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Category Archives: awareness

The Dangers of Texting and Parenting

Look, I get it; keeping up with the Jones’ isn’t easy. The influences of friends and their parents can make it nearly impossible to stick to your guns at times when making decisions about what’s appropriate for our own kids. Case in point: cell phones. As the father of three pre-teens I can honestly say that the discussion about when they could have a phone was a long and arduous one. Eventually we saw that the positives outweighed the negatives and honestly, phones are a valuable tool onteens_sexting_issues many levels when it comes to kids. That said, I also believe that they should be treated with the respect you’d give any tool whether that tool be a wrench, saw, or blow torch. While there are indeed many positives to your child having a phone, keep in mind that just as you wouldn’t hand your kid a cookie sheet and an oven mitt without lessons and safety measures squarely in place, I don’t think you should just hand your kid a phone and say, “Have fun sweetheart!”

The problem is that we assume that our kids are well versed in communicating with their peers and that their use of texting is going to be harmless. The reality is that a pre-teen really has no idea how to communicate. They don’t understand how words bite. They have no clue how to control the power of their verbal exchanges and through texting feel no restraint in trying to one up each other. They’re also not equipped to understand that they may be reading something the wrong way and shouldn’t take everything personally. Let’s face it, we as adults have issues with that fact and we’ve been here a lot longer. They also tend to change friends every two weeks. They may be “besties” today and not worried about it, but that text they send about someone will most likely come back to haunt them in a month or two.

Enter you the parent. Remember, you’re in charge. You set the parameters. So first, do not let them put a password on their phone that you don’t know. If they do. Take it away from therm. I also think it’s your responsibility to occasionally go through their texts and monitor their communications. This is not snooping or going through their journal. This is about teaching them the proper way to electronically communicate. The only bummer part is you can’t really give them a warning because they’ll just delete texts they don’t want you to see. But keep in mind, you don’t have to be mean about it. Just set the tone and the ground rules. Set the boundaries. As you read things, take notes as you see potential issues, concerns and then “calmly” discuss these things with them. Not in a judgmental way, but in an educational way. This will NOT be easy. You will likely want to react to some of the things you read immediately. Don’t. Stop, take it in. Relax and then sit down with them and explain why some of the things they’re saying may be construed as hurtful, dangerous, rude, etc. Remind them that everything they’re doing at this point of their life, from the 1926540-Mclothes they wear, to the way they communicate, is basically developing their brand and how the world perceives them. Let them know that you’re there to teach them and help them.

Listen, twelve-year-olds are going to do and say stupid things. It’s what they do. It’s up to you to guide them and teach them the proper way to discuss things with their friends. Most important, in my opinion, is to teach them how to avoid being sucked into the drama that is their world. To just walk away from negative discussions, name calling, finger pointing, and rumors. Popularity at their age is such a big deal. It’s so easy for them to lose focus and perspective and get pulled into the BS. As parents I believe it’s up to us to monitor their progress and guide them properly, putting time limits on usage and monitoring their use as well. Because leaving them to their own accord can have costly ramifications.

It’s so easy to just let em’ go and say, “Oh isn’t that cute how social they are.” Well, it’s not cute. The drama that is the twelve-year-old is epic and the last thing you want is for your kid to get wrapped up in it. The things you find will shock you from time to time. But just remember. This is why you need to be there to monitor this kind of thing. Left on their own they WILL dig very deep holes and honestly, they need you there to help them. Again, not to judge, but to educate. At the same time you’ll gain valuable insight into their world and what they’re up against, which I’ll tell you, is scary. But what’s scary is turning a blind eye to it and adopting the “ignorance is bliss” approach. I’ll quickly add that teaching them to put limits on their usage now may very well save their life later. I’m convinced that part of the reason texting and driving is such a huge problem now is that texting becomes a habit. We grow accustomed to immediate gratification and simply find it difficult to go five minutes without checking our messages. Teaching them to put it down now will help them appreciate the value of putting it down later.

