School District Signs Agreement to Prevent Bullying of Gay Teens

 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  • The district’s “neutrality” policy rescinded and replaced by a policy to “affirm the dignity and self-worth of students regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities, or other factors”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?

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Kids Grow Up So Fast...And I Like It That Way!

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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What Is a Language Learning Disability (LLD)?

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.

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Teenage Girls Are Messy, and What IS That Smell?!

No one told me teenage girls are so messy! (And stinky?)


My oldest daughter is downright disgusting when it comes to her room and her laundry, and I’m scared to look under her bed. Her little sister (poor thing shares a room with the hoarding/moping/older girl monster), however, is a neat freak and the two DO NOT a happy shared-bedroom sisterhood make!! (The photo shown is an actual picture of my daughters’ shared bedroom. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.)


Movies and sitcoms make it clear that teenage boys are the stinky ones, not girls, and so I was led to believe that:


  • Boys leave slices of pizza to mold under blankets
  • Their gym socks get up and walk away on their own
  • In general, body odors from boys are much worse than girls


Well, I beg to differ.


Girls stink. Sorry, there’s no easy way to share this with you. The teen thing sets in STRONG by 14 years old and a mom can nag and whine, but no matter how many showers—and despite industrial strength deodorant—there is still a just-woke-up, morning girl smell that could knock over a hippo.


I once heard a child psychology expert talking about teens and bedrooms. He said you really have to think about their rooms like hotel rooms. When you’re on vacation you aren’t there for the hotel room; instead, you’re all about the stuff to do in the city you’re visiting. And it’s like that for teens. Their bedroom often is simply a stopover and a refueling place for the next “thing.”


My teen lately spends more time at school and at play practice than at home (including sleeping). And since she has nowhere near enough time to do that plus her chores and her schoolwork, and spend time with the family—which is more important to me right now than a super clean room—I’m trying to let it go.  


A lot of that will change, however, when her high school musical is over (they’re staging a production of “Anything Goes!”) We’ll get her back in all her smells-like-teen-spirit glory in a month, after the play!


So which is it, SchoolFamily.com readers? Do girls win the "Teen Disgusting Bedroom Award" or is it boys who have a corner on the reeking stench market?

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School Shootings: Help Your Child Process Tragedy in the News

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the residents of Chardon, Ohio after the tragic shootings at Chardon High School on Monday, Feb. 27. As of this writing, three of the five teenage victims have succumbed to their injuries. TJ Lane, identified as the shooter, reportedly told police he’d been bullied at the school.


Tragedies like this raise myriad questions and can trigger grief reactions from children—and from parents as well. How should your handle your child’s confused feelings? How do you reassure your child that her school is safe (assuming you think it is safe)? Does her school have a strong anti-bullying program, and does it go far enough?


Perhaps the most pressing question for parents is how to help their child comprehend and interpret such tragic, frightening news. Our SchoolFamily.com experts say that parents should begin by managing, as much as possible, what their children see and read about the event in the media—on television, in newspapers, via the Internet, and on social media sites. While children may be reading at an advanced level, few are emotionally prepared to handle details of tragic and catastrophic events. Read more about this in Help Manage Anxiety About Current Events, on SchoolFamily.com. And regardless of the cause, parents can help their children handle overall anxiety by reading Help Kids Learn to Manage Stress.


What if your child is being bullied? Or—what if your child is the bully? Start by reading our articles on bullying prevention, which include information about preventing your child from being a bully’s victim, to teaching your child empathy.  To protect your child from online bullying known as cyberbullying, learn the red flags to watch for in this SchoolFamily.com guest blog post by bullying prevention expert Dr. Michele Borba.


If your suspect (or know) that your child is a bully, read the no-nonsense tips about what to do in this two-part guest blog post by Annie Fox, author, online educator, and host of Cruel’s Not Cool, an anti-bullying online forum.


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There is No Place for Sarcasm in the Classroom

“Jackie, is it all right with you if I start class?” 


This seems like a harmless question, doesn’t it? When teachers say it (and I am guilty at times), they are being sarcastic, because they know it isn’t up to the student whether they start class or not. What they really mean is that Jackie is talking or otherwise goofing off and keeping class from starting. Most kids can laugh this off and jokingly respond, “Sure, Ms. McCoy. I’m just now finishing up.”


But some kids don’t take it that way. Some are hurt by that rhetorical question. Some do not understand sarcasm, even this kind, which is relatively benign.


