In this most momentous time of your imminent high school graduation, I want to point out some little things because hidden within their nooks and crannies are my love and admiration for you.
For starters, here’s a very odd little thing, I have been counting down your last days of school in sandwich crusts. I can’t pinpoint which morning I started cutting them off of your sandwiches for your school lunches, but it was way after I needed to hold a firm line to teach that tantrums over personal particularities are exhausting for everyone, including you. While I was never a fan of the martyrdom message lurking in “you get what you get and you don’t get upset,” I tried to instill that a certain amount of flexibility makes for a more enjoyable life; I mean, just don’t eat the crusts if you don’t want them. But sometime after bedtime snuggles ended, and right as the truly big issues of teendom loomed, I started taking the three seconds to slice those toasty brown edges off. This little task that felt like the last straw for the drudgery of parenting when you were seven years old, became a moment to show how much I loved you as you mastered more and more on your own. I continued making your school lunches way after you were capable to show you that even proficient people deserve support, and I guillotined those crusts precisely because you no longer expected it.
Speaking of morning rituals, what is up with the cat? How can she so casually and randomly refuse to jump up on the bench next to you for the time-honored breakfast nuzzles and bits of bacon? It’s all I can do not to yell, “You fool! Your entire life is going to change and you don’t even know it! Enjoy these last days!” I have been bound and determined to be in the present and not waste one moment of your senior year fretting about you leaving in August—and to not burden you with my parental emotions—but the cat’s ignorance about your scheduled departure date has me feeling some feelings. They say ignorance is bliss, but I don’t think that is the case as the ending of this era looms. High school graduation is the big kahuna of childhood “lasts,” but it is built upon a foundation of final acts I didn’t even know were coming: the last time I wrapped you in a towel after your bath, the last time you ran into my arms off of the bus, the last time you grabbed for my hand. The last, the last, the last. I don’t think my heart could have withstood the anticipation of the passing of every landmark, but I’m glad I’ve had the perspective to not take the milestones of senior year for granted.
And finally, I speak about little things because you blow me away with your grand swipes at life that create jet streams to pull me out of my comfort zone, too. You had me in Washington DC for the March for Our Lives rally even though I shun large crowds and often don’t stand up for my beliefs in favor of keeping the peace. Because of your convictions, I got to discover a little piece of myself again. And mentioning a jet stream is more than a metaphor because you actually had me flying through the air over the edge of a skyscraper on a mechanical swing because of your sense of adventure. I most definitely was not clamoring to flap above the earth, but if you could be plucky, so could I.
But while the big things germinate personal growth, it’s in the little things where our relationship grows: the Netflix bingeing, the sharing of novels, the Snapchatting about the dog. It’s the daily quiet times where we can just be, and that is what I am going to miss most of all.
I believe in you more than you can ever know, and I thank you for taking me on this parenting ride.
Oh, sigh, It really is all about us, isn’t it? Let’s just say this: it’s a whole lot easier commiserating over things like sippy cups taking over your kitchen and goldfish crumbs smashed into the carpet of your minivan than failed drivers’ tests and low SAT scores. Some of this stems from the truth that your child does not necessarily want you spilling all the details. Respecting your child as a person means that you could and should put a lid on it.
Some of it though comes from a desire to not be judged as a mom. Different methods of handling potty-training or toddler meltdowns can be entertaining. Different methods of handling teen drinking can cause an uproar at Girls’ Night Out. In any case, It’s the height of irony that at the moment when you probably need it most, moms can have a hard time finding support from their tribe. Heck, even finding time to get together with the busy schedules that accompany teen parenting can be challenging. In any case, it can make traveling this stretch of the parenting highway a little lonesome.
All of these ladies are our buddies from our young mom days. It’s tough to find time to see each other but when we do, it’s like no time has passed.
2. You won’t always like your kid.
Love them? Of course! Like them? Well, let’s just say it’s complicated. Kids trying to figure out who they are means that often they are unrecognizable to you. The girl who ate twenty hot dogs at the county fair is now a vegan. But that’s not even the worst thing. The real sticking point comes when she decides to take down the family holiday meal. The 360s that happen can be disorienting, but they are also oddly comforting. There were parts of every stage and age of parenting that weren’t fun or funny. The same is true for the teen years.
But some things never change. Pumpkin patches are always fun.
3. You will feel like you are doing it wrong.
Just know that the moment is coming when you will feel bad about yourself, your kid, every decision up to this point, all of it, every last thing. These are the moments when you will lean into your loneliness from your friends, your sense of alienation from your child, and just need a major chocolate fix. Take that moment to exhale, breathe, regroup. You and your child will live to fight another day. More likely, tomorrow will be rainbows and sunshine, because that’s how things go on Planet Teen.
But they can also save the day, like at Grandmom’s 90th birthday party, and that will make you feel better about all of it. Promise.
4. Things will go wrong.
In the time I have been parenting teens, we have had concussions, car accidents, break-ups, break-outs, heartbreaks, and losses. Expect that balls will get dropped, mistakes will be made, and fenders will be dented. It makes it so much easier to take that phone call when it comes. One of my favorite professors said that a great gift to give a child is a back door. Come up with graceful ways to help your child retreat from situations that get out of hand. Give yourself and your child grace when they do.