My point here, is that they’re still young. They don’t know. And there’s a LOT going on that you likely have no clue about. So, help them find a clue and perhaps discover a few yourself. Let them know you’re watching and that you care enough to help them learn how to present themselves and treat themselves with respect. Their going to make mistakes no matter what you do. The least we can do is help them minimize the risk.

 

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iPhone Hangups

I feel like an old man when I tell my kids, “When I was a kid we didn’t have these fancy smancy ‘iPhones.” We had to turn a big dial with holes in it with our index finger and the phone was connected to the WALL.”

Their response: “You’re totally making that up dad!”

Look, I get it. Technology is wonderful and our ability to connect with people is easier than ever. However, I think sometimes we become slaves to our gadgets and at some point we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen to our kids. Too often our ability to communicate face to face is lost as we find safety in sending a text rather than speaking to a real person. Case in point; kids with phones. The very idea that someone under the age of 16 would have their own phone was a hard pill for me to swallow. But in our efforts to keep up with the Joneses and the influences of society we as parents are now adding to the family budget the expense of our kids having a phone. We use the excuse of “well they need to be able to stay in touch in case something happens.” Which is true. ButImage how much of it is luxury and how much of it is necessity?

As a divorced parent, I know I like being able to communicate with my kids when they’re with their mother. I know their mom feels the same way. And I most definitely believe it helps the kids knowing they’re able to stay connected with both of us at all times. So when a little text comes to me from “Favorite Daughter” saying, “I LOVE YOU DADDY,” you know I reply immediately, “I love you too!” so that she knows I’m there whenever she needs me.

But there is a danger here if the kids are given carte blanche with their new gadget. If left to themselves, they will bury their faces in that damn screen and be lost for hours. At one point the only way I could get my oldest child down for dinner was to send her a text letting her know it was on the table. I also noticed an attitude emerging as she was texting continuously for days with her friends rather than communicating with her family. She would hole herself up in her room and just disappear for hours. Even if you’re communicating with others, if you’re physically by yourself, to me you’re still very much alone.

And so we made some changes. Now when she gets home from school she is given an hour with the phone. When she uses that hour, is completely up to her, but it’s one hour and nothing more. Now, this was just implemented recently so the jury is still deliberating the effectiveness, but I will tell you so far it seems to be working. She has handed the phone over upon entering the house each day and used her hour at the very end of the day. So far she has been hanging out with her siblings and me watching TV, doing homework downstairs, shooting baskets in the driveway and just chasing her brother and sister around the house. She has been more respectful to everyone and much more willing to go with the flow.

Is this all due to the new rule? Hard to tell, but I personally think it’s two pronged. First, she’s pulled away from the glow of the phone. Second, I’m basically telling her I want to hang out with her. She needs to feel that. 2014-02-22 14.59.41-1Letting her be by herself I think tells her just the opposite. I remember one day I told my oldest daughter that I didn’t like that she was spending so much time alone in her room. She said, “Hey I asked you if you wanted to go throw the softball around and you said you were busy.” Ouch. She had me there. What could I say? Opportunity lost.

I think it speaks to a child’s need for limits, their desire for us to set them and that if we don’t make a point of engaging them, something else will. They need us to structure their lives to some degree and teach them a basic rule that my kids here on a daily basis; “All things in moderation.” They also need human contact and if we don’t give it to them they’ll find a way to get it even if it’s through a piece of metal. A phone is indeed a luxury and in my opinion can be a dangerous one. I mean, come on, how many of us ‘adults’ have lost an hour playing Words With Friends or some mindless other game on our smart phone? Imagine that distraction in a kid’s hand. So if you see your kid’s face buried in that little screen don’t hesitate to consider some guidelines. Stop and recognize that looking through that window for extended periods of time cannot be healthy.

Bottom line: “FaceTime” is cool … “Face to Face” time is better.