According to Susan Fitzell, an expert on teaching students with special needs, “There are people, students included, who cannot read the difference between sarcastic humor and intentional meanness.” (See Susan’s “No Putdown Rule” article for information on how sarcasm has become an acceptable part of our culture.) Almost all sarcasm has the potential to be hurtful. Even people who do “get it,” can have their feelings hurt.


If your child does not understand sarcasm, you might need to alert his teacher to it. I like to think about whether what I am saying to my students is as respectful as what I would say to a peer. That might be a good talking point for you if you need to talk to your child’s teacher. Respectfully ask, “Would you say the same thing in a faculty meeting to one of your friends?”


There are many kinds of learning difficulties and some of them affect social situations as well as school. For more information, you should read my earlier blogs, Social Skills and Learning Disabilities, and Poor Social Skills Can Lead to Bullying.


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Should Principals Have Control of Students' "Off Campus" activity?

Most schools have rules for how students should behave while on school grounds, and many have a written code of behavior that students—and occasionally parents—are required to sign.


It's also long been the case that the off school-property behavior of students who hold leadership positions, play sports, or participate in extra-curricular clubs or organizations is held to a more rigorous standard. If the captain of the field hockey team is caught at a party where alcohol is present, for example, she is typically disciplined, often in the form of lost practice and game time.


However, many argue that legislators in Indiana have gone too far by voting to give school principals virtual 24/7 oversight of students and their activities.  A bill that received recent approval from the Indiana House of Representatives gives broad power to principals, allowing them to discipline any student for off-campus behavior that reflects badly on the school—in the principal's opinion.


Called the “Restoring School Discipline Act”—but referred to by some critics as the "Principal in Your Bedroom" bill—the legislation removes the “unlawful activity” clause, which is currently state law, thereby allowing principals to suspend or expel any student in grades K-12, for behavior or speech that could "reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function," or when necessary to "restore order or protect persons on school property."


As vague as those conditions sound, the bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Eric Koch, insists the bill is ultimately about preventing cyber bullying (note that the term does not appear anywhere in the actual bill). “In limiting grounds for suspension and expulsion to only ‘unlawful’ conduct," Koch reportedly told a local newspaper, "current [state] law ties the hands of school officials to effectively deal with dangerous and disruptive behavior, including cyber bullying,”


Those against the bill, which must be approved by the Indiana Senate to become law, say in theory it could be used against students who speak out about something their principal deems detrimental to the school. Likewise, students who participate in an activity their principal feels isn't in keeping with the school's culture—say, a political rally; a particular summer job; even a student’s choice of attire outside of school—could be suspended or expelled.


Do you think this legislation goes too far? Once outside the school setting, do you think students should be beyond the purview of their school principal?


UPDATE: The bill has since been amended.  If it is approved by the Indiana Senate, a 14-member commission will be formed to study the issue further. However, the House must also approve the amended version.


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Attention Stay/Work at Home Moms: Is It Okay To Hire An Assistant?

In my former life I was a molecular biologist. I know. Weird huh?


Except working in a lab is a lot like, well… cooking. Mixing up recipes (only much more precise than a dash of this and pinch of that), and growing vats of various bacteria and other stinky stuff.


But in reality, I haven’t seen the inside of a working lab since the turn of the century. The closest I get is laughing at the folks on CSI with their fancy equipment, pristine labs, and lightning speed with which they “sequence a human genome”...um yeah, NOT something that happens overnight people.


Yet try as I might to prevent it, I still find “science projects” growing in my fridge! Plus often you can find me experimenting on a new cake recipe, tweaking the ingredients just enough to fit my “dessert” hypothesis better. (I’ll be testing out a new banana/chocolate cake theory later tonight!)


I moved into full-time-mom mode when my oldest was about 18 months. Yes, I chose to become a SAHM. (Note: the recognizable abbreviation for "Stay At Home Mom" had not yet been invented.) Two babies later, and then two states later, my youngest was finally old enough to enter kindergarten. In case you’re confused, I am NOT one of the moms you’d catch outside the first day of class with tissues. No. I was more likely headed out the door to my well-deserved first day of school pedicure!



I have been “working from home” for the past 3 years. I’m thinking about having desk plates made that say: WAHM (Work At Home Mom). And my work? Well, I basically fell into this thing called blogging. I write on my own blog, GoodNCrazy.com. I’m also the “Good N Crazy Mom” blogger here at SchoolFamily.com, and I work with a handful of small clients, doing project management for their social media marketing. And I’ll be darned if I’m not having a total blast! Best of both worlds, as the saying goes.


I pay a tidy share of the family mortgage and last year my biggest goal was to buy (with my own money) a fabulous desk! (Check.) I’m enjoying it right now as I sip my morning cocoa and type away.


