How Would You Handle Teen Smoking?

Posted on Jul 25, 2014 by No Comments

Teen smoking is still a problem. That kind of surprised me — I guess I thought kids today were smarter than that.

Back in the 1970s teen smoking was pretty normal. I can remember going to my mom when I was 15 and saying, “I smoke. I will do it whether you say I can or not. I can smoke behind your back if you prefer.”

Wow. I look at that now and wonder what I was thinking. If one of my kids pulled that speech on me there would be hell to pay. My mother just looked at me, sighed, and nodded. To this day I can’t tell you whether I was hoping that she would tell me no or not.

I do know that I smoked from that point until I was 26. At 26 I decided enough was enough, it wasn’t cool any more, and I just stopped. Twenty-some years later I have a hard time remembering what it was like.

According Fox News kids are less likely to smoke if they have parents that have an authoritative and structured parenting style regardless of their ethnic, racial, or financial background. Past research had found links between a more relaxed, less disciplined parenting style and an increased risk of smoking.

The research boils down to the fact that if a teen thinks that he (or she) is going to be the recipient of uncomfortable consequences, he will likely not smoke.

I don’t see why that is such a surprise. In every situation that I can think of, firm, loving discipline keeps kids closer to the straight and narrow than when they are left to themselves. I know that my kids truly believe that their entire world will cave in if they cross certain lines. They’re right.

I have an easy going, relaxed parenting style with few rules. The rules I make are fair and the kids understand why they are important to me. There aren’t many but when they are broken there are consequences. It works well for us.

I had two kids that smoked briefly after they left home but then quit. Two started smoking hookah when stationed overseas. One of them smokes a pipe once in awhile a couple smoke cigars now and then. Still, they are adults and responsible for their own lives.

When I was a kid, smoking meant that you were adult and super-cool. I don’t think it has the same coolness factor now but still, for whatever reason, kids still do it. It’s one area that is worth being strict about I think. It is an expensive habit that has been proven to have serious health consequences.

I read the article with interest. It made me wonder how I would handle it if one of my children approached me in the way that I approached my mom. Would I have the strength to look them in the eye and tell them that there would be consequences?  I honestly don’t know. I am hoping that I will never find out.

What about you? Have you faced this or do you have an idea of how you would handle it?

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Widen and Loosen in the Cycles of Life

Posted on Jul 21, 2014 by No Comments

I have noticed an interesting pattern in my family that seems to be more and more prevalent. We are widening and loosening more than ever before. Let me explain.

Years ago when the older kids were small, my concept of family was also very small. My immediate family, my parents, and a couple of close friends pretty much were the sum total of who I included. We were tight-knit, very close, and looking back at it all I would have to say that we were exclusive.

As time went on, those bonds loosened. We were still very close but the people we included were more varied than in the past.  Girlfriends, boyfriends, random people who had no where to be…all of these people ended up at our home. We had widened our definition of family to include who every happened to cross our paths.

Sometimes this wasn’t such a good thing. Not everyone we invited in to the house was helpful, a good influence, or worthy of our time. We learned, we healed, we went on. While we did widen our definition of family we were still pretty close knit and still pretty stuck in our own ways of doing things. You were welcome to enter in but, like a black hole, you were not able to get out.

Then one got married, two went into the military, I got divorced and remarried, and everything changed.

All of the insecurity made me long for that tight, close, sheltered family. I wanted a place where no one got hurt, where I could protect my loved ones, and where things stayed comfortably predictable. The problem with that was that comfortably predictable can also be translated as stagnant.

Stagnant things stink after awhile.

I let go and watched as things continued to widen, but now they were also becoming loose. Not everything revolved around my house anymore. They had adult friends, things that they did, in-laws, and other relationships that were every bit as important to them as I was. I could let go of the strings on my own terms or I could have my hands shredded as those bonds were yanked from my hands.

I chose to let go.

Nothing terrible happened. Some things are different than they used to be and some things are not. I did not cook the Christmas turkey last year — my son-in-law fried it. It was an odd feeling a first, almost as if I had been replaced.

As things went on, the feeling of replacement grew to a different feeling altogether. It was a feeling of inclusion, of being part of a team, and of working together. As an only child, that wasn’t something I had much experience with. I tend to be one of those people who works best alone.

