Providing iPads Instead of Textbooks For Classroom Learning Gets My Vote

I don't know about you but my house has more computers than we need. Yes, that's partly due to the fact that my son, who today works in information technology, built two of his own computers during his middle school and high school years. Despite that, my husband and I each have a laptop, issued by our respective companies; my daugher has a MacBook; and we have a netbook and an iPad for our family's use.

Even with all this home-based technology, my daughter leaves for school each morning, running to catch her bus while laden down with a textbook-filled backpack and more books in her  arms. Whenever she wears her backpack, she doesn't stand up straight, and like so many teens, wears it slung over one shoulder instead of the way it is intended to be worn: high up on her back, with the straps snug around both of her shoulders. But that's another whole blog entry ...

Recently, I read about school districts across the country that are getting away from textbooks and in their place, issuing iPads to students. 

Even though I'm a devoted fan of the printed page - especially since I worked for newspapers for many years - I think the iPad vs. textbook choice some schools are making is a excellent one. Like of a lot of mothers, I worry about the physical toll that lugging heavy textbooks may be taking on my daughter's body (I worried about it for my son as well when he was hulking a heavy backpack in school). I mean, I can barely lift my daughter's backpack to move it out of the way when she comes home from school and drops it, with a groan of relief, on the kitchen floor. I'm not alone in thinking that the amount of books she carts back and forth to school and home is excessive; my husband, and a lot of mothers I know, agree that today, kids' backpacks are way too heavy.

Having an iPad to use for schoolwork, instead of textbooks, would break this cycle for my daughter and millions of other children. Apparently schools can get the iPads for $500 each from Apple - that's much less that you and I would pay for one. Most schools are using filters and blocks on the iPads to keep kids away from websites they shouldn't be visiting, and many are having kids turn the iPads back in during school vacations, etc.

That's enough for me. While I love turning the pages of books - and have always wanted the same for my children - I'd rather see them tote a small, thin tablet computer than walk crookedly due to the weight of the textbooks in their backpacks.





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Cell Phones For Tweens: Tips On When and Why

Both of my children have cell phones. And both phones, in my mind, were purchased for the sole purpose of keeping in touch. With me. 

Them, not so much. To them, their cell phones serve the purpose of allowing virtually-constant contact with friends. And for my son, his phone also serves as a timepiece; read that blog post here.

When I first got the kids their cell phones - when they were both "tweens" - I learned the hard way about the cost of going over the wireless plan's small monthly allotment for text messaging. My daughter quickly burned through the texting limit (my son wasn't, and still isn't, much of a texter; if I send him a text message, he calls me back).

While I soon set limits for my daughter due to her texting proclivities, I also quietly signed up for unlimited texting through my wireless carrier. But, how great it would have been to have had some objective guidance on the subject at the time.

That guidance is now available. If you're considering a cell phone for your tween, or if he or she already has one, you'll want to read "Tweens and cell phones: What parents need to know during back-to-school season" from the National Consumers League in Washington, D.C.

The guide offers tips about why, when, and how, to purchase a cell phone for your tween. To begin, the guide suggests that parents answer a series of questions ("Why does your child need a cell phone?" and "Will the phone primarily be used for emergency calls, or for entertainment and texting friends?"), and then take the list with them when they shop. The guide also includes "Rules of the Road," with tips for parents on setting limits on cell phone use, and a comprehensive guide to the types of cell phone plans available.

It's a terrific resource, and one I truly wish I'd had.


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Why is Mom the Family's Social Calendar-Carrier?

School for my rising high school junior starts in seven days, which means that in seven days, I'll be hit with an avalanche of paperwork and important dates to record. I'm already in the doghouse, however, for forgetting something important today. 

About 20 minutes go, my 16-year-old flew out the door to meet her driver's ed instructor who was waiting in a car in front of our house. Seems I'd forgotten to tell my daughter that the instructor had called me the day before, and scheduled several lessons for her over the coming weeks - including one today. Shame on me for forgetting and for neglecting to advise my daughter. But, wait a minute: How come mothers are expected to be the all-knowing, continually-updated, walking "calendar" for everyone else in the family?

Ever since my kids were toddlers, I've kept some version of a write-on, wipe-off, dry erase calendar taped to a wall in our kitchen(or on the front of our refrigerator). I've always told my husband and kids that "If it isn't on the calendar, it doesn't exist," which means I expect them to fill in any events or dates that they schedule, and to check the calendar frequently to see what's on for any given day.

That's where things tend to fall down in my house. Like most women, I'm the Scheduler of Appointments for the kids, occasionally my husband, our pets, and home repair or service calls we require. And while it might sound like an exalted position, it's one I'd gladly pass on ... if only someone was interested.

My routine is to schedule things for said household, add the information to my smartphone calendar, and then write it on the dry erase calendar in the kitchen. As I see it, the responsibility for the appointments from there rests with each person who lives in my house -- well, except the dog and cat whom I'll excuse for not knowing their upcoming appointments at the vet.