5. Things will go right.
The stars will align just so sometimes. At these moments, the grumpiness will recede and all those forgotten aspects of your child’s character will shine through. Forget everything that went wrong. Revel. A lot. Take a picture when you can.
The infamous New Year’s Day hike. Every last teen was not having it, but then the winds changed.
6. Sometimes you will like them so much it hurts.
They are going to be hard to take sometimes, but they are also going to blow your mind with hints of the amazing things to come. Because crowing from the rooftops about their awesomeness is frowned upon by said offspring, you might feel lonely in this knowledge. However enjoy your moment and spread the news surreptitiously. Recently, one of my friends commented about a teen playing kindly with her tween at a swim meet. She was surprised and impressed. While I was happy for her experience, I wasn’t as taken aback by it. I made the point that I have never NOT seen a teen be generous to a younger child they knew. Teens like to keep their goodness simmering below the surface of potential peer review, but there is so much good news to be found. Celebrate the small victories and point out all the good you see.
She did not have to ask them twice to play with her.
7. Sleep will be a luxury again.
Sure you are prepared to lose some zzzzs waiting up for driving teens or worrying about college, but you might not know how much. Adjusting your parenting to adolescent biorhythms means late night Netflix binging and baking chocolate chip cookies at eleven o’ clock at night. All of this is to say that being ready to drop everything and hang means that you might want to invest in some industrial strength under eye concealer too.
Who could say no this face? Why, of course, I will make cookies with you after my bedtime!
8. Friends reign supreme.
Happy families know this. Happy families honor this. Happy teens reward your attention to this important truth.
As you can see, we weren’t really holding back so much as pacing ourselves to reveal the full picture of what it’s like parenting on Planet Teen. In spite of everything, we really are pretty happy here. We think you will be too.
So the countdown is on again: we are sending another kid to college. While this means that already tight spring schedules just got “sweet-cheezits-loosen-that-buckle-please” uncomfortable, there is a silver lining here: it’s not quite as rough the second time around. Now don’t get me wrong, I still get a little catch in my throat thinking that this time next year I’ll be the only girl living here besides the dog. And I will miss having my girl’s special blend of spunk and sass on the daily too . But having been in this place before means that I can lean into the excited part a little more than I did the first time around. We can hang out in all the upsides of this big new step for her without wallowing too long in the emotional messiness for me. If I have to keep sending kids out into the Great Beyond known as college, I might as well share some of the things I learned sending another kid to college.
1.There’s more financial aid.
This silver lining that came with the shiny acceptance letters was much appreciated. Oh, the joy! If I could have fired cannons into the air, I would have been that obnoxious neighbor. With one son currently residing on a campus, the gods of FAFSA were kind and benevolent in ways they had not been before. As a mother who will have a child (or two) in college for the next twelve years, this was the best gift ever.
2.There’s less angst.
When I was sending my oldest to college for the first time, I wrote about our emotional fall (read: MY over-the-top emotionally splashy fall), my resolutions (which should have included not tearing up every five seconds), and some things I needed to say to him (cue the tissues) before he crossed that stage into the brave new world of college. I couldn’t imagine my everyday world without him in it. Furthermore, I was bucking at the very idea of it altogether. My people took some time getting used to our new normal too.
Ellen, in her way, was less fraught in the build-up to college, but she wrote beautifully about the change for her household when her daughter came home for Thanksgiving. The truth is that having your child move up and on is a big change. But the more beautiful truth is that moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving away. We parent differently the ones who aren’t in our nest, but parent them we still do. Exhibit A: the 19 year old calling home from his Canadian Spring Break, because his route home was literally closed due to a freak March storm.
“Help me, Mom and Dad, you’re my only hope.” Nah, he didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what I heard. They are still ours; we are still theirs. Time, distance, and a college dorm room doesn’t change that. Acknowledging this makes it easier to go to the college’s Accepted Student Day and imagine it as your child’s home away from home for the next four years.
3.There’s a different list of Must Haves/Would Likes/Etc
The first time around, my son had a very specific dream of sports journalism and we were laser-focused in our search. While my daughter can fill out a March Madness bracket with the best of them, she has different aspirations. But the college list we built this time wasn’t only different due to intended major. My son liked smaller schools; my daughter thought the bigger the better. He was open to rural; she was insistent on a city. What I really loved this time around was seeing the way she was already starting to spread her wings as she focused on what was important to her. The conversations that evolved over college catalogs were enlightening and let me into her head a little.
4.There’s a better To-Do List
The really great thing about doing this a time or five is that you learn a thing or two. Like . . .
Just how important it is to try and get an ACT and SAT in before the end of Junior year. Honestly, if you have a child on the advanced math track, you could even think about scheduling at the end of sophomore year. Ideally, the best time is when your child has finished Algebra II, and it’s still fresh in her mind.
Create the high school resume as you are living it. No joke. My high school sophomore just pulled up the document he started and added his winter volunteering and sports. It’s so much easier to build as you go.
Build relationships with mentors. College recommendations are important elements of the application. When they come from someone who knows, understands, and likes your child, they could tip the scale to your child’s favor. I encourage my kids to write thank you notes to every coach, teacher, and advisor. When they reach out years later for a letter, hopefully, the gesture will resonate and help that adult remember them positively.