 

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Your Loss Is Your Gain

Thought I’d stop and check in on you. How’s your holiday been so far? It can be a tough time for a lot of people and divorced parents are no exception. There’s something about the season that can make us focus on what we’ve lost rather than what we may have gained. Whether or not you have a good relationship with your ex, the
griefholidays have a way of reminding you of the un-whole aspect of your family and then unceremoniously throwing it in your face. It may be because you’re not with your kids during the holiday. It may be because you are. It may be because you’re all together but in a very different dynamic than you were a few years ago. It may even be a very positive and happy time. But it’s still a reminder of what used to be and that things may be patched, but in some ways they’re still broken.

Believe me I get it. The hard part is that there really is no “fix.” As with the loss of a loved one, all you can do is that which fate allows, which is to acknowledge and move on. Be strong. Lick your wounds, stand up straight and use your experience to your advantage. In many ways the hurt strengthens us. There’s a grit to it that allows us to know we’ve been there and made it through. It doesn’t erase the negative or fill the emptiness, but there’s something about having lived through adversity that humbles us and reminds us that we’re human.

Look, I could sit here and do my best to pump you up with words of encouragement; telling you not to focus on the pain. But honestly, I think sometimes we need to morn our losses. We need to give our souls a chance to heal. To ignore the pain is no more healthy than it is to dwell on it. If you’re sad, that’s OK. Give yourself an opportunity to grieve. It’s a part of who you are and to ignore it would be to ignore an important element of the whole “you.” So embrace it. Accept it. Carry it with you. Hold it dear rather than bury it deep where it can do
the-only-cure-for-grief-is-actionmore damage. I believe that in each of our defeats there is a victory. In every mistake a lesson to be learned. The new year represents a new dawn and an opportunity to take the sum of our experiences and build on them. To create new goals and new aspirations. To find renewed determination to make it better. And in order to do that we need to remember the hurt as much as the pleasure. Let it inspire you. Let it motivate you.

Recognize that life is a mixed bag. Too much sugar isn’t healthy for the body. We need a proper balance of emotions to feel complete. So shed a tear for the losses, share a smile for the gains and look to tomorrow for new opportunities to sore higher than you’ve ever flown. And use these moments of emptiness to remind you of where you’ve been and how amazing it will feel to be full again. Then when you’ve given yourself a chance to take it all in and come to terms with it, it’ll be time to take action and put it all behind you.

Take advantage of this time to reflect on the past year, both good and bad. A new year is right around the corner and anxious to take you on new adventures. Let’s be ready to go and see where we end up!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Society That Cried Bully

Were you bullied as a kid? Before you answer, stop and really think about it and then consider how your kids will answer the same question thirty years from now.

The word is being thrown around a lot lately and in the process its definition is becoming diluted, which personally I think is an insult to those kids who are truly being tortured to the point of suicide. It’s also a danger to our own kids who are being taught to label those around them as bullies when in fact they may be nothing
more than an ignorant kid who simply called your child a poopy head.

I myself was teased as a youngster. I was the short kid in school. At one point I strongly considered legally changing my name to Half-Pint. Kidding aside, it had a profound affect on me. It wasn’t just kids calling me names and labeling me, it was teachers, parents, coaches, friends, family, you name it. They all had their
shutterstock_87771445“affectionate” little names for me and were always quick to point out that I was too little to do things. My self image throughout life was that of being small and scrawny. Even after I’d become an adult and, for the most part, caught up, I still considered myself puny.

Would I consider it bullying? No. Teasing maybe, but not bullying. Did it hurt? Yes. Did I react to it? Certainly. I remember one day getting so angry I actually found myself shoving the tallest kid in the class into the chalkboard and punching him. But that was pretty much the extent of it. It led to a trip to the principle’s office for both of us and a lesson on choosing how we react to people.