I stepped back and handed some of my responsibilities to my kids. It was freeing in some ways but it also allowed me to understand how my parents felt when they handed over some of their responsibilities to me. It truly is a cycle of life — it just doesn’t feel odd until you are on this side of it.

Which side of the equation are you on?

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Why Being Good Isn’t Good Enough

Posted on Jul 18, 2014 by No Comments

I have some unusual ideas about parenting. I really do try not to saddle anyone else with my beliefs, although I share my thoughts, because honestly I am a much different parent now that I was 30 years ago.

Some of the things I did make me cringe but I have the dubious advantage of looking back on all my mistakes and attempting to do it differently when the situation calls for it. No doubt in ten years I will look back on these parenting days and cringe as well.

One thing I have noticed is that we tend to focus on the outward behavior more than the inward motivations. Because of this, we raise kids that know how to make things look good but often don’t have the ability or self discipline to carry it off when not in public. We give a child a timeout for getting angry and hitting someone but we don’t follow it up with practical ways that they can manage that anger next time.

Let’s face it — when it comes to emotions like anger, frustration, and negativity, there will always be a next time.

If a child is disciplined outwardly (the time out) without getting the strategy, then when it happens again he will get another time out (if you’re around) or get away with hitting (if you aren’t). As uncomfortable as it may be, it’s very important to talk to your kids about their emotions.

Try taking a time out with your child. Ask why the event happened and what caused the physical outburst. Really listen to the reply. Most older kids will just tell you that they don’t know because it’s easier but young children will often spill their guts about how they feel. They haven’t learned to keep it bottled up yet.

Brainstorm age appropriate ways that your child can manage his emotions himself. Teach him to learn to monitor his own emotions and give himself a time out when he feels a negative emotion beginning to kick in.

For example, I have a terrible temper. I rarely lose it but when I do, it is uncontrollable rage. I believe that it has gotten the better of me three times in the past 30 years.

I have learned to identify the beginnings of that anger and give myself a time out so that I can calm down. I have learned to tell people that I can’t talk about something at the moment but will discuss it at a later time.

It is amazing how many people get angry or offended when I put off a potentially ugly confrontation long enough for me to think out my response.

Young children can learn to walk away and move to a quiet, soothing activity like reading a book, rocking in a rocking chair, or closing their eyes and pretending that they are doing something they enjoy. Self soothing is an important skill that anyone can learn. It’s especially important for our kids.

They need to know that good behavior does not mean that they are handling things well. Learning to identify and process emotions in a healthy way is a skill that they will use their entire lives.

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Behavior Modification Can Be Overused

Posted on Jul 16, 2014 by 1 Comment

Behavior modification is what most parenting techniques are based on. There are rewards for good behavior and negative consequences for bad behavior.

At some point, at least in theory, children will do the right thing in order to avoid the negative consequences. It’s the same technique used to train dogs, lab rats, and trained seals.

One of the reasons it’s used is because it works — at least most of the time.

However, when it’s used too much behavior modification turns into manipulation and that will eventually cause all sorts of problems. Manipulation happens when you increase the rules from the minimum necessary to your life, my way. It’s when there is no room for choice, mistakes, creative interpretation.

It results in rebellion every time.

For example, there is a point where children must be given the freedom to make bad choices. Maybe your fourteen year old stays up to play video games when he has a big test the next day. It happens more than once. You can ground him from video games or you can let him figure out that falling asleep in class, failing the test, and feeling like crap the next day just aren’t worth the high score on the game.

In some cases he won’t figure it out. He’ll keep making the same stupid mistake. As long as it’s not a life threatening one, it may be best to let him handle it his own way, even if that means he sleeps through every test he takes.

The hardest part of being a parent is stepping back and letting your kids work things out their way.

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Please Hand Me the Magic Bullet

Posted on Jul 14, 2014 by 1 Comment

I used to think that parenting was a matter of finding the right combination of rewards and consequences that would cause my children to act in a way that didn’t embarrass me in public and gave me something to impress my friends with when we were talking about family things.