Focus on moving your needle forward. The first time around, we bowed before the cult of the almighty resume. While it IS important, my time spent with many a college
recruiter has changed my thinking. Resumes should tell a story of personal growth, not just be busting at the seams with activities. To that end, we talk to our younger kids about following ideas and exploring pursuits. “You love boats? Have you tried to get your boater’s license?” “You love basketball but didn’t make the team? What else can you do?” In both cases, my kids responded in ways that made them more interesting in person, not just on paper. We also push them outside their comfort zones. “So your friends aren’t doing it? Tell me again why you don’t want to.”
Take younger siblings on college trips. It’s nice to have time alone with your child on these visits too, but if you have siblings that aren’t that far behind, it’s a great opportunity to get a two-fer. The conversations about the school will differ of course, but they are valuable in helping create those future lists. An addendum: if you are already planning travel near a college, swing by and check it out even if it’s just a walk through campus.
5.There’s better downtime
Knowing how things will change means we leap at chances to create memories
together when we can. Whether it was doing an escape room together, hitting the road, taking an international trip, or even just hanging at home watching movies, we focus less on ourselves and more on just being together. Most of the time. We are a regular family and sometimes retreating to our individual corners save lives. But we ARE mindful of our time now in ways that make for an overall better family life.
While it’s true that my family will not be off this college-launching ride for awhile, it’s definitely more fun the second time around. We are happier sending another kid to college not because we love her less, but because we are appreciating the moment more. This time around we have clearer eyes to see what lies ahead: a chance to watch her knock it out of the ballpark. Watch out, world, she’s on her way! Stay tuned for what I learn as we launch 3, 4, and 5!
So you have a teenager or two? Welcome to Planet Teen!
No time to gripe about the rough landing here on Planet Teen, focus now on what’s coming before you get blindsided by the natives. We’ve been here about 25 minutes longer than you have, but due to the constant turnover that is Planet Teen, we’re qualified to share some of what we have learned here. We can provide newbies with some guidance, veterans with some commiseration, and decorated war heroes of multiple tours with high fives and the massive amounts of chocolate they deserve. Here are some things that will help you and your kids survive and thrive during the teen years.
1. The Smell
The atmosphere here is different: you can feel it in the air and probably smell it, too. Planet Teen pulses with electric, frantic energy and smells an awful lot like the inside of an Abercrombie and Fitch store. Except when the wind changes. Then it just smells like B.O.
This is especially pleasant on long car rides together.
2. The Shifting Terra Firma
The ground is a-shakin’ and a-shiftin’ here, people, and no expert in the world can predict when the quakes will hit.
Exhibit A: “D” on a test? Wuteva. Missing headband? Total building-dropping, house-leveling, bridge-buckling quake. Some people may say that the teen year are hostile. We prefer to think of them more like a shifting, puzzling, exasperating landscape. The key to happiness here is to remember the rules to keep you and your kids moving in the right direction.
3. The Landscape
Not just “Hey there’s a shirt or six on the floor” messy, we’re talking stinky, nasty, smelly armpit of a place littered with dirty socks, muddy cleats, damp towels, skeletons of projects past, and snack wrappers. Even for the most roll-with-the-punches Mommas, Planet Teen’s littered landscape will threaten to break you. We have tips to help tame it, but be ready or be buried.
4. The Towels
Teendom is a cold, damp place for adults because the natives of Planet Teen line their lairs, formerly known as their rooms, with damp towels. Maybe the humidity is good for their skin. We have been here awhile and have no solution to this one. Sorry.
5. The Language Barrier
Teenagers compose fiction they dispense as fact as effortlessly as breathing. You would think only major events would warrant this level of creativity, but it starts slinging without rhyme or reason. Think of it as the mire to slog through every day to get to the real stories, no matter how boring. It might make you tired until you realize that the really wonderful whipped cream and cherry on top is their indignation when you suggest that their story might be two degrees south of complete BS. Best to bookmark some ways to communicate effectively with your kids about everything from sex to dating to alcohol. Channel you inner Dory and just keep swimming, swimming, swimming.
It’s not all terrifying. There are positive things that come from big kid situations.
6. The Code.
On top of shifting landscapes, cold derrieres, and the language barrier, you are going to want to learn their secret codes and cryptic handshakes if you want even a remote handle on what they are thinking. This means you need to learn every last text acronym, read every last Tweet, check out every last Facebook update, and make a habit of scanning Instagram. We kid you not: the tribe is a-rumbling even when the natives look all tucked in and cherubic. That’s one reason that it’s pretty good idea to meet them where they are, like on Snapchat. It’s all about connecting with your kid.
At times, it feels like between the milestones like prom and graduation, the big adult stuff like driving, and the hazards like drinking that Planet teen wants to take you down.
Well, buck up, and remember that for all the crazy, rocky, smelly, damp, silly and scary things rocking Planet Teen, you and your child are not adversaries, but fellow travelers trying to make it to the next stage with your sanity intact. This is temporary visa status, not a permanent residence, so bring a plucky attitude, a sense of humor, and don’t forget the chocolate. We’re all going to figure this out together, but we are going to need the fortification. And we’re off. . .
