On Turning Tween

My youngest turned ten recently. She lovingly reminds me that she is officially a tween now, along with her eleven-year-old twin sisters.

Having three tween daughters would scare most people, and it should. Navigating puberty times three is not for the faint of heart.

While my girls seem to be handling it well, it is much harder for me.

You see, I have always been confident, even steadfast, in my parenting decisions, doing what I felt is right for my little family.  Facebook was not around when my girls were infants, so I didn’t feel the pressures so many young moms now face due to social media, and I am lucky to have a strong network of supportive women in my life.

I didn’t always do everything by the book, and if you wanted to label me  it would probably be “Crunchy, detachment, needs her sleep, part-time working mom.” I nursed all three of my kids. And also bottle fed. We eat mainly organic fruit and vegetables, unless we are at a friend’s house that busts out a packet of Oreos, then we are all in. I let all three of my kids cry it out at one point or another and I rarely let them sleep in our bed, but I am all for early morning snuggles or late-night reading in my bed together.

It worked for us.

But now we are at a different point in our parenting journey. Sometimes it involves eye rolls, sighs the size of a hurricane and huffing and puffing — and that’s not only by my three daughters.

Parenting tweens is hard. They want their independence. They want to be heard.  They want to grow up.

I just want them to pick up their stuff.

But more than that, I want to raise kind, compassionate, productive members of society, which is hard to do when you constantly feel like you are screwing them up.

The past few weeks have been particularly difficult. For some reason, the four females in our house are on edge. We cried a river of tears and are often an ocean apart on our viewpoints.

We argue about hair and taking showers and homework and eating habits. And after every bad interaction, I feel like a failure, like I screwed them up.

Raising tweens is hard. Talk too much about the food they consume, and it can lead to an eating disorder. Discuss their appearance too much will cause poor self-esteem. Pressuring academic success can lead to depression. And although I never negotiate on good hygiene, I do wonder at what age I will have to stop saying the words, “We take showers so we don’t smell.”

Raising tweens shakes my confidence as a parent. As hard as I try, I feel like the wheels fly off a conversation faster than I can put them back on the bus.

Finding balance in our new relationship is difficult. I want them to be independent and think for themselves, yet we still have rules and expectations. I want them to understand the basics of health and appearance, yet I do not want them to feel judged.  I want them to excel in all they do, yet I do not want them to feel pressured.

We are in the eye of the tornado, and I am unsure where we will land.

Last night was a good night in our home, filled with love and laughter and joy and kindness. I pulled one of my daughters aside, one who I had a particularly trying time with, and said, “I’m glad we had some fun together after all that went on this week.”

Her big blue eyes looked deep into mine, and she replied, “What do you mean?”

I was surprised by her response. “I mean, you and I had a rough week, and I know we didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything. I’m glad we could end it on a good note.”

And then she laughed. “Oh, Mom, it’s not a big deal. I know you are just trying to help.”

As I watched her turn and put her backpack away, I sat in shock. Here I thought I was crushing her self-esteem and body image, and she showed me compassion.

Parenting a tween is hard, but it doesn’t need to shake your confidence. I may need to work on my delivery, but my girls are getting the message loud and clear. We will have bad moments, but I will continue to remain steadfast in teaching them all the things I want them to know, and then adapt accordingly, as I have done since the beginning. And the good moments will far outshine the bad.

Parenting a tween is hard, and it should be. We want our kids to push, explore and question. Sometimes these actions lead to positive outcomes (defending a friend or deciding to walk away from illicit behavior) and sometimes it ends up with mistakes and the opportunity to be held accountable. It is all a part of growing up.

Parenting a tween is hard. And I am so lucky I get to do it.

The Tightrope of Self Esteem

I am making my debut on one of my favorite sites today, Mamalode, discussing managing my daughters’ self esteem.

I find it hard to find the right balance of encouragement and honesty with my girls. It becomes particularly difficult during a fashion stand off. On one hand, I want them to feel empowered and loved, and on the other hand, I want to be honest and helpful.

And sometimes you just have to tell a girl she looks ridiculous. You know, the girlfriend rule.

Thanks for reading.

THE TIGHTROPE OF SELF ESTEEM

The small-framed tween girl slides to a stop in her sock-clad feet directly in front of me.

“Ta-da,” she sings, using jazz hands as her chocolate eyes dance with excitement.

“You can’t wear that to school,” I respond too quickly.

“Why not? I think I look awesome.”

