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by Elizabeth S. Leaver

At some point not too long ago, a piece along the lines of “see that silent mom who isn’t really participating while everyone else is talking about her child’s achievements” made the rounds on social media. It was a bit painful to read, because that mom is me.

It’s not because I’m not proud of my son. I am. It’s because he doesn’t, at 17, always meet the generic measures of success for his age. He’s an average, not particularly motivated student. He’s not an athlete. And despite society’s allegedly growing recognition of kids’ different strengths and abilities, I don’t always see much evidence of a true shift in perception of what makes a child smart, or brag-worthy, beyond academic success and being good at sports.

My own story couldn’t have been more different. I was a highly self-motivated student whose parents never had to remind me to do my homework or study. I had the grades to match, and my report cards were an enormous source of pride for my parents. I constantly overheard, and was told, that I was smart.

Yet as time has gone on and my son has grown, I’ve realized that that type of success didn’t actually make me “smarter” than he is. I was simply good at school, the way another person might be good at singing. And because I was good at it, it wasn’t hard for me to be “successful” at it, for the most part. As such, I’ve come to feel that tying that adjective—“smart”— to kids’ academic lives alone does them a true disservice. What if kids were all judged by another single measure, like, for example, their ability to paint? How many people would be considered “smart” if that was the gauge? (I certainly wouldn’t have.)

Where I sometimes struggled outside of the classroom, my son is socially capable in ways I wasn’t until I was much older. He’s quick-witted and well-spoken. He’s a fair and kind listener to his friends—I can see turning to him for insight and advice in the not-too-distant future. He is able to put voice to his feelings in a way many grown men cannot. He’s a talented, and largely self-taught, musician. And these are just a few of the things he is much smarter at than I was.

Academic achievement is certainly worthy, and I don’t wish I had come of age differently; I’m proud to think back on my hard work, and I think kids who work hard in school do deserve to feel proud. But all kids, all people, have strengths that should be celebrated. My son is every bit as smart as I was—whatever may have been on our report cards.

Elizabeth S. Leaver is a senior editor at School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives in the greater Boston area with her family.

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by Rose Cafasso


A week from now, I will be an empty nester. Or should I say my husband and I will be empty nesting, for it’s a process, not an identity. It’s another phase of the journey we started when our children were little—slowly but surely letting them go.

Though I hadn’t a clue at the time, I started this process on the first day of kindergarten for my older daughter. Apparently, I couldn’t believe my little curly-haired girl could function independently. So I actually got on the school bus with her. I had no idea that parents simply didn’t do that. The bus driver looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m sure some of the bus stop moms snickered. I slowly backed down the two bus steps and watched her find her way to a seat, giant backpack obscuring half of her tiny body as she made her own way.

Now I am sending her and her younger sister off to college. Last night, the three of us stood in our basement among bags and boxes of stuff—towels, toiletries, mini ironing boards, shower caddies, under-bed storage containers, desk lamps, comforters, and snacks. I offered my best ideas on packing, but they actually wanted to do it themselves. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? They’re now taking the lead; I’m suggesting tips from the sidelines.

But it took me a while to get there.

When my second daughter went to kindergarten, I was a little stronger than when my first one went, so I didn’t try to ride the bus. What I recall is standing with her at the bus stop when she tugged on my arm and said firmly and clearly, “I am NOT going to school.’’ I faltered. Maybe I could drive her? But then I knelt down, looked her in the eye and said firmly, “Yes, you are.” It was the eye contact that did her in, and her quiet acceptance almost killed me.

Then there was the year my older daughter started middle school. She was worried about having to use a locker and in particular, remembering the locker combination. So, we bought her a lock and helped her practice over and over, until she probably could have done it underwater and blindfolded. Still, I worried so much that first day and felt no relief until she returned home to report that the locker experience was a breeze. She had moved on, but I felt 10 years older.

And then high school. I drove my younger daughter her first morning, feeling overwhelmed by this change. But she was in good spirits for she had connected with friends on Facebook to make a plan for sitting together at lunch. As I pulled away from the drop-off line, I felt buoyed by her mood, until I saw a young man—with a full beard, no less—get out of a car and head into the school. I could not believe that someone who could drive and grow facial hair could be a classmate of my daughter. Somehow, I found a way to keep driving instead of running into the school to warn her about male upperclassmen.

Before I knew it, the girls were both finishing up  high school. They had their licenses and were driving to school each day. They would whirl around me in the mornings, sometimes asking for an egg sandwich for breakfast, sometimes ignoring me while they argued with each other about who would drive.

In a few days, we will pack the car (to the brim). My younger daughter goes first to start her freshman year. Then, two days later, we will again stuff the car and take our older girl, who begins her sophomore year. I will do my best not to overstep, to let them take the lead.

And start my own process of empty nesting, the next step in letting them go.


Rose Cafasso is the social media manager for School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives with her family in the greater Boston area.

In nearly 30 years of teaching school, I have seen hundreds of cases where parents involve themselves in their adolescents’ problems. Sometimes, that’s the right thing to do because the problem is too great for a teen to handle alone. But most of the time, the problems are minor—like when to start doing homework, whether to go to the late basketball game, or who to take to the dance. If kids are allowed to make decisions on their own and suffer the natural consequences of those decisions, they will be better equipped to handle bigger problems when they arise (like whether to smoke that cigarette or drink that beer).

Let’s pretend that Maria decides not to wear leggings, boots, and a heavy jacket to school because she is hoping for warmer weather in the afternoon. The weather does not get warmer. Instead it gets colder and windy. Maria gets chilled when she goes outside. This is the natural consequence, and it will not hurt her. Next time, she is more likely to pay attention to the weather forecast when getting dressed for school. (By the way, it is a myth that you catch a cold from getting chilled. Colds are caused by a virus.) Parents often involve themselves in these decisions which lead to arguments in the morning before school, and their children do not learn about consequences of their actions.