It seemed reasonable. After all, I have trained dogs and horses to be well-behaved, surely children could not be that different?

Well, in case you weren’t aware of it, children really are that different. Sure, you can pop an M&M in their mouths when they succeed at peeing in the potty; you can give them a dollar for every A on their report cards; and you use a variety of other reward systems to get the behavior you want. That works, at least most of the time.

Unless you happen to get one of those kids that simply can’t be manipulated with chocolate or money. Then, my friend, you are screwed.

Most, if not all, parenting techniques depend on a system of consequences and rewards. If you read any parenting book it will boil down to two words — consistency and consequences. As long as you are consistent with consequences your kid will get it, eventually. Unless, of course, they don’t.

And if they don’t, you are a failure as a parent.

That is wrong, totally wrong, but you can’t sell parenting books that simply say, there is no magic bullet. Sometimes, no matter what you do, kids will continually make wrong choices. That’s when you continue being consistent but realize that their freedom of choice does not reflect on who you are as a parent.

Feel better?

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Lego Game for Girls Focuses on Friendship

Posted on Jul 11, 2014 by 1 Comment

Lego has come out with a video game for girls six to ten years old. No one shoots anyone else, cuts off their heads, or throws balls of magic fire at them, which is kind of unusual in a cool sort of way.

The game revolves around five friends — Olivia, Mia, Stephanie, Emma, and Andrea. They live in Heartlake City and each gamer will join them there to begin their adventures. The gamer’s character is Olivia’s cousin who is visiting and mentored by Olivia as she demonstrates the various rules of the game.

You and Olivia head to her school where she introduces you to the rest of the characters. At that point you’ll be asked to help with a problem and will go on a “mission”.

You’ll complete a mission with each of the five girls, meeting new people, working on projects, and developing a virtual friendship with them. As the friendship becomes deeper the characters will begin to open up more and tell you more details about themselves, just like in a real friendship.

The player has complete freedom to explore the city and decide how to spend her time. The game also has a scrapbooking area where she can save photos to remember her adventures.

As the game is played, the player collects LEGO studs for money. The money is used to customize clothing, hair, and accessories so that the player can express her unique style within the game. Pets are also collected and there are a couple adventures where you play from the perspective of the pet, allowing children to learn empathy for animals as well as people.

You can learn more about it at the Lego website.

image via Lego

Tween Girls? You’re Walking on Fire, Mom

Posted on Jul 7, 2014 by No Comments

There is a constant debate about whether girls or boys are easier to raise. Generally, I get pulled into these if I am around because I have more than my share of experience in that very subject.

Personally, I don’t think either is easier or harder — just different. However, if I had to warn parents about something it would be this (queue the ominous music):

Tween girls.

Most sites define it as the age between 10 and 12 but in my experience it can start as young as 9 and not taper off until age 14. Girls begin significant hormonal changes long before their first period and even before they get those first, hard, painful lumps that will eventually turn into whiplash-inducing breasts.

It’s the era of being too old for toys and too young for boys.

It’s that transitional period where she can be a moody, self-centered, condescending, smart-alecky drama queen one minute and be asking you to help her choose an outfit the next. Before you re-read your old copy of the Exorcist to brush up on how to deal, take a step back, a deep breath, and a shot of vodka. You can do this.

Rethink Discipline

You’ve created a good foundation with consistent boundaries and loving discipline in the past. Now it’s time to start letting go of the reins and allowing her to make some of her own decisions. She isn’t controllable anymore — or she won’t be soon.

Work more on your relationship and communication than on discipline and criticism. Trust the work that you’ve done. Now is the time to take your hands off as much as possible. Not all at once, but you’ll want to back off little by little.

Be the Instigator

I have one daughter that stopped saying that she loved me. It really hurt but I continued to tell her I love her and to connect with her as much as I could. In some ways, there are times when being affectionate with tween girls is a bit like being in a relationship with someone in a coma who only wakes up long enough to hurl anger at you.

Don’t let her push you away. She doesn’t really want that and neither do you. She wants to know she is valuable enough that you will fight for her love, even if she can’t put words to those feelings. Hug, talk, compliment, and tell her you are proud of her.

It will sink in and when you are through this the seeds you’ve planted will be waiting in full bloom.