Tell me, fellow mothers: Is that so unreasonable?

I didn't think so.

However, I admit that on rare occasions I forget to record an appointment on the dry erase calendar, and a member of my family -- today, the teenage daughter -- is caught unaware. Geesh ... I'm only human.

Job, anyone?

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Girls + Science, Technology, and Math = Never Too Young!

As a parent, it’s inevitable that you have those “I wish I knew then, what I knew now” moments. My oldest child is a senior in high school. Needless to say, there have been a lot of those moments recently. 

Last spring, like other families with high school juniors, we embarked on the college search. It’s very exciting, but also overwhelming. So what do you think the first thing that people ask a junior who is starting the college process?

“What do you want to go to school for?”

This question seems innocent enough. I, too, have asked this question many times in the past. Now that I have a child going into senior year, I realize how much stress this simple question can cause the typical teen. Not many 16 or 17 year old kids know what they want to do for their career!  Heck, l know plenty of adults who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. 

In my daughter’s case, she recently decided that she thinks she wants to be an engineer. What brought her to this conclusion? She likes and does well in math, is creative, and really enjoys problem solving. But unless you have a parent who works in that field, how do you really know? So here’s where the “I wish I knew then, what I know now” comes in. I wish we had found ways to expose her to math and science fields along the way. I am not that kind of parent who wants to have my kids booked with activities and experience everything by the age of 16 to identify their passion, but I do wish that we found a few more simple ways to gain insight into career paths.

Through the course of college search process we have discovered several terrific sites that give girls an opportunity to check out math and science careers in a fun way:






Another great way to expose kids to careers without a huge time and financial commitment is find events in your area that match their interests.  For science, technology and math (STEM) related events we found an amazing site called Connect a Million Minds, that has a wonderful event finder. 

As I said before, it’s unlikely that a 16 or 17 will know what career path they want to pursue. But exposing kids to a range of careers that match their interests and strengths can only make choosing a college a little less overwhelming.  

Do you make it a point to find opportunities for your kids to learn more about various fields of study or career paths? Tell us how you do this without going over the top.

— by Lisa Gundlach, SchoolFamily.com



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Back-to-school means teens behind the wheel

My daughter isn't eligible to get her driver's license until October, but despite the two months and back-to-school period between now and then, she's champing at the bit to know if she'll be able to drive herself to school.

At the regional high school my daughter attends, juniors aren't allowed to drive and park a vehicle at the school until the spring. That's when the seniors leave  to complete their internships, and only then, in April, are juniors allowed to park in the "senior" parking lot.

If you're guessing that every April is a scary time on the road where I live, you'd be right. Inexperienced teens with access to cars, minivans, and trucks, fly out of the high school parking lot each afternoon -- after arriving late and in a hurry each morning -- their inexperience matched only by their  excitement and sense of freedom.

To that end, the statistics cited in this link about teens driving to school are alarming. But since teens will, and must, drive and learn from their experiences, what can we do as parents? Even if juniors weren't allowed to drive to school in communities such as mine, they can do so only a few months later when they become seniors (that's assuming they have access to a vehicle, which is a whole other topic for discussion).

What do you think? Do you have a teen who'll be driving to school this year? Are you the parent of a teen who's already been doing so? According to the article cited above, parental involvement -- including steps such as having teens sign a "driving contract" -- is key.






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How to Help Overweight Students Navigate Back to School With Confidence

For many students, back to school means shopping for new clothes, purchasing new school supplies, and being reunited with their friends after the summer vacation.

For students who are overweight, however, the back-to-school period can be a dreaded time, fraught with anxiety and self-doubt.

There are ways to help students, and their parents, face down their anxiety. At fitsmiformoms.com, there are thoughtful tips for parents with ways they can help their overweight children return to school with confidence. Tips include everything from cutting out the tags of a child's new back to school clothes ("Don't let a number define your child") to having a student bring lunch from home to avoid eating the typically high-calorie school lunch offerings, and shopping for flattering and fashionable back to school clothes. 

Overweight students especially need a confidence boost at this time of year, a time that finds most students anxious about the return to school. For some overweight kids, their sense of confidence may be particularly low if they tried to lose weight over the summer and weren't successful.

All kids deserve to look and feel their best upon returning to school and facing the challenges of a new academic year.

-- By Carol Brooks Ball



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Sex Education Now Mandatory in New York City schools

Teenage students returning to school soon in New York City will find an addition to their academic curriculum: mandatory sex-eduction classes. The New York Times reported this week that all middle and high school students in the city's public schools will take the mandatory sex-education classes this year, and again, one to two years later.

The classes will be taught in either 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade.

Citing research from the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health, the New York Times reported Tuesday, Aug. 9 that "Nationwide, one in four teenagers between 2006 and 2008 learned about abstinence without receiving any instruction in schools about contraceptive methods."