A few weeks later, Maria’s friend Alex tries to talk her into leaving campus during lunchtime even though it’s against the rules. Because Maria’s parents have allowed her to make lots of decisions by herself (like what to wear to school), she thinks through the possible consequences of going with Alex and decides she doesn’t want to take the risk. If Maria’s parents make all her decisions for her, she might not think about consequences of her actions.

The most frequent parental involvement I have had as a teacher is after a student does poorly on a test or project. The parent will call to find out why. This is a student and teacher issue, and in most cases the student should handle this by himself. Instead of getting involved, encourage him to go talk to his teacher himself. It is fine to coach him on how to do it. He should make an appointment to talk to the teacher alone instead of when other students are around (perhaps before or after school). He should ask for help to understand what he missed and why he missed it. He might ask if his teacher can show him an answer that got all the points. He should tell his teacher he would like to do better next time and ask for advice on how to improve. This approach teaches him that he can solve problems on his own. He is a capable person who can figure out how to do better in school. He will earn the respect of his teacher who will be impressed with how mature he is. He is a step closer to independence and self-discipline.

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My last two blogs have been about building resilience in kids. Resilient kids can deal with things when they do not go their way, and they recover quickly when things do not go well for them. Part 1 on resilience explains that children need an adult in their life whom they feel they can go to for help when needed. Part 2 discusses the importance of helping children take responsibility for their own actions. Today’s blog shows how important it is for children to contribute to the world in which they live.

When children are able to offer their help to others, whether at home or elsewhere, they learn that they are important. Whatever they contribute needs to be genuinely helpful to others, and they need to be reminded that they are helping. Depending on how old your child is, he may be able to contribute in multiple ways.

Here are a few ideas to try.

  • Allow her to help with the shopping. Kids enjoy helping to find things in the store or online. This really saves you time, and most kids enjoy it a lot.
  • Require him to help with the laundry. Kids are quite capable of doing laundry well. I used to think every item had to be washed and folded perfectly. At some point along the way, I realized that it really doesn’t matter for most things! And, with a few instructions on how to load and run the machines, fairly young kids can be extremely helpful. (My own children started doing laundry at 8 years old.)
  • Go with her to help out at the local food bank or soup kitchen. Many kids do not understand that there are many people who are living in poverty and who barely have enough to eat. It is a great opportunity to talk to her about respect, as well. (Just because a person is needy does not mean they are less intelligent or less important to society. And everyone deserves to be treated with respect.)


There are myriad ways your child can be helpful to the family or society. When they contribute in important ways, they feel necessary. Caring for others creates a sense of pride and builds self-esteem, both of which are necessary in resilient children. As well, offering genuine praise will build your relationship with your child, which is also an important factor in resilience. If you would like to read more about this topic, you might enjoy Building Resilience in Children, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Last week I wrote about resilient children. Children who are resilient can bounce back after they experience a setback. When Gino failed a test, he was disappointed. But he didn’t stay depressed about it and quickly realized he needed to do something to prevent it from happening again. The most important step to resiliency is having a trusted adult who cares. Gino went to his nonno (grandfather) about the test. He talked to Gino and helped him to make a plan.

There are other things parents can do to help their children recover from difficult times. Another key is to teach them to take responsibility for their own actions. If Maria backs her mother’s car into the trash can, she has two options. She can blame herself for not being careful enough. Or, she can blame whoever put the trash can in her way. If she is allowed to blame someone else, she is learning that responsibility is out of her control. Other people are shaping her life experiences—not her. Everything that happens to her is not her fault. If everything that happens to Maria is because of someone else or just luck (good or bad), then she does not learn how to take charge of her behavior and change things for the better.

There are situations when she has no control over what happens to her. But Maria needs to understand that many times she could have made a difference. This is what gives Maria the confidence she needs to move forward, to bounce back after a defeat. She is a competent individual.

I will write more about how to help your children become resilient in my next blog. Please comment to let me know what you are doing to help your children when they are feeling down. Have you seen a difference in how they respond to the rough times?

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All of us go through tough times. Some students have more than their share. Divorce, death in the family, events in the news, high-stakes testing and many other factors add to the normal stresses all kids experience. Children need to learn to bounce back when they are feeling these stresses. Those who are able to bounce back easily are said to be “resilient.” There are things parents can do to help build resilience in their children. I plan to write more on this topic in the next few weeks.

First and foremost is that every child needs to know there is at least one adult in their life who cares about them, who takes care of them, and who will help them when they are feeling low. This adult is often one (or both) of their parents or guardians, but sometimes it can be another adult in their life. It might be a neighbor, teacher, minister, grandparent, or coach. This provides a sense of security—a sense of belonging.

Maria might think, “My best friend is moving away and I won’t ever see her again. But at least I can still talk to Nana Rose.” Because of Nana Rose, Maria has a sense of hope for the future and will realize that there are ways to keep in touch with her best friend. All is not lost, after all. She is able to bounce back and start figuring out ways to make sure she does not lose her best friend just because she is moving away.

I wrote in an earlier blog about failure being a normal part of life and how to help children through it. Experiencing failure and overcoming it help to build resilience. Come back next week to learn more about other ways to help.

This guest blog post is by Erika Cook, a high school administrator who works directly with parents and students.

Help Teens Solve Their Own ProblemsWhen your teen has a problem at school, what should you do? Perhaps your child has a streak of missing assignments, feels the teacher made a grading error, or just plain doesn’t get along with the teacher. It was easy in elementary school because it was natural just to call the teacher. However, once your child reaches middle school, it is harder to know when to get involved as a parent and when you should encourage your child to speak up for himself at school.

Oftentimes, your teen can see his teacher outside of class to review a grade, discuss learning needs, or schedule good old-fashioned help, which should solve most issues. Most teachers promote the idea of teens depending on themselves for their learning; it’s seen as an important life skill.

When talking to your teen about seeing her teacher, a few of these possible talking points might be nice conversation-starters. (Remind her not to forget to use “please” and “thank you.”)