Then I discovered Ernie DiGregorio, a point guard for the Buffalo Braves of the NBA. Listed as 6′ 0″, he was closer to 5′ 10″ and seemed dwarfed by the other players on the court. Yet he held his own. He had poise and exuded inner strength. I thought he was the coolest guy on the planet and he was my idol. To a kid like me, he represented that the size of my body didn’t matter as much as the size of my heart. He gave me a positive to grab hold on to and carry with me.

I still hated being short and looking back can see how the names, always being at the head of the line in school, the names, having short sisters who were bigger than me, the names, and frankly just being short, all had a profound affect on my self image; both as a child and as an adult. Still I wouldn’t consider it bullying.
Would it have helped if people would have been a little more sensitive? Sure, but the question is at what point does teasing become bullying or something more criminal? And do we at times put too much of the responsibility on the teaser, and not enough on the teased?

WHAT? Blame the teased? No, I’m not suggesting we blame the teased. But I do believe we are on a path of making everyone out to be a victim, which is dangerous. Yes, it is without question important to teach our children (and adults for that matter) to be sensitive to those around us. To be compassionate, supportive and understanding. To lift each other up rather than knock them down. But we also need to be giving our kids the tools to deal with jerks. To recognize that they exist and how to look past them and keep moving forward. To learn the importance of surrounding ourselves with people who appreciate us and ignore the noise emitted by those who would put us down in an effort to build themselves up. To understand why people are mean and learn how to blow it off.

The reality is, no matter what we do as a society, there are going to be assholes. Hell, as a dear friend and mentor once taught me, on any given day we have the potential to be that asshole. There are going to be jealous, insecure idiots who will do whatever they can to push down the strong willed and those different than images-6them. When they attack we need to know how to handle it and brush it off. To recognize that typically these people need bigger hugs than we do and buying into their ignorance is giving them too much credit.

That takes practice and it takes a support system teaching us that the actions of the mean are irrelavent and nothing more than a cry for help from someone much weaker than ourselves. They are actually a sign that the potential strength they see in us is a threat, one they don’t know how to deal with so they choose to spew hatred. I honestly believe bullying has more to do with fear than it does hatred. We fear those who pose a threat and tend to become defensive. Some take it to extremes with relentless taunts, facebook posts, threats, verbal torture and worse.

My point to this post is simple. I’m concerned that too much focus is on teaching kids not to bully and not enough on giving kids the tools to deal with being bullied. As much as we need to let kids know how important it is to accept each other and respect each other for our differences, we also need to teach our kids the value of having a tough skin. To learn to deal with adversity and defeat. To pick themselves back up when they fail or someone hurts them. This doesn’t mean giving everyone a trophy to build up their self esteem. Quite the contrary. It means recognizing those teaching opportunities. The strikeout, the D-, not making the team, being called fat or skinny; singled out because of race or sexual orientation or for wearing the wrong shirt to school. These are all precursors to the struggles that await them as adults. Their childhood is a pre-season of sorts. And it’s our job to coach them through it to prepare for the big game. From pre-school to middle school to high school, each instance is a chance to learn how to deal with struggles and find the inner strength to over come them. (Please don’t wait until high school to start.)

YES! We need to help kids understand the impact of their teasing, and bullying. But there are always going to be those who bully because they already KNOW the affects of their actions. It’s why they do it! They want to inflict pain. They want to knock you down. That’s their goal. The more you point out to them that their actions hurt, the more you’re going to encourage them because they WANT to hurt.

My hope is that we as a society not only teach our youth the power of their words and actions, but that we also strive to raise a generation of emotionally strong, self confident young people who recognize that people who hate are afraid. Afraid of your strength. That sometimes the only way they know how to build themselves up is to take you down a notch. We need to raise a generation of kids who know how amazing they are to the point that even the harshest attacks will leave nothing more than a scratch. When I shoved the kid into the chalk board, we were BOTH sent to the principle’s office. I was told that while the other kid’s actions were unacceptable, how I responded to them was as bad if 314239679x356not worse. That violence isn’t the answer. When I got back to the classroom my teacher told me the same thing and told me that I was “bigger” than that. And she was right.