However, a problem has arisen in that my children’s afterschool needs are heavily eating into my “work at home” time. I’m talking carpooling and piano schlepping and late evening dinner delivery to starving teens at their play rehearsal! And my husband’s recent increase in whirlwind around-the-world travel has created a level of stress in my world that I can only compare to having a newborn again.


Fast forward to my husband’s suggestion: Hire an assistant. A what? Me?


But I’m a WAHM? We don’t need no stinkin’ help. We do it ALL. I create fabulous Valentine family dinners, I volunteer with Cub Scouts, I keep my daughters dressed modestly, and pay attention to their hobbies and talents. Isn’t it against the code of WAHM ethics to hire an assistant?!


Well, I did it.


A month ago, my husband was gone for 3 weeks straight. And it finally pushed this proverbial mom over the edge.


I hired Brooke, a college kid (pictured in the above photo with two of my kids), to help me out in the afternoons for a few hours twice a week. (WOW, who knew what kind of savior that would be?) Let me tell you, I’m a cheapskate; I make those paid hours SING! I get more done in 3 hours than several days combined at times. And knowing dinner is often started, dishes are tidied, and I’m not stressing because my freshman had a change in plans and needs to be picked up—“right NOW! Mom!”—is a huge relief on several levels.


Oh and no one’s complaining when cupcakes magically appear upon return from Scouts!


I’ve officially changed my tune. I now believe a home assistant for a WAHM who “thinks” she can do it all is the sweetest melody I’ve heard in months!


What do you think? Have I crossed over the unwritten stay-at-home-mom-rules?


Am I in danger of losing my WAHM “street cred”?





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Should Parents Pay Their Children for Good Grades?

I have known many parents who pay their children for honor roll grades. In some cases, this is okay. But, if you are a learning disabled (LD) student, the quality of your work does not reflect how hard you worked on it. Sometimes, your assignment looks great and is complete. Other times, it is a mess and there are lots of questions with no answers. This inconsistency can be due to a number of factors. For more information on this, see “What Does it Really Mean When a Child is Learning Disabled?" for help understanding the problems.


Problems with working memory, attention, vocabulary, anxiety, fear, or difficulty with executive functioning can all affect how an LD student performs in school. None of these relate to motivation. And none can be overcome by bribes to perform better.


For these reasons, I am against parents paying for grades in school. This is especially true for struggling students. Imagine working very, very hard and still getting a “D” or “F” on the work! Someone else whips off the assignment in just a few minutes and gets an “A.” Does that child deserve a reward when they rushed through and perhaps did not even do their best work? The LD child who is trying her best feels completely defeated in this situation. She gets more and more discouraged. She already calls herself “stupid,” and this, to her, confirms that verdict.


If you pay for good grades, consider whether or not you are being fair to all your children. If you are not sure, read "Is My Child Working Hard Enough in School?"


If that doesn’t convince you, read Nelson Lauver’s book Most Unlikely to Succeed. Lauver explains what happened to him in school when, no matter how hard he tried, he wasn’t successful. After reading his book, it should be clear why no one should judge another person’s motivation to learn.


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Confident Child Syndrome: Letter To My Pre-Teen Daughter

Dear 11-year-old daughter,


You are smart, cute, witty, and have a spirit about you not usually found in a girl your age.


Earlier this year when you ran for student government and easily won the “popular” vote for vice president of your elementary school, I was amazed. Fifth grade class subjects glide into your brain like you were born with them. I realize school isn’t always challenging, but I’m impressed with how you deal with the occasional boredom by getting creative. Do you know that teachers (both school and Sunday school) reach out to tell me, “I love having your daughter in class, she has the best laugh.”?


Your art skills are more advanced than most kids twice your age! You have an eye for color and design that makes me jealous. Your desire is to organize your world and increase the beauty around you, and you make me proud to be your mom. 


You make friends with everyone, and everyone wants to be your friend. You are competent in both a large group of differing personalities and in a one-on-one setting with a socially slower friend. And I’ve stopped being surprised when you shine in a dance class and regularly win the “front and center” recital spot (although being short could have something to do with that, I’ll admit.) In gymnastics you excel, and in the schoolyard monkey bars grow out of your arms!


You are a mother’s dream daughter.


HOWEVER. I’m worried. (I’m a mother after all.)


I’m worried about your beautiful confidence blossoming into an ugly shade of pride.


I want what every mother wants for her daughter: I wish you happiness in your 5th grade world and in junior high, high school, and far into college. I want you to love yourself and find profound pleasure within, never relying on others to determine the best in you, but to discover for yourself where and how you will sparkle.