Parents, how do you feel about this? Has your child already had a sex-ed class? If so, what did you think of the teaching methods and curriculum? For those whose children haven't had a sex-education or "health" class yet, how do you feel about what your school offers? Will you send your child to the class or will opt your child out?

Some believe that New York City Public Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which reportedly pushed for the mandate, have jumped headfirst into a sure-to-be controversial area. Others, however, are applauding the city's tough stance on sex-ed. 

Let SchoolFamily.com know where you stand on this important issue! 

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Help Teachers Get the Supplies They Need Through TeacherWishList.com


Did you know that on average, teachers spend $462 of their own money to buy supplies for their classroom?  

Enter TeacherWishList.com! This new site was launched last week by School Family Media (our parent company), with support from Procter & Gamble’s Bounty brand. TeacherWishList.com takes the old-fashioned printed wish list and makes it a lot more new-fashioned by using the web, email tools and even social media. Teachers can load their lists (or parents or your PTO can load the lists for them) and then share and update the lists and basically get the help they deserve.  Pretty cool. 

Since the launch last week, over 4,000 teachers have already signed up and entered wish lists. Think this speaks to how easy the site is for parents and teachers to use. There’s even a free kit that has a poster and flyers to help you promote the program at your school. 

To celebrate the new site, Teacher Wish List’s sponsor, Bounty, is giving away some amazing prizes: 

A $25,000 Art Room Makeover

Each school that submits five or more wish lists will be entered for a chance to win the grand prize: a $25,000 art room makeover with the help of a designer.

Weekly Giveaways

Ten teachers each week will receive a $462 prize to help fulfill their classroom wish lists. Weekly winners will be posted in the Recent News section on TeacherWishList.com.

So scoot. Go check out TeacherWishList.com to get the full scoop on all the giveaways and to sign up your school! And be sure to tell teachers and your friends who have school-age kids.  This is one of these times that we all win... teachers, schools, parents, and most importantly our kids!


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5 Ways To Help Your Teen Get Fantastic Exam Results

Study Gurus

This week we are excited to have a guest blog authored by Clare McIlwraith and Chris Whittington, a.k.a The Study Gurus. This dynamic duo specializes in teaching students how to study effectively.  Their aim is to show parents how they can help their teens reach their academic potential at high school. They’re sharing their years of studying and tutoring experience at www.thestudygurus.com.

Do you remember helping your child learn their times tables and the alphabet like it was yesterday?

It was obvious what you could do to help them, and interfering with their homework was never an issue.

And now here they are -- grown up and embarking on their high school exams.

For some of you it might be 20-30 odd years since you touched a math book and almost as many since you sat any kind of exam. So how on earth are you supposed them now?!

You don't actually need to understand Meiosis or be able to differentiate a quadratic equation to help your teen get the best grades possible in their exams.

You can become an integral part of their success by doing things they can't (or wouldn't) do on their own.

1. Help them make a study timetable

A study timetables only needs to be very simple, yet the benefits of having one are massive:

  • A timetable = more study done. Your teen is much more likely to do the amount of study they need to if it's planned in advance and written down. A timetable achieves both these things immediately.
  • It will ensure your teen studies everything they need to in time for each exam.
  • By helping your teen make a study timetable, you're helping them get organized, which will help keep their stress levels down, meaning everybody else benefits too.

2. Use incentives when needed

Many teenagers need a good kick up the bum during exam time. If this is your teen we recommend implementing a few simple incentives to help give them the boost they need.

But, they need to be the right kind of incentives...

Research shows that incentives based on a child's inputs are far more effective than those based on their outputs. This means you should base your incentives on the number of hours of study done, rather than what grades your teen ends up getting.

3. Show them fantastic websites.

The web harbors many amazing free resources specifically for studying for high school exams -- of any schooling system. And let's be honest, you'll be much more likely to look for them than your teen!

To get you started here are a few of our personal favorites:

  • Khan Academy: This site has thousands of free videos covering everything from math to chemistry to finance at a level that's perfect for high school students. It also has a ‘Practice' section that acts as a personal math tutor. All free!
  • GCSE Bitesize: Based on the British curriculum, but a fantastic website bursting with resources for any high school student anywhere.
  • YouTube: Yes, it is one of the best tools for procrastinating... but if your teen can resist their browsing urges, YouTube probably has at least 10 videos explaining any topic they could ever be confused about.

4. Past exam papers

We credit a lot of our own exam success to studying from past exams.

They're a wonderful study tool because:

  • The questions and format of the exams this year will probably be very similar to past years.
  • They'll give your teen the best idea of what to expect -- you want to avoid nasty surprises!
  • Going over past exams will very quickly show your teen what they need to brush up on.

5. Test them

A great tool for studying is getting someone to ask you questions and test your knowledge.