Your kids are going to be told throughout their lives that they aren’t good enough, that their thoughts are wrong and will feel at times like they don’t belong. They’re not going to gel with everyone they meet. We need to teach them that just because someone thinks they can’t sing doesn’t mean they should stop singing. In fact, we should teach them to sing louder so that more people hear them. Because I promise you, there is someone out there who will think they sing like an angel. Teach them to just walk past the ones who don’t and keep looking for those that do.

So what can we do? For starters let kids know they’re not alone. Show them that they have someone else they can talk to who may be going through the same thing. The Our Place Network is a great example. Young kids talking to young kids, monitored by an adult. There’s even a weekly podcast that goes along with it where kids can call in with questions or stories and get input from other kids their age as well as non-judging adults.

Yes, teach your kids to be sensitive. Yes, coach them to be supportive when someone stumbles. But at the same time educate them to know how to pick themselves back up when they themselves stumble and there isn’t anyone around to help them. Because it will happen. They will be picked on, they will be teased, they may even be bullied and feel like the world is against them. Give them the tools and the inner strength to battle through those moments, brush themselves off and be there to help the next guy.

 

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The Weight of Their World

I feel incredibly fortunate to have kids who will let both myself and their mom know what they’re feeling. Many amazing insights come from this truth. Sure there are things they keep to themselves, and it pains me to know that from time to time they likely sit in their silence living through the pain of the divorce thrust upon them. But on more than one occasion they’ve offered insights as to what our divorce means to them and how it affects them.

One such insight is how easily they can feel completely caught in the middle. Wanting so badly to please both their mom and I but being forced to choose. They often feel that to make one of us happy they’re going to havedo-you-ask-your-kids-to-take-sides-after-a-divorce to let the other one down. To come to that realization is hard. It’s also a wake up call as to how easily they can feel torn between the two people they love the most in this world.

Neither their mom nor I consciously try to put them in that position. Life simply reminds them from time to time that their parents have separate lives. That we don’t live together. That more often than not, we aren’t going to all be together at the same time. And that to spend time with one of us, usually means leaving the other behind. And for a kid, that’s the definition of hell.

With three kids, we often shake things up, especially on weekends, to provide the kids one on one time with both of us. It can be tough though as it often means breaking the schedule. To innocently ask a child of divorce, who has great relationships with both parents; “Do you want to stay here or go with mommy / daddy?,” can at times unintentionally be the same as placing ten 1000K barbells on their heart. For some, especially the sensitive ones, it is an immense weight beyond anything they can bare.

When we talked about it later, I was told quite plainly, “I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. If I didn’t go I
sad%20child(1)knew I’d probably regret it, but if I did go I was afraid I’d cry myself to sleep knowing I left mommy behind on her day.” Now, both our child’s mom and I knew that there had been plenty of days where it was the other way around. And despite the reassurances and attempts to just make the decision for them and move forward, the very idea that they had to let one go to be with the other simply broke their heart. It was as simple as that. They were caught in the moment; frozen as there was no clear correct answer for them.

Eventually we guided them through the “now.” And in the end, all was fine as we knew it would be. To have that time with just the two of us was pure gold. No other kids to compete with, no work, no TV, no facebook. Just the two of us building legos together and sharing a cup of tea before bedtime. Breakfast was epic as was the calm, quiet ride to school.

I share this with you for no other reason than to remind you to once again be aware. No matter how crazy the timing, no matter how hurried you are, stop and consider what your child may be going through before you act. Not always easy when you’re rushing or transitioning. But these are defining moments. When they occur, simply be as reassuring as possible that it’s not a big deal. Guide as much as you can as opposed to “pushing.” It may very well mean putting your ego aside and saying something reassuring that may not come from the heart. But know that once you get over the hurdle that is that moment of angst; they usually do just fine once they realize their worlds are both very much in tact and everyone is more than OK.

 

 

 

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