Guilty of a Glance

Parade Magazine has a good article on the teenage brain in today’s edition (if your Sunday newspaper doesn’t carry it, check it out at www.Parade.com/teens).  Among the interesting findings scientists have discovered over the last few years thanks to PET scans and fMRI machines is that there really is a biological reason that teens interpret adult comments and facial expressions incorrectly.  Ever had that happen? You literally are guilty of a glance—a misinterpreted glance.  What was not a look of disgust or an angry voice tone (or even a look meant for anyone at all) can be interpreted as that by a teen.  It can happen during a conversation with a teen or when you’re not even interacting with them.  “Why are you looking at me like that?! Why are you so mad at me?” says the teen, and we say, “What are you talking about?” and they say, “Don’t act like you don’t know!!” and an argument is at hand.  And the adult is left totally bewildered.  We shrug it off as “touchiness” or “hormones” but now thanks to science, we can understand it a little better.


 


According to the article, a teen uses a different part of their brain than an adult, a small region called the amygdala, to identify and process emotions, while adults use the frontal cortex, which governs reason and forethought.  Teens and adults in a study were hooked up to an fMRI machine and showed photos of people in different emotional states, and their brains and identifications of the emotions were compared.  (If you want to have fun with this, check out one of the photos used, at the Parade link— it’s about halfway down the page.  Have your kids look at it, too, before reading further.  Okay, done? The correct answer is fear, which Parade says was given by 100% of adults, while only 50% of teens got it right.&nbsp 


 


I said, “fear”, too.  I showed the photo to Allison and Cleo soon after they woke up this morning and they both gave wrong answers—Allison said “Anger” and Cleo said “Surprise”.  Very interesting! I let them know about the study (and the brain research) and am going to remind Allison of that in the future when I am accused of feeling something I don’t feel!


 


I showed Andy the photo, too, and he interpreted the emotion as “surprise”.   Hmmm… makes me wonder if all the adults in that study’s comparison group were female, because we all know that “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”…and that our husbands are our “extra teenagers”!


 


 

Starting Christmas Early– Crass Commercialism or Common Sense?

I’ve got to be honest– I haven’t really enjoyed the holiday season in a long time. The last two years were especially Bah Humbug times for me, as the usual busy-ness of my life got cranked up several notches.  I couldn’t wait for it all to be over and the new year to begin.  Too much shopping to do, too many end-of-year kid performances to attend all at the same time, too many potluck parties, too many charity drives being shoved in my face all at once (one day the school is asking us to bring canned food; the next, a new pair of shoes; the next, a new unwrapped toy— and if we don’t, our kid doesn’t get to participate in “school dress up day” or whatever…).  There’s more intense house cleaning to do as we usually have a few overnight guests in December, and more yard work to be done, as the leaves fall in Texas this time of year, rather than snow.  I was pleased that we got our Christmas tree set up on Thanksgiving weekend last year… but it sat undecorated for three weeks.  I didn’t even have time to send out holiday cards.

This year, my Bah-humbugs have already begun, as people seem to be starting the season earlier than usual—more stores were decorated with reindeer before their ghosts and goblins had even been marked down, and I started seeing homes festooned with holiday decorations two weeks ago. It seems the ads for holiday sales started earlier than usual, too… Oh, sure, I’m all for finding the right holiday gift for someone any time of year, even if you buy it in June… but…full-blown holiday preparations in early November? Even the nut jobs who camp out at Best Buy pitched their tents earlier than usual this year…When I was a child, we never started holiday decorating until Dec. 1st, and somehow that mindset has always stayed with me, that that was really the official start of the season.  Then this morning, it hit me. Maybe if I took a tip from some of these “holiday pushers”, I’d have a less stressful holiday. Maybe if I got out of my old way of thinking and started preparations a lot earlier, I might actually have a more meaningful, more spiritual Christmas. I mean, think about it. Life does have more “stuff” in it than 40 years ago, even 10 years ago. People have invented more ways, more traditions, to fill up the season.  Yet there’s still only four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a short time to do everything needed for a modern family’s biggest celebration of the year—and feel warm and fuzzy at the same time. Getting in the mood for Christmas soon after Halloween really isn’t such a bad idea after all.