“It doesn’t look right,” I declare. The words spew out of my mouth like bullets, and I instantly want to siphon them back in as I watch my daughter flinch. “I mean, you are not supposed to wear it that way.”

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Embarrassment versus Shame in Parenting

The other day “Ice Ice Baby” came blasting through my iPhone while doing dishes. I instantly squealed, “Oh my God! I used to love this song!” (Don’t judge me. You know you loved it too.)

I put down the dirty dish I held and started busting out my signature move, The Running Man. Of course, I have my own version, but I killed it.

That’s when I received a crushing blow to the gut. My nearly eleven-year-old daughter shouted from across the room, “Mom, seriously. You are so embarrassing.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. As I turned to face her and three of her friends eating pizza at my kitchen counter, I caught the last rotation of an eye roll as she turned her back on me.

Ouch.

So I did what any mom would do. I threw down my dish towel and did a little M.C. Hammer “U Can’t Touch This” shuffle across my hard wood floors and ended with “The Sprinkler,” which may have involved some PG-13 gyrating.

Her friends cheered me on but I could see the pink rising on my daughter’s cheeks. She was smiling, but I could tell the mortification was real. She was ashamed of me.

Later, I thought about how I drew a line in the sand with my daughter by continuing the dance-off. My fellow moms of tweens and I often discus how are lives are changing. Trips to Starbucks and the mall now replace princess tea parties and pretend fashion shows. iEverything’s seem to be glued to their palms and sleepovers replace playdates. And inevitably, there are a few more door slams and sighs then cuddles and kisses.

Some of my friends want to keep their relationships with their tweens/teens in tact and choose to relate to them on their terms. Some respect boundaries and allow their children more independence. Some even insist that they will be the parenting white unicorn — the cool mom.

I could have tried to be more hip to bond with the group, demonstrating that I once was like them. I could have stopped dancing and changed the station to something a little more current. I could have altered who I was at that moment.

But what fun would that be? When did we get so scared of our kids and what they think of us?

There is a lot of discussion about the role shaming has in parenting, so much so that as a culture we bend over backward to ensure we never say or do anything bad that may impact the self-esteem of a child. We worry that our every move will have an impact on their physical, intellectual, and even social well-being.

And this is important stuff. We should not publicly shame our children or make them feel ashamed about their behavior, appearance or choices. They should never feel degraded or diminished.

But that does not mean we should not teach our children the difference between shame, the mis-placed kind because of something someone else does, and good, old-fashioned parental embarrassment.

I think growing up with parents that embarrass the heck out of you truly makes you a stronger person. My dad was a lunatic. Growing up, he would blast show tunes while I was hanging out with my friends in the pool. He would do the moves to cheers when I was on the sidelines in high school. When I brought my very Italian boyfriend home in college, he asked if he could kiss his ring and call him “Godfather.”

It was mortifying. It was annoying. It made me want to curl up in the fetal position and not come out until adulthood.

And he was not the only one. My mom could be worse. She would stay up each night until I walked through the door. She called the parents of my friends —whether she knew them or not — to ensure I was where I said I would be. She would say no to my requests even when every other parent said yes.  I am not sure how I survived.

If parenting is about being brave and steadfast in your decisions, then my parents had cojones the size of Texas. And even with these “flaws,” my house was where my friends wanted to be, where we could all laugh and be ourselves.

I may not purposely do things to embarrass my kids. I won’t show up to their school wearing my pajama bottoms (if you don’t count the drop off line) or chaperone a school dance wearing my old prom dress (unless I can fit in it), but I’m not going to change who I am — or what I believe in — just to ensure they are not embarrassed. And if their friends don’t like me, well, that’s on them.

Because where does it end? There is a limitless list of things kids can be embarrassed about: not arriving to school in the right car or not having the right shoes; mothers who don’t wear make up or don yoga pants every day; or dads who scare boyfriends or dress in ridiculous ties. And yes, even a mom who does the Running Man — even when she nails it.

I know that my kids also will get embarrassed by what I don’t let them do, like wear makeup just because the other girls are or go to a party where I know there is no supervision.

It is a delicate balance when raising older children. I’m sure shortly that just the mere fact I exist will embarrass them.  But I’ve already lived through those painful teenage years of trying to fit in, and I am not doing it again.

My job is showing my kids how to enjoy life and be a responsible, productive member of society. If we can get through that and still be friends, then so be it.

And if they learn a few super-cool dance moves along the way, then that is a bonus.

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3 Ways I’m Changing My Daughters’ Measurements

“My sister wants her thigh gap to be three inches,” I heard a small voice say from the back seat of my minivan a few year’s back.

