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Back to School Nerves
Dealing with “back to school nerves” is no joke. I was a good student as a kid. Actually, I was a great student—an overachiever if you will. I loved school, had perfect attendance through grade school, and got basically straight A’s. I also chewed my nails and had a “nervous” stomach, both of which still follow me to this day.
There is tremendous pressure for kids to succeed. Competition is fierce in our world and anyone who doesn’t excel risks being left behind or eaten alive. Survival of the fittest isn’t just some Darwinian concept that applies only to the animal kingdom. I think the need to stand out above the crowd and prove one’s superiority is at the root of bullying, as well as behind the motivation for those geeks who join every brainiac club, jocks that turn to steroids to gain an edge, and cheerleaders puking in the bathroom to avoid gaining a pound. If you aren’t numero uno, you’re a "nobody." Worse is that getting to the top doesn’t mean staying on top, and the higher you climb on that social ladder, the farther you have to fall. It’s a no win situation from either end of the spectrum, and the kids who live somewhere in the middle feel like they have fallen into the canyon of obscurity. That is the climate our children must face on the first day back to school. No wonder they’re nervous.
So how do we help them? I’m no child psychologist, and I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I do know:
- Kids who have a strong sense of family are more confident. They know that at the end of the day, they can come home to a safe and loving environment.
- Having a core group of friends strengthens their feelings of being part of a “tribe.” There is safety in numbers and it’s always good to know someone has your back. There is nothing worse than walking down the halls alone or having no one to sit with at lunch. I’m not talking about cliques. I’m talking about friends.
- Get them involved in student activities. Whether its sports, the school newspaper, or chess club. It’s a great way for them to feel connected, accepted, and included. Allowing them to get involved in too many of these activities however, will backfire and add stress for them and for you. Limit their participation to one or two extracurricular activities per season and let them choose which ones are most important to them.
- Be open minded. Teens are all about figuring out who they are. They want—and need—to experiment with hair, clothes, looks, and fashions. They are trying to establish a place for themselves in the pecking order, and if you’re too strict about not allowing some self-expression, it can create a rift in your relationship as well as causing them a lot of stress in the “fitting in” department. Be willing to compromise. If your daughter wants blue hair, suggest she try just a streak to start out. Chances are she really doesn’t want blue hair. She just wants to know she has some control.
- Check in daily. Pay attention for signs of stress in your child. Are they fatigued? Not eating or sleeping well? Are they developing nervous habits like nail-biting, knee bouncing, drumming their fingers or twirling their hair obsessively? These are all signs of tension. Instead of asking questions like “how was school?” for which you will undoubtedly get a one word answer such as “fine,” say instead, “Tell me about your day.” Think of ways to engage them in conversations where they feel free to share information. “What was your favorite part of your day?” Or “Who did you sit with at lunch?” It’s so easy to let days go by just taking those one word answers and letting the conversations become routine. Teens don’t want to share details with their parents mainly because they don’t want to be told what to do, how to feel, or what to think. Ultimately, they don’t want to be judged, which is how they feel all day at school. As parents, that’s kind of what we do, too. Rather than simply listening and guiding them toward a solution, we immediately want to tell them what we think they should do. Try NOT offering advice. Let them come to their own conclusions about who they are and how they can best find their place among the herd. Initiate a “judgment-free” policy for after school conversations. “Between 5-7 p.m., you can come to me with any problem and I will not tell you what to do. I’ll only listen and answer your questions—no judgments.” That’ll have them scratching their heads and wondering who you are and what happened to their parent, but I think you’ll find that they sleep better and have fewer of those nervous habits if they can have one place in their life where they are not being judged.
What do you do to cope with a case of back to school nerves?
Healthy body, healthy mind, healthy spirit…
Being human is all about finding balance. We have a built in mechanism that strives for homeostasis. Our heartbeat, blood pressure, digestive system, hormonal cycles—they all depend on that perfect balance mechanism that is in constant motion, ebbing and flowing to keep us functioning at our optimum. In keeping with this principle, I would like to suggest that we look at the larger picture of humanity and balance. Although I cannot give you substantive evidence by way of measurement, I believe that we humans are made up of a body, a mind, and a spirit, and that it is the balance of these three that is responsible for the health of every individual. If one of these areas is out of balance, it affects the whole person and they will not enjoy the benefits of truly good health.