  • Will you review the important causes of the Civil War?
  • Is it possible to go over the quiz questions so I can learn from my mistakes?
  • Since I have a hard time taking notes, do you have any graphic organizers I could use?
  • I am missing multiple-choice test questions; what advice do you have?
  • Would you look at my paper and give me some feedback on how to improve C-level writing?
  • How would you suggest I study for the test on Hamlet?
  • How do I improve my performance during tryouts next season?
  • What should be my next step to keep improving in this sport?
  • What resources are available for me to get help in biology?

When and where should your child approach the teacher? You might want to brainstorm with your teen about a good time to talk to the teacher. Encourage your child to see her teacher during the teacher’s designated preparation periods or before or after school. Students don’t always realize that their teachers are very busy right before and after class. And help your child figure out where the teacher might be at the right time. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as one classroom; a lot of teachers travel from room to room and have a desk in a shared office.

To help your child practice in advance how the conversation will go, you can role-play and pretend to be the teacher. This could help build up your child’s confidence to address the situation. One important aspect for your teen to remember is to focus on the problem and not skirt the issue.

Ask your child whether he has tried talking to anyone else at school about the problem. This might include a counselor, social worker, resource teacher, or administrator. If it makes sense, you should encourage your teen to make a “friend” at the school to help with this and future issues.

These tips for guiding your teens to solve their own problems, while understanding when and how you should get involved, will hopefully help you and your child solve school issues. Just remember, teachers and parents are on the same team; everyone wants your student to succeed. If you use respect, gratitude, and kindness with teachers, you and your teen should have excellent results.

Erika Cook

Erika Cook holds a PhD in educational policy and leadership and an MA in curriculum. She serves as an associate principal at one of America’s top-ranked high schools, and she spends her days educating parents and students about the high school world. She has taught in classrooms ranging from special needs to Advanced Placement and was the recipient of two Fulbright scholarships.

The sweetest words any mom will ever hear: “Mom, I’m so glad you told us NO when we were little, and you meant it!”

I did a complete double take when I heard them. We were in the car, and I may or may not have zigzagged around the freeway while I recovered.

You’re what? You are GRATEFUL I’m so mean? Is that what you’re saying?

This quote is from the Facebook page of Erin Hampton, a friend of mine:

It would make my life easier if my daughter's circle of family and friends had the same opinions that I do, LOL. She just doesn't understand why at 9 p.m. she can't [read the] Twilight [series] or watch [the] The Hunger Games, etc., and I am just a Mean Mom because ‘everyone else's Moms are letting them watch the movie or read the books.’ UGH”

—Erin Hampton

Erin said that after she wrote it, about 100 people wrote comments with kudos and statements like, “Here, Here! Keep up the good work, Mom!”

I agree with Erin. My middle daughter is 11 and she hasn’t even watched the whole set of Harry Potter movies yet because the later ones are so graphic. (And we generally stick to the PG-13 ratings, waiting until they are 13 to consider watching.) The Twilight books are a long way away for her (make that both the books and the movies). However, she just finished reading The Hunger Games series…so will we let her see the movie?

Probably not.

I also agree with Erin about the “Meanest Mom On the Block” syndrome when your kid realizes that “friends” are allowed to do something, wear something, or attend something that she most definitely is NOT allowed to do, wear, or attend.

Is it worth sticking to your “Meanest Mom” guns? I say yes. Helping your kids understand the importance of modestly dressing and staying away from inappropriate images is totally worth ignoring the rolling eyes and tween whining. You’ll be as grateful as I was after the above “thanks for saying NO” comment.

BTW, that comment came after a friend’s 12-year-old spent the better part of a half hour throwing a complete knock down tantrum because his mom said no to a request. My kids and I were witness to the tween nightmare. Did I mention he was 12?! I was appalled, but didn’t realize how intensely my children internalized that moment. They clearly realized a big kid in tantrum-mode isn’t pretty. In fact they were grateful for a mom who loves them enough to say no.

And Mean It.

I’ll take the “Meanest Mom” compliment ANY day of the week!

Because that’s how much I love my children.

How mean do your kids think you are?





Parents, what do you think about this story?

A young Indianapolis teenager, who is openly gay and has been repeatedly bullied at school, was given a stun gun by his mother to protect himself.  

And when the young man, Darnell “Dynasty” Young, age 17, was recently surrounded by a group of six bullies who threatened to beat him, he says he raised the stun and shot it up into the air to scare them off.

He was then reportedly handcuffed and has since been expelled from the school. He cannot re-enroll, according to the Indianapolis Star, until next January, meaning he misses completing the end of his junior year, and the beginning of his senior year.


POLL: Did this mother do the right thing?


Young’s mother, Chelisa Grimes, who appeared on CNN with her son, said she feels she did the right thing in giving her son the weapon to protect himself. Grimes said she wasn’t even aware that her son was being bullied until she was contacted by school officials. After that, when nothing was done about the bullying— she says when she complained about the continued bullying school officials told her that Young should be less “flamboyant”—she provided the gun to her son.

What would you have done in this situation? Has anything like this happened at your child's school?

My girlfriends, Mom friends, BFFs (whatever you want to call them), save my life on a regular basis.

This photo, at right, is from a recent birthday party for my friend Julie, the woman in the tiara (I’m sitting next to the birthday girl). We all had party assignments, and since she’s a total candy-head, everyone brought a different bag of her favorite sugar-high treat. There are always a lot of kids around when the moms get together, so for this occasion we opted to have a lunch at my house. We each purchased several of the birthday girl’s favorite food items from restaurants around town: a sandwich, an appetizer, or a random smoothie. Then we all shared the food finds for our lunch. We called it the “Julie-Smorgasbord!”

How exactly does a birthday party celebrating the guest of honor’s favorite foods save my life? It doesn't. But getting together often does! Pretty much any excuse will do for an impromptu gathering. Does anyone need a late night run to Walmart? Count me in!

