his next one.

You said it yourself that he is acting like a terrorist by his tantrums, so there’s only one course of action if you want any hope of stopping these over-reactions. However, it won’t be easy. By your own admittance, “reasoning” with him isn’t working—and it won’t because teens aren’t logical and therefore cannot be reasoned with.

The time for talk has ended—now’s the time for action. And by action, I mean something so big, so bold, so strong, it will become family legend. It will be referred to with awe and respect. In short, it will provide the much-needed wake-up call for your son.

Gird your loins, batten down the hatches, and prepare for battle. Your actions will, without a doubt, create the mother of all tantrums. Your son will not like this one little bit and he will show you. But stand firm. Stay the course. Repeat that you are doing this for his own good, for the good of all the kids, and for the good of your household. You are helping him to regain self-control, but the process will not be pretty.

Now that I’ve scared you (being prepared for the reaction is essential!), here’s what you do: Kick him out of the garden. While he’s at school tomorrow—and with absolutely no warning at all!—strip his room of everything: games, toys, books, electronic equipment, clothes. Room should then resemble a military barracks. Box up all the nonessentials and store offsite if possible or in a highly secret and inaccessible part of the house. You will return a week’s worth of clothes (as plain and boring as can be!) to his dresser. Then take the door off the hinges and store off site too. He’s lost the privilege of having a door since he can’t be bothered to treat doors kindly.

As for his phone, well that’s immediately sold or returned. That’s gone for a good long time and not having it in the house or available at all will send that message loud and clear.

When he comes home and sees his “new” life, he will inevitably ask why. To which you say, very short and sweetly, “I’m sorry dear. This is your life for now. I think you’d better get used to it.” Then walk away without making promises that if he behaves, he’ll get stuff back. No, you let him stew in his own juices for a while. When he tries to argue, smile and shrug but don’t engage. This is essential. You don’t negotiate with terrorists! You don’t have to talk to him about this again.

However, you do have time to cook his favorite meals, include him in family discussions and outings, and fill his life with kindness, without expecting the same in return. Shower him with love just because he’s your son and you love him.

Then you wait. If he’s as smart as you say he is, he will figure out that he needs to have a major attitude adjustment and correct the course. But it might take several weeks or even months for that to happen. You can do this, You must do this. We are all rooting for you to succeed!

Teen Verbally Agrees, Then Doesn’t Follow Through

Q: How do we deal with passive aggressive behavior in an older teen? She will verbally comply with a request but then not follow through. It makes what should be a normal day very trying. Other times we get the classic, “Oh, you meant now?” then she flashes a fake smile. There is the response of doing something half-you-know-what like emptying the dishwasher but piling everything on the kitchen counter. When called down to complete the task, she turns the tables, accusing us of being perfectionistic. Her latest tool in the passive-aggressive kit is reading text messages that show as “read,” then waiting 90 minutes to two hours to respond even to something positive like our saying the concert sounded great and we’d love to see a picture.

Image courtesy of imagemajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagemajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: That’s easy: stop playing her game. She’s the one in the driver’s seat, driving you and your husband crazy with deliberate misunderstandings and misdirection. You’ve played along by allowing her to continue without consequences for her behavior.

There’s a couple of things to do. First, start being very precise when giving directions, such as “I expect the dishwasher unloaded and the dishes put away by 5 p.m.” and “take the upstairs trash to the outside trash can immediately.” If she complains about being treated like a preschooler, just smile and walk away.

Second, when she doesn’t follow through on your stated timetable, do the task yourself, with a smile and a shrug. Then you wait. When she wants something—and she will!—that’s when you tell her how sorry you are that she can’t go out with her friends tonight. When she asks why—and she will—simply say that you had to do X chore that day. Then walk away.

This is key: you have to be the one NOT to engage her in endless debates, tears, conversation. The more you talk about something she doesn’t like, the more she’ll see that as an opportunity to change your mind. Teens are like dogs with bones—they don’t want to ever let go! So you have to be the one to stop and leave the room. If she follows you, hand her a dust rag and tell her to do the baseboards. If she persists in arguing, haul out the vacuum and have her vacuum the floor.

As for the text messages, just let that go for the most part. Really, she sees how much it bothers you, and like a typical teen, she’s going to tweak you with it because it bothers you. Unless you need a response—not an acknowledgment—then I’d ignore her non-response.

However, if she doesn’t respond in time for you to go somewhere or do something as a family, then I’d go and do without her the first time. The next time she “misses” an event or makes everyone late because she didn’t respond to a text in time, I’d take away her phone (which I’m sure you’re probably paying for) for at least a month.

Remember, just because she’s nearly grown doesn’t mean you have to put up with rude behavior. She’s not going to like these changes, but parenting isn’t a popularity contest. This is why you’re the parent and she’s the child-teen.

When a Young Teen Has Sex at Home

Q: We have just found out that our 15-year-old daughter had unprotected sex in our own home during the middle of the day while I (the mom) was in the house, along with her grandmother and younger brother. Because of past experimentation with drugs (a one-time possession of pot) and other behavior that was reckless, my husband and I put a tracking device on her phone so we can monitor her communication with others. We were finally on a good streak when she asked a boy over (with my approval) to just hang out. We have been encouraging her to meet new friends and didn’t see anything wrong with this.