The teen years more than any other time in life are chock full of imbalances. Within a few short years, rapid physical growth, mental and emotional development, and societal expectations take our sweet eleven-year-old child and turn them into young adults expected to take care of themselves and become productive members of society. Most parents usually focus on trying to care for their children by providing for their physical and emotional needs. In addition, we are responsible for balancing our careers, serving our families and communities, and taking care of ourselves. Because of this, we often lose sight of an integral part of our own, as well as our children’s, overall balanced health—the spiritual side.
Spirituality is a difficult topic—mainly because it comes with so many differing points of view on what it is and how we should express it and cultivate it. Because it is not a measurable or tangible thing, we don’t really know how to determine whether our children are getting what they need to promote healthy spirituality. Now, I’m not talking about religion, although teaching children about a power greater than themselves and practicing a certain faith that has been handed down from one generation to the next can have tremendous benefits in promoting healthy spirituality. But religion is just one avenue. Just like yoga or martial arts are ways to promote balanced physical health and teaching kids to have self-esteem and confidence can promote mental health.
Religion, in and of itself, is not spirituality. Many of us have had negative experiences around the dogmatic principles of an overbearing or oppressive religious practice. What I’m talking about is cultivating a sense of oneness—the idea that we are complete and loved, and intrinsically valuable. This, in my opinion, is at the heart of spirituality. When we feel that we are connected to something or someone greater than ourselves that will sustain us and support us through difficult times, it gives us the power and courage to face the trials of life. That sense of peace and empowerment is the gift that comes with a spiritual practice.
So, what if you don’t practice a particular faith? Do you simply leave your child’s spiritual well-being up to chance, or hope they figure it out on their own? That’s kind of like allowing them to choose whatever they feel like eating or allowing them to dictate whether they will go to school and become educated. If you want to raise truly well-rounded individuals, you cannot ignore this essential part of their human experience. By the same token, I believe it is a critical part of our humanity to each find our own spiritual path, and we only need to look within ourselves to find it. As with teaching them in other areas, it is up to parents to be guides. Just like instructing our children about hygiene, nutrition, and healthy exercise habits, we need to encourage spiritual growth. Hopefully we don’t beat our children over the heads with rules and force compliance and perfection in our efforts to ensure their physical and emotional well-being. Nor should we take this approach with teaching them about spirituality. Introducing them to the spiritual side of themselves takes gentleness and consistency if we want results that don’t include them rebelling and running in the other direction.
A great way to do this is through prayer and/or meditation. Taking a moment at mealtimes to be grateful for our food fosters respect and connection to the forces of nature and the greater community. It also teaches an attitude of gratitude. Community service is another way to get kids out of their own heads and thinking more about their connection and responsibility in the world. I also believe that saying prayers at bedtime, or taking a few moments to sing or listen to soothing music, can promote more peaceful sleep. Another way to help children experience spirituality is through nature. Watching a sunset, listening to the wind, walking on a beach, or taking a moment to just be present with their natural surroundings can help kids feel more connected and at peace within themselves. After all, isn’t that what we all want? To find peace within, feel balanced, connected, whole, and loved for who we are? That’s what cultivating spirituality can do.
How do you cultivate spirituality in your kids?
How many teens HATE to read?
At a recent book signing at the Enfield Mall, I was struck by number one, how dead the mall was compared to when I used to hang out there on the weekends with my friends, and two, how many teenagers reported that they HATE to read. Blasphemy! Horrors! And what’s up with that?
“Really?” I asked in shock.
In keeping with current vernacular, the young ladies replied, “Seriously. With all the crap we have to read in school, we like, have NO interest in reading.”
“Wow! So if I said this book is a young adult romance between a seventeen year old girl and a nineteen year old Marine who was wounded in Iraq, you wouldn’t be interested?”
Eyes widened, snarky smiles lit up their faces, and eyes rolled—all signs of interest for teenage girls—whether they will admit it or not. Since I had captured their attention and felt like I was on the cusp of breaking through a barrier of some kind, I pressed on. I thought, if I could influence these young girls to become readers, how cool would that be? My mission was clear. I needed to change their minds about reading. I gave them each a copy of the book, and laid out the challenge. “Read to the end of chapter one, and I dare you to put down the book.” They all giggled and took the books, satisfied grins on their faces that they had been gifted a kind of treasure—for free! The only thing I asked in return was for them to go on Amazon and leave a review after they read it. They all smiled and said they would. We’ll see. Most importantly, the possibility exists that they will read the book and it will change their minds about reading.