We meet every Tuesday night for “Old Lady Basketball,” where we laugh (and run) for an hour. Afterwards, we sometimes head to one of our houses or maybe hit Denny’s—we figure we deserve to eat the calories that we just worked off! 

About once a month we hold “Book Club.” I say that with a grin because recently, when we realized no one was reading the books, we changed the name to just “Club.” Some suggested having a “magazine” reading club but the purists in the group (me) said NO WAY. (A parent-child book club is also a great idea.)

We create capers as often as we can invent them. About a year ago one mom was having her fourth baby. A “shower” didn’t quite fit, so we donned black clothing, fake moustaches, and stretched black panty hose over our heads, and “abducted” her away to a “Mom Party.”

And last summer we found out there is such a thing as “National Toilet Paper Day.” Who knew? Well we knew we couldn’t let that go by unheralded. We snuck out late and toilet-papered the house of one of our favorite grandmas in town! (Her husband was in on it and we cleaned the whole thing up the next day. We are Moms, after all!)

My husband has been traveling more in the past few months than he ever has in our nearly 20 years of marriage, and people often ask me how I do it. I simply say: I don’t do it alone! My mom-friends help me. (And it also helps that my kids are older now.) I also have to give a plug for my 14-year-old daughter who helps a ton (when she’s not going to play practice, that is).

But back to the girlfriends…we lovingly refer to ourselves as sister wives (don’t tell our husbands), but it’s true. If I need help with my younger kids so that I can attend an older child’s awards banquet, I have no less than 5 friends I can ask to watch them. And if I need adult conversation after a week of doing the single mom thing, I simply send out an email smoke signal (and a request for hot wings), and 8 women show up after my bedtime routine with the kids.

These late night chats, post basketball outings, and “Club" meetingts—or get-togethers for no reason at all, are literal life savers and I don’t regret a single bleary-eyed morning after!

BTW, guess what we have planned next? We’re excited because one of our gal-pals is engaged!!! Traditional wedding shower? Heck, no. We’re gonna throw the best little bachelorette party this town has ever seen! Shhh don’t tell her; it’s a HUGE surprise!

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April Fools’ Day came and went this year with very little fanfare or pranks in my world. Landing on a Sunday meant it wasn’t very easy to catch a schoolmate, or surprise a teacher with a silly joke on THE joke day of the year. Plus we were driving home from a short weekend getaway so even less fun for us!

My little boy did get me right before bedtime though. I had encouraged him to get his PJs on and when I turned around he was vacuuming the kitchen!? I was confused and when I asked what he was doing he hollered: April Fools’!  Ha, no kidding? (A child doing a chore unbidden?) That IS a joke!

We love April Fools’ Day around here. Once we swapped one child’s clothes from one dresser with the older kiddos’ stuff while they were sleeping. Another year we surprised dad with “fake” breakfast foods (yogurt spread in a circle with a half slice of a peach on top to look like a fried egg!)

By far, however, the best story is that I met my husband on April Fools’ Day 1993.

No kidding!

We were both invited to a “surprise” birthday party. Upon receiving the invitation neither of us realized it was scheduled for April Fools’ Day. We were in college and believed we were to keep the party a surprise from the birthday boy. The day came and we all showed up, and the birthday boy was very surprised.

Because of course it was not his birthday and the “party” was staged by the person who sent the invites. We had all been had. The joker showed up with games and treats and the real party began.

During the party I kept wondering who the funny guy on the other side of the room was… turns out he was my husband and I just didn’t know it for 10 more months! And now we’re celebrating 19 years since that first April Fools’ Day. Can everyone please say: Awwwww.  Thank you.

What’s your best April Fools’ Day story? Do your kids get involved in the tomfoolery?


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Do you have any regrets about your parenting?

I know I sure do. My kids, now 22 and almost-17, probably could provide a litany of things I did wrong or offenses I committed if they were given the opportunity. And that wouldn't include the things I personally regret—mainly sins of omission—that they'll never know about: the time I wish I had done this or I'd said that or I'd taken them here or brought them to see that or fed them this or exposed them to that...the list can feel endless.

That's why I'm conflicted about a new parenting book written by a pediatrician. A male pediatrician at that. (No snarky gender-ist stuff here; it's just that even the godfather of parenting in my kids' generation—world-famous pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton—admitted in a 1982 interview, that even though he was the parenting guru his wife did much of the child-rearing and parenting of their children: “... I was in on their infancy and early childhood, but I couldn't stand them as teenagers...I was lucky to have a wife, Chrissie, who really invested in raising kids. They turned out well.”)

Anyway, the new book's name alone gives me pause: No Regrets Parenting. In the book, reviewed here in Motherlode, author Dr. Harley Rotbar, offers myriad ways for parents to slow down and make the most of their parenting journey with their children. He does so with the reminder that, as parents, we have approximately 940 Saturdays with our kids, from their birth to their 18th birthday.

Seems so fleeting when you think of it that way, doesn't it?

Except not so much when you're in the middle of it. I remember rainy days with my son, then a toddler, spent wearing a makeshift cape (a beach towel) and dancing with him while singing countless versions of songs from Sesame Street, most memorably The Batty Bat, a song by the Count Dracula-like character, Count Von Count. It'd be fun for a few minutes but then became boring as hell and I'd find my mind wandering and thinking about what I'd be making for dinner that night or how much I was looking forward to my book group meeting that week when I could discuss thoughts! and ideas! and books! with other adults.

In other words, for many women—clearly not all—the hour-by-hour, day-to-day parenting of young children can be boring, dull, frustrating, and not very intellectually challenging. There, I've said it. So sue me.

The problem is, while the days pass slowly, the parenting years fly by. And that's where regrets tend to crop up. These days, when I see a mother with a little blond-haired imp of a boy, it takes my breath away—isn't that me and Brendan, my beautiful little boy with the gleam in his eye? Just yesterday? (If I'm lucky, the kid will then let out a glass-shattering whine about something he's being denied, and I feel better. For the moment.) Same for seeing a little blond-haired girl frolicking in the sand and waves at the beach, totally uninhibited and lost in play—isn't that my Caroline, my joyous little fairy-sprite? (BTW, that's her in the above photo, taken on a beach many years ago now.)