True, I’m late in latching onto this idea this year, but what do I have laying out before me on this day, the day before Thanksgiving? A five-day holiday weekend, one in which I don’t even have to host a Thanksgiving meal. I just have to show up, salad in hand.  So while I’m not going to camp out at any stores (even though our exchange student, Cleo, wants to, as she thinks it would be a quintessential American experience), and I refuse to shop on Thanksgiving Day (God bless those folks who have to work then), I am going to use this weekend more wisely than I ever have before. I am not going to complain if Allison wants me to take her to the mall today—I’m going in there, too.  And with five able bodies at home for the next five days, we ought to be able to get some major house cleaning done. And some twinkle lights put up outside.  And not only get the tree up, but maybe even the ornaments on it as well. And for inspiration, I’ll even get out the holiday CD’s, something I never usually do until December.

Only I better crank up the volume. It’s 11:30 a.m., and the teenagers are still asleep…

Starting Christmas Early– Crass Commercialism or Common Sense?

I’ve got to be honest– I haven’t really enjoyed the holiday season in a long time. The last two years were especially Bah Humbug times for me, as the usual busy-ness of my life got cranked up several notches.  I couldn’t wait for it all to be over and the new year to begin.  Too much shopping to do, too many end-of-year kid performances to attend all at the same time, too many potluck parties, too many charity drives being shoved in my face all at once (one day the school is asking us to bring canned food; the next, a new pair of shoes; the next, a new unwrapped toy— and if we don’t, our kid doesn’t get to participate in “school dress up day” or whatever…).  There’s more intense house cleaning to do as we usually have a few overnight guests in December, and more yard work to be done, as the leaves fall in Texas this time of year, rather than snow.  I was pleased that we got our Christmas tree set up on Thanksgiving weekend last year… but it sat undecorated for three weeks.  I didn’t even have time to send out holiday cards.

This year, my Bah-humbugs have already begun, as people seem to be starting the season earlier than usual—more stores were decorated with reindeer before their ghosts and goblins had even been marked down, and I started seeing homes festooned with holiday decorations two weeks ago. It seems the ads for holiday sales started earlier than usual, too… Oh, sure, I’m all for finding the right holiday gift for someone any time of year, even if you buy it in June… but…full-blown holiday preparations in early November? Even the nut jobs who camp out at Best Buy pitched their tents earlier than usual this year…When I was a child, we never started holiday decorating until Dec. 1st, and somehow that mindset has always stayed with me, that that was really the official start of the season.  Then this morning, it hit me. Maybe if I took a tip from some of these “holiday pushers”, I’d have a less stressful holiday. Maybe if I got out of my old way of thinking and started preparations a lot earlier, I might actually have a more meaningful, more spiritual Christmas. I mean, think about it. Life does have more “stuff” in it than 40 years ago, even 10 years ago. People have invented more ways, more traditions, to fill up the season.  Yet there’s still only four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is a short time to do everything needed for a modern family’s biggest celebration of the year—and feel warm and fuzzy at the same time. Getting in the mood for Christmas soon after Halloween really isn’t such a bad idea after all.

True, I’m late in latching onto this idea this year, but what do I have laying out before me on this day, the day before Thanksgiving? A five-day holiday weekend, one in which I don’t even have to host a Thanksgiving meal. I just have to show up, salad in hand.  So while I’m not going to camp out at any stores (even though our exchange student, Cleo, wants to, as she thinks it would be a quintessential American experience), and I refuse to shop on Thanksgiving Day (God bless those folks who have to work then), I am going to use this weekend more wisely than I ever have before. I am not going to complain if Allison wants me to take her to the mall today—I’m going in there, too.  And with five able bodies at home for the next five days, we ought to be able to get some major house cleaning done. And some twinkle lights put up outside.  And not only get the tree up, but maybe even the ornaments on it as well. And for inspiration, I’ll even get out the holiday CD’s, something I never usually do until December.