Walk a Mile in Her Uggs

Maybe it’s because I am a writer but I can easily remember being that age. I hated so many things about myself intensely but I hated my hair the worst. I’d stand in front of the mirror and cry because I hated it so bad and I didn’t know how to tame it.

My mother was hardly a fashion diva and she had no empathy. “It’s hair. Just keep it clean and it’ll be fine.”

Yes, girls this age have enough drama to give the whole Kardashian Klan a run for their money. Still, if you can remember what it was like and empathize with her it’s easier to understand her reactions.

Be patient, loving, and there for her. She’ll come out of it sooner or later.

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Children Abandoned at the Border

Posted on Jul 4, 2014 by No Comments

Here in Texas we have been complaining about the problems at the border for so long that it’s not even news anymore.

Serious crime, violence, drugs, and illegal aliens crossing into the border states cost California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas a lot of taxpayer money every single month. Many people don’t realize the expense involved from free health care to having dual language teachers in all of the grades in school.

A new problem has come up recently. Minor children are being dropped off on the Texas side of the border without any adult accompanying them. How bad can it be? According to the LA Times about 52,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the border one way or another just this fiscal year.

These unaccompanied children are the sent here because their parents believe that government policies will allow them to stay. More often than we would like to think about, the children are victims of violence, animal attack, and sexual abuse.

The border patrol blames it on a 2012 executive order of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and state that it is imperative that this new tend be stopped.

The really difficult thing about it all is that you look in the eyes of these babies and you want to help them, but the truth is you can’t. Border patrols speak of finding children with their ears cut off, quadriplegics abandoned on the US side off the border, and other atrocities. The children’s parents are the ones that aren’t protecting them. How can we afford to do it?

CNN says that holding these children at the border shames America but CNN  reporters do not live in Texas where more and more funds are funneled to illegal alien programs.

This is where there is a gap in understanding because, unless you live in one of these border states, you have no idea of the costs involved. And, let’s be honest, would any of us provide for other people’s children at the expense of our own?

The children are reported to be held in small, crowded cells but where else are they to go if not to the only facilities available?

Texas school districts are struggling as enrollment is up, a large percentage of students don’t speak English, and the families (if there are any) don’t pay taxes. Hospitals along the border struggle with the huge number of pregnant women who enter the country, some in labor, in order to give birth in the United States.

So, is there even a good answer? The United States as a whole does not have the money to care for these little ones. We have abused, abandoned, and needy children of our own without adding the financial drag of those from a different country.

Certainly the individual states don’t have the money. Isn’t it smarter to make the border as secure as possible and let Mexico handle their own problems?

I don’t disagree that we should be compassionate toward these children but the question is a simple one. Where will the money to care for them come from?

photo credit: US Customs and Border

Should You Limit Tech Time for Kids when Traveling?

Posted on Jul 2, 2014 by 1 Comment

Not just no but hell no.

I am sorry. My apologies to all of the really good parents out there that limit their childrens’ electronics time when they are in the car. I tip my hat to you but I prefer to get from point A to point B with everyone in the car still alive and intact.

My kids are good in the car  but long trips are tough. None of us can read books because we get intensely car sick. Looking at the lovely scenery only lasts so long. Especially in Kansas.

Look kids! There’s a field!  And another! And. . .

Yep. Looking at Kansas scenery from the highway is like watching grass grow.

Pretty soon they are bored and playing “Slug Bug”. You know, every time  you see a Volkswagen Beetle you punch your less attentive sibling in the arm.

Slug Bug green! Whap!

Slug Bug yellow! Thump!

Slug Bug invisible! Wow a WHOLE herd of them! Whap. Bang. Smack.

Mom! Bubba’s hitting me!

No thank you. We have not just one but TWO movie screens in our van and each screen plays different movies. We bring iPhones, iPads, Gameboys, and duct tape in case the batteries run out.

Just kidding. We bring chargers.

In 32 years of parenthood I have learned that there is a time and a place for teaching children to be disciplined about what they do with their time. I have also learned, through trial and error, that the a road trip is neither the time, nor the place.

How do you keep the peace on road trips with your kids.

photo credit: LucianVenutian

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