In a post on his companion No Regrets Parenting blog, Dr. Rotbar addresses parents whose children are grown and who wish they'd done things differently. They ask "Is it too late for me?", and he responds by arguing that "habits and patterns [in parents and kids] are NOT fixed in stone" and can be changed. He then offers involved-parenting ideas such as helping kids with their college applications and "learning their language," referring to Facebook, texting, etc. 

Most parents I know, myself included, are already doing this and not because we're trying to practice "no regrets parenting," but because we're, well, parents. And that's what we do.

In the end, I've found the only way to assuage the regrets I feel about parenting is to apply what I call thought-stopping, a behavior co-opted from cognitive therapy: When I feel especially regretful about something I did or didn't do, I replace that thought with the memory of something I DID do right. Or something I did consistently that made my kids laugh and smile and say, grinning, "My Mom's SO weird!"

My daughter reminded me of one such "thing" recently. We stopped into our local grocery store for a few items and while we were turning down the paper goods aisle, she smiled and said, "Mom, you ready?" Distracted, I looked at her wondering what she meant, and saw her mischievous grin as she held up a roll of paper towels. And not just any paper towels: a roll of Bounty, thick, BIG ROLL paper towels. She tossed the roll to me, turned, and ran down the length of the shopping aisle.

Holding the paper towel roll in one hand, and slapping it playfully into my other, I called, "You ready?" When she said yes, I cried, "Go deep, Carls!" and made a beautiful, Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass, sending that Bounty roll hurtling down the aisle, straight into her outstretched arms.

We then dissolved into paroxysms of laughter, and remembered our Grocery Shopping Paper Towel Toss tradition, which started with her brother when he was a toddler.

Parenting regrets? With apologies to Frank Sinatra, I've had a few...but then again, perhaps too few to mention.








Sue Scheff is an author, a parent advocate, and the founder of the Parents' Universal Resource Expert (P.U.R.E.). Scheff helps families with at-risk teens, and specializes in educating parents on the daunting industry of teen help and how to find safe and quality residential therapy programs—at a time when parents are at their wit's end.

 Parenting a teen in today's society is not an easy task. Communication with your teenager is key to his success on many levels; however, as a mother who raised two teenagers, I know it is easier said than done. Drug and alcohol use among teens is an issue parents need to be aware of. There are many good kids making some very bad choices. 

A common misconception among parents is thinking that a teen is only smoking marijuana as a phase. Marijuana and the substitutes for it, such as “spice,” are more risky and dangerous than what was available in years/generations prior. These drugs can be laced with higher levels of PCP, which can literally alter the mind of your teen and cause brain damage.

Drug use (substance abuse) is a serious cry for help, and making your teen feel ashamed or embarrassed can make the problem worse. Here are some common behavioral changes you may notice if your teenager is abusing drugs and alcohol:

  • Violent outbursts, rage, or disrespectful behavior
  • Poor or dropping grades
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Skin abrasions or needle track marks
  • Missing curfews, running away, truancy
  • Bloodshot eyes, distinctive “skunky” odor on clothing and skin
  • Missing jewelry, money
  • New friends
  • Depression, apathy, withdrawal, and generally disengaged from the family
  • Reckless behavior

My 10 tips to help prevent substance abuse:

 1. Communication is the key to prevention. Whenever an opportunity to talk about the risks of drinking and driving or the dangers of using drugs presents itself, take it and start a conversation.

2. Have a conversation not a confrontation. If you suspect your teen is using drugs, talk to her. Don't judge her; instead, talk to her about facts behind the dangers of substance abuse. If your teen isn't opening up to you, be sure you find an adolescent therapist who can help. 

3. Addict in the family. Do you have an addict in your family? Sadly many families have been affected by someone who has allowed drugs to take over his or her life. With this, it is a reminder to your teen that you want him to have a bright future filled with happiness. The last thing you want for them is to end up like [name of addicted relative].

4. Don't be a parent in denial. There is no teenager who is immune to drug abuse. No matter how smart your teen is, or athletic she is, she’s at risk if she starts using. I firmly believe that keeping your teen constructively busy, whether through sports, music or other hobbies, will put her at less risk to want to experiment. However don't be in the dark thinking that because your teen is pulling a 4.0 GPA and is on the varsity football team that he couldn't be dragged down by peer pressure. Go back to my number one tip—talk, talk, talk. Remind your teen how proud you are of him, and let him know that you’re always available if he’s being pressured to do or try something he don't want to.

5. Do you even know what your teen is saying? Listen, or watch on text messages or emails, for code words for medicaiton being abused or specific drug activity: skittling; tussing; skittles; robo-tripping; red devils; velvet; triple C; C-C-C-; and robotard are just some of the names kids use for cough and cold medication abuse. Weed; pot; ganja; mary jane; grass; chronic; buds; blunt; hootch; jive stick; ace; spliff; skunk; smoke; dubie; flower; and zig zag are all slang for marijuana.

6. Leftovers. Are there empty medicine bottles or wrappers in your teen’s room or car (if they own one)? Does she have burn marks on her clothes or her bedroom rug, and ashes or a general stench in her room or car? Be sure to check all pockets, garbage cans, cars, closets, and under beds, etc., for empty wrappers and other evidence of drug use. Where do you keep your prescription drugs?  Have you counted them lately? Teens and tweens often ingest several pills at once or smash them so that all of the drug’s affect is released at once.

7. Body language. Tune into changes in your teen’s behavior. Are his peer groups changing? Is he altering his physical appearance or suddenly lack hygiene? Are his eating and/or sleeping patterns changing? Does he display a hostile, uncooperative, or defiant attitude, and is he sneaking out of the house? Are you missing money or other valuables from your home?