I quickly checked my rearview mirror to assess my daughters’ reaction to this comment made by a sweet third grader I was taking to the movies.

“What’s a thigh gap? Mom, do you have a thigh gap? Do I have one?” my seven-year-old asked.

Trying to sound upbeat while trying not to drive off the road, I responded: “It’s a space between your legs. Some people have it, and others don’t. It all depends on how your body is. You can’t really control it. So, are we going to get the popcorn pack or the pretzel at the movies today?”

I successfully changed the subject, but I knew from that day forward I needed to be more proactive in talking to my girls about weighty issues. The war started, and the first strike came unknowingly from a little girl with a 16-year-old sister.

But as my girls grow up, I am seeing there are more and more measurements that can bring them down. And I’m finding the best defense is a good offense, so here are three measurements I’m talking about with my girls:

3 WAYS I'M CHANGING MY DAUGHTERS' MEASUREMENTS

1. Social Media Sanity: I am starting to believe that there is no greater damage that can impact a young person’s self-esteem than participating in social media.  Girls often gain a false sense of accomplishment, or even power, from accumulating followers, likes or comments on social media, using these numbers as a barometer of their social status. On the CNN documentary “Being 13,” one student in the study admitted she takes 100 selfies a day to get one she likes well enough to post.

Conversely, when a post or photo is not well-received, or when a teen is excluded online (such as not being tagged in a picture or finding out their friends are at an event they were not invited), this often perpetuates feelings of insecurity.  While we all have experienced the feeling of being left out, social media now offers proof.

While limiting and monitoring social media is critical, most damage often happens when young girls “lurk” online, trolling friends’ activities without any context. Parents cannot underestimate the power of discussing social media with their children — without judgment. Whether we like it or not, social media is a part of teen culture, and unless you chain your child to their bed, they will see it. Topics should include how does it feel when someone comments on your photo or, does it ever feel bad when you check your social media accounts? Most teens cannot connect the dots that it is social media that is making them feel depressed, so it’s our job to talk them through it.

A friend recently told her 13-year-old daughter to use social media to make relationships she already had stronger, therefore only accept friend requests from people she knew well. If anyone messaged her about why she didn’t connect with them, she was to blame her “mean” mom for overseeing her account. The result is a young girl who is surrounded (mostly) by positivity as opposed to a teen seeking approval. While this is not a realistic option for everyone, it is a good way to get a young girl’s feet wet when it comes to social media.

2. Tip the Scales. I was in eighth grade the first time I realized I weighed 20 pounds more than my best friend, despite the fact we were about the same height. Now I realize it was because I was exiting puberty while she was just starting, but I remember the exact moment and feeling awkward about it. I also recall trying not to clean my plate at dinner that night.

We all know it’s important for girls to be healthy, not skinny, but teens today get barraged with images of women with “perfect” bodies. The average teen girl gets about 180 minutes of media exposure daily and only about 10 minutes of parental interaction a day, says Renee Hobbs, EdD, associate professor of communications at Temple University. Who do you think the kid is going to listen to?

Both moms and dads need to have a dialogue with daughters about weight and body image.  The discussion should include how most photos in the media are unrealistic and untrue, such as airbrushed tummies, elongated legs, and hidden blemishes. See what your daughter has to say about a woman you see on a magazine cover or a model in an advertisement. Ask if she would change anything about her appearance. Most parents are surprised to hear that their child would rather look like an “ideal” instead of themselves.

And it’s important to remember that the number one role model for daughters is her mother. This means it’s not enough to try to avoid negatively discussing our bodies; instead, we need to make sure we discuss what we like about ourselves, too.

3. Weight of the GPA. My nine-year-old daughter acted jumpy last week when handing me three tests she needed signed. I glanced at the top of each and saw she achieved the Common Core grading of “I,” which meant she mastered each lesson. I stopped on her math test when I saw she missed three questions. As I flipped to the back of her test, she burst out in tears and cried, “I’m sorry Mommy, I forgot to go back and check my work like you told me to.”

If I’m being honest, I was a little frustrated. Leaving a question blank is just silly, but then I remembered she is nine, and she proved she understood what she learned, so I backed off. Clearly we were both putting a little too much pressure on her regarding her grades.

I was shocked recently when I read that research has shown there is a clear correlation between grades and suicide risk. Sixteen-year-old students with the lowest grades are three times more likely to commit suicide than those at the top of the class.  This is not all surprising when we look at the combined pressures parents and the U.S. education system put on our kids.