If you are one of the many filling out high school course loads for next year, we know you have a laundry list of things to tell your kid before high school. But long before you get into the heavy conversations about expectations and goals, light years before the talks about peer pressure and all its attendant things, and eons before the conversations about college, first things first. Freshman year will work a morphing magic like no other on your sweet child. Even while your head knows that you are now looking up at your darling boy, your heart is gonna be slow to catch up. To avoid a nasty Tuesday morning kick in the feels from the Facebook Memory feature next year, it’s best to remember that kids sprint at extra zulu warp speed through this year. If you want to keep up, you have to be prepared.
First reaction: deep down soul level joy. I mean, come on, this is GOLD. Second reaction: Dude, where did that baby boy go?
With this sprinting in mind, remember that the easy time you have shared up to now is about to shrink into fleeting, flashing moments too. High school busy is a whole new brand of busy and you won’t believe it until you are living it. But thanks to those pesky hormones, the moments you do have will not all be precious either. So as we just crossed two more kids over into high school, we thought we would share some of the things we talk about when we talk about high school. If you are crossing a kid over into high school, this might help you.
1. TV/Movie High School bears little resemblance to the actual halls you will walk for the next four years.
Our kids, and our girls in particular, feel that media has let them down. There are pressures for sure, but they are not so finely drawn or amped up as when Disney depicts them. Are there cliques? Absolutely. Do they look like Mean Girls? We wish it was that obvious to find the rotten apple in the bunch. The truth is that high school relationships look a lot like adult relationships and sometimes they won’t know when their friend will turn on them. On the other hand, high school friends can be some of the most important ones they’ll ever make. Finding the people who will walk with them as they make that transition from kid to adult might be one of the highlights of their high school years. Or not. Best to set realistic expectations before they even walk through the front door.
2. Plan their escape route before they need one.
The time for solving problems is before you actually have them. We both tell our kids to throw us under the bus if necessary. In Erin’s family, they pull the old “my mom would kill me/won’t let me/said no” trick. Kids bow before a mean, crazy mom. The offenders will back off and your kid gets off scot-free. We also advocate pulling a “sick kid” when the need arises. If our kids are at a party that’s headed south, they can text “sick kid” and they will get a pick-up. All conversations about the situation will be delayed until everyone is “feeling better”.
3. Trust is earned.
Love is unconditional, but trust is not. A casual lie about having cleaned your room when it takes all of three seconds and one whiff to verify that this is in fact not even passingly true? Worse than not cool, it erodes trust. Hit hard on the notion that casual lying when the truth would suit them better makes it really hard to believe them when the stakes are higher.
4. High School is a great time to explore and try new things.
Let them know that they can try new and different things or even put on old familiar ones and take it to the next level. High school is about finding new friends, interests, passions, and most importantly, uncovering who they really are. We are all about encouraging them to try on different hats.
5. Be your best self.
One of the challenges of parenting teens is that they can look lazy, insolent, disengaged, and apathetic. Don’t get sucked into the labeling trap. These are masks for things like fear and anxiety. Remind teens daily of your expectations and be ready with consequences when they are not met.
6. Safety first.
In both of our homes, we talk candidly about what that means in all aspects of their lives. This includes hard talks about dating, sex, alcohol, and everything else. The stakes are so high that they need honest information from us as well as opportunities to ask questions and get answers. We rely heavily on facts and have adopted “all questions welcomed” policies. With our oldest kids in college or headed there, we are not above giving advice whether they ask for it or not. And we definitely send up prayers like this or this in hopes of graceful passage through this phase of life. Sometimes, we even get a little mushy as the big milestones hit, but that’s a mom’s perogative and we’re taking it.
Before the pretty pictures, about 5,000 conversations need to happen first.
7. Encourage the buddy system.
Two Jiminy Crickets are better than one, so encourage kids to travel in twos everywhere. Boy or girl, there is safety in numbers. In a pair of buddies, usually one of them is able to put the brakes on something unsafe or get help or call foul.
8. The life you are supposed to have will not pass you by.
Good or bad, all of these high school experiences are building the uniquely awesome story that belongs uniquely to them. Even if things don’t always turn out the way they hoped, there is value in the experience.
9. Dream Big, but Work Hard
Frame the future realistically. Some things will come easy for them and others won’t. Ellen’s go-to t-shirt motto is “Hard work beats talent when talent hardly works.” Pretty much sums it up. If you are talented, you need to bring your A game. Every Day. If you have struggles, you can beat them with hard work and determination. Now is a great time to start thinking about post high school plans and plotting steps to make that plan happen.
10. Get Moving
High school life got your kid down? Boyfriend troubles making you all glum? AP anxiety got the whole family tied up in knots? Take this show on the road. Tell your kids right now that putting one foot in front of the other is the first step to getting over whatever obstacle lies before them. We have no idea why putting one foot in front of the other works, but it does. It is also a great way to get the conversation flowing between you. And chances are when you get your kid talking, it won’t just be about high school or classes or stresses but about what really matters: you and your kid.
In all honesty, high school is a juggernaut on fast forward.