Only I better crank up the volume. It’s 11:30 a.m., and the teenagers are still asleep…

Dude is the new Yes

News Flash to all Uncool Parents (and those on the verge): When you say something to your teen and they answer back with “Dude!”, don’t get upset—get excited. It means—and don’t faint—that they are AGREEING with you! No kidding! And it’s becoming widespread, so no doubt Webster’s will be putting it right up there with “bromance” and “frenemy” in the very near future.

I’ve noticed it in Allison’s speech over the last couple of months but haven’t said anything to her about it—  I figured it was some passing fad, something she and her friends had picked up from watching a Zach Galifianakis movie (or “Zach G!” as they refer to him). Then last weekend, I heard an adult woman use it several times as she was speaking to me, and I realized it was more widespread than I thought—and that I was far more uncool than I thought.  I mean, this was a 40-something female, a nurse with two bachelor’s degrees. Yes, it definitely made me do a double take inside my head.  ‘Did I just hear her say, “Dude!” to me?’ Then she said it again, and again a short time later. (Maybe I should feel good about that, like she deemed me young enough to understand— surely she wouldn’t pepper her conversation with “Dude!” if she was speaking to one of the 70-year-old women who were also at the same event with us…)

From what I’ve gathered from observation, based on the “context” of the surrounding speech, when someone says that to you, it means not only yes, but emphatically yes, as in, “You are so right!! I think the same thing! I agree with you 100%!”  So again, if someone says that to you, it’s a good thing.  And if a teen says that to you, it’s an even better (and probably rare) thing.  I guess we should be thankful for the “Dude!”s in our life.

Only don’t expect me to ever use that word like that. Not only does it confuse our foreign exchange student, it makes any adult sound like they’re doing a bad imitation of Sean Penn as “Spicoli” when they use it, and makes them look ridiculous and desperate, like they’re trying too hard to be cool.  And I would never want to do that!!!!!

To Invite or Not To Invite? The Birthday Party Dilemma

Yes, it’s birthday time again, and for those of you who don’t already know, ALL of our family birthdays fall within 6 weeks of each other—yes, even our foreign exchange student’s! First comes mine, then a week later it’s Emmie’s, then 13 days later it’s Cleo’s, two days after that it’s Allison’s, and two weeks later, just in time for Christmas, Andy gets his big day.  And once again, we face the timeless “birthday party dilemma”: your child is having a birthday party, and either you or your child or both do not want to invite everyone in the class.  The reasons can be endless: budget, space, personality, so and so blew out the candles on the cake at our last party…and you revisit the issue every time your child has a party, as friends change and new ways to celebrate are invented. Your child is saying “It’s my party, it’s my birthday, and I don’t want her to be there…she’s been mean to me every day for two weeks.” But you’re friends with the child’s mother…and the child is a sensitive kid…



Then there’s the child who says, “I want to invite everyone but the new girl, because I don’t know her at all” and the parent who’s saying, “But this would be the perfect opportunity for everyone to get to know her.” Do you invite children who didn’t invite your child to their own birthday celebration? Do you invite someone just because she did? You don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, yet someone just might end up in tears after this decision is made—either your child or someone else’s… 
Gee, aren’t birthdays supposed to be a time of celebration?


 


Here’s my take on it:


 


I think it all depends on a child’s age and whether they’re a part of a daily class or not.  For example, five-year-olds probably won’t care too much who they invite and mom can decide the whole thing—unless they’re a part of a preschool or kindergarten class that gets together daily.  Then you may want to think more about it.  How do the kids interact? Are there already “friendship issues” in the class? Will some children make others feel bad if they’re not invited?  Kids at this age (and other early elementary grades) really can’t understand the issues of budget and space, they’re me-centric and take everything personally.  Because of this, sometimes rather than having our own parties, I brought the party to the class.  For example, the man who would’ve brought his guitar and puppets to our house and sing “Gonna Get Dressed All By Myself” to a limited audience, simply came to school and entertained the whole preschool class instead.  The cupcakes that would’ve gotten mashed into my carpet got mashed on their perfectly-sized low tables instead, as the children sat at 10 perfectly sized tiny chairs.  The teacher was thrilled, and so were all the kids.