I couldn’t blame them entirely for their disdain of books. After all, I too had to endure reading such classics as The Red Badge of Courage, Farenheight 451, and Catcher in the Rye. And who could forget Chaucer, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway and the works of Shakespeare? Umm…most of us, probably. I’m not against reading good literature, but kids in today’s world of immediate gratification and technological warp speed want to read about people they can identify with. They want stories that draw them into a world where kids are powerful—where they can take on the monsters and win—thus the fascination with the paranormal. Harry Potter, Twilight and the thousand other vampire, werewolf and witch stories available on today’s shelves have kids drowning in magical possibilities. Again, I can’t say I blame them. I too, read to escape the harsh realities of a world spinning out of control. So can we find a compromise?
This is a new generation of readers and we need to offer them books with stories that will engage them while also offering real, identifiable characters. If there are underlying life lessons, moments of poignant emotional revelation and reasons to root for our heroes and heroines, all the better.
Read any good books lately?
Massage for teens?
Do you still look at massage as a cushy treat that you save your pennies for and splurge once in blue moon to afford? Or is the only time you think of getting a massage when your neck and back are so kinked you crawl to the phone to make an appointment? Or God forbid, maybe you’ve never had a professional massage. I get it…really, I do. Money is tight and we have to spend health care dollars carefully. And what’s this about teens getting massage? They’re young and healthy: they shouldn’t need a massage. Who can afford to get their kids a massage these days when their clothes cost a small fortune and they have to have every latest and greatest tech gadget that comes out.
I’d like to take this opportunity to give you a different perspective. First off, let’s talk about what massage therapy can do for you. On a physiologic level, massage increases circulation, improves muscle and joint function, promotes relaxation and a sense of well-being, and enhances the immune system. It can release toxins from the body and even have a positive influence on body image and emotional health. As far as being a “splurge,” I remind all of my clients that massage should be a part of their health care regimen and that having consistent treatment can actually prevent many orthopedic problems and generally keep you healthier. Anything you can do to effectively reduce stress and promote good health is worth the investment. Wouldn’t you rather spend your health care dollars on prevention than on co-pays to the doctor when stress takes its toll and your health is in decline?
This brings me to teens and massage. If you think they aren’t stressed, and that their bodies aren’t at risk for physical and emotional stress-related illness, think again. Teens have hectic lifestyles and assume sedentary postures as much as adults do these days. Neck and back pain, depression, and anxiety are on the rise for teens and massage is a great way to help them cope. They may not complain of pain until they begin to break down, and since they are young and healthy, they are much more forgiving of prolonged stresses on the body. That doesn’t mean we should ignore them until there is a problem. And since we are responsible for teaching them how to take care of themselves, we should not only set the example, but offer them every opportunity to learn good health care practices. I have several clients who are teenagers and although they are a little apprehensive at first, they soon learn the benefits of massage and grow to respect the profession and what it can do for them.
I recommend a massage once a month for adults and at least once every three months for teens. You change the oil in your car that often; the least you can do is treat your body and that of your child with as much care. To find a qualified massage therapist, go to amta.org. There, you can locate a licensed therapist in your area. You may have to try a few before you find one that meets your needs. Everyone is different and there are several types of massage treatment available. Most importantly, you want someone who will work with you and your teen in a safe, comfortable, and professional setting, and someone you can trust to give you the best care. Massage should never “hurt” and you should feel better after treatment. Remember to drink plenty of water afterwards and don’t forget to schedule your next appointment. The more consistently you have massage, the more effective and long lasting the results will be.
If money is the issue, skip dinner and a movie once a month, or forego those Starbucks coffees and see how quickly you can save $70. Ask your teen if they are willing to give up getting a new video game or if they can agree to shop at Marshalls rather than American Eagle, and get you and your child the gift of good health. You’ll both be happy you did.
When did you last have a massage?
Freaking Out and Frog Eggs
Happy Teen Tips Friday, Readers! I’ve always been an avid outdoorswoman and lover of all things wilderness. When my boys were young we spent a great deal of time camping, hiking, and exploring nature. In the fifteen years I spent as a scout leader, I learned some incredible lessons that I will carry with me forever, none more important than “Always leave a site cleaner than when you found it.” I’m sure there are a dozen other lessons equally as important, but that one sticks in my mind wherever I go. There are so many amazing places to visit and share on this incredible planet. My hope is that our children and the children who come after them will still have a blue planet to call home centuries from now.