While I believe working hard in school and trying to get good grades is important,  particularly in today’s competitive college admissions environment, it is imperative to communicate to our children that someone who gets more A’s is not more worthy than someone who gets B’s or God forbid, a C. Achieving good grades does not ensure a good life any more than one bad grade deems someone as a bad person. As parents, we cannot expect young minds to know the difference.

How do I want my girls to measure their worth?

I try to tell my girls to remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so work on building your brain and growing your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

What I Want My Kids to Know About Cell Phones

When my kids were younger, the thought of providing them with cell phones terrified me. It seemed that all the world’s evils were wrapped up in one pretty iPhone case. Sexters, cyberbullies and online predators could attack my babies with just the click of a button.

Eighty-five percent of kids ages ten to seventeen either own or have access to a smart phone and nearly 25 percent say the are “cell-mostly” Internet users.  My oldest two are approaching eleven years old, and while I am not in a rush to furnish them with their own phones, many of their friends already possess one. I want — I need — to be sure they understand the risks that come with unfettered access to texting and the wild, wild Web.

To quash my fears, I became educated about Internet safety, and developed a  plan for monitoring their online behavior and use. And although I do not have any delusions of grandeur that I can keep pace with the constantly evolving methods people are using cell phones and social media to prey on our children, I hope to keep the bad guys out of our wireless world.

I’ve talked a lot with my kids about the responsibilities that come with owning a cell phone or access to the Internet when I’m not there to monitor. Stranger danger applies both in the real world and the online one. I showed them how an innocent personal photo could end up on a dangerous web site. I demonstrated how “privacy” settings don’t really make things private.

But lately I have noticed that there are a new set of dangers that come when a child walks around with his own phone. The problems may not be physical or unlawful, but I do believe they can have a lasting effect on their social well-being.

Here’s what I want my kids to know about cell phones:

iPhones are not for validation. Life is not measured in how many likes you have on Instagram or followers on Twitter.  And all the “friends” you have on SnapChat will never fill the void in your soul. Make sure that the “self” in selfies does not impact your self-worth. Always remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so build your brain and grow your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

Don’t disconnect. I am the first to admit that I often whip out my cell phone when I am waiting to pick up my kids or in a room full of people I don’t know. Unfortunately, tweens and teens are now doing the same thing, except at every opportunity. Instead of bonding with teammates, boys are texting on their phones during water breaks. Instead of chatting with their girlfriends before a movie starts, the group is checking Facebook. Cell phones are for connecting with people, not for using it to avoid conversation.

Every text is an opportunity to be mis-interpreted. The average teen girl receives around five calls on her cell phone per day and 100 texts. That is 3,000 per month! Although most are innocuous messages and chatter, many kids use texting because it is easier, faster and makes them feel less uncomfortable. That is code for lacking the courage or fortitude to have a difficult conversation.

When young people type instead of speak, they lose the opportunity to develop important interpersonal skills, such as reasoning, problem-solving and yes, even compassion. Those on the receiving end of a text, often teens experiencing insecurity or trying to fit into a social clique, often misinterpret a message without any visual or audio cues in which to guide the intent.

The net-net is people often use text messages to avoid a mess, but learning how to fix a mess is a lesson we want all young people to learn. The pain and discomfort that comes with learning how to communicate — really communicate —with others is what leads to better relationships. So use the phone, not your fingers, to get your point across to the people who matter in your life.

Privacy means different things to everyone. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that manages impulse control is not fully formed until our twenties. That means even your BFF can have poor judgment or make the mistake of forwarding a private text or photo merely by hitting the wrong button.   My mantra is if you would not walk into the lunchroom and shout it out, don’t ever text or share it on social media. Your “friends” list will not adhere to the same standards of discretion about your life as you expect, particularly when hitting the forward key is so simple.

Cell phones are for personal use, not to shame others. In today’s iEverything age, a person can snap a photo in a millisecond without the target even knowing. It’s a picture posted on Facebook of an overweight girl’s butt crack sitting on the bleacher in front of you or recording a schoolyard brawl only to post it on YouTube for entertainment.

But here’s the thing, and there is no way getting around it. Those pictures and videos live forever and regardless of your privacy settings they can be shared and spread like wildfire. And they are humiliating to the — wait for it — victim. Because that’s what a person is who unwillingly gets subjected to ridicule because you couldn’t keep your cell phone in your pant’s pocket.

Don’t be so busy taking a photo of a stranger to not notice when someone is in need of help.

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