8. Access to alcohol. Look around your home—are alcoholic beverages (liquor, beer, or wine) easily accessible? Teens typically admit that getting alcohol is easy, and that the easiest place to get it is in their own homes. Be aware of what you have in the house and if you suspect your teen is drinking, lock it up! Talk to them about the risks of drinking, especially if they are driving. 

9. Seal the deal. Have your teen sign a contract stating that she promises never to drink and drive. The organization Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly known as Students Against Drunk Driving), www.saddonline.com provides a free online contract you can download. It may help her pause just the second she needs, to not get behind that wheel.

10. Set the example, be the example. What many parents don't realize is that they are the leading role model for their teen. If your teen sees you smoking or drinking frequently, what is the message you are sending? At the same time, many adults enjoy a glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage, and the teen needs to understand that they are adults and there’s a reason the legal drinking age is 21.

A very important piece of advice I share on a daily basis, which I learned the hard way, is that you have to be a parent first, even if it means your teen hates you. The hate is temporary. Your teen’s future, health, and safety depend on your parenting. Friendship will come later—and it does!

Editor's note: For additional information on signs of drug abuse in your child, read What Parents Should Know About the Danger Signals of Drug Abuse at SchoolFamily.com.


Scheff’s organization, Parents' Universal Resource Experts (P.U.R.E.), offers information for parents on residential treatment schools and programs for children and teens. Scheff’s book, Wit's End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen, outlines how to locate safe and quality schools and drug-treatment programs, and details Scheff’s personal story of finding help for her teen daughter. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/TroubledTeensHelp, and on Twitter at twitter.com/#!/suescheff.


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 Many students have a hard time staying focused on a task. Much has been written about teenagers who are growing up in the media age. Most agree that they are very good at multitasking. In a report featured on NPR, the actions of a student named Zach, which were typical of many teens, were described as follows: “Within the span of seconds, Zach switches between e-mail, iTunes, Facebook, a computer word puzzle game, and messaging his buddy online. Somewhere amid the flurry, Zach manages to squeeze in some homework, too.”

 My concern is what this behavior is doing to teens and their ability to stay focused to finish a task. If Zach is only managing “to squeeze in some homework,” how good can that homework be? And, beyond that, what is happening to Zach’s ability to learn and think? Dr. Beth Hellerstein, a University Hospital pediatrician and assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said this is a recent interview with online magazine Your Teen, “When students are distracted while studying they may be learning facts but are not able to integrate them and apply them to a higher level of thinking. Doctors and educators worry about how this superficial learning will impact long term recall and application of the knowledge and skills.”

 How can students prevent themselves from getting distracted while doing their schoolwork? The first step is to identify what distracts them. In the example above, Zach is distracted by software running on his computer (email, Facebook, a word puzzle game, and instant messaging). He is also distracted by his iPod. Many teens have a cell phone, television, and snacks to the list of distractions.

 Once a student has identified the distractions, he needs to decide to eliminate them while doing homework. He needs to shut down all software except for what is needed to do the work. His iPod needs to be turned off and put out of sight. The television and cell phone also need to be off and out of sight.

 Other things that keep students from their work include clutter in the workspace, interruptions from siblings or friends, and looking for the necessary supplies such as paper, pencils, markers, glue, etc. Parents can assist by offering to help clear the workspace, keeping others from interrupting and making sure their child has the appropriate supplies.

 It takes organization and planning skills to take charge of the distractions. For help with ideas for organization, read A Notebook System That Aids With Organization. For more ideas about how you can help your child to learn more from homework, read How to Help Kids Get the Most Out of Their Homework Sessions.

You may also be interested in these related articles on SchoolFamily.com:

Summer is A Good Time to Learn to Type 

Voice-to-Text Software: Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing 

Middle Schoolers Still Benefit From Being Read To




Parents often call me to find out what typing software I recommend they get for their child. Unfortunately, this is a really difficult question! It really isn’t so much what software to buy as it is what your child does with it and how often they practice.

Here is what I recommend.

  •  You do not necessarily need to buy software. There are free typing tutor programs on the Internet that work just fine. CNet has several available for free and each has user ratings for you to see before you download the software.
  • It is very important to look at the screen (not hands) and use the correct fingers when typing. My goal teaching typing is to have students type well enough so that they do not have to think about frequently used words. If they need to type a word like “the,” their fingers should move automatically. If they use a different finger each time they type, they will never be able to do this. If they are able to type the most frequently used words automatically, it will reduce their spelling errors because many of these frequently used words do not follow the normal spelling rules. It will also increase their overall speed.
  •  Students should not be allowed to play typing games until they can type all the letters on the keyboard without looking down. Typing games encourage them to watch their hands and use the wrong fingers.
  •  Have your child practice 10-20 of the most frequently used words every day. Any word processor will work for this activity. I make a game of this by seeing how many times they can type each word in 10 seconds. It can be encouraging to keep the data each day to see progress over time. They need to look at the screen while they type, though, not their hands.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Typing correctly does not come easily. It takes a lot of work, discipline to use the correct fingers with their eyes on the screen, and many hours at the keyboard.

 Most students cannot learn to type simply by using software. They will navigate to the games that do indeed teach them. However, what they learn from a typing game is if I put my hands like this and quickly type as many letters as I can without thinking, I will do better. The game is won, but typing skills are lost in the process.

 The bottom line is this: Software alone cannot change your child into a good typist. They need some adult guidance to keep them on track. It is worth the effort, however, because no matter what they do in the future, they will probably need to know their way around a keyboard.

UPDATE: 03/12/12

Have you heard about “Bully”?

If you haven’t, you will. And then you can decide if you'll take your kids to see it. "Bully" is a documentary film produced by the Weinstein Co., which tells the stories of what really happens to children—and their families—as a result of relentless bullying.