As I wrote my dystopian story that takes place fifty years in the future, I was forced to face the very real possibilities of apocalyptic changes that will alter the face of our planet and the life we know. The climate is changing rapidly, our economic state is bleak at best, and people are in frenzy over how quickly technology is advancing and changing our way of life…not always for the better. I keep trying to imagine what our world will look like in the not so distant future, but it kind of freaks me out and seems very sci-fi to me. I’m not one to fear the unknown or worry over things that are beyond my control, but I’m not surprised that kids are very stressed out these days. It’s a pretty scary time in human history to be looking ahead and wondering what’s in store for us just around the corner. I’m a positive thinker and it’s even challenging for me to see beyond the gloom and doom that seems to be so pervasive.
When I get all caught up in the chaos I have to take a step back to nature and remind myself to breathe and enjoy the moment—to notice things like frog eggs and flowers, appreciate a warm spring day, and look at all the beauty around me. It reminds me to do my part in keeping it all from being destroyed. That means picking up trash on the side of the road when I walk my dog, recycling my cans and bottles, and driving an economical car, just to name a few easy choices I can make every day. All I can do is do my small part, pray for our mother Earth, and try to pass on the love I have of nature to the next generation in hopes they will teach their children one day. If we all do our part, maybe…just maybe…there will be a happy ending around that corner.
What will you do today to spread your love for nature?
School's Out For Summer!
Now that school is winding down and kids are out for the summer break, how will they be spending their much needed down time? I’d like to offer some “healthy’ suggestions.
SLEEP-That’s right. It is completely normal for teens to require 10-12 hours of sleep. Throughout the school year, they are usually sleep-deprived and cranky as a result of having to drag their butts out of bed at the crack of dawn to catch their busses. With after school activities, sports, travel, dinner, homework, part time jobs, etc., they have to stay up late to actually have a life. It’s a healthy treat to let them sleep in. They will sooo appreciate it!
CAMP-In most towns, there are summer camps available. Check with your local Parks and Recreation Departments. Summer camp might be expensive, but there is sometimes assistance provided to make it affordable. Even if they are resistant, I’ve never met a kid who didn’t end up having a blast at summer camp. They will take those memories and the friendships they make with them for a lifetime. It’s a chance for kids to connect to nature and hang out with their peers in a supervised environment. This is also an opportunity for older teens to volunteer or find summer work.
SPORTS CAMPS-Week long sports camps are another way to keep kids active doing something they love. Offer to bring snacks or provide car pools whenever you can. As a mom of two grown sons, those opportunities to spend time watching your kids grow up are precious and fleeting. Find ways to participate and enjoy your time with them, even if it’s from a distance.
BEACH-Fun in the sun is the best part of summer, but a good time can quickly become a bummer if certain sun safety rules are not followed. Encourage your kids to wear sunblock every day regardless of where they are going. Buy a fragrance-free non-pore-clogging lotion that is at least a 30 SPF and keep it in your bathroom so they can get into the routine of putting it on as a moisturizer after showering. Encourage wearing hats and sun glasses and provide a beach umbrella when they head out for a day in the sun. Provide plenty of liquids, and stress hydration. I know it’s hard to influence kids to do the things that we know will keep them safe, but I know you are all sneaky and can manage at least some of these measures. Bribery and threats are useful toolsJ
POOL PARTIES-I have some great memories of neighborhood pool parties. If you have a pool, offer to host a party for your teens and their friends, placing limits on numbers, setting a time frame for the party, and asking some of the other parents for help in providing food and beverages. Maybe if you set the standard, other parents will follow and host the next one.
SLEEP-OVERS-In my day, sleep-overs were a chance to run amok. We slept outside in tents and then snuck out and wandered the streets. Don’t get me wrong; we had a blast and every teen needs a little freedom to explore, but I highly recommend a stricter hand in this area. If your teen is spending the night outside your home, make sure you have spoken to the parents, that there will be adult supervision, and that the kids are expected to meet a certain curfew. We weren’t bad kids, but we managed to wreak plenty of havoc in the neighborhood and were extremely lucky to survive unscathed.
I hope you and your kids have a healthy, happy summer!
Any other ideas for summer fun?
Let’s talk SEX
I know! Nothing like diving right into deep waters here, but I think teen sexuality is a topic that needs to be discussed and not shied away from. Whether parents like it or not, human sexuality is a natural part of healthy growth and teens will experiment in one form or another just as they are likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Not talking about it will not make the issues go away. My opinion, based on my own experience as both a once uninformed teen, and the mother of two grown sons, is that I think it’s best not to ignore it and try to pretend our little darlings are above all that. Instead, I think that education and open discussion are necessary for teens to get clear messages about how we feel about sex and what we expect of them regarding this touchy subject.