As kids get older and the drama heats up (those with girls know exactly what I’m talking about), we’ve at least cut the birthday party problems in half due to our “a party every other year” policy. On the off years, our children get to invite one friend to go to dinner somewhere special—and thank goodness our kids (thanks to our encouragement) have often chosen a child who is outside the realm of the daily classroom—a special friend, for example, who moved to a nearby suburb or one that we met at summer swim lessons .  It has been a fun way to foster connections and help the kids “catch up”.  But when it’s time for a party with tweens and teens, we’ve either had it in the budget to invite all the girls in class or we’ve chosen parties with activities where we just can’t– but I firmly believe it’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t get invited to a party, and parents need to stop helicoptering to “protect feelings” once a child gets above a certain age, say, about third grade. By that time, kids should start understanding about budget and space and also why they didn’t “make the cut”, and a good parent will sit down with their child to discuss all three. Rather than try to soothe the child and “soften the blow” by telling them the birthday child is wrong, or “not a friend”, it would do parents good to seize the opportunity to help the child do some self-examination. Sometimes, not getting invited to a party is the best behavior modification tool around, better than 100 parental lectures or Sunday School lessons about being nice. 


 


I will never forget the time I was the only kid in my entire grade who wasn’t invited to a birthday party, and not just any party.  Two girls with birthdays close together were having a combined celebration, and budget was not an issue.  It was the party to end all parties, truly the party of the year.  I mean, even people they hardly knew were getting invited.  But not me.  And my mom sat me down to discuss why.  At first I was very upset– I thought she sounded like a traitor, wanting me to “fit in” too badly and not recognizing my own opinions on the party givers. “I don’t like them,” I told her, “and I don’t hide it.” Well, I don’t remember exactly what she said next, but I do know she thought it would be wise if I made some changes, and never gave me specific instructions on what to do– she wanted me to figure it all out on my own. So I asked Dad for advice, did some reading…and made it a point after that to lighten up and look for the good in everyone.  Not only did those party givers become my friends again, but decades later, I count them among my lifelong best friends.  I probably would have missed out on other wonderful friendships and getting to know other fabulous people had my mom not made it a point to talk to me that one winter day. 

And had my friends’ parents forced them to put me on their guest list.


 


 


 

Helping Kids Appreciate Veterans

When was the last time someone told you they’d die for you? Before you start thinking back to some star-crossed ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, think broader. (Hint: It’s Veterans Day.)  People may argue about the pros and cons of this or that war but I hope that on this day everyone will at least be in agreement on one thing: our veterans have all served under the premise that if necessary, they’d die protecting us, without expecting us to do the same in return.  Pretty humbling, I think, and it makes me get teary-eyed when I wave at veterans in parades or read about the suffering they go through, even when their duty is finished.  I don’t think my kids quite “get” it, but there are a lot of things available to them lately that might help. 
 


My younger daughter’s Girl Scout troop is socializing with veterans at a local retirement center later today; our elementary school PTA invited veterans to eat lunch with the children and also planned a care package party after school, so that the kids can make care packages and cards for veterans living in a state veterans home. My drill team daughter marched in a neighborhood Veterans Day parade yesterday, and this weekend, she and her friends in National Charity League will be out at the airport, cheering returning soldiers and shaking their hands (DFW airport is often the first place of entry for service men and women upon returning home from Iraq or Afghanistan, and citizen volunteers, as well as some very dedicated veterans, have been greeting them every weekend for several years.)

Another way to mark the day is to gather clothing and household items for Paralyzed Veterans of America and set them outside—here in the Dallas area, PVA has regular pickups throughout the year and it’s a great way for kids to clean out their rooms and help veterans at the same time. PVA has a great website (
http://www.mission-able.com) where you can help your child send an e-card to a veteran or active service member and can also make a monetary donation (especially good if your city does not have PVA pick-ups!).

And of course, there are movies for teachable moments. (I wish our family also had time today for a movie, but that will have to wait.)  I found
http://www.parentpreviews.com/the-big-picture/post/war-heroes for ideas on G, PG and PG-13 movies which teach about WW I and conflicts thereafter (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is one and Dear John is another.)