If you’ve walked through a mall recently, you can sense that something big is just around the corner. Do you see those dress racks in disarray? The shoe department in shambles? The make-up counter mobbed? Prom is a-coming. As parents, we need to be ready for the big moment, but it’s more than charging the camera battery, clearing the SD card, and posting for posterity on Facebook. Prom is for the kids, but parents play a big part in what’s truly important in the three ring circus that surrounds this high school milestone. Be the sane and happy ringmaster you need to be with our handy parenting checklist.
Your goal: Get your kid to understand that this is not the pinnacle of his or her life no matter what Sixteen Candles may lead them to believe.
Boys pretty much just need to decide on the color of the tie and cumberbund and they are good to go.
To this end, set firm limits on what you think is reasonable and appropriate to pay for prom and all its many trappings. Also, ask your child to think in advance about who is paying for what. Just to get the old budget pencil moving in an accurate and realistic direction, make sure you factor in the cost of the following:
Dress or Tux
Before prom activities
After prom activities
Flowers are still a thing. Make sure you order them early in the week and decide who will pick them up. You want this smile at your house. You NEED this smile!
Once you decide what is reasonable, stick to it. No sweet puppy dog eyes to get a little more dough. College is on the horizon. Time to start thinking like a poor college kid.
Your goal: Nailing the jello that is a high schooler’s plans to the wall. Get your kiddo to come up with a plan about what is happening when and where–then try, try, TRY! to get them to stick to it. Scratch that: Your realistic goal is to just ride the wave. This should come as no surprise to you if you are parenting a teen, but kids like to do things as a pack. This includes getting ready and taking pictures together before prom. What you may not know, if you have not gone through this before, is that these activities sometimes take place in more than one location so your pack becomes a migrating herd.
For your sanity, start asking questions about these pesky little details as soon as your child has Instagrammed that promposal, but sketch up that schedule/Venn diagram/flow chart in pencil with a big ol’ eraser at the ready. Moods, friendships, and dates can shift like the wind. Know full well that you may not have an actual plan on something as simple as where you’re going to take pictures until the day or even hour before.
Your goal: To not spend the evening yoked to your cellphone tracking your child’s every movement or replaying every after school special you ever saw about prom night.
Thanks for driving, man! I really appreciate it!
Determine long before anyone is buckled in who will be driving, whose car they will be taking, or if they will be renting transportation for the night. Before you scoff at the idea of a limo, remember that while prom should not break the bank, it would be super nice for your own peace of mind to not have anyone driving.
Your goal: Check yourself. Check your kid.
Not every kid thinks prom is the bomb and that’s ok.
Time to take the emotional temperature of your teen. Not every kid thinks this will be the most amazing night of their life, and even those who do may be sorely disappointed. Find out where your kid is on the scale from overly excited to completely not interested, but make sure your own “prom from hell” stories or regrets are firmly tucked away. The reality of prom today is very different from the made-for-TV versions or the one you had oh-so-many-moons ago. Kids today are more casual about whether or not they bring a date, and there aren’t the same social repercussions for skipping it all together. Don’t let your own history color the story happening in your house right now. The best we can do as parents is to adjust the expectations so they aren’t just realistic, but in line with our own child’s wishes.
Your goal: To be honest about how you feel about hemlines, necklines, and any other lines.
All families make these decisions for themselves, but whether you have a boy or a girl, a conversation about how to respectfully conduct themselves is part of parenting kids to be thoughtful, considerate dates or attendees. We love these Prom Commandments , so let your kids take a gander at these before the big night. This is also a great time to talk to your children about not increasing their risk for skin cancer. Tanning beds are never a good idea.
Your goal: To make your child’s special memory a family one.
This is a moment in your child’s life. Whether you have a sprawling brood or a travel-sized one, remember to include the siblings in the memory-making, if only to get precious photo gems like these. It’ll be fun to compare them when your youngest get to go to their own proms.
7. Post Prom
Your goal: Be one of the options.
Some schools have formal post-prom events, but they pale in comparison to the volume and allure of all the other post prom options. If you are so inclined, sing it far and wide that your humble abode is wide open as post-prom central. If you are not up for it, touch base with the angels who are taking that hit for the night. This is definitely an instance where checking in with the other parents is a must.
Your goal: Be honest. Be thorough. Be heard.
Now is not the time to shy away from truthful conversations about alcohol. Lay it all out on the table about what you expect, what they might encounter, what the stakes are, and what the consequences could be. Thoroughly discuss legalities, dangers, and how alcohol can lower inhibitions. Seniors need to know that plans for the future like college acceptances and scholarships can all be dashed with a suspension or expulsion.
But you don’t stop there. Craft a strategy for the night with your kid so you can help them out if they get in over their heads. Be their scapegoat and their safe ride with few questions asked.
We have tips for how to get the conversation rolling, but if you take nothing else away, heed this: don’t wait until prom night to start this conversation. The earlier you start talking, the better for you all.
Your goal: Be honest. Be thorough. Be heard.
Pretty much everything in the drinking section above and then some. But once again, it’s not ideal to start hemming and hawing your way through the birds and the bees on the night of prom. Start this conversation early and if you need some tips to get started, we have them here.
So there you have it . . .
