Dear Mom of High School Junior

Dear Mom of High School Junior,

Okay, no more putting it off, it is time to talk about college. If you have kept the subject under wraps until now during Freshman and Sophomore years, you and your kid are about to go on a voyage of discovery during his junior year.  He or she will discover what interest them, excites them, and motivates them. You will discover an adult emerging, and the emphasis here is on emerging, on what will soon be the memories of childhood.

junior year

Let’s dispense with the practical for your high school Junior:

Map out the tests

Make a detailed plan of where and when your child will take all of the standardized tests that occur this year. They could potentially face any combination of PSAT, SAT, Subject SATs (SAT IIs), APs, ACT, PLAN. Be careful with this planning. Use the results of the PSAT or PLAN to recalibrate their studying. Make sure the Subject SATs are planned late enough in the year (and this is probably June for a regular course or May for an AP) that all of the relevant coursework has been completed. There are a myriad of options to study for this standardized exams, plan ahead for what fits into your schedule and budget. Careful study of the exam prep books will go a long way towards getting your student ready.

Time for introspection

Once the planning is over, the scheduling of tests and activities is complete, it is time to look within. While you junior will learn much about college from counselors, other students and visits at the outset, it can be helpful to gain some self-knowledge. Some of the questions a junior can ask themselves: How do I like to learn? Do I like/need interaction with faculty and teachers? Do I thrive socially in a large environment or am I happier when I know a sizable proportion of the people around me? Do I like the rambunctious atmosphere of a big sports school or is that social scene uninviting? How much can my family afford to pay and what other means might I have for gaining scholarships and loans? How far from home do I want to go? Do I want to be able to easily drive to my college from home or would it be okay to take a plane or train each time? Do I like big city life, suburban Idyll or a rural setting? What interests do I have now, or might have over the next four years and which schools will best suit these?

A student who can answer some of these questions (recognizing that both the answers and the student may change over time) will find that time spent with counselors is far more productive.

Clear the spring-time decks

There is a crunch that comes at the end of junior year and, unless you child is very forward thinking, they may not realize it until they are there. You know it now, so if there are things that can be moved out of spring of junior year – perhaps a spring sport or play that they don’t care that much about or driving lessons – move those things or dispense with them altogether. I promise you,  when the pileup of year-end exams and standardized tests descends, your student will be glad these things are gone.

Road trip

Once your junior has met with a counselor, it is time for the road show.  This can be a wonderful or utterly dreadful time in your life but it is certainly the only time you will travel this path together. I have heard stories of kids and parents who barely spoke a word on the entire journey, such is the way of a sullen teen. Yet other parents speak fondly using this time as a way to grow closer to a teen who might be drifting away and to talk about some of the very important things that they are finally grown up enough to discuss.

Essay

Summer between junior and senior year is the time to start college essays and there is no better person to help than a high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.

Recommendations

Before the school year ends for summer, your junior should ask two teachers to write college recommendations These need to be written by teachers who students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely, and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.

Dating, driving, drinking

Much of what we think of as high school, staying out late, dating, prom, driving and, unfortunately drinking and drug use, begins in junior year. For many kids there is a fairly sharp demarcation between the first two and the last two years in high school with the new-found freedom that the car brings. It is tempting to see how hard they are working and feel that they deserve some fun. And they do. But new drivers are dangerous drivers with car crashes the leading cause of death of teens in the US. The CDC reports that the adoption of graduated drivers licensing has been successful in lowering these sad statistics:

Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, puts them at heightened risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing systems, which exist in all US states and Washington, DC. Graduated driver licensing puts restrictions on new drivers; these are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience. Research suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers. When parents know their state’s GDL laws, they can help enforce the laws and, in effect, help keep their teen drivers safe.

A final thought:

Savor every day

One day in junior year it just might become clear how close they are to leaving. It could be on a college tour or when they get behind the wheel of a car. It might be when they get dressed up or when they get a summer job all on their own with no nagging. But one day the stark reality of their departure seems utterly too real. This is a warning signal from the parenting gods reminding us to savor every day, to get to know, even better, our changing child, and to prepare ourselves to send them on their way.

Dear Mom of High School Sophomore

Dear Mom of High School Sophomore,

If Freshman year was for finding their feet, Sophomore year is for finding themselves.

There is something so nice about going back to high school Sophomore year. Our students are no longer the new kids on the block trying to figure out both the academic and social landscape.

Sophomore year

 

Advice for High School Sophomore Year:

No college talk

Top of the list is still DO NOT TALK ABOUT COLLEGE. The one exception would be if your child is in an athletic recruiting process. But otherwise the mantra is grades, activities, friends and enjoy high school. High school is a seminal moment in life, it is a crime to turn it into one long application process. The minute we start talking about college the focus shifts away from high school and onto one of the most stressful parts of our child’s youth. Don’t rush it!

Real first year

In many ways, Sophomore year feels like the first real year. The experimentation with clubs and activities may have given way to genuine interests. Our kids might have new friends. For the first time in their lives we may not know some of these friends. Small changes like this give us the feeling that our life with our kid is truly changing.

New world of worry

Welcome to a whole new world of worry. The light sockets, stair gates and bicycle helmets were all just preparation for driving, the biggest safety challenge that teens and parents face.