When I was a teenager back in the 1970’s, I was dealing with Catholic parents who had grown up during the depression with poor education and ultra-conservative views on sex. It was not discussed in our household, nor was birth control an option, or even a consideration. Thus, I was the youngest of seven children and the fifth daughter—two of whom were pregnant as teenagers. Yet, when I became sexually active as a teen, I had no sense whatsoever that I could or should ask about birth control. It wasn’t being discussed in school yet—although I had a lively “Girl’s hygiene” class in sixth grade—and no one was talking about it at home. I was even too embarrassed by the subject to ask my sisters. Despite the fact that everyone seemed to be doing it, SEX was taboo!
When I was pregnant with my second son and still a single mother at twenty-four, I decided it was time to unlearn all those mixed up crazy messages I’d learned about my body, sex, birth control, and the zillion other horrible messages I’d been programmed with by well-meaning but totally screwed up parents. Counseling and support groups were only the beginning of my recovery, but I did learn to talk openly and honestly with my children.
I’ve come a long way and so have the schools, but I still think we need to do more. Schools are talking and teaching much more about human sexuality. Common topics include sexual preference, birth control, and abstinence as personal choices that teens need to make for themselves based on their beliefs, and their individual moral compass. The huge movement toward acceptance of the LGBT community is long overdue. This is vastly different from how I was raised. When I became a mother at seventeen, I wanted to do things differently. I swore I would educate my sons about safe sex and that we would have frank and open discussions about everything. Well…let me just say, those were some interesting days.
When I got pregnant the second time, my oldest was six. Naturally he had questions. After explaining sex to my six year-old (in very simple terms—think birds and bees kind of talk) my son came home and said he really liked Susie from day care and could he have sex with her. After my mortification passed, I said…ummm…no. I went on to explain that making love was for grownups and for mommies and daddies. To which he said, “Oh, but I love her. And I want to be a daddy.” He was six…crap! It took several more of these frank discussions before my boy moved on to discussing the mating habits of Stag beetles with the neighbor kid whose mother gave me an earful. Luckily, girls became “icky” to him between the ages of seven and fourteen. It was about that time we talked about condoms and they became a standard stocking stuffer and Easter basket present.
Now before you judge me too harshly, the conversation that went with that discussion went something like this. “When you decide to have sex, make it mean more than just what your body is feeling or what you want at that moment. Ask yourself if you are going to have regrets. No matter what any girl says, what she wants more than anything is to be respected. And even if she says she is on birth control, you are responsible for your body, your actions, and the consequences of those actions.”
There is a lot of teen sex happening these days in YA stories. That’s not surprising since YA lit is all about dealing with the real lives of teens in today’s world. In Heaven is for Heroes, Jordie Dunne, my teen heroine is the one that keeps pressuring Alex, our young wounded Marine friend, to take their relationship further. He’s resistant for several reasons but this role reversal was fun to write. Boys aren’t always the instigators. There are a lot of almost moments in that book and when I do write about sex in ON THIN ICE, I don’t get into the graphic details, but focus more on the emotional impact and the consequences of Penny’s actions.
What do you all think? Too much sex in YA lit, or not enough parents talking about it?
Teens and Depression
If you have a teenager in your house, you know they can be moody, sullen, and irritable. From day to day, they can go from being withdrawn to outright belligerent. So how do we know when our teens are just being…well…teens, and when they are suffering from something more than normal hormonal upheaval?
Yes, the teen years are tough, but most teens balance the angst with good friendships, success in school or outside activities, and the development of a strong sense of self. Occasional bad moods or acting out is to be expected, but depression is something different. Depression can destroy the very essence of a teenager’s personality, causing an overwhelming sense of sadness, despair, or anger. According to HelpGuide.org( http://helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm), despite the fact that depression is highly treatable, only 1 in 5 teens receives help. Unlike adults who can seek treatment on their own, teens rely on adults to get them the help that they need.
What to look for in your teen:
Although many of these symptoms might be overlooked as “normal” teen behavior, if they persist and/or your teen expresses violent or suicidal tendencies, get help immediately. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Suicide warning signs in depressed teens
- Talking or joking about committing suicide.
- Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
- Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”).
- Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide.
- Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for good.
- Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves.
Teen suicide is on the rise. This may be due to increased social pressures, less parental interaction, issues with self-esteem, or even the pervasive sense of doom in growing up during a time of war and terrorism. Genetics and family history also play a part and teens with parents who suffer from depression are more likely to experience mental illness as well. Depression is very damaging when left untreated, so don’t wait and hope that the symptoms will go away. If you see depression’s warning signs, seek professional help. All hope is not lost!