Please cultivate empathy early. When an algebra concept is easy for your brain to attack and you realize that others might be struggling, I hope you’ll ask if you can help—instead of saying out loud. “Gee, that was easy for me, what’s wrong with you?”


When a friend is struggling because she doesn’t understand why her group of gal pals isn’t talking to her, I hope you can see the bigger picture and help her through the trial.


Because putting yourself in others’ shoes is a talent that will help you the most in your life.


I know boys are imminent in your future. And I want you to meet and fall in love with a spouse who will love you and cherish you, and of course I want grandbabies…but not for about 15 years!


I promise you will meet your husband in college (not high school)! High school is for learning about yourself and for figuring out your personal style and your desires. A 16 year old may think she’s in love, but she’ll also think she’s in love at 17, and again at 18, and again and again. High school is for dating! Remember to have fun!


You know I’m your mother and that I worry about every tiny tidbit. Simply said, this is what I most want for you:


While knowing you are incredible with almost everything you touch,

I want you to be mindful of others first and to always remember

to stuff your pride under your pillow!



Your Mother


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Basic Student Skills: 5 Ways to Learn to Be a Proactive Student

 Often when we get a new student at our school who is learning disabled (LD), we say something like, “She hasn’t learned how to be a student yet.” What we mean by this is that she has not yet realized that good students take an active role in their learning. Good students do certain things automatically, and she has not yet figured those things out.


Parents may be able to help if they have a child who is like this. Here are 5 things “good” students do automatically that LD students may not yet know how to do:


1. Bring pencil, paper, notebook and other necessary supplies to class. Parents can help by making sure their child has these supplies in his book bag, and has an appropriate storage space for them. For some suggestions about this, see A Notebook System that Aids With Organization.


2. Complete all homework, print it out (if needed), and bring it to class. LD students need to have a system in place that assures they know what is due for each class. If a child’s school has an online system where teachers post their assignments parents can make sure their child knows how to access the system. Many LD students forget how to logon or forget their password, so parents can assist with this until their child becomes comfortable. If the school does not have an online system, teachers might provide assignment sheets or assignment calendars/notebooks. Many LD students need help recording what their assignments are, so parents may have to contact the teacher to ask for help. See When to Talk to the Teacher if your child’s homework struggles are keeping her from succeeding in school.


3. Look at the teacher and take notice when he says certain words like “listen up,” or “this is important.” Parents can practice using teacher language with their child at home. For example they can walk up on their child when she is playing and say, “Listen up!” to get her attention. Students also need to take notes on what the teacher has identified as important. Some students can benefit from technological assistance such as the Livescribe Pen.


4. Dress neatly and act in a manner that shows you care about being in class. I am not sure all students understand that appearance does make a difference. If a student looks neat and clean and is looking at the teacher, then the teacher will see that and give the student positive attention.


5. Participate by asking and answering questions. A student should ask for help when confused. This also shows that he cares about what is going on in class. If the teacher feels that he cares, she will make an extra effort to help when needed.


This is a lot to take in at once! I suggest that parents identify an area where their child is struggling. They should make a plan with their child for how to fix the problem, and work on that until it is mastered. Then, they should select next problem area to work on.


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Should School Start Later for Teens?

Ever try to wake a sleeping teenager? It’s a time-consuming undertaking that’s frustrating for everyone involved, especially on early morning weekdays before the sun is even up.


That’s the reality for many parents and teens Monday through Friday, in order for the teen to get to school on time—and we’re talking school start times between 7-7:30 a.m. For those who must catch a school bus, back up about 20-30 minutes earlier, and we’re talking the wee hours.


Take our Poll: Does School Start Too Early for Your Teen


There’s been a fair amount of conclusive research and expert opinion that teenagers need more sleep rather than less.  [Listen for the applause and the “I told you so” looks from nearby teens.] But in many school districts across the country, school start time for teens—and even some middle school tweens—is getting earlier and earlier.


Since everyone is cost cutting these days, especially local governments and school districts, many schools say they’re starting earlier due to budget-friendly tiered busing schedules. This means that older kids—high school and middle schoolers—are picked up earliest, during the first tier of morning busing runs (they’re also dropped off earliest in the afternoon as well). Next come older elementary school students, and in the last tier are kindergarteners, who often are picked up by their buses as late as 8:30 a.m.


Do you struggle with getting your teen up and out the door 5 days a week? (Maybe more if your child has clubs, sports, and/or job commitments on the weekends.) And do you worry that your teen's lack of adequate sleep may be detrimental to his grades?