Prom may be just one moment in the life of a high schooler, but there’s a carload of emotional baggage tied into this one lil’ old night. Let this guide provide some reassurance that you have done all you can on your end to make the night safe, happy, and memorable for your teen.
Both of our high school freshman did something so crazy, so borderline nutty, so outrageous in today’s youth sports culture that we feel like revolutionaries admitting it: they tried out AS NEWBIES for high school teams!
That’s right. With no resume filled with travel teams, regional championships, or even skills beyond rudimentary, Ellen’s daughter tried out for field hockey and Erin’s son tried out for lacrosse. What’s more, they MADE their respective teams. Say what?!
Now we harbor no dreams of Tokyo 2016 for these two, but we’ve both found the experience of being new to a game more beneficial for our kids—and us—than we could have imagined. In fact, we dare say their experiences actually highlight what sports is at its best and most profound. You know we’re both big fans of sports and what they can do for kids. Now, we’re also big fans of stepping out on that ledge and trying brand new ones because there’s much more to them than superstars and scholarships. Here are five great reasons to let your kids try something new.
1. Taking Measured Risks is Good for Kids
Teens love that rush of adrenaline, breaking the mold, and trying out new identities. Learning a new sport provides this without detrimental consequences.
Erin: My son decided two weeks before Christmas that he was going to try out for lacrosse. He took a quick 6 week crash course in lacrosse at the local rec center before try-outs. I think he appreciates lacrosse as much for its newness to him as for the game itself. I appreciate that it gives my hard-playing son a proper outlet for his energy. It doesn’t just keep him off the street, it keeps him off his brothers’ backs, and for that we are all grateful.
Ellen: I have always loved sports because it’s a place to learn the difference between failure and taking the chance to succeed. The most successful athletes often “fail” the most. Michael Jordan revealed, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” I saw my own daughter growing out of her need for perfection—one of the biggest success killers out there—when she jumped into field hockey.
2. New Friends
For our kids and for us. Stepping out of the comfort zone of friends they have been hanging out with for years is great. We get some fringe benefits too: a fresh crop of sideline sitters. Sure, their earnest talk of the best sports camps, trainers, travel teams, and coaches might needle us, but we can just move our seat at the next game.
Erin: My son was convinced before he went to his new high school that he would play tennis, a game he enjoys and actually plays. But he also plays in the band and, in our school, there is a huge overlap between kids in band and tennis. A factor in his decision to try lacrosse wasn’t just the newness of the game, but the fresh faces he would meet there. If high school is largely about trying on the different hats to see which will fit, this is not such a bad strategy, especially at a new school.
Ellen: Girls have cliques. My daughter has been in the same school system for her entire education. Trying a new sport put her with some new girls, and let her see some old faces in a new light. It was a great way to add some freshness to her freshman year.
3. Sports, at its heart, is supposed to be about challenging yourself mentally and physically.
Nothing pushes both of these limits like learning a new sport. The truth is, in our small pond here, we’re not overrun with college scouts. This means the competition level is such that kids have opportunities to try on a new jersey if they want. They can actually reshape their idea of who they are as athletes and people as they give their peers and family a new lens to view them with.
Erin: Lacrosse is hard. My son’s soccer skill set doesn’t really help a whole lot, so there is quite the learning curve. My son is literally falling and failing a little every single day. However, he is also getting better every day. He’s seeing the benefits of following directions. He’s learning from teammates and asking questions about the sport in ways that he just doesn’t have to about soccer with his decade of experience.
Ellen: When, my daughterdecided in July to try out for field hockey in August, we went out and got her a stick . . . that she swung like a golf club. I suggested she might want to check out a YouTube video or twenty. And she did. She also spent hours in the backyard putting those YouTube pearls into practice. She knew the game so well by the fall that she became JV co-captain.
4. If you are at the fundamental stage of learning, then you can still have fun.
Sometimes high school sports can be so focused on the “what comes next” stage of things that they lose the joy of the game itself. This is just not true if you are a true beginner. Everything is still shiny and new as you are falling in love with a game.
Erin: My son said, “It’s just like when I was a little kid and someone kicked me a soccer ball. I don’t know exactly what to do with this stick and ball yet, but figuring it out is just fun.”
Ellen: There’s a lot of space for fun when you don’t have the weight of being the veteran leader resting on your shoulders. It allows every pass, dribble, and blocked shot to feel like a victory.
5. New coaches means new potential mentors
Teens benefit greatly from adults who challenge, correct, and compliment them. Sure, parents are great cheerleaders, but we want to fill our kids’ lives with as many fans as we can find. It is so good for the fragile teen ego to hear from a fresh new voice that they “like what they see.”
Erin: My son loves to talk about lacrosse, but his favorite story so far centers around when they were discussing positions to play. The coach asked all the boys where they liked to play. Having barely played, and with no real experience anywhere, my son said, “Wherever you need me to, Coach.” Well, his coach LOVED that, and they started to develop a solid coach and player rapport after that.
Ellen: We’ve had some less than stellar experiences with coaches through the years. I try to take the bad with a grain of salt and craft positive lessons out of them. Sometimes I even succeed. I didn’t know much about the field hockey coaches at the high school, but boy was I pleasantly surprised. My daughter landed in one of the most supportive and positive sports environments in the school. Hooray for good role models! It makes my job that much easier.
