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Monday, March 28, 2011

Yes Our Children are Growing Up too Fast – But What Choice Do They Have?

My daughter is 11 and has some friends who are more innocent than others. All parents have different rules about what types of events their kids can attend, what they can watch, listen to and much more.We all have our own lines that we won't let our children cross, and some  parents are stricter and draw their lines more finitely than others.

Recently one of her friends was sitting in the back seat of a car and a man made an obscene gesture at her. She thought he had to go to the bathroom, but someone else in the car told her that's not what he meant.

When I think back to myself at 11, I was hit in the head with the reality that my mother had multiple sclerosis and would slowly deteriorate before our eyes. The slow and painful death of her movements had already started, and when she died two years later she had already begun to sink.

Losing a parent at the age  at which girls simultaneously roll their eyes and yell at their mothers, but still need them more than they won’t understand until much later, really smacks a child in the head and you do grow up too fast.

 I started searching for what I no longer had, unconditional love, warmth, touch and someone to confide in. The answer for most girls who experience what I did is boys, and that was my answer too. Of course teenage boys proffer none of those things, even though they are quite capable of caring, they are programmed to want what they want. At least I didn’t seek out older men, which I think is much, much worse.

For a long time, I’ve heard people say that that it’s no longer possible to keep children in the protected bubble of friendships, family and a neighborhood in which you know everyone. To be sure, Facebook, YouTube and all of their competitors, don’t help. But the truth is the bubble broke a long time ago. In fact, it exploded on September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers fell right before their eyes. Of course, the younger children weren't allowed to watch, but all of the kids talked about it, we talked to them too, and over the years they've seen those images more times than I want to count.

My 11 year-old hasn’t just heard whispers of what sex is, she can describe it in detail, and quite dispassionately. Her middle school already has girls who seek out boys and are looking for more than just friendship. Probably some who are sneaking alcohol and drugs too.

This is public school after all, and by high school some of these girls are going to have babies. That’s not a new phenomenon, it was in my childhood too, but now it seems to be all around us. If 16 year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, or Zoe 101, her sweet television persona at a ritzy boarding school who had barely been kissed had a baby at 16 that her mother is raising, what of our daughters? And then there’s Bristol Palin, running around preaching abstinence with a baby, and a Dancing with the Stars routine that was so sexually explicit it made me blush. 

So how can you keep your child a child for as long as possible? Sports helps. What a great outlet for all those pre-teen hormones surging around through their bodies. Some parents have their kids playing sports all year long – soccer, basketball, swimming, ice skating, an endless stream of physical activity that hopefully will burn all of the energy they would use for sex, drugs and drinking right out of them. 

Another way to keep kids on track is set rules and stick to them. I’m not the best at this, and I admit to a double standard between my son and daughter. He was allowed to run around the neighborhood alone younger, to stay out until past dark, to take the metro home, to fly in charge of his little sister across the country (direct flights only). I still will go get my daughter even if she’s down the street after 9:00 PM or so, and walk her home, or insist earlier that someone else does. 

But I also think if your rules are too strict and you protect your children too much, you run into situations such as her friend did. By 11, that girl should have known what that man was doing, and reacted in fear and locked the car door and turned away. 

A man called me over to a car when I was about that age,  and I was riding my bike, ostensibly to ask directions. He was naked and trying to shock me with his actions. He was also right in front of my home. You have to tell your kids what’s out there even if it bursts the bubble. Because you don’t want them to misinterpret something that is truly dangerous, even for an instant. 

Are the children of today growing up too fast? Yes. But so is the world around us. And I would rather have a child that is scared of something she knows is bad, then one who doesn’t recognize evil when she sees it and realize she has to get out of there. That’s every parents’ worst nightmare, bubble or not. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Facebook Won't Let Kids Under 13 On - Right.

Facebook is making a big deal right now about how its begun policing its site looking for kids under the age of 13. Wake-up call - I have friends on Facebook, who are the kids of friends of mine who are not 13, and they've been on it quite awhile. I'm sure they have some restrictions but all of a sudden Facebook is getting a conscience. Give me a break.

I don't know about the rest of you but both my son and daughter figured out how to get around online parental controls by the age of  nine. Of course you can ban them from the Internet - that's happening - but the bottom line is if they want to go on Facebook, G-Chat, YouTube, and most of the other Internet options out there, they will. Right now my daughter is into gmail video ichat and my son is searching everything and anything online.