If so, take heart. Two women decided enough is enough and formed a not-for-profit organization to address the issue. StartSchoolLater.net, co-founded by Maribel Ibrahim and Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D., is staffed by an 8-member steering board (the women occupy 2 of the 8 seats) and a 12-member advisory board, and advocates exclusively for later school start times.


More than simply presenting solid research findings and hosting the conversation, however, this group is seeking nationwide legislation to mandate that no public schools start before 8 a.m. 


What do you think? (I know my high-schooler would heartily agree!)

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Parents Face Legal Action for Children's School Tardiness

Should your child’s chronic school tardiness be a crime? 


I don’t know about you, but my kids have been late to school many times over the years. Mostly it’s due to overtiredness because they stay up too late—often because they’re completing volumes of homework—despite my admonitions against doing so.


Is it disrespectful to the school, the teachers, and the child’s fellow students if he arrives late? If so, how “late” is late? Is being 2 minutes late okay while 15 minutes is not?


I’m not certain where I stand on that specific a detail, but I know one thing for sure: If my county government, backed by my children’s school, charged me with a misdemeanor crime for my children’s tardiness, I’d be outraged.


Think this is science fiction? Keep reading…


A couple in Loudoun, Virginia, was arraigned this past Monday for just that. The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office alleges that the couple’s three children—ages 6, 7, and 9—have been tardy too many times since school opened in September, and so they’re taking legal action against the parents. Officials with the Loudoun County Public Schools reportedly argue that they’re not to blame for the law crackdown since they’re simply following school district policy.


The husband and wife have each reportedly been charged with three Class 3 misdemeanors, which, according to Virginia law, each carry a maximum penalty of $500. So, this couple is looking at a fine of $3,ooo if found guilty.


Guilty of their children’s mostly 3-minutes-or-less tardiness.


What do you think? Isn’t this going way too far?



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Is Romance Dead For A Busy Family? One GoodnCrazy Plan for Valentine's Day


 Valentine’s Day is around the corner. What’s a busy mom to do? After throwing all our creativity (and plenty of Pinterest searching) into kids’ Valentine’s Day friend cards, I have no time to find a fabulous gift for my sweetheart. Instead I’m thinking we should create a wonderful family-fun night with dinner, candles, pink cupcakes, and call it a “Valentine Family Date”?


And if we do, does it mean romance is dead?


Oh wait… Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday?! Rewind. Scratch the homemade menu and fancy decorations. Tuesday afternoons=non-stop chaos and driving; piano lessons (round trip times 2); extra afternoon trips back to pick up the teen from play practice; and little boy has chess. What am I forgetting? Something… Oh yeah Tuesday means “old lady basketball” night. And I’m not giving that up for Valentine’s Day!


Time to send out a Valentine Mayday! (Do they make heart shaped pizzas? Blogger Brooke Leigh does; see her pizza photo above!


My GoodNCrazy Valentine’s Day game plan for this year includes:

Plan Ahead—The night before, rope the kids into creating a special dessert for our Valentine Family Date on Feb. 14. We’re choosing between a giant heart shaped cookie; Pink Lemonade Cake (my vote!); or tri colored cherry-chocolate cupcake brownies. Or, it could be any one of these equally delish sounding recipes for Valentine’s Day found on SchoolFamily.com’s Pinterest page.


Order Pizza For Dinner—Everyone wins with pizza. Mom can relax, and kid bellies are happy. (Another option would be to purchase store bought pizza dough and let all create their own mini pizzas with favorite toppings. Heart-shaped, optional.)


Keep Romance Alive with a Bit of Surprise—I’ll warn his secretary in advance that I’m planning a surprise attack on my husband’s office. Before he gets there, Love Bomb his door with heart Post-it notes, then leave a Valentine Card and treat on his desk, and, finally, show up with a “picnic” lunch from his favorite take-out joint.


Adult Time on the Weekend—I bought Friday night play tickets for a community theater (my sweetheart has a soft spot for local drama). The babysitting arrangements are already made, and two other couples are meeting us for dinner before the play!


See, who says romance is dead? You can have it all! Family time AND a hint of romance.


How do you fit in romance for Valentine’s Day?


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Teaching your child responsibility and decision-making skills

I wrote an earlier blog post about teaching children how to accept responsibility for their actions.


In that post I suggested that when your daughter says, “Mrs. Johnson got me in trouble,” you might help her reword her statement in this format, “I got in trouble with Mrs. Johnson because….”