Driver’s ed

If your teen’s birthday allows for it, start driver’s training in Sophomore year. Many things get rushed junior year and proper driving instruction, with adequate time, is all important. It is worth taking the time to do some careful research into driving instruction and providing additional lessons if necessary. Driving will be one of the biggest emotional hurdles of 10th grade. Driving is a confluence of very real worry and huge leap in our kid’s independence. It is, I believe the first step on the road to the empty nest and it may very well feel that way.

Time management

Watch your child closely, see how their time management is progressing. Junior year is, for many, the most difficult year in high school. This is a good moment to help teach any of those planning skills that a younger, more immature student was unable to master. On top of the academic load many juniors take on more demanding activities, a varsity sport, a leading role or a leadership position. Good time management can be the difference between a happy teen and one struggling with stress next year.

Sleep is key

Like every year, focus on teaching them about sleep. For many boys, 15 is a big year for physical growth making sleep even more important. It becomes harder to impose a bedtime on a high school kid, but do it anyway. Sleep is what fuels a young body, aiding them emotionally, intellectually and physically so make sure they know its value long before setting off to college. Tell them how crucial sleep is to every aspect of their lives. When they ignore you, show them the scientific evidence. If they ignore that, turn off the wi-fi at 10:00pm.

Coming of age

For girls, the question of a Sweet 16 party may begin with the first day of school. MTV’s show, My Super Sweet 16 debuted in 2005 and has, along with its various spinoffs, taken viewers “on a wild ride behind the scenes for all the drama, surprises and over-the-top fun as teens prepare for their most important coming-of-age celebrations.”  It has been part of the media landscape since current high school Sophomores were six. Whether your family traditions call for a Quinceanera at 15, a big party at 16, or a quiet dinner with grandparents and cake, 16 is a significant milestone for girls and one that shouldn’t pass without special acknowledgement.

Sweet 16, sophomore year

PSAT/SAT

The question of taking the PSAT or PLAN may come up this year. Every school is different. Unless your child has some extreme test anxiety (and frankly these kids might benefit from the opportunity to try the test with no consequences), consider scheduling them for one of these tests. Although the tests do not count for anything regarding college admission during sophomore year, they serve as a barometer and offer practice. (Please note, when taken during junior year, the PSAT is a gateway to potential scholarships.) Standardized tests that last for many hours and are administered in a highly structured weekend setting might be new to your son or daughter so here is a chance at a trial run.

Though it must seem like a long way off, plan the summer with SAT study in mind. It is a free and clear block of time and most kids take the test for the first time in 11th grade. If your child is going to do some sort of structured test prep, a class or a tutor, this is the time for you to schedule it.

Talk schoolwork

Toward the end of the year, or just before course selection is due for Junior year, have a long serious talk with your Sophomore. How did they manage their course load? Could they handle a greater challenge, or should they dial back a bit for next year? What courses interested them the most and how can they best pursue this interest? Are there courses they have never tried like economics or psychology that they would like to take? Are they going to add AP and advanced work and how much? High school counselors are often overworked and might not have the time for a reflective talk and this is a great opportunity for your teen to tell you things you may not already know about their growing and changing interests.

Dear Mom of High School Freshman

Dear Mom of High School Freshman,

It is hard not to feel, in those weeks leading up to the first day of freshman year, that you and your child have finally hit the big leagues. Because you have. High school is, in many ways, a break with everything that has gone before. Suddenly your child, and let’s be honest he may look like a young adult but is still very much a child, is in a world where sex, drugs, alcohol, along with high academic demands, competitive sports, and college are all part of the vernacular. It can seem overwhelming, almost too much.

High School Freshman

Deep breath. Don’t worry. Adolescence is almost like a rerun of the earliest years of childhood, with both physical and intellectual change occurring at a startling pace, new dangers appearing all the time and an unending need for sleep and food. High school takes four years because that is the minimum it takes for both kids and parents to transition from the final days of childhood to the first moments of adulthood. She will have enough time and so will you.

Here are some of the pointers for your high school Freshman:

Do not talk about college

DO NOT. College admissions is a dark grey fog that will at some point descend upon your home. Put this off for as long as possible, reminding yourself and your kid that high school should be about high school. Tell your teen that ninth grade is about 1. Exploring new activities and making new friends 2. Taking whatever activity you already love to the next level and 3. Getting good grades and acclimatizing to the rigors of high school. That is it. Everything else comes later.

The single caveat would be that parents can mention college to expel the notion (an urban myth) that freshman grades do not count for college admissions. All grades count.

Stick close

You child is in uncharted territory, for her. And while you may not be a hovering parent it would not hurt to stick close for the first few months. A close eye on who she is making friends with, how and when she is getting her work done and her general health , would not go amiss. Some kids stumble with their time management as they enter high school and find themselves up late, sleeping inadequately and getting on a vicious cycle. Parents can help with this, establishing routines, limits on social media and strict bedtime. Sleep for teens is like water for plants, it is not pretty when they don’t get enough.

Count back for curfews

A wise headmaster once suggested to ninth grade parents that they think long and hard about curfews. He explained it this way, “Think about what time is okay for a high school senior to come in a night. Realize that every year you will want to move their curfew back a little bit in acknowledgment of their growing maturity and freedom. Then work backwards four years. If you start ninth grade at midnight, you will soon find yourself in trouble.” Couldn’t have said it better.