For more information, including ways to encourage your teens to talk about their depression, and the effects of and treatments for depression, go to
Feedback? Observations? Concerns? Comments welcome.
Texting Thumb? Seriously?
In this new age of uber-technology there are a whole host of tech-related overuse injuries. Not the least of which is what I call, “Texting thumb,” aka. “Gamer’s thumb.” People at risk for this seemingly ridiculous syndrome are folks who spend an inordinate amount of time using a remote control, texting, or utilizing a video game controller. That’s right, teens are especially susceptible. The primary symptom is pain and inflammation in the extensor tendon of the thumb with use. The pain can move into the wrist and can even radiate up the forearm. It can lead to elbow, shoulder, and neck problems over time. (Check out the exercise to the left for a helpful pain reliever).
The solution seems simple enough. Limit or discontinue the activity that is causing the problem. Since most teens would rather have an arm cut off than give up their tech devices, the solution, although simple, is not so easy. If the condition goes untreated and becomes chronic, it can really put a person out of commission. It would make writing, gripping, lifting, carrying or even zipping up your pants, difficult. That’s a high price to pay for ignoring the early signs of this form of tendonitis. Is Angry Birds really worth it?
If you are one of the unlucky sufferers of First dorsal compartment tendonitis, more commonly known as deQuervain’s tendonitis, there are treatment options. Physical therapy, exercise, and rest are usually effective, but resuming the activity will likely bring on a return of symptoms unless changes are made. Obviously, prevention is the best solution. But if you aren’t willing to give up the techno-addiction, here’s what I recommend.
Treat texting and gaming as a sport. I know it sounds silly, but seriously, I know there are “texters” out there who move their thumbs across that keypad at warp speed. I personally, have the manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination of a three-toed sloth, but kids today are practically born with a controller in their hands.
So the first rule is: “Warm up”. You read it right. Shake your hands, wiggle your fingers, and do some shoulder rolls and neck stretches before engaging in your techno-athletic event. The second rule is: “Watch your posture.” Ergonomics isn’t just for the corporate world. Everyone has a PC and spends far too many hours in a seated, slouched, and sedentary position. This is something you can change and control. It might take some effort, and cost a few bucks to get the optimum set up, but it’s worth it to save yourself and your body the long term problems. And the third rule is: “Moderation.” Take frequent breaks, change positions, and rest your poor over stressed thumbs. As parents, it is your job to ensure the safety of your children. We might be laughing about how this problem seems unlikely to happen to us or our children, but I assure you that this condition is real and it’s on the rise. So limiting your children’s gaming and your teen’s texting habits is the responsible thing to do. Teach them some basic upper extremity stretches and be the one to set the example by instituting “No-tech” zones and “tech-free” times for you and your family. Need it be said? DO NOT TEXT AND DRIVE!
Happy, safe, and healthy texting, People!
The Independent Teen
In honor of Independence Day, I thought I would talk about how important it is for teens to explore their independence. Healthy development requires that we potty train our toddlers, teach kids how to tie their shoes, and when their ready, we send them packing off to college. Most kids want this independence and in fact will often drive parents crazy reminding them that they aren’t “a little kid anymore,” even when their eight-years-old. As parents, we want our kids to move through these stages and learn to be self-sufficient and productive adults, able to take on the world with confidence. But while we’re accompanying our children on this journey, it’s sometimes hard to know when to let go. By trying to force them through the stages before they’re ready or holding them back by hovering and not letting them fail, we interfere with the natural progression of their development and undermine that confidence we so want them to have. Finding a balance is very tricky when we feel so responsible for the outcome.
We feel responsible for our three-year-old who kicks and screams because they want candy at eight o’clock at night and we say no. We know better than they do what’s good for them and we don’t want to deal with the consequences of a toddler bouncing off the walls at midnight and then being cranky the next day. We feel responsible for our teenage daughters who kick and scream like that same toddler because they want to go to a party with their friends dressed like a hooker in downtown L.A. Our answer is the same…ummm…no. Because we care, and because we know better than they do what awaits them out in the world.
Protecting our children from the bad things in life and steering them in what we perceive to be the right direction is our job as parents. So how do we know when it’s time to let go? Eventually, we have to trust that we’ve done our best to teach them good values and hope they have the common sense to remember them when they need them. The question is, how do we do both? Protect them, and also allow them to grow into independent young adults who are capable and confident.