Sports and prom and graduation day, oh my! Even with our spring overstuffed to-do lists, we managed to pull together a booklist for you of our favorite reads for getting yourself and your kid ready for college. Even if it will be a little while before your baby crosses that stage and moves that tassel, even if you are just overcome planning all the things you want to say to your graduate, even if college is still very much a SOMEDAY rather than a couple of months from now, try to find some time to open up one of these great books. Time moves super fast in the teen years, so you might want to get started today.
Any parent who has been through it will tell you: college admissions is an emotional pressure cooker. Nothing quite captures the high highs and the low lows quite like this utterly delectable piece of fiction. The Hawthornes are a family so familiar you feel from the first page like you might be reading about your next door neighbors. As their oldest gets put through the wringer applying to Harvard, dad’s alma mater, so do the rest of them. As the pressure is on, things start to unravel and secrets are revealed. Bottom line: an immensely enjoyable read for you that will make you grateful for your own process in comparison.
We get the anxiety around getting into college. It’s not just about getting into college, but the right one that makes a difference, right? Bruni has made it his life’s work to smack that idea right out of your head. With frank, honest talk and persuasive arguments for why you are looking at this whole college admissions thing all wrong, Bruni turns everything you think you know about it on its head. His passion is palpable and his research thorough. In the end, his argument that motivated kids can get a good education almost anywhere feels like just the balm you needed just when you needed it.
Snuggle this one up beside that big honking behemoth, Princeton Review’s The Complete Book of Colleges . Honestly, this book gave us a different way to talk about college and all the different reasons you matriculate to institutes of higher learning besides just the great job opportunities. We love, love, LOVE the acknowledgement that kids, like colleges, are not a “one size fits all” commodity. So many great ideas here for kids who might not fit the mold of the high achiever but who would thrive in college. A great resource that opened up lots of great discussions with our kids!
Before you launch your young man out into the world at large, read this book. Frankly, anyone who spends any time at all around any boys age 11 through 18 needs to read it too. With over 200 interviews with boys and strong research guiding her conclusions, Wiseman draws the adolescent boy in sharp relief and gives us not only a true picture of the more complex lives of boys, but some ways we can help them through the next few years.
Our favorite insight is that we as a society do boys a disservice by dismissing their emotional lives as simple when they most assuredly are not. There is even a free e-book for boys themselves to read about what to do in difficult situations.
We know what you’re thinking: Wiseman is kind of a superhero. Or a superstar. In any case, she has written a book that can save you and any special boys in your life and help get them ready for that eventual big step up and away from you.
And Wiseman works a similar magic for girls. Erin read this book when she first started teaching middle school and it fundamentally changed the way she looked at girls, their friendships, and their struggles with each other and themselves.
Wiseman offers sage, sound advice for how to guide girls towards treating themselves with dignity and grace and treating each other fairly, but there is so much more than that in this book. Understanding girl power plays, how boys fit into the big picture of girl relationships, and the different roles girls play really helps anyone who knows or loves an adolescent girl guide her to her best, most authentic self. Thanks again to the wonderful and very wise Wiseman for helping us prepare our daughters (and yours) for the big wide world.
When it comes to advice about college, we listen to our friends Lisa and Mary Dell who write over at Grown and Flown, a great online resource for parenting through this next phase of life. They told us to buy this book, and we are ever so grateful they did. Chock full of great research, stellar examples, and good advice, this book is a gem, but what we felt was most helpful was the overall tone. Damour’s message time and time again is that we, as parents, can do this very hard thing of parenting our girls through this tough phase of development. With the cool confident tone of a priest or a hostage negotiator, Damour emphasizes that there is more than one way to “get this right.” Our harried teen mom hearts wish we could clone her and carry her around in our pockets to talk us down off our ledges when the time comes. In the end, this is one book that will deliver all of you to the other side and get you ready for the big, beautiful things that lie ahead.
This one might make you want to lock up ALL of your college aged kiddos, but you HAVE to read it. You know how we love to talk to kids about everything from sex to drugs to alcohol. Well, Krakauer lays out why we need to talk to our kids about alcohol and campus rape too. YIKES! But why, you ask? WHY?! We get that this is a tough read in many places, but Krakauer’s firm steady journalistic hand makes this one of the best, most important (but still immensely readable) things you can read, especially if you have kids filling out college applications or already cozied up in dorm rooms. It is a book that launched a thousand conversations for us. We are sharing it with you in the hopes that it will do the same in your family. A MUST read!
This, from Julie Lythcott-Haims’ Amazon author page, is one of the reasons we love her and her book:
I am deeply interested in humans – all of us – living lives of meaning and purpose, which requires figuring out what we’re good at and what we love, and being the best version of that self we can be. So I’m interested in what gets in the way of that.
Um, yeah, all of what she said. This is not a book about helicopter parenting, per se, so much as a path through the fears that can interfere with our parenting and foil our relationships with our kids. Lythcott-Haims tells us how we as a society evolved to this style of parenting and how to break the bad habits that threaten the job we are trying to do. Such insight in such a readable form! A book we keep coming back to again and again!