Very often children try to deflect blame onto another person. Here are other examples of similar situations, and how to help reword the statement to place responsibility in the appropriate place:


  • “I couldn’t do the math homework because my teacher didn’t show me how.” This places the blame on the teacher. Help your child reword the statement to, “I couldn’t do the math homework because I don’t know how.” This leads to solving the problem by figuring out what is confusing.


  • “All my friends are [were] doing it.” In this case, your child is trying to make you question your judgment, feel guilty, or take the blame. They may also be trying to blame everyone else for something that happened. Help your child by rewording her statement to, “Why can’t I do it?” This is much better, because it may lead to a discussion of why it isn’t a good idea. Depending on the situation, the statement may need to change to, “I didn’t think about what I was doing because my friends were doing it, too.”


  • “Sally was talking, too!” This statement could be changed to, “I thought it would be okay to talk because other people were.” Perhaps this will lead to discussing how to tell the difference between appropriate times to talk and inappropriate times.


  • “I didn’t mean to hurt him. He got in my way.” This is a really important one. Children get too rough at times and someone gets hurt. Perhaps this should change to, “I wasn’t very careful, and I hurt him.” After that, you can talk about what went wrong, how to prevent it in the future, and how to apologize.


As a parent, you are in charge of your child’s safety and wellbeing. You cannot be with him at all times to help with every decision, so he needs to learn to think before acting.


When you see him not accepting responsibility for his actions and trying to blame others, remember that your role is to teach him how to be responsible for himself. He needs to understand the link between the choices he makes and the consequences of those choices. I like to ask students, “Whose behavior can you control?” Then, I help them reword their statement. This helps students learn to accept the consequences of their actions and think about personal responsibility.


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Are Your Teens Using "SelfControl"?

At SchoolFamily.com, we offer parents lots of information about keeping kids focused on their schoolwork, and staying (or getting) motivated. We also offers ways to help parents set limits on the time their kids spend in front of a screen, be it a computer screen, a video-game screen, or that of a cellphone.


Now, it seems, some teens have found a way do some self-limiting all on their own.


An app called SelfControl, developed by an artist named Steve Lambert, allows users to completely block online items they don’t want to be distracted by, such as their email accounts, websites, and, in particular, social media sites. The app allows them to block access to these accounts for a specified amount of time—and lots of teens are using it. Best of all, they say, it can’t be hacked and opened.


“You cannot unlock it once it’s on,” said a 16-year old girl I recently spoke with. Asked why—and when—she uses the app, she explained, “I put it on for two hours when I’m doing homework, and it blocks my email, Tumblr and some other websites.”


How does SelfControl “know” which sites or email accounts to block? “You put things on a ‘blacklist,’” the teen explained, “and those are the programs that are blocked.” 


The app’s icon is a black spade with a skull and crossbones in the center. While it’s by far the most popular self-limiting app out there, it’s not the only one. Teens—and adults, for that matter—can use SelfRestraint, Quiet, and StayFocused, to name just a few.


While it’s not necessarily a bad thing that teenagers are using these high-tech tools to limit their own online behavior, it’s disconcerting that the need for such software even exists.


Oh, and as for that teenage girl I recently spoke with? She’s my daughter. Are any of your kids using these apps?



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Teens' Low-Rise Pant Fashion Nightmare: Is Mom the Enemy?

My freshman asked me to drop her off early for school near the corner bakery. She wanted to grab a hot cocoa with a friend before school.


Upon rounding the corner, several older students were monopolizing the outdoor seating. Without a thought I turned and looked at the group. One girl sitting down was…um… to put it nicely… showing her whole backside. Also known as her “crackside.”


I turned to my daughter and said, “THAT is why I make a big deal out of your clothing choices each day.”


What is the deal with teen falling-down pants? Who decided lower inseams are better (and “even lower” is best of all)? Belts are no help when your pants don’t reach halfway up your derrière in the first place. I don’t care if you are skinny, tall, short or muffin topped—crack is NOT attractive!


I dare you to find a pair of remotely mom-approved jeans these days from Walmart, Target, TJMaxx, or any other teen clothing mecca. You can’t do it. They don’t exist. They stopped manufacturing jeans with a normal “rise” circa 2005. (I made that up—but it totally seems like it.)


So what’s a mom to do? How do I beat the inseam lowering standards of teen youth today?


I call it saving my daughter from “crackside’”exposure. I love the increase in shirt “layering” styles. We stock up on extremely long T-shirts, tank tops and camisoles whenever we find them. All colors all the time, is my motto.