You may not know what protein synthesis is but that doesn't mean you can't help your teen revise. As long as you can read, you can ask questions from their study notes and/or help them make and practice with flash cards.

Your teen may not need you to help them do their homework anymore, but that doesn't mean that you have to be a spectator of their success from now on.

We hope that the tips we've outlined here help you help your teen reach the level of academic achievement you know they're capable of. It'll be YOU they thank first at their high school graduation.

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Searching for Balanced & Tasty Before-School Breakfasts

Is it just me or is getting your kids to eat breakfast before school a challenge?  I am ever-conscious of not being a helicopter parent, but when it comes to breakfast, this is one battle that I pick. 

As the school year progresses, my kids seem to be getting up later and later and doing a grab-and-go breakfast.  With exams looming, I decided to go back to the drawing board and come up with some new, quick but balanced breakfast recipes and ideas. Thought I’d share some of the latest favorites:

  • Homemade Granola with fruit and yogurt- Don’t tell my kids but I halve the sugar in the granola recipe and add in stuff like flax meal and wheat germ. And it still tastes awesome. Even if you’re running late you can throw granola in a container with yogurt and fruit to nosh on the bus. (Hopefully, they’ll remember to take the container out of the backpack at the end of the day.)
  • Whole wheat toast with fruit and Nutella®-  Sorry to say that my kids are not fans of whole wheat anything… they will tell you it’s because I was an evil mother and didn’t give them white bread  (only whole grain) when they were little. But If you spread some Nutella® on a slice of whole wheat toast, then top it with sliced strawberries or bananas, they won’t even notice that it’s whole wheat. Brilliant yummy-ness!
  • Smoothies- Another great way to sneak "better for you" foods into breakfast. I have found if I put too much protein powder in, I get complaints from the kids… and they were on to me when I added wheat germ… but, in general, if I add banana and vanilla yogurt to whatever I put in there, they love it. Mangos are the favorite frozen fruit to add to smoothies in our house. Add a little orange juice to the mangos, bananas and vanilla yogurt and it tastes like summer in a glass. As for the flax seed oil that I add-- well, we won't talk about that because no one knows it's there.

OK, now it’s your turn to tell your favorite, quick but balanced breakfast ideas! I am sure that I am not the only mom who is forever searching for breakfast foods that the kids will actually eat!

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Your T(w)een's School Social Life - When to Step in and When to Step Back

Teenagers are social beings. Often, the social scene during this time is, well, complicated. Friendship issues, big and small, can be all-consuming for a t(w)een.  And sometimes, friendship drama can get in the way of school success. So, what’s a parent to do? 

We are excited to let you know that Annie Fox,  award-winning author and expert on parenting t(w)eens, will be joining us for a live Facebook chat* on Friday, January  14th from 1- 2pm EST to answer your questions like:

  • Our daughter is more interested in the social scene that studying, what do we do?
  • I don’t like the new friends my son has made at school this year—what should I do?
  • My tween is obsessed with Facebook and texting and it’s getting in the way of her doing her homework, should I step in and take them away or let her suffer natural consequences? 
  • My son is being verbally harassed by one of his classmates every morning at his locker but doesn’t want me to intervene – what should I do?

Annie Fox, M.Ed., has a degree in Human Development and Family Studies and completed her master’s in Education at the State University of New York at Cortland. After a few years teaching in the classroom, computers changed her life and she began to explore how technology could be used to empower teens. Annie has since contributed to many online projects, including as creator, designer, and writer for The InSite—a Web site for teens taking on life’s challenges. She also answers questions for the Hey Terra! feature as an online adviser for teens. Her Internet work has contributed to the publication of multiple books, including Too Stressed to Think? and the Middle School Confidential™ series. Annie also is available for public speaking engagements and workshop presentations on teen and parenting issues. Most recently Annie has started an anti-bullying campaign called “Cruel is Not Cool.”

Here are some of Annie's past guest posts on our site:

My Child- a Bully?! Part 1 

My Child- a Bully?! Part 2

School Bullies- Some Thoughts to Ponder over the Summer

* For those of you who have not done Live Facebook Chats - fear not! They are easy and fun to participate in. Just head over to our Facebook page at the time of the chat: Friday, January 14 at 1pm ET. You'll see the conversation starting right there on the wall. Jump in or ask your own question. The only thing different you'll need to do is hit your refresh button (the counter clock-wise circular arrow in your tool bar) every few minutes. That way, you'll be sure to stay current on the conversation as it unfolds.  If you prefer to submit a question or two anonymously ahead of time, just email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Look forward to chatting with you!

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Making the Most of Parent Teacher Conferences

How does my child get along with other children? Is my son getting better at following verbal instructions for in-class assignments? My daughter aces her spelling tests, then turns around and mis-spells the words the next day -- is that normal?  Parent teacher conferences are approaching and the questions are starting to percolate. The weeks leading up to parent teacher conferences make for very active minds and often sleepless nights, don’t they? And as our kids get older, the conferences feel more like speed dating than parent teacher conferences (we get 5 minutes per teacher at our junior high). For most parents, making parent teacher conferences as productive as possible is a big priority. On our site we have a wonderful print out of parent teacher conference questions. They are a huge help, but are they enough?