You know our science-loving hearts love us some fine research. This one is top notch while also keeping it real. Jensen is a mom to two boys as well as a neurologist. She gets that we don’t want to just know why our crazy teens act the way they do, but what we can do about it. Brimming with good science and better ideas of how to use that research to improve our parenting, this book won over our hearts and minds.
When Erin sent her oldest to college this fall, she desperately needed a place to answer her five million questions. Her friends were all, “we haven’t done this before, make a new friend.” Harlan Cohen was that buddy. Erin loved his straight-shooting, non-preachy tone and oodles of relevant advice. If at times it felt like he had peered into her soul and presciently written chapters just for her, well, that was just gravy. Though the 600 pages look daunting, this book is one you pick up and put down. Think of it as the Bible of Letting Go. There is a companion book for kids headed to college which we did not purchase. Erin knows her kid and the sheer volume of it meant that it would be a doorstop, not a resource. But THIS book was perfect for her and, hopefully you too, as you and your family take this next big step.
So whether you have a kid heading off to college in the fall or a few years from now, these are all books that will help you not just survive but enjoy this brave new world you are entering.
You think you remember high school well. Those growing pains, that distinctly angsty angst, those teeming hormones–those memories should be burned into your gray matter, right? Well, we thought so too until we were blindsided by how stressful our kids’ junior years were. Our fuzzy teen spirit memories had us focused on the apprehension of freshman year and the roller coaster college anxiety of senior year. Thanks for nothing hard won experience. We forgot that to even get to senior year, you have to survive the juggernaut of the junior year where the social, academic, and personal trials and tribulations of adolescence multiply and pile up with crushing ferocity. Here’s what’s going on.
First and foremost: “This is the most important year of your high school career!!”
This is pretty much how the school year tees off for a junior. Their guidance counselor is talking about grades, their friends are talking about prom and driver’s licenses, their coach is talking about play-offs. The prevalent soundtrack is THIS IS THE YEAR COLLEGES ARE LOOKING AT! So really, no pressure. But at least the trips to the guidance office to work out their dreams are scheduled in the middle of the calculus class they’re struggling through.
Every well-meaning adult transforms into an FBI interrogator.
“So what are you going to do?” becomes the opener to every. single. conversation. Most people mean well, but it truly is astounding how many really get in there and poke where the anxiety lives. “Wow, engineering, huh? You really need perfect math scores on the SAT to get into a good school. Are you taking a prep class?” When they’re not sure of their plans themselves, every random person’s needling can cause them to pop. Our “Life Lesson: Toxic Questions Don’t Need to Be Answered” can give some much needed strategies for dealing with all of this.
Harder classes, including Advanced Placement and college credit courses start weighing down the schedule.
Many a kid has breezed through the first two years of high school only to get a jolt when junior year hits. Suddenly, syllabi are handed out and hand-holding is abruptly withdrawn. There’s something about a looming national AP test that is not just for a grade, but for college credit (and comparison to the entire country) that can trigger those un-held hands to be slicked with sweat.
Speaking of standardized tests, PSAT, SAT, and ACT anyone?
It starts in October with the PSAT which–no pressure–if they qualify to be a National Merit Scholar can mean major money from colleges. And then it’s onto the SAT or the ACT . . . or both. “When should I take it? How many times? Do I need both? Should I take a prep class??”
Oh and may the servers not have a hissy fit and delay score reporting like it did for some of our kids. But wait, there’s one more thing: the SAT is all new. Yeah, this is the stress that keeps on stressing.
It’s the big leagues, baby.
Junior year is often the time sports transitions from JV to varsity. The practices are longer, the games are more intense, and playoffs are a huge deal. So in general, just when they have more studying and huge-decide-your-future standardized tests piled onto their plates, that plate has to sit on the sidelines waiting for their games to be done. And if your child is a prospect for playing in college? Whoa.
Driving school is not what we remember, like you know, actually getting taught by an instructor. No, WE had to teach our kids to drive. The driving school demanded an insane amount of hours before they would even let our kids into THEIR cars. We wrote about our stress here, but it was no picnic (or rather Sunday drive) for our kids either. And let’s not forget the anxiety of the driving test to get the actual license. Actually, that is the one thing we can remember clearly. In our mind’s eye, we can see the sweat dripping down the steering wheel now . . .
Ninth and tenth grades are basically the JV of the social scene because reliance on parents for transportation puts a natural damper on things. In junior year, it all ramps up with the increased independence that comes with a driver’s license.
And one last gripe that grips: promposals. Can you believe modern society actually found a way to make prom even more stressful?
All this social pressure and making plans for the future can suddenly make some friendships, even longstanding ones, an uncomfortable fit. Friendships become less about sharing the latest video game and more about who they are as people. Even in the best case scenario where your child (thankfully) lets some friends go to stay on a straighter and narrower path, it still hurts to be left out. Pile losing their best friend since 4th grade onto the stress bonfire and you all have yourselves a four alarm fire.
Soooo, does this all sound too familiar? It’s not just you and your kid struggling through junior year. It’s incredibly and universally stressful leaving moms and dads everywhere just wanting to help their kids out. What’s a parent to do?