I think we’re keeping ModBod brand in business with just my two daughters alone. You can find sets of 2 pack long tank tops in Costco from time to time. LOVE that! If you haven’t checked it out… go. You’ll thank me.


Another option is the stretchy bands of fabric meant to cover from the mid-tummy down past the tops of pants, a faux under-layer of T-shirt. We haven’t gone this route. But I’m tempted to try making my own. Cheetah print anyone?


When my daughter whines at me after I ask her to add a layer or pull her shirt down, I say, “Remember, I love you enough to cover you.”


Please tell me someone out there has more solutions to the low-rise pants fashion nightmare?



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ADHD and Medication: Should You Consider It for Your Child?

Making the decision to medicate your child for attention problems is extremely difficult. I encourage you to consider it, however, if your child is struggling in school, and those who work with him have mentioned possible attention issues. I have seen children who were helped tremendously by taking medication for their attention disorder (ADD or ADHD) .



I do not mean to make it seem like an easy decision to make, but I want parents to know that it might be the right thing to do. Here are some things to think about when deciding whether medication is appropriate for your child.


  • Teachers should not recommend medication. This is a decision that you and your child’s doctor make. Teachers can let you know if your child is having attention issues, but they should not go beyond recommending that you have your child evaluated by a doctor.


  • If your child’s teacher mentions attention issues, ask: “How does my child’s behavior compare to the other students in the class?” Children are active and teachers new to the classroom may not know what is normal and what is too active for learning. You might also ask whether your child can pay attention in some situations and not others. If so, find out when the attention issues appear. Perhaps she is bored; if the work is too easy or too hard, the result can be boredom.


  • There are multiple options for attention medications. If you have tried one and it did not help your child or it had unacceptable side effects, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all attention medications will do the same thing. Some attention medications do not help some children, while the same medication might work fine for another child.


  • Some children have a great deal of problems learning, and they really do have an attention deficit disorder. For these children, medication can make a world of difference. I have seen children turn from failure to success almost overnight once they had an attention evaluation and started taking medication.


Please don’t misunderstand. I know this is a difficult decision and parents want what is best for their child. Teachers want what is best for their students, too. If attention issues are keeping a child from benefitting from school, then attention medications might be what’s best for the child.


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Are You Welcome In Your Child's Classroom?

Have you ever attempted to sit in on one of your children’s classes at school and been turned away? If not, and if you were actually welcomed into the class by school officials, consider yourself lucky. Even though the ability to do so is a central tenet of No Child Left Behind, many schools put up roadblocks when parents want to sit in.


According to Jay Mathews, education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, it’s a fairly frequent practice even when it may not be a school’s policy: “The resistance to parent observations,” he writes about schools, “is not so much a policy as an unexamined taboo.”


In the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which expanded upon the 1965-enacted Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a section called “Parental Involvement” includes provisions for “shared accountability between schools and parents for high student achievement”—an aspect of which includes having parents be present in their child’s classroom.


“Volunteering and observing in their child’s classroom is an important activity for parents’ shared responsibility for high student academic achievement and is also one that helps both the school and parents build and develop a partnership to help children achieve the state’s high standards.” [NCLB, Section 1118(d)(1), ESEA.]


Yet many school districts remain virtually cloistered when it comes to allowing parents to step inside. And among the reasons given to parents for being kept out is that their presence would create a distraction.


It appears that legislative action might be required to mandate that schools open up. In Virginia, Mathews writes about a father who enjoyed spending an hour at his daughter’s school, observing her during reading practice. Later, after seeing some of Mathews’ columns about parents being denied access to their children's classes, he used his authority as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates to add a provision to pending education legislation. If it passes, which Mathews thinks is unlikely, local school boards would be required to “adopt and implement policies” allowing parents to be observers in their children’s’ classrooms.


Are you able to volunteer and/or observe in your child’s classroom without any resistance from school officials? Please share your experiences with us.



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The Red Flags of Cyber Bullying

SchoolFamily.com guest blogger Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D. is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty.


There are red flags parents should watch for that might indicate your child is being cyber bullied. Here’s what to look for—and what to do.


Over the last year, we’ve read about horrific tragedies—bullycides—that appear to have been prompted by relentless peer bullying. One child tragically ending his or her young life due to vicious peer cruelty is one child is too many.


So let’s get savvy about electronic cruelty and the new digital age our kids are experiencing.


Online bullying is especially hurtful. Those horrid, vicious, untrue comments, with a quick click of a button, hit cyberspace. There is no telling how many other peers are hearing or reading those cold-blooded attacks.


Can you imagine being the recipient of such hate? Can you imagine if your child was that recipient?