I hope everyone will find a way to honor veterans today, even if it’s just to call up a veteran friend or relative and say the words “thank you”.  To all the veterans out there, Happy Veterans Day– and THANK YOU!!

Bitten Again, But Not Deep

Staying one step ahead of the electronic media monster is wearing me out.  Just when we think we’ve outsmarted it, it throws a new challenge our way.

First off, we did what we consider the “right thing” a long time ago and not let our kids have a computer or TV in their bedrooms (I could go on and on about the advantages, not the least which are that it lessens isolation and promotes more family time, keeps kids away from unsavory websites and keeps you “in the know” without having to load sophisticated spy software on their computer. You can know how much screen time your child is logging and what they’re looking at simply by looking over their shoulder).

As the kids got older, that rolled into another issue: Electronic media has a powerful pull, and you often see your kids spend too much time with it, languishing away a beautiful Saturday in front of The Disney Channel or watching Harry Potter Puppet Pals on YouTube.  So then (if you’re a caring parent) you impose limits, asking them to stop, and implementing consequences if they don’t.  Or, if you’re like our family, who has a child who continually prefers to say, “No!” rather than keeping major privileges, you lock out both the computer and TV with pass codes, so that access isn’t even granted until things get done, like homework and chores. (Check the Menu feature on your TV’s remote or its owners’ manual for more info on this; explore “Internet Options” from your computer’s Control Panel.)  These types of pass codes are great tools and very easy to use (and enforce) once everyone gets used to it.

But, true to the nature of the beast, we still can’t rest easy.  Lately this semester we’ve been troubled by a new electronic media dilemma. Computer access is now often granted because of homework, since the kids (especially the teens) need the Internet to look up definitions or print off a teacher’s review sheets. And the teenagers often don’t start their homework until 9 p.m., so Mom and Dad are usually going to bed when the teens are still up.  And the teens have been staying on the Internet, long past the time homework is done– or getting on the Internet and then getting distracted from doing their homework. How do I know? Because often I’m a night owl, too, and I see them sitting at the computers, or I check a computer’s web history the next day.  If Allison’s not Facebooking, she’s surfing to fashion and makeup websites. Late at night is a tempting time for Cleo to communicate with her friends and family in France, as they start waking up six hours ahead of us.  I also know our teens are up late on the computer because they tell me so.  Just last week, Allison said to me, “It’s amazing how early some people get up.  I was on Facebook so late the other night, I actually saw people online who were just waking up.” I winced.  “How early was that?” I asked.  “Oh, about three-thirty in the morning,” she said. 

It all adds up to two very tired girls who have had some tough repercussions as a result—Allison has been “too tired” to do well on quizzes, gotten zeroes for forgetting or not doing assignments, and slept late so often, it’s usually a mad dash for her in the morning in order to make it to drill team practice on time– or some days, she’s taken unexcused absences. (Her drill team carpool partner got so fed up, our carpool ended last week.) Cleo already has had to serve a 3 ½ hour after-school detention and have a conference with an assistant principal due to sleeping through her alarm and being late to school too many times.  Some may say, “It’s their problem– let the natural consequences work things out,” but, in addition to poor grades, the natural consequences can lead to a truancy court appearance not just for the kids, but also for the parents. It’s become our problem, too.

Some would say, “Take them off Facebook.” And I will show them several local kids on Facebook whose parents think they don’t have a Facebook account. It’s one of the main ways teens communicate these days, part of the social fabric of their lives, and when parents “forbid” Facebook, the kids simply start up another account when they’re on a non-home computer, sometimes using a different name.