Lately, I have been wondering if the structure of the old fashioned parent teacher conference should be re-visited. How can parents walk away with a good sense of their child’s school experience and still be respectful of a teacher’s time? 

What would your ideal parent-teacher conference be like? Do you have constructive ideas of ways to change or improve the current system? I’d love to hear from both teachers and parents. Is your school doing anything different from when you were a student? Is anyone’s school tapping into technology to enhance ongoing communication, so you feel less desperate for your parent teacher conferences? Let’s hear your thoughts.


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Managing Technology Distractions on School Nights

Cell phones, Facebook, I-Touch, Xbox + students + parents… can they peacefully co-exist and survive the school year? How do we best teach our kids to manage technology distractions on school nights? Hmmm.

Did you ever stop to think that because we are addressing this very question we are making history? This is a new problem that gets more complex with every new release of cell phones, gaming systems, etc.  How to address this issue has not yet been solved. I know this because I have googled many phrases in attempt to come up with a plan for my family:

Technology limits on school nights
Technology limits + kids + homework
Guidelines for cell phone use + study skills + teens

What did I find online? Not a lot. I learned that too much Facebook affects academic performance. Now there’s a surprise. Also learned that t(w)eens will text all night  if you let them keep their phone in their room. Shocking. What I didn’t seem to find is how to help our kids manage all these distractions. So, my husband and I  did what any good parents would do: We talked to other parents and compared notes on kids, homework and technology rules. Next, we developed a list of guidelines for technology on school nights that we felt fit our situation and kids.  

Thought I would share our guidelines here in hopes that other parents will jump into the conversation.  

School Night Technology Rules

After School/Before Homework Technology

  • Can check Facebook 15 min max  & be on computer for homework related stuff only
  • i-Touch for checking Facebook - 15 minutes

During Homework

  • I-Touch - Music Only   -   if used for surfing the net, or Facebook, I-Touches will be downstairs
  • Cell phones- in kitchen (our kids do homework at desks in their bedrooms)
  • Can check cell phones on homework breaks
  • Note: our computer is in our family room.

After Homework Approved Activities

  • Chores get done first
  • Outside activities
  • TV
  • Read 
  • Hobbies (xbox is not a hobby)
  • Friends
  • No i-Touch games or internet-  Music only
  • No XBox
  • Can talk to friends via Skype  

Night Time/In Bed

  • Cell phones downstairs
  • I-Touch for music only- No internet or games


  • Homework needs to start no later than 3pm 
  • No XBOX after 3

You may be wondering why we felt the need to write up such specific rules for our family.  I will tell you that typically my husband and I fall into the authoritative parent style category. As for our kids, they are good kids; they have lots of interests, make great choices with friends, they get good grades, and are kind and respectful. For these reasons, last year we went the route of "discussing" guidelines and hoping that our kids would learn to self-manage. Simply put, this approach didn’t work.

So fast forward to the family meeting where we told our kids about the "new plan." Well, you can imagine that this went over like a lead balloon.  As anticipated, we had a very heated and healthy exchange with our kids. Their reaction: these rules are way too extreme. 

So, here’s the gist of what we told our kids... when they were little it was our job to keep them safe. Now that they are older we want to empower them to make good choices but  this technology thing is just too darn alluring. Stay in touch with your friends 24-7? That’s a t(w)een’s dream. Science tells us that t(w)eens brains are not wired to multi-task nor can they be expected be a steel trap of self-discipline. They are not unmotivated or bad kids – it’s just unfair to think that they could have their cell phone and Facebook accessible  during homework and not be tempted to check it … a lot. (Yes, we have cell phone texting records to prove this theory ;  ) Our goal is to have balanced kids, that do well in school and pursue hobbies and friendships that don’t always involve technology. Hopefully by taking this approach, our kids will arrive at the spring of senior year with lots of options for colleges and have no regrets (because they didn’t apply themselves).  Once we explained our thoughts, they actually came around. Yes, they are still speaking to us. I may even go so far as to say that I think they are relieved to have some limits set. I'll have to get back to you on that one. 

So now it’s your turn. How do you manage technology distractions on school nights in your house? What has worked and not worked? Would you add or subtract anything to our list?




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Petition for Later Start Times for High School?

When you have children in elementary school the conventional advice is easy to follow: get your child to bed at a reasonable hour and they will have an easier time in school. Fast forward several years to high school and the same wisdom applies. Unfortunately, early to bed in high school is usually an elusive and rare feat.  Compound a late bedtime with very early start times at school and it's not pretty. And yet, this is the standard. 