For parents, who are worried about predators, other psychos, porno, access to drugs, alcohol, and many other of the lovely things our kids can find online, it's a big problem. But in the end, you have to remember that if you ban something it makes much more attractive. And the teenage brain is about finding a way around the parental controls.

So what do you do? Well if you're divorced, like I am, you learn to accept that you have absolutely no control over what they do in their dad's house. We both have our own rules (his online ones seem to be none) and parent the way it works for each of us.

This particular post is about Facebook. I actually agree with the no usage under 13 rule. My son first was allowed to use Facebook at the end of 8th grade with one caveat, he had to friend his mother. For those parents who have rejected Facebook as a place that young people congregate, I beg to differ. I have reconnected with a lot of people on Facebook, some I wanted too and others I really didn't. But you don't have to use it or answer people if you don't want too. And my page is private so if you don't know me, and I don't want to know you, then you won't.

You can learn a lot from keeping an eye on your kid's Facebook page. And you should be on it and taking a look at it every once in awhile.

We had one blow up early on when I saw my son on Facebook and he was supposed to be doing his homework. I posted right on his page "Why are you on Facebook when you are finishing a project?" He immediately de-friended me. We renegotiated and he took me back. I never posted on his page again.

It's not what your kid posts so much as what his friends do. Although by now many of their pages are protected - they still post stuff on his page and it gives you a microcosm of what's really going on. The photos and videos can be pretty telling too - who's in them - what are they doing - do they look like they've been drinking or doing drugs? Or are they clear eyed and smiling?

By now, my son has hundreds of Facebook friends from all over the area, and probably the country and world. I can't keep track of all of them, nor do I want too. If he wanted to start a Facebook page under a different name he could. But so far he hasn't. He even dumped Facebook for awhile but then he went back.

My daughter - well she's only 11 and Facebook is not on her radar right now. But I'm sure it will be soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bikram Yoga - A Much Healthier Way of Getting High

There is a moment in every Bikram yoga class where I want to run screaming from the room. It's 105 degrees, I'm cursing the teacher and praying she'll open the door and let some fresh, cool air in. But once that feeling passes - usually more than halfway through the class when I hit the floor - it gets better.
Can Bikram yoga really replace addiction? In a way, it's a very healthy form of addiction. When I first started I went five times a week and felt guilty when I missed a class. A lot of people practice every day. I'm not one of them. Bikram is also addicting - when you haven't been for awhile you know you need to go back. Aside from the physical benefit of getting in the best shape of your life - the spiritual piece is powerful.

I always walk out of that room high as a kite - with a fabulous yoga buzz. A replacement for any drug Bikram is hot yoga but hotter and much more disciplined. If I go in the morning, I feel like I've won the lottery - at least for the next couple of days. Then I have to go back and do it again, to get the feeling again.

Bikram yogis are like parents - we have a secret community and bond that no one else understands. It's helped heal my back, neck and shoulders from tons of computer related injuries. It's good for the brain. And it's good for your body - as long as you practice the 26 postures done 2x each - correctly.

The Bikram mantra echoes those of Oprah (love yourself) and it works. For 90 minutes that's all you do - mostly in the mirror. There are studios all over the country and I recommend that you and/or your teen who is struggling with alcohol, drugs, depression and just plain obnoxiousness give it a shot. Bikram got me through a divorce, and it really does change your life.

Here's an article about yoga and its help curing addiction. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/13/fashion/13Mirror.html?scp=1&sq=teacher%20experience%20needed&st=cse

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The BBC Reports on Testing a Drug to Replace Alcohol

I love the BBC. The British have a big alcohol problem, and 7% of the population are already showing a tendency towards alcoholism.

A researcher is reporting on a pill that makes you feel tipsy but isn't addictive and doesn't come with side effects like a hangover. Their reporter tries it in a hospital with resuscitation on hand.

Very early in the research process.

But what replaces the social part of drinking? Can a pill do that? Watch and learn.


The After Party - Dealing with My Teen

My last post was about my teen's party while I was out of town, and I thought I'd follow-up with the final result.

My ex-husband borrowed my daughter's house keys and walked in right in the middle of the party, finding about 30 kids - both boys and girls inside. He didn't see drugs or alcohol in use or signs that a real party was planned - no snack food, soda, etc., which was a plus. My son asked if his father would wait in a different room while he cleared everyone out and then they talked about what he'd done and he brought him back to his house.