Talk about the hard stuff

If you have not been talking about the hard stuff, drugs, birth control, sex, consent….this is the time to start. If you have been talking, double down. Your child is now in world where these issues arise, if not for them (hopefully!) for schoolmates, and the time to talk is early and often. Every family has its own mores and values and every ninth grader should know them. Over time, they may discard some of what we say, ignore our warnings or our rules. They may choose to defy us, but they should never for one moment be unclear of both the rules and the values our families espouse.

Find the one thing

Ninth grade is the year to start (or for some kids, continue) one thing that will carry your student through high school (the newspaper, a drama group, a sport or art activity) and to try other things along the way. Academics may seem a bit challenging, but for most freshman, there is still time to experiment with different extracurricular interests. The most important things a freshman learns are about herself. This is a year to discover interest you never knew you had or that an activity undertaken since childhood is better left behind.

Friendships change

Ninth grade is the time and chance for new friendships to grow. For most school districts, ninth grade provides an opportunity for teenagers to expand and/or completely change their social group. As multiple middle schools feed into one high school, it can be immensely liberating for 8th grade students who crave different peer groups. It can also shake up an existing social order, bringing in a breath of fresh air to stratified social status.

Freshmen should stick with Freshmen

Freshman year is high school, but not all high schoolers are the same. The social order of high school means that kids largely stay in their grade groups. But in clubs, sports and other activities the grades mix fluidly. For Freshmen, and to a lesser extent sophomores, this is not always a great thing. Sure, older students have much to teach younger students about leadership and excelling at extracurricular activities, but it doesn’t end there. The world of a 14/15-year-old is very different from that of a 17/18-year-old. While some socializing is nice, end of season parties, cast parties, younger high school students are best encouraged to stay amongst their own.

A bit of parental input

In ninth grade, teachers will not mind a bit of input from parents if there are hiccups along the way. Emphasis on a bit. Students, by now, should be able to speak up for themselves, but sometimes teachers or counselors need a bit of background and helping a 14-year old. Again, a bit, is not out of line.

Course Selection

Many high school classes have prerequisites and freshman need to be aware of these and the order in which classes should be taken. In an ideal world, each student would have a counselor who guides them through the process of course selection and planning their four years. In the real world sometimes parents need to help. Freshman need to imagine where they would like to end up academically senior year and draw a path of classes that will get them there. Plans change but it helps to set goals from the start.

Finding feet as high schoolers and parents of high schoolers

Finally, freshman year is a year of our kids finding their feet as a high schooler and us finding our feet as the parents of one. It seems almost inconceivable that we could have a child this old, as our own high school days seem not so far removed. Looking at your new high school child, who by now may be looking at you eye-to-eye, it is hard not to feel as though time has begun to accelerate and the road to the empty nest become clear.

PS. Great Additions from Debbie Schwartz, Road 2 College:

1) It’s even more important than before to stay connected to other mothers (parents). My network of mothers gives me insight into the high school party scene, dating, driving concerns (a big one), drinking, drugs, and which parents monitored all these things at their houses and which do not!

2) Don’t talk to your child about college, but as a parent, start learning about the process, costs, and financing. It’s just too late to start understanding the process if you wait till junior year, especially from a cost standpoint. FAFSA forms are based on tax information from January of a student’s junior year. So learning about costs and how financial and merit aid is granted is something parents really need to START understanding in freshman year. And as you mentioned, the GPA colleges look at include grades from 9th to 11th grade – and each grade counts equally.

 

11 Ways to Reclaim a Relaxing Summer

Lisa and Jennifer Breheny Wallace, together, write: Summers start with the best intentions. We fantasize about long, peaceful days at the beach building sand castles with our toddlers or playing tennis with our teens. Casting off a busy school year, we’re excited to finally relax the rules. Yes to the ice cream cones with insanely sugary toppings just before bedtime (heck, what bedtime?). Yes to the car keys (so what if it’s three late nights in a row?). Breakfast brownies? Why not? Another TV show? Sure, go ahead. It’s summer vacation, right?

beach vacation, little girl playing at the beach

Then, in Week Three, reality sets in: the bedtime routine now takes twice as long, everything has become a negotiation, and those idyllic days at the beach — well, they’ve become the setting of the sunscreen wars. How did these relaxing summer days get so… stressful?

Whether your kids are having a throwback 1970s summer, a Free-Range or a Hovering Helicopter summer, beware of the ever-tempting “summer slide.” The summer slide is the parenting equivalent of the “summer brain drain,” where what we know as parents slides, well, down the drain. In an effort to keep our summer fantasy alive, we sometimes bend our rules just a little too much and then suddenly… SNAP.

Before things get totally out of control, let’s get back to the basics, kindergarten-style — and start digging our way out of this sand pit to avoid getting buried alive. It’s worth reminding ourselves that summer is a break from routine, after all, not a break from parenting. Here are 11 things you can do now to reclaim your relaxing summer:

1. Stop with all the choices.

Teachers offer “choice” in small doses. They don’t offer a range of snacks and they don’t ask kids if they’d rather go to art class or gym class. Giving too many choices gives up too much control, and teachers know to do that sparingly.

2. Go ahead, disappoint.

You-Get-What-You-Get-And-You-Don’t-Get-Upset. Don’t be afraid to disappoint. Resilience, learning how to bounce back, is a skill that can be taught, but not if we’re smoothing over every conflict just to avoid a momentary tantrum or mommy guilt. We need to learn to live with the short-term discomfort and concentrate on the long-term gain.