Countless studies have been done on teens and  how lack of sleep affects academic performance and teens in general. Ability to concentrate, memory, coping skills, mood and physical coordination are just some of the things affected by too little sleep. It makes me wonder if there might even be less bullying in schools if kids got more sleep. A recent blog I came across talked about how early school starts affect teen driving and accidents. Now that's scary. But what is a parent to do? Make your teen go to bed early? Right. 

I know my high schooler has lamented many times that the elementary school kids start school so much later when they are the ones who are early risers. Why not flip the sequence? It makes perfect sense until you factor in sports, jobs, and homework. Like with so many teen topics, there are no easy answers. 

Do you know of any schools that have adopted the later start times? Are you ready to start a petition to have the high school students in your town start school after the elementary school kids? Would love to hear from you!  




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Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Your T(w)een

Parenting is not always easy, especially when parenting t(w)eens. Rewarding? Yes.  Easy?  Hmm… think I’d go as far as saying, almost never. 

But like so many things in life, sometimes we get the greatest satisfaction out of working through a challenge. With my kids, I love the feeling I get when we work together to find a positive solution that not only resolves the issue, but brings us closer together as well. That’s why I love this contest from one of our back-to-school sponsors, Bausch & Lomb Soflens daily disposable contact lenses, called the "Seeing Eye to Eye" contest.  Here’s the scoop:

“This is your chance to share how "seeing eye to eye" with your child has impacted your world in a positive way. All you need to do is submit a short story about what brings you and your child (between the ages of 10 and 19 years old) together. While it's not mandatory, a photo always helps tell your story!”

It doesn’t always take a disagreement first to see “eye-to-eye.” Maybe it’s a shared passion for a cause, or maybe a family event has led you to this place. Think about it, and get writing. 

So here’s the good part. On a normal day when you see eye-to-eye with your t(w)een you might get a hug or maybe an eye roll. But for sharing your positive parenting story you have a chance of winning a $5,000 scholarship for your child and a trip to Los Angeles, CA to walk the red carpet and attend the American Music Awards® on November 21st!  Umm, I’d say that’s a little bit better than an eye roll.  Even your t(w)een will think this is pretty cool. Be sure to visit the Bausch & Lomb Soflens Facebook page to get all the details.   Good Luck! 


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Think About how you Define Success for Your Teenager

Sue Blaney

This is a guest post by Sue Blaney, a nationally recognized award-winning author, speaker, and publisher dedicated to supporting parents in successfully raising teenagers. Sue specializes in communication and works with parents and professionals at many levels to educate, empower and connect parents of teens. Visit her website at www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com

In my morning inspirational reading I reopened a favorite book The Art of Possibility by Ben and Roz Zander. In it, Ben Zander notes

    “The drive to be successful and the fear of failure are, like the head and tail of a coin, inseparably linked. They goaded me on to unusual efforts and caused me, and those around me, considerable suffering. Of course, the surprising thing was that my increasing success did little to lessen the tension…. {Eventually} I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, ‘contribution’ has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, ‘Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?’ could be replaced by the joyful question, ‘How will I be a contribution today?’

When we measure our success by external measurements – our accomplishment, awards, money, fame, material acquisitions – we are playing in a “measurement model.” A measurement model is usually based upon a sense of scarcity… “better get yours before someone else does.” Zander suggests this is not only unhealthy, it is unnecessary. By reframing our definition of success we open up a world of possibilities – and joy. Rather than live in a stress-inducing scarcity model, we can live in a “widespread array of abundance.”

Let’s consider the high-stress world our teenagers inhabit in the context of the Zanders’ philosophy.

There is an epidemic of stress disorders among our young people. According to a new study, five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age who grew up during the Great Depression. Comments I hear from parents reflect this; like “My daughter is obsessed with doing everything perfectly. She doesn’t seem to be able to tolerate anything less than perfection, whether it’s grades, friends, her looks, or anything else. And yet she is fragile and on the edge.” “The competition to get into the college of his choice is so intense it is impacting his relationship with his friends because they are competing for the limited slots.” “My child isn’t in bed before 2am on a typical school night.” Parents know this is unhealthy and you ask: “What can I do?”

Maybe you need to redefine “success.”

Many mental health professionals, educators, parenting experts, and cultural observers note that today’s teens put a high value on the external and visible measures of success. It seems today’s teens have different values to some degree, and we wonder if these values are linked to this rise in anxiety. While a valid cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, it must be considered. Professionals speculate that the sources of the increased stress come from “a popular culture that focuses on the external – wealth, looks, status” to “over-protective parents who have left their children with few real-world coping skills.” And the students? “Students themselves point to everything from pressure to succeed – self imposed and otherwise – to a fast paced world that’s only sped up by the technology they love so much.”

One 21 year old in the study is quoted:

    “The unrealistic feelings that are ingrained in us from a young age – that we need to have massive amounts of money to be considered a success – not only lead us to a higher likelihood of feeling inadequate, anxious or depressed, but also make us think that the only value in getting an education is to make a lot of money…”

How do you frame and define “success?” The way you define success, the way you express goals and reward your teens are how you teach them values.