I think the answer has to do with defining boundaries and then letting go a little at a time. Whether it’s watching them take their first step, handing them the car keys, or choosing which colleges to apply to, if we set some boundaries, give them choices, and remain open to allowing them to find their own way through their journey, I think we will find that balance.
Parents and Teens, what do you think? What are the key ingredients in fostering independence?
What I know about food.
It’s always a big challenge to eat healthy around the holidays—or for most of us—all year long. I don’t have an easy fix, but I do have some thoughts on the topic. Since I’m big on lists, I thought I would share with you:
The Top Ten Things I Know About Food
- Food is not love.
- Vegetables always taste better than I think they will.
- Mashed potatoes and gravy are not the answer to my problems.
- Food is not the enemy.
- Chocolate is only a temporary solution.
- I always feel my best when I eat well.
- I have choices about what goes into my body.
- Eating too much sugar comes with a price.
- If I can’t pronounce what’s in it, I shouldn’t eat it.
- There’s no such thing as a perfect diet. I believe in the 80/20 rule. If I eat healthy 80% of the time, I can eat pizza, chocolate, or gummy bears 20% of the time. NO GUILT REQUIRED. Bonus observation: Deprivation leads to binging. Binging leads to guilt. Guilt leads to internalized anger. Internalized anger leads to depression. Depression leads to overeating. Break the cycle by taking charge and choosing to be good to yourself. Treat yourself like you are your own best friend.
Ultimate Snack Makeover
Everybody likes a snack now and then, right? But if you’re like most Americans, snacking has become yet another addiction. We snack between meals, after meals, when we’re bored, while we’re working, and even in the car. Kids have sugary cereals or carb-loaded bagels for breakfast. They have processed snacks during and after school. And then there’s the expectation of dessert after dinner. It’s true that six small meals a day is better for your digestion, weight maintenance, and keeping blood sugar levels on an even keel, but it’s also true that quality matters. A common problem with “snacks” these days is that they are increasingly too high in sugar and processed ingredients, resulting in some staggering obesity statistics in children ages 2-19. According to the American Heart Association, 1 in 3 children are overweight and 1 in 6 is obese. For further information, you can see other important statistics here.
There are other factors that complicate the problem. Sedentary lifestyles and the obsession with passive entertainment are at the top of the list. We all know what it’s like to sit at a computer for long periods of time and how challenging it is to get enough physical activity. We can’t necessarily control how many hours we have to sit, but we can definitely control what we put into our mouths and what we provide for our children by way of snack foods.
Here are my suggestions for alternatives:
Snacks to skip Snack Makeover
Chips Food Tastes Good-Olive chips or multigrain baked chips
Packaged crackers and processed cheese Lite Baby Bella cheese snacks
Donuts, pastries, cookies Veggies and dip (Greek strained yogurt with dill)
or celery sticks with peanut butter, apples and cheese
Sugary cereal Egg white omelet with salsa, Hodgson Mills Oat Bran
Cereal, or Steele Cut Oatmeal with fruit and honey
Frozen snacks (pizza, ice cream, chicken wings) are highly processed, high fat, high sodium foods. Replace with homemade, fresh foods, with no salt added.
Make snacks high in fiber, low in sugar, and as close as possible to their raw form. Nuts, seeds, and high protein foods will keep you full longer and reduce sugar cravings.
Much of this is common sense, but with food prices on the rise and busy schedules dictating food prep time, we all fall into bad habits. Don’t we owe it to ourselves and our kids to snack healthy?
Okay, readers, it’s your turn. What is your favorite snack makeover?
Yoga for Teens
When they hear the word yoga, most people picture yogi gurus standing on their heads or twisted up like pretzels. That is one extreme result of traveling the yoga path, but in reality, flexibility is not a prerequisite for doing yoga. As a matter of fact, yoga is perfect for the terminally inflexible. I think it’s especially helpful for teenagers for several reasons.
- Yoga helps to decrease pain! When you’re going through a “growth spurt,” your muscles often can’t quite keep up with your bone growth. The results are what your mom typically calls “growing pains.” Learning to stretch properly and holding yoga postures for five to ten slow, deep breaths can increase strength, balance and flexibility over time, and reduce all those aches, pains and cramps you feel in your legs at night.
- Yoga reduces stress! And nobody is as stressed out as today’s teenager. Whether it’s exams, sporting events, bad dates, or parents and teachers that have you pulling your hair out, learning to take deep breaths and focus your mind can help you to deal with any problem that comes your way.