3. Sloooow down.

Seeds grow slowly; chicks hatch when they are ready; important things take time. Children and teens don’t understand time — they want what they want when they want it. We too often react by jumping on their timeline. When we contort ourselves to suit their whims, we not only upend our lives, we give away the opportunity to teach them about patience.

4. Stop asking permission, OK?

“Mommy just has to run this quick errand, OK?” Teachers don’t ask permission. Ending declarative sentences with question marks is giving power to a little person who doesn’t actually want it. What children want is the security of limits and parents who know when to say no, even in the summer.

5. Let them clean up.

Overscheduled children don’t have time to clean their rooms or do their chores. Teens with summer jobs and SAT prep are just too busy to pick up their clothes off the floor. In school, if you haven’t cleaned up your mess, then you cannot move on to your next activity. By failing to insist upon this at home, we let our kids control the disorder in our houses and in our lives.

6. Revisit Oz.

The single most exciting thing that happens in kindergarten is that children take their first steps on the way to reading — starting on a yellow brick road that leads to a vast magical world they can now visit on their own. And then we and our kids get busy and forget about the Emerald City because life is too rushed and there is already too much reading assigned at school. Take back Oz; remember how lucky our kids felt when they first decoded the printed page.

7. Circle time.

It’s important to ask our kids about their day, every day. Create your own version of “circle time” at home. Tell the kids about your day, your challenges and triumphs, and ask them about theirs. This becomes even more important with teens, who will know that sharing what they are up to with their parents is just part of the deal.

8. Teachers, not friends or fairy godmothers.

When we try to be our child’s friend, we not only cede authority, we actually cheat them out of a more important relationship. We are there to teach and love and guide, not to grant their every wish.

9. Rest time.

Teachers know the importance of rest. Regular and adequate sleep is essential for kids at every age. Even tweens and teens should have a regular bedtime right up through high school. The end of summer should not be like a bad bout of jet lag, with no one able to get to sleep at night or up in the morning.

dunes, beach, ocean

10. Mind their manners.

Manners never stop mattering. As parents, we all too often rush, cut corners, forget to be as polite as we could and let our kids get away with the glib manners of the 21st century. Nothing has changed; manners are still magical and it is within our power to teach them.

11. Summer doesn’t equal spoiling.

At every age, kids think getting everything they want will make them happy, and it will be a very long time before they learn this isn’t true. We know the truth, and if we don’t teach this lesson early and often, the unbridled greed inspired by media can soon overwhelm our family’s true values. Days at the beach are a treat. A family vacation is something special. Summer doesn’t have to equal spoiling. Summer is just a different season, not a different childhood. It can be so easy to confuse the two.

Jennifer Breheny Wallace is a freelance writer with three small children living in New York City. We are grateful for her collaboration.

Photo Credit: TB Kilman

 

Want to Help Your Kid in High School? One Teacher Shows How

A Guest Post from Emily Genser: It’s September. You are sitting, legs crossed, foot shaking, in one of the neatly aligned rows of high school desks. You look around the room at the other parents, some deflecting nerves into their phones, others lining up pens and notebooks to take notes and in walks the teacher. You wonder, how could she be in charge? She’s tiny and looks 12. And then she begins:

Hello! My name is Emily Genser and I have been teaching English for 14 years. I have taught every grade, 6-12 for at least one year, so I like to say I know where your child is coming from and I know where he’s going. I have taught every level from remedial to Advanced Placement. I promise this: I will make your child laugh. I will make your child work. I will introduce him to ideas that make him stretch and that challenge him. I will teach him.

Classroom

Middle School is No Man’s Land

As high school teachers, we understand that your kids are coming from the no man’s land of middle school. In middle school, emotions rule, grades mean nothing, and the only thing that truly matters is persistence. Kids learn to balance their wants with their needs. They are beginning to see the world for what it can be (sometimes cruel, sometimes wonderful) and to figure out where they will stand. They will go through personality changes like clothing trends, and may find that each new attitude is more constricting than the last. As parents, we just try to survive this time, looking for glimpses of the child we knew and hoping that the personality they choose allows space for us.  Sometimes parents look at school as a place where they can still be in control, and they will try to foist that control on the teacher. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Freshman Year and The Brave New World

9th Grade: At the beginning of this year, you will get a chance to meet the teachers. TRUST THEM. You will be nervous, you will be worried about how big the classes are and you will worry that you child will get lost in the fray. You will think about your daughter’s anxiety, or your son’s reticence. You will worry about your 14-year-old being unfocused or lost and not asking for help. All of these worries are normal, and the teacher in front of you has seen everything and more before your son or daughter walks into her room. Remember that the teacher is a professional. Most states require that teachers have a Master’s Degree in teaching their subject. Every teacher wants your child to succeed and most will do whatever it takes to help them do just that. If you keep that in mind, you and the teacher will start off just fine.