Then the next day, I found out from her texts that they had unprotected sex. My husband and I are at a complete loss on what to do next. We have her phone and just too numb to make other decisions. Your opinion? Please help!

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: I’m not sure if I should applaud your daughter’s apparent ingenuity to accomplish her goal (sex) while in the house with her mother, grandmother and younger brother or wonder at your apparent cluelessness in allowing her and a boy access to a closed room for any length of time. If that sounds harsh, it’s not meant to be.

No matter what her past behavior, allowing a teenager of any gender to invite the opposite gender over and, presumably, let them disappear to some nether region of the house unattended is frankly asking for trouble of any sort. I wouldn’t even allow teenagers of both genders time in a room with the door closed for any length of time without a pop-in to see what’s going on, no matter how “good” the kids in question are.

Now that the horse is out of the gate, what to do next? I think first on the list is to take your daughter to an OB-GYN. If she’s had sex, she should get checked out for any diseases and, of course, pregnancy is a concern as well.

Next, it sounds as if she’s a bit lost and needs to reconnect with her family. I would keep her phone and restrict her activities for at least a few months (in other words, she’s grounded but good until further notice). But don’t allow her to retreat into her room with the door closed. She should continue with her chores and eat dinner with the family. Yes, she’ll probably act mad at the world and you specifically, but try not to get pulled into arguments or take her pouting too seriously. Every teen is a drama king or queen at some point.

If she’s still interested in this boy, then invite him over for dinner. Include him in family game time or movie night. Of course, you will make it clear they are not to spend time alone, but they can still be in each other’s company with the rest of the family.

Then I would make it a point to spend time with her, maybe take her to breakfast or ice cream. Don’t push your agenda on her, but ask open-ended questions and really listen to her answers. Her dad should do the same separately. She’s not acting responsibly and it sounds like she’s just not sure where she fits in—that can wear on a girl at this age, so she’s trying a bunch of different things.

As you listen, resist the urge to offer solutions or suggestions. Instead, share some of your own teenage struggles. Let her know that even though she’s messed up, you still love her, and believe that she has a bright future. Let her suggest solutions to this and ask her to come up with how she could change some of her bad habits/past behaviors—and don’t shoot them down right away, but continue to ask questions as to how those solutions would work in real life. If she can modify a solution into a workable plan on her own, it’s more likely to, well, work.

This will take enormous patience on your part, but with time, I think you can navigate this rocky patch and help guide your daughter through it together.

Should Mom Encourage Teen’s Talent at Expense of Family?

Q: Should I hold off on the talent nurturing for my 15-year-old son? He loves singing (a year-round hobby) and plays basketball once year. If I encourage his singing, it means I will be taking him to talent shows and auditions, plus basketball practice and games.

But as a single mom with two other kids, this is not fair to them or my health. I also pay for his phone so he can have followers and fans on Instagram. He does sell his CD, which brings in some income. His grades last year included 3 Ds and an E; the rest were As and Bs.

He is always on the phone doing business or chatting with friends. He doesn’t pick up after himself and I have to remind him to pick up and put away things. I’ve noticed that when he has music or basketball, he has no trouble reminding me it’s time to go. Any advice or plan for the new school year would be appreciated!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A: First of all, congrats for recognizing that your life has been revolving around your oldest son–to the detriment of the entire family, including your son (whom I’ll call Bob for the sake of this answer). Bob sounds like a talented young man who’s motivated to do whatever it takes to nurture his singing and basketball playing. What Bob isn’t doing is contributing much to the family in the way of chores nor is he concentrating on his school work. He sounds smart enough to do just enough to get by in school.

The problem so many parents have—and it sounds like you’re struggling with this yourself–is that we think just because a child or teen is talented or successful in a sport or ability (like singing), that means we must pull out all the stops to nurture and feed and grow that talent. To that I say: Hogwash. That’s not our job as parents and when we get on that path, it usually leads directly to fracturing of the family unit and a child who thinks the world revolves around him and his precious talent.

First of all, remind yourself that your job is to raise adults who are kind, considerate human beings, and that catering to one child’s needs above all the others isn’t healthy and doesn’t accomplish that goal.

What to do about Bob? I would sit him down and have a very short conversation with him: “Bob, last year, your grades were not up to par, and I’m giving you notice that I expect nothing less than a B minus in all of your classes come report card time. If you find yourself slipping in the interim grades, you’d best start talking to those teachers about what’s going wrong. I’ve also realized that we have been spending too much of our family’s resources–time, money, etc.–on you and your endeavors. While I think it’s marvelous that you want to sing and play basketball, you’re going to need to figure out how to get home from practices and pay entry fees and all the rest. Oh, and one final thing: I’ve revised our family chore list. (Hand over a list with daily and weekly chores on it for him to do, like cut the grass, clean the bathroom, clean his room, cook a meal for the family once a week, vacuum, etc., along with what days and what time each chore must be completed). I expect you to do your chores on time as outlined here. (smile). If you have any questions, you know where to find me.” Then leave.

Be prepared to take away his phone and computer if he doesn’t follow through. Give the other children more chores too. Be cheerful and don’t sweat it if Bob doesn’t come through—you’ve got this! Also be prepared for some teen drama at the changes. Just repeat after me: “I’m raising a kind, considerate (or whatever characteristic you want to add) adult.”