The truth is those clicks are happening all too often, which is why parents must get educated.


Our first step to turn this around is to understand why cyberbullying is, and then recognize possible warning signs.


These are serious lessons — they might save a child. That’s my hope.


What is cyberbullying?


Cyberbullying is an electronic form of communication that uses cyber-technology  (the internet) or digital media (Facebook and other social media sites) to hurt, threaten, embarrass, annoy, blackmail or otherwise target another minor.


Every adult who interacts with kids—parents, educators, librarians, police, pediatricians, coaches, child care givers—must get educated about this lethal new form of bullying so they can find ways to help stop this.


One reason for such a dramatic increase in cyber-abuse is that it’s just so much easier to be cruel when you don’t have to do lash out with vicious insinuations face to face, and can instead do so anonymously!


Where we once thought we just had to protect children from adult predators using the Internet, but now we need to shield kids from one another.


Cyber-bullying is real, and incidents are happening at an increasing rate. Here’s a reality check:  National surveys by online safety expert Parry Aftab estimate that 85 percent of 12 and 13-year olds have had experience with cyber bullying. And 53 percent say they have been bullied online.


Many experts confirm that the psychological effects on our children can be as devastating, and may be even more so, than traditional bullying. Research proves that when kids are left unsupervised and without behavior expectations traditional bullying thrives. And we may not be doing as good a job as we think.


Another survey found that while 93 percent of parents feel they have a good idea of what their kids are doing on the Internet, 41 percent of our kids say they don’t share with us what they do or where they go online.


Open up that dialogue and listen!


Red flag warning signs of cyber bullying

As parents, we must do a better job of tuning into our kids. Read the warning signs of cyber bullying (below) and then talk with other parents, teachers, babysitters, counselors, and child workers about them. Print out the warnings and give them to coaches, Scout leaders, Boys and Girls Club leaders, doctors, school officials, and to teens and tweens. Send the list to the local newspaper to print. Ask your child’s school to post the list on their website. Get active and get your community involved. Here’s what to watch out for:


  • Your son is hesitant to be online or unexpectedly stops or avoids using the computer


  • Your daughter is nervous when an instant message, text, or email appears


  • Your son is visibly upset, angry, or depressed after using the computer or his cell phone


  • Your daughter hides or clears the computer screen or her cell phone screen when you enter or doesn’t want to talk about online activity


  • Your son starts using the computer when you’re not in the room


  • Your daughter keeps going back and forth to check the computer screen in shorter spurts


  • Your son withdraws from friends; wants to avoid school or peer activities; is uneasy about going outside in general; an/or pulls away from family members


  • Your daughter is suddenly sullen, evasive withdrawn, or has a marked change in personality or behavior


  • Your son has trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, is excessively moody, cries easily, or seems depressed


  • Suspicious phone calls, e-mails, and packages arrives at your home


  • Your child has a drop in academic performance or falls behind in schoolwork


 A key that you shouldn’t overlook is a sudden change—something that isn’t t your child’s “normal” behavior—that lasts daily, for at least two weeks. But even then, use your instincts! If you are concerned, don’t wait—get your child some help!


If it’s not cyber bullying …


What if these signs I’ve mentioned aren’t happening because your child is being cyber bullied? Regardless they clearly warrant looking into, as something is amiss with your child. It’s up to you to find out what’s going on. Dig deeper. Have a conference with your child’s teacher, coach, counselor, pediatrician, or seek the help of a trained mental health professional. The two saddest words I hear from parents are “If only …” Get help!


Don’t expect that your child will come and tell you about any harassment that might be taking place. Studies show that as our kids get older the likelihood they will come to us and “tell” declines even more. The top reason? Kids say they aren’t telling adults because “The adult didn’t listen or believe me when I did tell.” Sigh.


If you suspect your child’s friend or his peer is cyber-bullied, report it to school authorities and police.


I carry a photo of a young Canadian boy—a precious sixth grader—who ended his life because of bullying. His father gave me his son’s photo and asked me to promise to keep educating parents about the dangers of bullying. I promised that dad I would keep going and I’ve carried that photo for 10 years. It breaks me apart every time I look at it. So remember: Listen! Tune in! Believe!



Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D., is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty. Her research-based advice is culled from a career of working with more than 1 million parents and educators worldwide. She is the author of 22 parenting and educational books, and hosts Reality Check, a daily blog at https://www.micheleborba.com/blog/. Dr. Borba lives in Palm Springs, CA with her husband, and has three grown sons. Tips in this blog post were adapted by Dr. Borba from her book “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.”

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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