MY SUGGESTION: Email the teacher. They might ask you to fill out a parent information form at the open house. Email them anyway. Most of those forms sit in a desk until they notice a problem. Don’t send a long email, but introduce yourself and your child. Include major concerns to look out for and provide any and all phone numbers. If your information is easy to access, the teacher will be more likely to get in touch. Stay up to date with your kid’s grades. Most schools use automated-web based grading programs now. Because of this, a lot of schools are not sending home progress reports and teachers will not update you until things are dire. If you see a trend in dropping grades across subjects, it is up to you to get in touch. We don’t know how your son/daughter is doing in other subjects, so what you see as an issue, we might not catch. Send an email. Check in at the midpoint of the year and again toward the end. These emails don’t go unnoticed. They keep your child on the radar. However, don’t over-email. Squeaky wheels get annoying, but don’t necessarily get results. No one wants to be hovered over.

DO NOT DO THEIR HOMEWORK. Check out Judith Newman’s column in the New York Times about helping with homework. It may come from a place of goodness in you, but it doesn’t ensure any sort of success for your child. If anything, when your child’s teacher notices it, and she will, it will upset her. It will make things harder for your child, not easier. When in doubt, email the teacher. Ask questions about how long an assignment is taking. Sometimes, one question could clear up the whole thing, and your child will be able to do the work. If he sees you asking questions and getting answers, perhaps he will model this behavior at school as well. Especially if he sees it working.

Sophomore Year and a Chance to Screw Up

10th Grade: Okay, year one is through and with each new year, we raise the bar for your child and lower it for you. Take a step back and breathe through it. It’s now time for your child to learn to advocate for himself. Go to open house. Meet the teachers. Feel free to email the teachers your information and some notes about your son or daughter. But only once, at the beginning of the year. Stay up to date with his grades, and ask him what projects are upcoming, but stand back and let him learn to plan his work, and to balance the load. He will hit potholes and sometimes fall in. Let him climb out. Let him fix what breaks. This is the year to screw up and work it out. This is the year to let him grow into himself. Only step in when there is no other choice.

Junior Year and Nine Tortuous Months

11th Grade: AAAAAH Junior year!!!!  This is the year. There is so much stress on your child in his junior year that you will go gray, go without sleep and you will not understand how he seems able to sleep comfortably at night. Teenagers have an amazing ability to hide their anxiety. Whether or not he shows it, he will be feeling frantic this year. He may be taking A.P. courses, is probably involved with extracurriculars of some sort, and he’s getting lots of homework. His classes are all harder now, and he’s hearing almost daily from counselors about how his future depends on what he is doing right now. Let home be a refuge from this. Keep things much the same as they have always been and try not to apply more pressure. He needs a place to breathe and this year, it is not at school. If he can wait another year to get a job, that might be a good idea. If he can’t, then make sure he doesn’t work too many hours. School comes first and always this year. It is that important.

ONE BIG SUGGESTION: Talk to your child about his teachers. Help him to figure out to whom he can go for a strong, personal recommendation. I have the most difficulties writing rec’s for the quiet students. If I don’t know your child well, my recommendation will be bland and generic. Also, make sure your child asks the teacher IN PERSON for a recommendation. He is asking us to do something extra, that is not required and for which we can barely find the time. It is a favor. Act accordingly.

Senior Year and the Victory Lap

12th grade: Home stretch. Once applications are in, the whole family can breathe more easily. There will be less pressure in school this year, overall, so just make sure that you are on top of the application process. Go to guidance meeting, if your school has them and make sure your child is meeting deadlines. Other than that, give him a bit of room to enjoy his last year of high school. He will have less homework and more long-term projects. Check on grades periodically, but start treating him like an adult. He’ll need to feel responsible for himself if he is leaving the house in a year. You’ll both be better for it, if you start the process of letting go now. Most of all, through everything, remember that we all want the same things.

Teachers and parents want to create leaders. We want to feel that we are helping individuals to find themselves and to become good, strong-minded adults who can take on the world in an informed way. If we work together, and give them a supportive foundation, then they will be ready for anything.
Emily GenserEmily Genser is the mother of Abigail (4 1/2) and Josh (2) and a high school English teacher in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is passionate about both jobs and spends most of her time laughing. You can find her blogging away her few free moments of the day at Exhausted but Smiling.

“The Biggest Mistake”

Lisa writes: We remember the big moments. Cameras out, we record, first steps, nursery school graduation, a big game and college drop off. But there are so many other moments, seemingly small points in time that somehow slip away. A wise friend said to me that she could barely remember the sensation of leaning over a crib and scooping a sleepy baby into her arms, though she has four grown sons and must have lifted them up hundreds of times.

children at beach, beach vacation Looking back, I wonder if those weren’t the big moments, after all. I wish I had recorded in my mind or my camera those unnoticed minutes and hours that slipped by, the ones that I only now realize are what truly mattered. Like so many things about parenting, Anna Quindlen said it best:

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Moments I wish I could remember:

The first time you have a coffee with your kid and enjoy this very adult ritual together. The quiet morning, the milky coffee, the two of you beginning another day together.

The first time your child is lost in a book. They cannot see or hear because a wonderful author (to whom you will always be grateful) has swept them away.

Leaving our kids at their new dorm room door is an emotional moment, but the real milestone is sometime in that first semester when they realize that, despite how ready they were to leave, how they hated us all summer and counted the days until move-in, some part of them misses home and their very own bed.

The day they show you something technological that you didn’t know. This happens at a disarmingly early age and at the same time you are overwhelmed by both pride and mild embarrassment. It is a tough to look like an idiot in front of an eight year old.