Filmmakers followed three students who are bullying victims—Alex, 12, from Iowa; Kelby, 16, from Oklahoma; Ja’meya, 14, from Mississippi—over the course of the 2009/2010 school year. They also followed David and Tina Long from Georgia, parents of 17-year-old Tyler Long who ended his life after years of being bullied; and Kirk and Laura Smalley of Oklahoma, whose 11-year old son Ty took his own life after years of bullying abuse. The film follows Kirk as he starts Stand for the Silent, an anti-bullying program comprised of a series of silent vigils, which he hopes will draw attention to the bullying crisis in the U.S. and lead to anti-nationwide bullying legislation.

The film won’t be released until Friday, March 30, but it’s been in the news lately because of the “R” rating it was given by the Motion Picture Association of America—a rating that has infuriated producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein appealed the rating to the MPAA three weeks ago, but the organization refused to lower the rating to PG-13 due to the film’s harsh language—language that reportedly consists of 6 uses of the “F” word used during a bullying incident caught on film. What do these rating actually mean? According to the MPAA’s ratings site, an “R” rating means: “Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.”A PG-13 rating means: “Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.”



 SchoolFamily.com wants to hear from you!

Do you feel the film's rating should be changed? If the rating was PG-13 would you let your middle school and/or high school child see it? If the R rating stands, will you take your child to see the film?

Please share your thoughts with us by commenting below!


Numerous teen groups, non-profits organizations, and individual teens are lobbying the MPAA on Weinstein’s behalf, by collecting signatures, launching Facebook pages, releasing statements, and Tweeting about the film’s rating and why they want it changed to PG-13. Why? So that middle school and high school kids can go see the film. As any parent of a ‘tween or teen knows, attending a movie with Mom and Dad just isn’t cool. Perhaps more importantly, a PG-13 rating would mean the movie could be shown in schools. One high school student collected thousands of signatures and was invited to appear on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” this week, where DeGeneres pledged her support to the ratings appeal and signed the petition herself. “I think it’s an important movie and I think it can save lives,” DeGeneres said.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has also supported the film, featuring it on a recent episode on his show. Cooper is a longtime advocate of anti-bullying programs.   

In the meantime, Weinstein has announced that his company may consider releasing the film without a rating, effectively boycotting the MPAA. That, in turn, has infuriated theatre owners. In response to Weinstein’s statement, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has warned Weinstein that it will urge its members to give the film an “NC-17” rating—“No One 17 and Under Admitted”—which is even more restrictive than the film’s current R rating.

Since many students who are learning disabled are often targets of cruel bullying, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), a sponsor of the documentary, is joining the call for the rating change.

In an email sent to SchoolFamily.com, James Wendorf, executive director of the NCLD, had this to say about the film’s R-rating:

“[The] National Center for Learning Disabilities fully supports efforts to reduce the R rating currently assigned to the film ‘Bully’ and bring it to a broader audience. Bullying is nothing less than a crisis in this country, with 13 million American children waking up every morning fearing abuse from their peers.

“It is a fact NCLD knows all too well. Sixty percent of children with learning disabilities and other special needs say they have been seriously bullied, and that is why we joined with other special needs advocacy organizations to provide support for this vital film.

“Until parents understand this crisis and children and teens see and own the consequences of their behavior, there is little hope for improvement.”

UPDATE: 03/12/12, 10:52 A.M.: Due to the urging of Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), now the president of the MPAA, will take part in a panel discussion this Thursday, March 15 in Washington, D.C., along with “Bully” producer Harvey Weinstein and director Lee Hirsch. The film will be shown to a group of teachers and principals invited from schools in the Washington area, followed by their participation in the panel discussion.

Tips for Parents on How to Prevent Bullying

The National Center for Learning Disabilities realizes that bullying involves not only the victim, but also the one doing the bullying, and those who witness the bullying but don’t do anything about it. These tips from the NCLD can help parents figure out what to do:

  • Stop bullying before it starts. Let everyone at your child’s school know that you are on the prowl for signs of bullying and that you expect everyone else to do the same. Preventing and stopping bullying is a shared responsibility, and one that is not voluntary. Ask to see the school-wide no-bullying policy and ask that the details regarding recognizing and reporting, consequences, and prevention activities be shared frequently with parents and faculty.
  • Use the word “bullying” with your child. Make sure they know what it means. They may not know that the hurtful behavior they are being forced to endure is wrong, mistaking it for “attention” or “acceptance” from peers. If your child is the one doing the bullying, help him to understand the negative impact it has on his status. And if your child is a bystander when bullying is taking place, help her to know what options she has—doing nothing not being one of them—without fear of being targeted herself.
  • Help your child know what to do. Assure him that he will not get in trouble. The perceived consequences of “tattling” could be keeping your child from sharing his bullying experiences. Help your child know the difference between “tattling” and “reporting an incident of bullying.” This is equally important for the children who are being victimized, those who are the aggressors, or those who are bystanders.
  • Know your rights and don’t be afraid to exercise them. The U.S. government, under both education and civil rights law, recognizes that bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination. Include a goal about bullying in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); ask about bullying at every parent teacher conference; and if bullying issues are not properly addressed, be prepared to file a formal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

For more information on bullying, SchoolFamily.com has an entire section on bully awareness and prevention, with numerous articles and blog entries including what to do if you child is being bullied; tips about preventing cyberbullying; what to do if your child is the bully; and more. Readers may also benefit from reading Fast Facts on Bullying, produced by the Office for Civil Rights. 


 A public school district in Minnesota made news this week when officials there ended a federal investigation, and a civil lawsuit filed by six teenage students, by agreeing to a series of changes that will make schools take notice and get involved when gay students are bullied.

 The New York Times article reported that over a 2-year period, the school district had nine students commit suicide after the teens were bullied because they were gay—or were perceived to be gay. Despite these tragedies, the school maintained a position of “neutrality,” whereby teachers had to be “neutral” on questions from students regarding sexual orientation. In other words, the teachers were prevented from being allowed to show support to, or prevent bullying of, students who identified themselves as gay or questioning their orientation.

 The new agreement was signed by officials with the Anoka-Hennepin School District and Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the six students who sued the district.