- Yoga improves posture! Really, it does. Sitting hunched over a desk all day, carrying twenty pounds of books in your backpack, and generally trying to blend in and hide in the crowd leads to poor posture. Slouching, when left untreated can lead to a ridiculous amount of problems, not the least of which is neck and back pain. It can interfere with proper breathing and cause muscle imbalances that eventually lead to things like shoulder impingement, carpal tunnel syndrome, and chronic headaches. Without correction, eventually you end up looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Seriously!
If you’ve thought about yoga and would like to try it, there are plenty of opportunities. Check out your local yoga studios and see if they have any free community classes. Most yoga studios these days offer classes for teens. If you’re not sure you want to be in a group setting there are Yoga programs on cable television, videos you can get from your local library, or books galore on the subject. Complete with pictures, instructions, and alternative postures if you are flexibility challenged. Give it a try, and I guarantee you’ll be glad you did!
Warning! Caution! Beware!
Yoga is not meant to be approached as an athletic event. It shouldn’t be painful and if you find yourself holding your breath during any poses, you should back off until you can breathe freely. Don’t ever let anyone push you to do something that your body doesn’t want to do. Yoga SHOULD NOT BE PAINFUL.
Yoga is not a religion, but it is a philosophy and a way of life that will lead to peace, good health and enlightenment. It should be approached with respect for the body and a willingness to grow. If you go into with that attitude, the sky’s the limit. You might even find yourself standing on your head or twisted up like a pretzel one of these days.
What are moms for?
When my boys were little, getting them to bathe was a chore. Every bath time was a fight to get them in the tub, followed by another fight to get them clean. But once they hit puberty, I suddenly found myself trying to convince them that they couldn’t wash off the first fourteen years of dirt by spending hours in the shower twice a week. In this case, frequency wins over duration every time. Eventually, I came to understand that no matter how much they seemed to bathe, the amount of testosterone pumping through their systems left them well…a bit musky smelling. Similar to camel dung, I imagine. This led to a nauseating and overpowering use of cologne and deodorant in vast quantities. I often had to remind them that using more wasn’t better, nor was it a replacement for daily showering. To do my part, I bought deodorant soaps and took requests for shampoos and deodorants that they thought would make them smell like the Irish Spring guy or the AXE commercials, but nothing seemed to be strong enough to stand up against the strength of teenage hormones.
Boys aren’t the only ones with this dilemma, although girls tend to be more aware of hygiene as a rule and cover it more effectively with their girly soaps and body sprays. But if your teens are athletes, the rancid scent of body odor is not a respecter of gender and the chemicals they use to cover it only adds to the funk. As a mother with a sensitive nose, you have not experienced anything until you’ve smelled the inside of a hockey bag, or had a pair of baseball cleats or basketball sneakers make themselves known from fifteen feet away. I’m sure teens don’t enjoy this predicament any more than we do, so as parents we do need to be tolerant and supportive.
But how much to we have to endure? To save myself from certain peril, I started my sons doing their own laundry at about the age of eleven or twelve. The rule was if I could smell it through a closed door, it was time to do laundry. It never ceased to amaze me how disgusting a boy’s bedroom could really get. I never had girls, but I’m pretty sure that left to their own devices, they are at least one step ahead of their male counterparts in wanting someplace suitable to entertain friends—a place that did not smell like an armpit or dirty socks.
Aside from teaching them good hygiene and hoping that they would eventually catch on, I also tried desperately to teach my boys about good skin care. Thank goodness neither of them suffered from terrible acne, but what they did have, responded really well to Neutrogena facial cleansers. They actually used that to great result and it was well worth the money to have them enjoy the blessing of fairly clear skin throughout high school.
Not so easy, was getting them to floss. I know, I know, now I’m just being unreasonable. It’s one thing to expect them to brush their teeth every day--maybe even the requisite two-three times a day is a stretch, but flossing? Really? Yes, really. Now, I know that there are even adults out there who don’t floss regularly, but I believe it’s because it wasn’t a habit they learned early on in life. Just like brushing, I think flossing should be taught as soon as children have enough teeth in their mouth to stand on their little stools and suck the toothpaste off the brush. They have great flossing tools these days that are portable and user friendly. I give my kids a pack every year in their Christmas stockings right alongside the condoms. If we want them to know it’s important, we have to be diligent about telling them as often is as necessary. We may get as tired of nagging as they are of hearing us, but hey…that’s what moms are for.
Feel free to leave a comment below. Refer to a particular article above or feel free to ask questions!
Blessings to you and your teens, and have a healthy, happy day!