The whole process of learning and communicating is a revelation in children, but the first time your child understands an abstract concept is nothing short of miraculous. Ditto the first time she reads a word.

The first time we bathe our child and the last time.

The first time they are sick in the night and do not call for us. I learned that my parent medical license had been revoked one morning with one of my high school sons said he had been sick all night, “but didn’t want to bother me by waking me up.” This was a child who woke me up every single night for the first four years of his life. I should have marked this turn of events with applause but instead I felt a little wistful.

It is a disheartening day when your tween decides that you no longer know or understand anything. It is an equally welcome day when your twenty-something realizes that you do. I wish I had remember the day the contempt began and had the wherewithal to remind myself that it would end.

Mark Twain’s dictum may be the best thing ever written about the evolution of teens:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

It is a big moment in every parent’s life the first time their child sleeps through the night. But even when this blessed day comes, they still seem to rise well before dawn. And then one day they don’t. One morning I are stood in my strangely quiet kitchen and realized that my children were still asleep in bed. It is a morning worth recalling.

The first time they go to the movies with you and sit through a full length film. It is that moment when the curtains peel back and the big screen appears, when you see your child’s eye widen in amazement. A little afraid of the dark, my kids crawled into my lap to snuggle, during a showing of Babe. It was a bigger moment for me than any show I have seen on Broadway.

The first time your child is in real trouble. It may be at school, or a ticket for speeding, or a car crash they never saw coming. In an instant their swagger is gone as the full enormity of their action bears down upon them.

The first time they keep a secret. Their first secret often entails a surprise gift for mom or dad crafted in the classroom. Prior to this they have been unable to contain themselves, spilling their every thought, and then one day they keep a secret from you. It is a seminal moment.

Each family has their own moments and for each parent they are so different. It is so easy to have them slip by, so easy to think that the big moments will be obvious when, in fact, they are not. The milestones of childhood are deceptively quiet and sometimes get lost in the noise of far more traditional celebrations or simply everyday life. Anna Quindlen says the problem is not living in the moment, failing to treasure the now over the later, and, of course, she is right. But an equally big challenge is even recognizing childhood’s important moments as they are happening.

With great thanks to our friend and photographer, TBKilman, whose beautiful images provide the illustrations for so many of our posts.  The photo above, a family “moment” is one of our favorites. 

 

The 30-Second Guide to The World Cup

Lisa writes: In English they call it “The Beautiful Game,” in Portuguese “La Joga Bonito” and, for the rest of the world, it is simply known as “Football.” This week in Brazil, the quadrennial global madness known as The World Cup, begins again. It is a sporting event so large that it is estimated that half the world’s populations will watch it. Here is what you and your 21st century kid need to know about this truly worldwide event.

US Men's Soccer Team

10 Seconds of History and Facts

The World Cup lasts for four weeks, is held every four years with 32 nations playing in 64 games.

The competition has been held 19 times but only Brazil, Italy, West Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, England, France and Spain have been victors. The United States has qualified 10 times, including this year, but has not progressed beyond the quarterfinals since 1930. In 1994, the US hosted the tournament.

More than 3.2 billion people watched some part of the 2010 World Cup on television (with over a billion viewing the final), and ESPN plans on airing 290 hours of programming around this year’s tournament. If it seems like The World Cup is always on, it is.

The tournament is organized into a group stage where four countries play each other and two teams from each group progress to the next (knockout) round. The US has three games in its group stage, vs. Ghana (6/16), vs. Portugal (6/22) and vs. Germany (6/26).

FIFA, the football governing body, has more member nations than the UN.

20 Seconds of Q&A

Who is favored to win?

Not us. Experts favor the home team Brazil and other highly rated countries include Argentina, Germany and Spain. Looking for a long-shot? Try Belgium.

Messi, Neymar

Who are the stars of this tournament?

Soon you will hear names bandied about like Ronaldo (Portugal), Messi (Argentina) and Neymar (Brazil). These players have been hoisted onto the national stage because of their fabulous wealth (Ronaldo was said to earn $42 million last year), their prodigious talent on the field, and their fashion sense.

Neymar

US players who will be in the limelight include striker Jozy Altidore, goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley and striker/Captain Clint Dempsey.

Why does the press say that the US is in the “Group of Death”?

The US was placed in one of the most difficult of all the groupings. If we play well enough to progress beyond the group, to the next stage, expect utter pandemonium to ensue.

Why are soccer players always injured and lying on the ground?

Soccer has no replays and it all happens terribly fast. Players seem to believe that clutching an “injury” and rolling around on the floor will influence the referees. Minutes later they are up running around. You would punish your kid for this, but in professional soccer it is widely accepted.

How does fashion figure into The World Cup?

For years it didn’t. Then along came the photogenic David Beckham and his pop star/fashion designer wife Victoria, and soccer was never the same again. World famous soccer players now take part in advertising the world over. Ronaldo recently appeared sans clothing, discreetly covered by his girlfriend on the cover of Vogue. The relationship between the world of glamour and sport has become so cosy that The New York Times explained, “The fashion world treats the soccer field like a runway. “

Ronaldo

Soccer fashion extends right down to the players’ feet. The once lowly black cleat has had a total makeover by Nike, Adidas and the like. Look for bright and bold footwear, enhanced by technology, to be the fashion side-show of the month-long tournament.

Why should I watch the World Cup with my kid?