Some AFS parents (host parents from Cleo’s sponsoring organization) have told us they cut off their computer router at a certain time each night and that we should try the same. Well, we can disable the wireless portion of our home’s router via a password, but that’s not a perfect solution.  For us, we have both wireless and hard-wired computers used by the teens. (And if you’re an all-wireless family and you try this, you can’t get back on, sort of like locking yourself out of your house.)  You can physically disconnect the entire router (and plug it back in, in the morning) but it needs to be housed in a place where kids can’t get to it.  Ours is not.  Andy finally found something that just may help, something called EZ Internet Timer.  Its simplicity is genius.  For around $10, you get software that you can load onto every computer, and it simply shuts off Internet access at whatever time you set. He got it a few days ago and loaded it on, with an 11 p.m. cut-off, and we had a family meeting to inform the kids. “But what if we need the Internet past 11 for homework?” said Allison. “Too bad,” we said.  “If you know you’ll need notes or definitions off the computer in order to study, then print it off early, and don’t come whining to us later….and if you think you can then tell your teachers it’s our fault for an assignment not being done, we’ll be happy to explain our policy to them, and I’m sure they’ll be on our side.”

We’ve only been using it for a few days, and I’ve already seen positive results.  Well, partial.  Cleo went to bed at 11 Thursday night.  Allison was still up, laying out her clothes for Friday, and Facebooking—  on her phone.
 

Trick or Treat, Smell My…After Shave?

Ah, the topic of age and trick-or-treating has been in my life a lot these days.  First, I heard the story on the radio last week about Mark Eckert, the mayor of Belleville, IL, who has banned teenage trick-or-treating in his town (as some other cities have done). Although Belleville rarely issues the fine for this, it’s $100 if anyone over 12 is caught trick-or-treating.  I didn’t give the story much attention.  Like the newscasters, I thought, ‘Hah—that would be a tough code to enforce. Will kids be stopped for proof of age? Will they have to carry birth certificates?’ No one’s ever put a limit on trick-or-treating before…stupid law…

 

A few days later, our French exchange student and her friend, another French exchange student, were thrilled to discover that teenagers trick-or-treat in America, whereas in France, it stops at a younger age.  “We can be a kid again!” her friend announced to me, joyfully.  They put together costumes yesterday and filled their treat bags so full, they will probably still have some candy left next June when they return home…and a lot of happy memories of Halloween to take back as well.

 

But as I talked to my friend, Meg, yesterday at a neighborhood Halloween potluck, I decided that Mayor Mark was onto something.  Meg and her husband only allow trick-or-treating for their kids until 6th grade.  Then the kids can go to Halloween parties as they get older, or to haunted houses, or help pass out candy to the little ones.  “I think it’s creepy when a kid with a moustache is standing at my door with a treat bag, you know?” she said.  “And I don’t want my boys to be one of them.”  Suddenly I was reminded of last year, when I wanted to get rid of all of our Halloween candy, so I was answering the door past 9 p.m. on Halloween night all by myself, and Andy was still out with Emmie, and Allison was at a party…Halloween fell on a week night last year, so lots of working parents got a late start with their kids, and we had many families coming to our door later than usual…and, a couple groups of “boys” wearing ghoulish costumes, who looked like they were old enough to have kids of their own.  It was creepy.  I mean, normally I don’t answer the door to any strangers—and there I was on Halloween night, all by myself, opening my door and handing out candy to tall strangers wearing MASKS!? I turned out the porch light and kept my candy. I can see why single parents and senior citizens get scared, too.

 

This year, Andy was home, so I didn’t feel as scared—but it was still weird to see kids as tall as Andy (and twice his girth) ringing my doorbell.  Should we put signs on our door that say “No trick-or-treaters over 12”? That’s about as unenforceable as the Belleville law. Or how about one of those wooden height measurers, like they have at theme park ride entrances? Someone could make cute Halloween ones with a scarecrow holding out his hand, or a ghost or witch.  Nah.  Discriminates against kids who grow faster than their peers. Wait—I know.  All the kids stick out their bags and say, “Trick or treat!”– right? We can give treats to the little ones—and tricks to the really big ones, the ones who only trick-or-treat with other big ones. “Tricks” meaning something they weren’t expecting.  Maybe a used classic paperback? Literature on how to write a resume’? Gideon Bibles? A Beethoven CD? By golly, if these kids are going to come to my door years after it’s “cool” to do so, it’s time to give them something different than candy.  And maybe they won’t come by any more.  Or, maybe they will—  to thank me!