 Tenets of the agreement include the following:

  • The district’s “neutrality” policy rescinded and replaced by a policy to “affirm the dignity and self-worth of students regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities, or other factors”
  • Strengthen ways to prevent, detect, and punish bullying based on gender or sexual orientation
  • Hire a full-time “harassment prevention” official
  • Increase availability of mental health counseling
  • Identify harassment “hot spots” in and outside of the middle and high schools

 According to the Times’ article, conservative Christian parents in the district who had formed a group called the Parent’s Action League in order to keep the neutrality policy, called the agreement a “travesty.”

 Does your school district have specific policies for preventing the bullying of gay students?  Are teachers allowed to answer students’ questions about sexual orientation?

Paper airplanes are taking over my living room.

In the past few months my little boy has developed an origami obsession, and The “Great Paper Beast” has vomited all over my house (see photo). It’s getting on my claustrophobic nerves. I remarked about the paper airplane “Olympics” my kids hosted in my living room and a Twitter friend said, “I miss those days.”

What days,” I wondered? The days of having your kitchen plastered in kindergarten art projects? OR A little boy’s ongoing obsession with all things paper folding? Because, dude, I’ll trade all this paper glamour for ONE whole paper-free afternoon!

Reminds me of when my kids were very small and the little old lady dressed as a cliché accosted me in the supermarket, saying, “Oh how cute! Enjoy them while they’re young, it goes so fast.” I thought, “Lady? Maybe you should take these babies home for 2 hours, and see if you can remember what it is REALLY like!”

Because folks have selective memory when it comes to vomit-covered nights, 2 year whining phases and, of course, paper folding fixations.

I know I’m supposed to yearn for chubby baby smells or toddler mischief. But I just can’t do it. I can’t help myself; I enjoy living in the moment, and, even more, I LOVE dreaming about the next phase. (And the next, and the next…)

When my youngest was potty trained and could buckle himself in the car seat I literally celebrated! What did that mean for me? F-R-E-E-D-O-M. If only a few seconds of extra freedom from all that buckling while running around after the older siblings. I once counted how many times I buckled him into his seat in one day…let’s just say it was A LOT!

Now I’m staring down the barrel of a teen who’s less than a year from a learners driving permit. (I know? How did THAT happen?) And even this fearful stage doesn’t provoke nostalgia for the younger version of her.

Don’t tell her—but I’m secretly THRILLED she’ll be driving soon. And in a few years, I can’t wait to drive off on a mother-daughter college-tour road trip. I’m not saying I’m looking forward to boyfriends and the dating crap sure to follow, but what mom isn’t excited to take photos of her kiddo dressed for her first prom?!

And after all, the paper airplane thing is partly my fault. I searched high and low for a how-to “Klutz”-brand book on folding the best airplanes. I sat down with him and helped create a fleet of dive-bombers, until it was clear he didn’t need my help. I bought an origami how-to bible and a ream of square folding paper.

I take full responsibility for his recent engineering obsession.

I’m just ready to move on to the next fascination.

(Hopefully it’s not bottle rockets!)







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Language is more than the words we speak to one another. There are many parts of the language process and if all are working as expected, we give little thought to it. But if a person is struggling with language, they may have a language learning disability (LLD).

Children with a language disability struggle with language in a variety of ways. Some have trouble saying what they want to say: They have trouble finding the right words, talk really fast, have an unusual cadence when they speak, or simply sit there trying to figure out how to get their point across. While I have worked with children like this, it is more common that the issue is related to writing their thoughts on paper. They may have no trouble understanding or telling me the answer, but if I ask them to write it down they can’t do it. Children who cannot express what they know either orally or in writing are said to have a problem with expressive language.

Oral and written language impairments are easy to see. But, when the language problem happens inside a child’s brain, it is harder to diagnose. For example, some children have a hard time processing what you say to them or what they read. They may be slow processors or struggle with the syntax of language. They may not understand the subtle differences in expression, especially if there is sarcasm involved.  They might have trouble organizing their thoughts, storing them in memory, or pulling them back out of memory. At times we refer to these children as having a receptive language problem because they have difficulty taking in language and making sense of it. But, it is really more than just not understanding what others say, or what they read. It can also involve thoughts generated by the child himself.

Dyslexia is a specific language learning disability that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. If you want to learn more about it, read my earlier post, How Do I Know If My Child is Dyslexic?

Language is extremely complex. Therefore, disabilities that relate to it are also complex. LDOnline offers an excellent explanation of a variety of language disorders and how they affect a child in school.

If you suspect your child has a language learning disability, you need the help of a psychologist or a speech and language pathologist who is trained in diagnosing and treating these disorders. There is no quick fix, but with proper help these children can be very successful in school and life.

Once young readers learn to blend letter sounds, they can easily sound out a new or unfamiliar word—that is until they encounter one of the “H Brothers!”


The “H Brothers” are consonant digraphs. Consonant digraphs consist of two consonants, joined together to make a single, distinct phonetic sound.


However, “consonant digraph” is not a term you want to use with young readers. So, in my first grade classroom they are known as the “H Brothers.”


The five most common “H Brothers” are “th,” “ch,” “sh,” “wh,” and “ph.”


Here are some fun and memorable sentences to help your child decode the sounds of the “H Brothers:”


  • Theo is thinking about sticking out his tongue every Thursday. (“th”) 


  • Charlie is a train engineer, and likes to say “Choo,choo.” (“ch”)


  • Sheldon is shy and likes it quiet.  Shhh! (“sh”)


  • When Whitman tries to whistle, all that comes out is “Whhh.” (“wh”)


  • Phil likes to practice phonics on his phone. (“f”)


Help your child practice one “H Brother” at a time. Have her look for the “Brothers” in the beginning, middle, or end of words.  (thin, feather, path


Let your child draw pictures of the “H Brothers,” and help him write the sounds they make. Keep the pictures handy for a quick reference. 


Automatic recognition of letter sounds, blends, and digraphs will dramatically increase your child's reading fluency rate. 


A good reading fluency rate is so important because it directly leads to increased reading comprehension.



Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?