The Zanders raise a good point: How would your teenager’s experience be different if rather than focusing on achieving a certain gpa, accolade or reward, he were to consider how he could “be a contribution?” How would you communicate and teach this change in attitude? How would you provide rewards?

While parents tend to blame a materialistic culture and images and experiences that influence teens toward this externally based focus, we must take responsibility for being the primary teachers of values. While parents are worried about the high rates of anxiety and depression we must realize we may be part of the problem and we most certainly can be part of the solution.

How can you be a contribution to your teen’s well being today?

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Should Schools Discipline Students for Cyber-bullying that Occurs Outside of School?

Just finished reading the New York Times article "Online Bullies Pull Schools into the Fray." If you have kids in grades 4-9, I strongly recommend that you read this article. But be forewarned, it will leave your head spinning. The examples of cyber-bulling via cellphones and social media sites, such as Facebook, Formspring and Youtube, are mind-numbing and disturbing. You are left saying, "How can kids be so cruel?" ... and ... "Maybe I should monitor my kids texts and Facebook pages more often."

But the question this NYT article raises is not about internet safety and monitoring but rather how and where should the bullying harassment be handled?  When kids do cyberbullying outside of school and the school learns of the altercation, should the actions be punishable at school? Talk about gray area. As with so many parenting and teen and tween topics, we are asking the question: where do you draw the proverbial line? You can't deny that if someone sends a nasty text away from school, that there is slim chance that the parties involved will set their differences aside when the walk through the school doors. The hurt will percolate and fester, and eventually a teacher, guidance counselor or principal will hear about it. So, then what's a school to do? We count on our school administrators to promote a safe environment for our children. Isn't anti-bullying part of that? 

What is your take ...  when it comes to matters of extreme cyberbullying (that happen outside of school but spills over into the school day) is it the principal's or school administrator's job to play judge or prosecutor?  Would love to hear your thoughts on this complex and unfortunate question. 


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Beyond Facebook & X-Box: Summer fun list for Teens & Tweens

Yippee. School's out. I have always been one of those mothers who prefers the unstructured nature of summer over the frenetic pace of the school year.  That is, until  my kids became tweens. Never is the term tween more apt than in the summer time. They often have outgrown their summer camps but they are too young for jobs. Our kids are so in between, that sometimes they just don't know what to do with themselves. Seems that their fall back is anything technology-based. Which is why my recent quest has been to come up with activity alternatives to Facebook and X-box. Since I know I am not the only mean mom who limits screen time,  I thought I would share my plan with you. I am hoping that people will add to these ideas and together we'll come up with an awesome summer bucket list for our middle school and high school "kids."

The limited technology plan starts with having teens and tweens make their own list of what they'd like to do this summer. If they are invested or if it is their idea, they are more likely to follow through - the story of our lives, right? Suggest that your kids to break their list out by:

  • stuff to do with friends (that doesn't involve mom or dad driving)
  • stuff to do with friends (where parents need to be involved)
  • activities & events to do with family
  • things to do on your own or "things to do when I am bored."

This exercise will mean never having to hear, "Mom, I am bored." My dad always said that admitting to boredom was admitting lack of intelligence and creativity! Can't have that.

Once they have come up with their list, offer a few suggestions, based on personality and interests. Here's a list that I came up with for suggested summer boredom busters:

  • Volunteer in the community. Volunteer Match is a great way to find opportunities that range from a one-time event to a weekly gig. The benefits of this experience goes without saying. 
  • Get outside. In my estimation, there are no excuses not to get outside. The possibilities are endless: bicycling, reading a book on a blanket, playing laser tag in the woods, fishing, gardening, geo-caching,... just to name a few. 
  • Get creative. OK, don't use the word 'crafts' but inspire your kids to channel their inner artist, engineer, or chef.  One of my favorite websites, Instructables.com, has endless fodder for creativity.  For budding writers and artists, summer is a great time to work towards getting published. 
  • Get active. For the kids that start their own business there's paint balling, mini golf, and water parks. For the rest of the gang, there are plenty of ideas that cost little or no money: organize a tournament (volleyball, whiffle ball, dodge ball, etc.), get friends together for  beach Olympics.  Or,  for the planning-challenged, start jogging and chart your personal bests. 

I also thought this list of 101 fun things for teens to do this summer had some great suggestions.  But please, make no mistake: I am not advocating an over-scheduled, over-structured summer. I think that everyone from tots to adults need downtime ... I am just trying to have my kids come up with some unplugged options for summer!

OK, let's hear it: what can you add to my teen and tween summer fun list?







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School Bullies: Some Things to Ponder Over the Summer

Excited to have Annie Fox as a guest blogger this week. Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award winning author, educator, and online adviser for parents and teens since 1997. Check out her new anti-bullying forum, Cruel’s Not Cool!