The World Cup is a global moment. Like the Olympics, it grabs the world’s attention, unites us around a positive force and generally provides a great example to our kids, the global citizens of tomorrow.

Rules: the Fewer the Better

Lisa writes: My kids did not have curfews. We had no rules about where they were supposed to do their homework or even when. There were no real rules about food, dress, chores, or even tidiness. We bought a dog without extracting a single promise from our sons. This was not an oversight as I had grown up in a home with a litany of rules. On the other hand, my kids had strict rules about computer use, bedtime, manners, academic and athletic endeavors and, above all, lying.

rules, street sign

When and how we make rules for our kids is one of the trickiest aspects of parenting. Enforcing and altering them is the other tricky part. Rule making is not something to take lightly or to try and do on the fly. It is important that we have a philosophical underpinning to the constructs we set for our kids.

Yet for me, the number one rule was: make as few rules as possible. It was, I believe, a risky proposition, one about which I received a great deal of criticism, but I believe it has merits.

[Read more...]

Never Again Will I…

Lisa writes: My youngest son heads off to college sometime in August. When he finally slams the screen door, he will be emptying the nest my husband and I began to fill 22 years ago. With his departure, I reflect on a few things that, frankly, I am more than a little ready to let go. While everyone I know is already sick of hearing how much I will miss him, here are a few things that I will never have to do again:

sons, family, brothers

Sit in a car outside a school, gym or private home, waiting. In my car, in the dark, by myself.

Quiz anyone on vocabulary words. My husband has all the words he needs.

Worry about who is in whose bedroom, which door is opened or closed, and what other parents’ rules are for their kids who are in my home. Once you have lived out from under our roof, your personal life is your own.

Eat meals, often once, sometimes twice and, on a bad day, three times, in my car. If humans were meant to eat in cars, God would have installed tray tables in the steering wheel.

Ask anyone how their day was. My husband tells me good news and bad, unbidden. Only teenagers need to have information extracted like teeth.

Buy a new television set. I was good with 25 inches of low-def, and even okay with medium def, and I am pretty sure I will never see a reason to upgrade from 60 inches of pore-magnifying clarity. I might have said this about dial-up Internet.

I will never again utter the words, “Do you have homework?” “Why aren’t you doing your homework?” “When are you going to do your homework?” “I don’t see you doing your homework.” “You call that doing your homework?” My nagging days are over and that is a wholly good thing.

Spend so much money at the grocery store that, even though the cashier recognizes my face from my five trips a week over the last 11 years, the manager needs to okay the transaction.

I will never make plans with another mother. One thing that I could never have anticipated about parenthood was the deep and abiding friendships that often devolved out of constant convoluted arrangements for our kids.

Sleep on the family room couch with one eye propped open listening for sounds on the driveway.

There is a better than even chance that I will never cook dinner again, there is precedent for this in the 1980’s.

I will never again fill out the twenty forms required per each child per year which, as far as I can tell, simply said my kids are healthy, my cell phone is unchanged and go ahead and give them Advil if they have a headache.

I will never speak to a teacher again. This is both good and bad news.

As my youngest stands on the edge of our threshold, with one foot almost out the door, I can either begin my empty nest lifetime of grieving (a possibility that, I will be honest, I have considered) or simply focus on the fact that three wonderful young adults have entered my life.

College Admissions: Don’t Go It Alone

Mary Dell writes: Dear Moms, We feel for you, we really do. Since your kid entered kindergarten, you have probably heard that nothing in parenting compares to the stress of college admissions. Few of you have arrived at this stage without feeling a degree of anxiety now that it is your child who has begun to think about life after high school.

college admissions

Lisa and I are two moms with five kids between our families. Our youngest are high school seniors who have the end in sight. “The end” is not only college application season, but also their high school years and childhood in general. Letting them go is part of the college process and one reason why it feels so painful. In fact, we could sit right down and weep between now and graduation but, instead, we want to throw an arm around your shoulder knowing that it is you who needs support right now. So we offer advice, a digital hug, from two moms to you:

Looking for colleges is a family matter.

Do not feel remotely guilty being involved, despite experts who may tell you to let your child “own the process.” It is their search, but parents should be there to lend an ear, a hand, and a credit card as needed.

[Read more...]

New York Times Features Grown and Flown on Cheating at School

One day separates kids from winter break and soon, final papers and exams will be over and done with. Report cards arriving in inboxes or mailboxes will provide not only an assessment of the fall, but also an opportunity to discuss the grades earned and the integrity behind the effort. Today in The New York Times Motherlode blog, educator, author and parent, Jessica Lahey addresses academic honesty and cheating at school. She quotes Lisa’s Grown and Flown post on the same topic and gives parents the tools they need to tackle this uncomfortable but important subject.

Pinocchio, cheating at school

Here are some of Jessica’s observations about why students cheat:

[Read more...]

Ten Reasons Millennials Need Good Manners

Lisa writes: I have been on the receiving end of a serious amount of eye rolling when reminding my sons about good manners, thank you notes and proper etiquette.

thank you note, good manners, etiquette

They have ignored me or given me the time-worn, and I believe inaccurate, argument that things have changed. I am not buying it, and here is why.

A few reminders for my sons:

[Read more...]