When I got home the next night there was a case of beer in the bathroom with two cans missing, our art and breakables were hidden in closed off rooms, and the house was spotless. My son had insisted on cleaning up the house before he left.

So how did I handle the first party? After 24 hours of thinking about what I should do, what consequences should be delivered, etc. I  decided to just let my teen tell me his story. He said that he had invited a few friends over, word got out and over 100 kids showed up at the door. He turned most of them away, but did let in the senior who showed up with the beer although he told him that parents knew about the party and he should leave and take it with him. He also let friends in who had been dropped off so that they could wait inside while they called their parents. A lot of the kids who showed up, he didn't let in at all.

Do I believe him? Yes. I had a party in high school once where the exact same thing happened - I invited a few kids and the entire high school came which resulted in trashing the house and our family car (yes it was really bad). The police came too, but it was the 1970s and they just made sure everything was OK, and that no one was driving, and left. I asked about the art and other valuables that were locked away and my son said as more kids showed up he started hiding things. He apologized and said that he wasn't going to do it again.

I decided to let it go with a serious talk and a warning that if it ever happened again there would be major consequences. The combination of getting caught, his mortification from his father walking in and clearing the house, and the fact that he saw just how uncontrollable these things are and will learn from it, was enough.

Did I do the right thing? I hope so. One thing I do know is I'm going to keep a much closer watch on where he goes and what he does in the future. High school is a time where we experiment and learn - if you go crazy the first time something happens, I really believe it will just make them more rebellious.

His grades are good, he's on the It's Academic team and he's basically a good kid. We'll see where it goes from here.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What Happens When You Leave Town and Your Teen Throws a Party?

This happened last night. I'm in New York City - the first time I've left home on business this school year - and my phone rings in the middle of a Broadway show. It's Friday night, I can't see who it is, but it's clearly someone I know because there is a name.

So the phone goes off and at intermission I turn it back on and see it's from the mom of one of my son's friends but there's no message. A few minutes later I pick up a voice mail. My 15 year-old is having a party at my house the weekend I'm gone and he is staying with his dad. She went to drop off her son and a couple of friends and doesn't see my car at the house so she knocks on the door. Inside are a half dozen boys and she asks him if I'm home to which he is somewhat evasive so she calls me. I call her back thank her and start taking deep breaths. Intermission is ending and light are flashing and the theater people are glaring at me so I go outside and call his dad. It's 9:15 and I figure it can't have been going on very long.

"Where is he?"
"He said he was spending the night at a friend's house."
"Well he's having a party at my house, P's mom just called me. What do you want me to do?"
"Go over there, break it up and bring him home. That's what I would do if it was your house."

Of course the theater is ruined but I go back in and try to watch and calm down. I'm furious.

My ex-husband and I were kind of wild teenagers. We had parties when our parents were gone. We excelled at doing things that drove our parents crazy. I once invited a few friends over and ended up with the entire high school. My parents came home and their beautiful new living room furniture had ink all over it, the car was destroyed and the neighbors told on us. In those days, no one called the police.

What I know is that these things can quickly get way out of control.  When I come out of the theater I call back my ex and the party is over, everyone went home and my son is in his room. He is very calm and said he talked to him about liability and having other parties. He said that our son told him he had no alcohol or drugs but that others could have. That he will back me up on whatever consequences I decide to enforce. That my son insisted on cleaning up the house before they left.

So of course the great dilemma is what  do I do? Part of that decision is to not get in touch with my son for the rest of the weekend and let him worry about what I will do. It's an incredible relief that he was caught and the party was stopped before it had even really got going. The mortification of having your father walk into your house and throw everyone out - in front of all your high school friends who think you are cool - helps alot. I suppose he will be grounded and we will talk about it. I will reinforce the dangers of having parties without parental supervision and how if someone got hurt we could lose our home.

Of course, I'm questioning my parenting skills and what I did and didn't do. There is a part of me that keeps saying - well he is his parents' son. And of course being divorced there will always be opportunities when one parent is out of town and the other is not there watching. That's something we need to remember.

But more than any of that what is gone is my trust that my son will do the right thing and he's been living on that for awhile without me seeing any sign that it would be violated. Well now it has been and we will be watching far more closely, asking a lot more questions and making much stricter ground rules. For that, was a party that got shut down almost immediately really worth it?