A master teacher once pointed out to a group of student teachers: "If you’re not modeling what you teach or what you say you want kids to learn, then you sure as hell are teaching something else!"

Bullying is a systemic problem. Put downs, gossip, snarkiness are all pretty much the air we breathe. Yet when we see or read about mean-kid behavior we’re all righteously stunned. "They tormented the girl so badly that she committed suicide!? Then the perpetrators actually posted more cruel comments on the victim’s Facebook memorial page!!!"

Considering what passes for entertainment and bonding around the water cooler, the sidelines at the game, the teacher lounge, the TV, the blogosphere, why are we surprised? It would be more surprising if kids growing up in our Culture of Cruelty turned out to be something other than cruel.

I know it’s harsh to think that the enemy is us... but we might as well own it because until we do we are cluelessly fueling the problem. And any attempts to minimize school bullying, turn a blind eye, or infer that it’s just "kids being kids" misses the point and blows yet another opportunity to turn the ship around.

Blackberry vines have rooted amongst my rose bushes. If I simply curse them or pluck a leaf here and there, that won’t stop the spread of vines (which will totally take over if I permit it). I’ve got to get in there on my hands and knees, deal with the thorns and dig out those suckers and all their damn roots.

Same applies to bullying. Not only are parents and teachers responsible for rooting out malevolent behavior between kids whenever we see it, hear about it or sense it. But we adults who live and work with kids have the moral obligation of watching our own mouths and attitudes... all the time. Otherwise "Respect, Compassion and Social Responsibility" is just a school motto and the dirty truth is that we’re teaching something else.

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How Emotional Intelligence is Linked to School Success

Sue Blaney

This is a guest post by Sue Blaney, a nationally recognized award-winning author, speaker, and publisher dedicated to supporting parents in successfully raising teenagers. Sue specializes in communication and works with parents and professionals at many levels to educate, empower and connect parents of teens. Visit her website at www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com

Feelings matter. They matter in school, at work and at home. At some level, we all know this, but when money gets tight and/or there is pressure to meet concrete objectives, many people have a tendency to discount the importance of emotions and feelings, and just focus on getting the job done. But there is data that shows this approach is counter-productive. Let’s take a quick look again at the importance of “emotional intelligence” and Social Emotional Learning and why this should stay on your radar screen… this is as relevant and applicable within the walls of your home as it is in your teen’s school.

What is “emotional intelligence?” It is one’s ability to communicate well, to delay gratification, to tune in to another’s feelings and point of view, to think before speaking, to consider your response before expressing it, and to solve problems. Although everyone can benefit from some instruction in this area, this kind of “intelligence” comes more naturally for some people than others.

Why is this kind of intelligence important? There is much research and data that demonstrates that emotional intelligence (“EQ”) is a better predictor than IQ for both professional and personal success. We now know that emotional intelligence is linked to:

  • improved academic performance
  • avoiding risk behaviors
  • stronger friendships
  • decrease in violent behavior
  • staying in school… higher graduation rates
  • less disruptive behavior; fewer discipline problems
  • improving health, happiness and life success
Let’s examine the relevance of these points to both the school and home environments.

Emotional Intelligence and Social Emotional Learning at School:

In a school environment, SEL (Social Emotional Learning) programs impact four aspects of the school climate and culture: Empathy (feeling cared for), Accountability (sense of follow-through), Respect (considerate behavior) and Trust (belief in the people and institution.) A positive school culture may be the most important determinant for a school’s overall success on all fronts….especially academic success.

Emotional Intelligence at Home:

How might we apply these concepts at home? Consider the four elements of a school-based SEL program and consider how you apply these in your home:

Empathy: How is your teen feeling about your empathy for his feelings? Are you tuned in to what is going on in his life? Do you have a sense of what he is feeling? While you may feel that your teen is pushing you away, he also needs to know how much you care. Find a new way to open up conversations, if necessary. This may take creativity and perseverance on your part.

Accountability: Do you hold her accountable to do her chores, come home on time, participate in your family’s day-to-day life? Allowing her to get away with selfish behavior is doing her no favors in the long run, even though it may feel like you are giving her what she demands. Teaching your teens emotionally intelligent behavior requires you to think long term and not take the easy way out.

Respect: Does he feel that you treat him with respect? When was the last time you heard him out rather than imposed your point of view on him?

Trust: Do you trust her? If you cannot trust her consider the first three bullets in this list. Then you’ll need to exercise some emotional intelligence yourself as you communicate, tune into feelings, listen carefully and problem-solve together.

Both at home and at school, it’s essential that teens know that feelings matter. When they learn to integrate their feelings with their brains they can concentrate, think and express themselves better. As one program director put it, “We’re talking about a whole new vision of education that says educating the heart is as important as educating the mind.”  Sounds about right to me.

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

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016