Getting Kids to Work Harder in School: A New York Times Motherlode Rebuttal

Lisa writes: This week on the New York Times Motherlode parenting blog, author/teacher/parent Jessica Lahey* wrote her regular Parent-Teacher Conference column on the question “How Can You Make a Student Care Enough to Work Harder?” The post argues that parents of an unmotivated high school student who has failed a midterm exam should “back off” and allow the student to feel the natural consequences of his poor performance.  While it is an intriguing question, I find myself in sharp disagreement with Jessica, and the many experts who appear in the New York Times column alongside her, about getting kids to work harder in school.

 

school, motivating students

 

Most of the commenters seemed to disagree with the educators as well. Many parents deal with this issue at one time or another and struggle to know what is best. We would love to hear from readers about their experiences.

1. Do kids care about school and does that matter?

The first problem lies in the question. It would be great if kids cared about school. It is pure joy to see your child find a subject or teacher who captivates him and then watch his immersion into a new field of learning. Although we cannot force our kids to be interested in something or make them care about a certain subject or class, we can make them care about doing well. And sometimes, that will just need to be enough.

[Read more...]

Why Parents Should Push Their Kids to Play Team Sports

Lisa writes: One of the great parenting quandaries is when to push our kids and when to back off. This issue surfaces in every aspect of their lives from academics to music lessons to team sports. For each child there is a different answer and for each family a different story, but on the issue of sports, there seem to be a few universal truths.

team sports, varsity sports, soccer team

Sports loom large in our world and while there are many insidious aspects to this, the value of sports, particularly team sports, in a child’s life cannot be overstated.

One of the good thing about sports is that many bad things will happen. Games will be lost. Injuries incurred. Your child might be benched, demoted, or not perform up to his/her abilities. Your child might hate his coach and feel that he is incapable or unfair. And all of this will be good. All of this will be the solid foundation that his later life will rest upon.

But kids sometimes want to quit. The practices can get tedious and time-consuming and the work involved can feel like all too much. We have been there. As moms raising four boys and one girl between our families we have been through this many times. All five kids have participated in team sports in middle school and high school, and three of them in college.

All five kids have had rough days or weeks or months.  When they were younger we pushed them to stay with their sports over their protestations, knowing what was to come.  The sport our children selected did not matter, neither did the level of play.  The benefits accrued from just being on a team. We come down hard on the side of team sports and of making our kids stick it out, and here is why:

1. Teenagers and Trouble

Teenagers get into trouble and extra time on their hands doesn’t help. Teens who have practices, games, team dinners and fitness sessions have less time for mischief. A study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine showed, “A survey of more than 14,000 teenagers found that those who participated in team sports were less likely to use drugs, smoke, have sex, carry weapons or have unhealthy eating habits.”

2. Happier Kids

Teams broaden a kid’s social world and research shows team athletes are happier than kids who do not participate. This study showed that among middle school teens who participated in team sports, “boys were five times more likely, and girls 30 times more likely, to describe their health as fair/poor when they were not playing on a sports team.”

3. Common Goal

Being part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal is always good, always.

4. Sense of Belonging

Beginning in middle school, cliques and mean girls can be social minefields. Boys can splinter apart into groups with well-defined lines. Sports teams cut across social divides pulling together kid’s from disparate groups on campus and increasing the number of kids your child comes to know. Being part of a team gives kids a sense of belonging.

5. Parents on the Sidelines

As kids gets older, they naturally develop their own lives and there will be fewer ways for parents to be involved; the sidelines are not a bad spot. Even teens who seemed determined to shut their parents out, tolerate mom and dad attending their games.

6. Practice and Determination

Teams set goals and thrive through cooperation, discipline and commitment. Parents can lecture all they want, but words only do so much. Sports is one of the best places for kids to learn the importance of practice and determination. In team sports there is the added element of teammates depending on you for participation and performance.

7. Expertise

Getting good at something, as good as your kid can be, through perseverance and repetitive hard work is one of life’s lessons. It is hard to teach in the abstract.

8. Good Health

Athletics encourages strong healthy bodies. Kids who compete know that they are only at their best of they are well fed and well rested. Alcohol and drugs impede performance and every kids knows that. In sports, strength and speed, rather than skinniness or other distorted body images are desirable. Team sports help kids better avoid obesity problems even better than activities like running or biking does, according to research.

9. Future Employment

A new study, conducted by Kevin Kniffin, a behavioral science professor at Cornell University, shows that kids who played team sports in high school make better employees.

10. Memories of Home

Sports teams are the stuff of lifetime memories. The triumphs and defeats of a sporting season stay with us long after the season is over. And then one day our children are 18 and getting ready to go off the college. They will miss their family, dog, friends and their team. And that is a good thing.

Oversharing: Why We Do it and How to Stop

Lisa writes: I entered the world of social media much like entering my kitchen at night, in total darkness with my hands stretched out in front of me. I forged ahead in this global orgy of oversharing with the certain knowledge that I knew nothing and would soon be stubbing my toe, or worse.

Oversharing on social media

The first time a lightbulb went on was during The Social Network when I heard the words, “As if every thought that tumbles through your head is so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.” Perhaps that brilliant turn of phrase should be stamped on every digital device, much like the warnings on the side of cigarette packages. Users of both products may need to be reminded of the dangers that lie ahead. While toxic fumes pose a very real threat to our health, oversharing and forgetting the permanent nature of our online musings comes with its own risks.

[Read more...]